“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, NKJV).
Mark it as a fact. Jesus was very clear. If you are not born again, you are not going to heaven.
Two concepts are involved. One: Birth. This is an instantaneous entrance into life. Technically, the word refers to begetting, which we call conception. It is the Father who begets us into life, and those who have been so begotten have a new power over sin, for “His seed remains in him” (1 John 3:9). Two: One must be born (or begotten) again. Just as we each have had a physical conception-day, so also we must have a spiritual conception-day. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
But how do we obtain such a conception and birth? Given the utter necessity of having such an experience, is there any question so pressing for the present as this one? If we die without rebirth, we cannot “see” the kingdom of God nor “enter” it (John 3:3, 5). How do we get it?
It is at this point that many of the churches and so-called churches part company. Some have claimed the waters of baptism as the place of rebirth, citing John 3:5 (“born of water and the Spirit”) and Titus 3:5 (“the washing of regeneration”). Others have claimed the willpower of man, as if a man is born again by repentance itself. The famous (and heretical) evangelist Charles G. Finney used to press home the echo of the Law in Ezekiel 18:31, “Make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will ye die?”
Though it is tempting to answer these claims here, it is perhaps better simply to let John explain John. Near the beginning of his gospel, the apostle John introduces us to the topic of rebirth:
“He [the Son] came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13, NKJV).
Please note: John is very clear how a person is not born again. He is not born again by “blood,” that is, through human birth and heredity. No one is a Christian simply because he was born to Christian parents. Again, we must have a spiritual conception. The life of God must enter us. Moreover, a person is not born again by “the will of the flesh,” nor by “the will of man.” Two times the will is nixed. Not only can parents not place a baby in the font and decide for the child, but neither can the child decide himself–at any age. Important: A person is not born again by a decision of the human will. To become God’s child is a “right” that must be “given” to us at some point in our earthly journey or we will not go to heaven.
How is that precious right given? Not through heredity, not through human choice, but through receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “receive” can refer to welcoming a stranger into one’s home. The Jews rejected Jesus, but “as many as received Him, to them [Jesus] gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). This occurred through faith (“to those who believe in His name”), and it occurred to each one who received Him (“as many as”).
How about you? Do you hope in your baptism that you are born again? Do you hope in your decision? Beware. It is subtle, but deadly. Many claim, “I am a born-again Christian,” and mean little more than saying, “I have decided to follow Christ and I would never do those kind of sins.” Blindly, they assure themselves of their ability to keep the Law and to keep themselves saved, when in reality they had no more choice over spiritual conception than they did over their own physical conception. Both are a conferred gift.
To be born again, we need Jesus Himself to give us this right. Therefore, the key is welcoming Jesus into our lives–the real Jesus, described by the Father Himself in the pages of the Bible; and the whole Jesus, both Lord and Savior, the Boss of my thoughts and ways, and the Sacrifice for my sins on the cross. Every person who through faith receives this living Jesus, this precious and glorious Person, is born again mysteriously by the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. “Of His own will,” the apostle James wrote, “He brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18; cf. 1 Peter 1:23).