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This is not Biology 101, Anatomy, or Sex Ed. We’ll not cover where babies come from or attempt an awkward communication like that which parents have with budding teens as puberty approaches. However, it helps to understand “the birds and the bees” to fully appreciate Jesus’ command, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:3-7).
Just as God designed a physical process of fertilization, conception, development, and birth, He designed a spiritual process for entering His eternal family. We are alive physically because our parents in a moment of intimacy began a biological process involving a father’s seed and a mother’s delivery that brought us into our family’s lineage. We are alive spiritually when a similar process occurs involving our souls.
The parallels between the two processes are intriguing. In the physical world, there are three key phases connected with a birth experience:
an implantation of seed by the father,
a delivery by the mother, and
a state (family) entered into by the birth.
In His discussion with Nicodemus, Christ suggests each of these components is also true in the spiritual realm. He mentions the Spirit, water, and kingdom. In the new birth process, the Spirit is the male (Father) who implants the word of God as the seed, the water is the female (mother) who delivers the child, and the kingdom (church) is the family into which one is born.
Let’s examine each phase from a biblical perspective.
The Holy Spirit Fathers1 the Child of God...
The Holy Spirit is the male of the birth. The Spirit is spoken of as “He” in the Scriptures: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13).
In the new birth we are born (begotten) of God, so we can call God our spiritual Father (Matthew 6:9; Romans 1:7; 1 John 3:1-2). An announcement is sometimes run: “Born unto Mr. and Mrs. John Smith is a fine baby boy,” but actually no one is born of his father. He is begotten of his father and born of his mother. Jesus said we are “born of . . . the Spirit” (John 3:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11). It is the “sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Peter 1:2) and “renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). One is said to be begotten of God by faith in Jesus’ deity: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God” (1 John 5:12; cf. John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 4:7).
By Implanting the Seed of the Word of God...
Spiritual life is communicated through the medium of the gospel; the germ is in the living seed. Peter used this figure in saying: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1:23). James added, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). Jesus explained in the figure of growing grain: “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The second birth is superior to the first because a different kind of seed is used. The first was corruptible; we were born to die. The second is incorruptible; we are reborn to live.
People are “born of the Spirit” by “the law of the Spirit” (Romans 8:2). We are led by the Spirit when led by His Word (Romans 8:14). The New Testament is the inspired book which contains that gospel message. One is begotten through the Word in believing that gospel. The Word works “effectually” in those that believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14; cf. Ephesians 3:20; Colossians 1:29). The Bible is the only book that is alive (Hebrews 4:12). Life resides within the gospel because it originated with God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21; cf. 1 Peter 1:12; John 16:13; Acts 2:4).
Through the Act of Preaching...
Peter continues, “And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:25; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). The Holy Spirit uses preaching to start the birth process, and works through the sacred message to produce belief in sincere hearts (Romans 10:17; cf. Matthew 4:4). The Spirit’s sword (instrument) is God’s Word (Ephesians 6:17). The change is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power and influence of the blessed Spirit of grace.
The Spirit employs human agents in the birth process, much as a doctor or scientist aids an infertile couple in an artificial insemination procedure. Paul wrote, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). In literal terms, Paul was saying, “I have made you believers by preaching the gospel to you.” Onesimus was Paul’s “son” whom he had begotten while Paul was in bonds (Philemon 1:10).
The Holy Spirit does not work directly on the heart of a sinner, but He does work on a sinner’s heart. He uses the tools of preaching and the Word. We might illustrate and contrast this by seeing how Satan makes “converts” to sin. He uses the same kind of process, but instead of leading to new life, it leads to spiritual death. James explains, “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15). There is no miracle performed in either case, and in both cases the individual is in control of the outcome (cf. Joshua 24:15). We can choose whether to sin and die, or whether to obey and live.
Into the Womb of the Human Heart (Mind)...
The seed is planted into “an honest and good heart, having heard the word” (Luke 8:15). The phrase “honest and good” occurs only here in the New Testament. It is similar to our phrases “good and true” and “right and good.” The English word honest is like the Latin honestus, which means “fair and noble.” In the context, it refers to a fertile mind that provides a conducive atmosphere in which the seed can grow.