Are you born of the Spirit is a very important question for all of us to answer, to evaluate our true spiritual condition in terms as to whether we are in the faith, and more specifically, whether we have been born into it, by the Spirit of God, in that God has communicated His grace to the repentant heart, and where He sovereignly and personally, by His Spirit, does the work of regeneration in each of us.
I fear that in many churches exists a superficial and unfruitful attempt at the new birth. When many Pastors, Preachers, or Evangelist assume that their altars, methods, music, or emotional pleas coupled with religious feelings are the primary means to a new birth alone, are mistaken, and in effect, when many leave their churches, the supposed converts, believing they are born anew, will soon become frustrated when they seek to know and understand spiritual and kingdom realities; you cannot substitute religious behaviors, i.e. asceticism or rituals, for kingdom substances. Mimicking the “sinners prayer” does not necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit is among you communicating the Lords grace unto a new spiritual birth. J.C. Ryle explains when he says,
I declare I know no state of soul more dangerous than to imagine we are born again and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, because we have picked up a few religious feelings.
In many cases prayers and petitions for Gods help and intervention to save souls go unanswered because ministers do not understand, nor have insight into, the importance of the sovereignty and dynamics of the Holy Spirit in their preaching, and among them, in their assemblies, e.g.… the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit… and the power of the Spirit….that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Why would these Ministries expect the activity of the Spirit during an altar call when they have not given Him a place in their personal life, or church services? Without the Holy Spirit, the architect of each new birth, there is no spiritual birth. In addition, it is the Lords grace, He alone is the one who looks upon our hearts, and recognizes, or does not recognize sincere repentance; where genuine contrition is His work anyway.
The reason I fear is, I cannot think of any greater horror perpetrated upon the souls of men in that someone spends their life pretending to their religion and its many duties, only to end up in hell. Jesus makes a statement in reference to such horrors, He explains; there will be a gnashing and gashing of teeth. How many religions, denominations, supposed Christians are out there who have not been born of the Spirit, yet believe they have peace with God, I would guess many fit these descriptions. Our sundry good works, prayers, attending church, giving to the poor, or even giving yourself to be burned are meaningless in terms of being reconciled to God, for without a new birth, one does not have a good conscience toward Him, nor can they, thus remaining His enemy.
John Owens, a seventeen century puritan theologian from England provides all of us with insight into what it means to be born of the Spirit, and the subsequent fruit of it. I have provided some excerpts from John Owens, on the Holy Spirit, below. Owens is a little difficult to understand, so you will have to be patient, however after several tries, reading each chapter, you begin to hear what he is saying.
John Owen on the Holy Spirit
…the whole blessed Trinity…acting distinctly in the work of our salvation
There was a spiritual darkness and death came by sin on all mankind; neither was there in any man living the least principle of spiritual life, or any disposition thereunto. In this state of things, the Holy Spirit undertaketh to create a new world, new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness should dwell. And this, in the first place, was by his effectual communication of a new principle of spiritual life unto the souls of God’s elect, who were the matter designed of God for this work to be wrought upon. This he doth in their regeneration, as we shall now manifest.
First, Regeneration in Scripture is everywhere assigned to be the proper and peculiar work of the Holy Spirit: John iii. 3-6, “Jesus answered and said unto Nicodemus, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
It was an ancient knowing teacher of the church of the Jews, a “master in Israel,” whom our blessed Saviour here discourseth withal and instructs; for on the consideration of his miracles he concluded that “God was with him,” and came to inquire of him about the kingdom of God. Our Saviour knowing how all our faith and obedience to God, and all our acceptance with him, depend on our regeneration, or being born again, acquaints him with the necessity of it; wherewith he is at first surprised. Wherefore he proceeds to instruct him in the nature of the work whose necessity he had declared; and this he describes both by the cause and the effect of it. For the cause of it, he tells him it is wrought by “water and the Spirit;” — by the Spirit, as the principal efficient cause; and by water, as the pledge, sign, and token of it, in the initial seal of the covenant, the doctrine whereof was then preached amongst them by John the Baptist: or, the same thing is intended in a redoubled expression, the Spirit being signified by the water also, under which notion he is often promised.
Hereof, then, or of this work, the Holy Spirit is the principal efficient cause; whence he in whom it is wrought is said to be “born of the Spirit:” Verse 8, “So is every one that is born of the Spirit.” And this is the same with what is delivered, chap. i. 13, “Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The natural and carnal means of blood, flesh, and the will of man, are rejected wholly in this matter, and the whole efficiency of the new birth is ascribed unto God alone. His work answers whatever contribution there is unto natural generation from the will and nature of man; for these things are here compared, and from its analogy unto natural generation is this work of the Spirit called “regeneration.” So in this place is the allusion and opposition between these things expressed by our Saviour: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” chap. iii. 6. And herein also we have a farther description of this work of the Holy Spirit by its effect, or the product of it; it is “spirit,” — a new spiritual being, creature, nature, life, as shall be declared. And because there is in it a communication of a new spiritual life, it is called a “vivification” or “quickening,” with respect unto the state wherein all men are before this work is wrought in them and on them, Eph. ii. 1, 5; which is the work of the Spirit alone, for “it is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing,” John vi. 63. See Rom. viii. 9, 10; Tit. iii. 4-6, where the same truth is declared and asserted: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; which he shed on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
What we have frequently mentioned occurreth here expressly, — namely, the whole blessed Trinity, and each person therein, acting distinctly in the work of our salvation. The spring or fountain of the whole lieth in the kindness and love of God, even the Father. Thereunto it is everywhere ascribed in the Scripture. See John iii. 16; Eph. i. 3-6. Whatever is done in the accomplishment of this work, it is so in the pursuit of his will, purpose, and counsel, and is an effect of his love and grace. The procuring cause of the application of the love and kindness of God unto us is Jesus Christ our Saviour, in the whole work of his mediation, verse 6. And the immediate efficient cause in the communication of the love and kindness of the Father, through the mediation of the Son, unto us, is the Holy Spirit. And this he doth in the renovation of our natures, by the washing of regeneration, wherein we are purged from our sins, and sanctified unto God.
…the Spirit worketh how and when he pleaseth…
Regeneration by the Holy Spirit is the same work, for the kind of it, and wrought by the same power of the Spirit in all that are regenerate, or ever were, or shall be so, from the beginning of the world unto the end thereof. Great variety there is in the application of the outward means which the Holy Spirit is pleased to use and make effectual towards the accomplishment of this great work; nor can the ways and manner hereof be reduced unto any certain order, for the Spirit worketh how and when he pleaseth, following the sole rule of his own will and wisdom. Mostly, God makes use of the preaching of the word; thence called “the ingrafted word, which is able to save our souls,” James i. 21; and the “incorruptible seed,” by which we are “born again,” 1 Pet. i. 23. Sometimes it is wrought without it; as in all those who are regenerate before they come to the use of reason, or in their infancy. Sometimes men are called, and so regenerate, in an extraordinary manner; as was Paul. But mostly they are so in and by the use of ordinary means, instituted, blessed, and sanctified of God to that end and purpose.
And great variety there is, also, in the perception and understanding of the work itself in them in whom it is wrought, for in itself it is secret and hidden, and is no other ways discoverable but in its causes and effects; for as “the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit,” John iii. 8. In the minds and consciences of some, this is made known by infallible signs and tokens. Paul knew that Christ was formed and revealed in himself, Gal. i. 15, 16. So he declared that whoever is in Christ Jesus “is a new creature,” 2 Cor. v. 17, — that is, is born again, – whether they know themselves so to be or no. And many are in the dark as to their own condition in this matter all their days; for they “fear the Lord, and obey the voice of his servant” (Christ Jesus), and yet “walk in darkness, and have no light,” Isa. l. 10. They are “children of light,” Luke xvi. 8, John xii. 36, Eph. v. 8, 1 Thess. v. 5; and yet “walk in darkness, and have no light:” which expressions have been well used and improved by some, and by others of late derided and blasphemed. And there is great variety in the carrying on of this work towards perfection, — in the growth of the new creature, or the increase of grace implanted in our natures by it: for some, through the supplies of the Spirit, make a great and speedy progress towards perfection, others thrive slowly and bring forth little fruit; the causes and occasions whereof are not here to be enumerated. But notwithstanding all differences in previous dispositions, in the application of outward means, in the manner of it, ordinary or extraordinary, in the consequents of much or less fruit, the work itself in its own nature is of the same kind, one and the same.
…one is not by nature more unregenerate than another…
That the condition of all men, as unregenerate, is absolutely the same. One is not by nature more unregenerate than another. All men since the fall, and the corruption of our nature by sin, are in the same state and condition towards God. They are all alike alienated from him, and all alike under his curse, Ps. li. 5; John iii. 5, 36; Rom. iii. 19, v. 15-18; Eph. ii. 3; Tit. iii. 3, 4. There are degrees of wickedness in them that are unregenerate, but there is no difference as to state and condition between them, — all are unregenerate alike; as amongst those who are regenerate there are different degrees of holiness and righteousness, one, it may be, far exceeding another, yet there is between them no difference of state and condition, — they are all equally regenerate. Yea, some may be in a greater forwardness and preparation for the work itself, and thereby in a greater nearness to the state of it than others; but the state itself is incapable of such degrees. Now, it must be the same work, for the kind and nature of it, which relieves and translates men out of the same state and condition. That which gives the formal reason of the change of their state, of their translation from death to life, is and must be the same in all. If you can fix on any man, from the foundation of the world, who was not equally born in sin, and by nature dead in trespasses and sins, with all other men, the man Christ Jesus only excepted, I would grant that he might have another kind of regeneration than others have, but that I know he would stand in need of none at all.
…everyone that is born of God is equally so…
The state whereinto men are brought by regeneration is the same. Nor is it, in its essence or nature, capable of degrees, so that one should be more regenerate than another. Everyone that is born of God is equally so, though one may be more beautiful than another, as having the image of his heavenly Father more evidently impressed on him, though not more truly. Men may be more or less holy, more or less sanctified, but they cannot be more or less regenerate. All children that are born into the world are equally born, though some quickly outstrip others in the perfections and accomplishments of nature; and all born of God are equally so, though some speedily outgo others in the accomplishments and perfections of grace. There was, then, never but one kind of regeneration in this world, the essential form of it being specifically the same in all.
…declare both what it is not, of things which falsely pretend thereunto…
That the efficient cause of this work, the grace and power whereby it is wrought, with the internal manner of the communication of that grace, are the same, shall be afterward declared. To this standard, then, all must come. Men may bear themselves high, and despise this whole work of the Spirit of God, or set up an imagination of their own in the room thereof; but whether they will or no, they must be tried by it, and no less depends on their interest in it than their admission into the kingdom of God. And let them pretend what they please, the true reason why any despise the new birth is, because they hate a new life. He that cannot endure to live to God will as little endure to hear of being born of God. But we shall by the Scripture inquire what we are taught concerning it, and declare both what it is not, of things which falsely pretend thereunto, and then what it is indeed. First, Regeneration doth not consist in a participation of the ordinance of baptism and a profession of the doctrine of repentance. This is all that some will allow unto it, to the utter rejection and overthrow of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: for the dispute in this matter is not, whether the ordinances of the gospel, as baptism, do really communicate internal grace unto them that are, as to the outward manner of their administration, duly made partakers of them, whether ex opere operato, as the Papists speak, or as a federal means of the conveyance and communication of that grace which they betoken and are the pledges of; but, whether the outward susception of the ordinance, joined with a profession of repentance in them that are adult, be not the whole of what is called regeneration. The vanity of this presumptuous folly, destructive of all the grace of the gospel, invented to countenance men in their sins, and to hide from them the necessity of being born again, and therein of turning unto God, will be laid open in our declaration of the nature of the work itself.
For the present, the ensuing reasons will serve to remove it out of our way:- 1. Regeneration doth not consist in these things, which are only outward signs and tokens of it, or at most instituted means of effecting it; for the nature of things is different and distinct from the means and evidences or pledges of them: but such only is baptism, with the profession of the doctrine of it, as is acknowledged by all who have treated of the nature of that sacrament. 2. The apostle really states this case, 1 Pet. iii. 21, “In answer whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The outward administration of this ordinance, considered materially, reacheth no farther but to the washing away of “the filth of the flesh;” but more is signified thereby. There is denoted in it the restipulation of a “good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” from the dead, or a “conscience purged from dead works to serve the living God,” Heb. ix. 14, and quickened by virtue of his resurrection unto holy obedience. See Rom. vi. 3-7. 3.
…outward ordinances (any religious edict absent of the Spirit) vs. work of regeneration (Spirit initiated)…
The apostle Paul doth plainly distinguish between the outward ordinances, with what belongs unto a due participation of them, and the work of regeneration itself: Gal. vi. 15, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature;” — for as by “circumcision” the whole system of Mosaical ordinances is intended, so the state of “uncircumcision,” as then it was in the professing Gentiles, supposed a participation of all the ordinances of the gospel; but from them all he distinguisheth the new creation, as that which they may be without, and which being so, they are not available in Christ Jesus. 4.
If this were so, then all that are duly baptized, and do thereon make profession of the doctrine of it, — that is, of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, — must of necessity be regenerate. But this we know to be otherwise. For instance, Simon the magician was rightly and duly baptized, for he was so by Philip the evangelist; which he could not be without a profession of faith and repentance. Accordingly, it is said that he “believed,” Acts viii. 13, — that is, made a profession of his faith in the gospel. Yet he was not regenerate; for at the same time he had “neither part nor lot in that matter,” his “heart not being right in the sight of God,” but was “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity,” verses 21, 23; which is not the description of a person newly regenerate and born again.
Regeneration doth not consist in a moral reformation of life and conversation. Let us suppose such a reformation, to be extensive unto all known instances. Suppose a man be changed from sensuality unto temperance, from rapine to righteousness, from pride and the dominion of irregular passions unto humility and moderation, with all instances of the like nature which we can imagine, or are prescribed in the rules of the strictest moralists; suppose this change be laboured, exact, and accurate, and so of great use in the world; suppose, also, that a man hath been brought and persuaded unto it through the preaching of the gospel, so “escaping the pollutions that are in the world through lust, even by the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” or the directions of his doctrine delivered in the gospel; — yet I say, all this, and all this added unto baptism, accompanied with a profession of faith and repentance, is not regeneration, nor do they comprise it in them. And I have extended this assertion beyond what some among us, so far as I can see, do so much as pretend unto in their confused notions and sophistical expressions about morality, when they make it the same with grace. But whatever there may be of actual righteousness in these things, they do not express an inherent, habitual righteousness; which whosoever denies overthrows the gospel, and all the whole work of the Spirit of God, and of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we must stay a while. This assertion of ours is by some not only denied but derided. Neither is that all; but whoever maintains it is exposed as an enemy to morality, righteousness, and reformation of life.
All virtue, they say, is hereby excluded, to introduce I know not what imaginary godliness. But whether we oppose or exclude moral virtue or no, by the doctrine of regeneration, or any other, God and Christ will in due time judge and declare. Yea, were the confession of the truth consistent with their interests, the decision of this doubt might be referred unto their own consciences. But being not free to commit any thing to that tribunal, unless we had better security of its freedom from corrupt principles and prejudices than we have, we shall at present leave all the world to judge of our doctrine, with respect unto virtue and morality, by the fruits of it, compared with theirs by whom it is denied. In the meantime, we affirm that we design nothing in virtue and morality but to improve them, by fixing them on a proper foundation, or ingrafting them into that stock whereon alone they will thrive and grow, to the glory of God and the good of the souls of men. Neither shall we be moved in this design by the clamorous or calumnious outcries of ignorant or profligate persons. And for the assertion laid down, I desire that those who despise and reproach it would attempt an answer unto the ensuing arguments whereby it is confirmed, with those others which shall be insisted on in our description of the nature of the work of regeneration itself, and that upon such grounds and principles as are not destructive of Christian religion nor introductive of atheism, before they are too confident of their success. If there be in and required unto regeneration, the infusion of a new, real, spiritual principle into the soul and its faculties, of spiritual life, light, holiness, and righteousness, disposed unto and suited for the destruction or expulsion of a contrary, inbred, habitual principle of sin and enmity against God, enabling unto all acts of holy obedience, and so in order of nature antecedent unto them, then it doth not consist in a mere reformation of life and moral virtue, be they never so exact or accurate. Three things are to be observed for the clearing of this assertion, before we come to the proof and confirmation of it; as, — 1.
…moral reformation vs. Spirit infused reformation…
That this reformation of life, which we say is not regeneration, or that regeneration doth not consist therein, is a necessary duty, indispensably required of all men; for we shall take it here for the whole course of actual obedience unto God, and that according to the gospel. Those, indeed, by whom it is urged and pressed in the room of regeneration, or as that wherein regeneration doth consist, do give such an account and description of it as that it is, or at least may be, foreign unto true gospel-obedience, and so not contain in it one acceptable duty unto God, as shall afterward be declared; but here I shall take it, in our present inquiry, for that whole course of duties which, in obedience towards God, are prescribed unto us. 2.
That the principle before described, wherein regeneration as passively considered, or as wrought in us, consists, doth always certainly and infallibly produce the reformation of life in tended. In some it doth it more completely, in others more imperfectly, in all sincerely; for the same grace in nature and kind is communicated unto several persons in various degrees, and is by them used and improved with more or less care and diligence. In those, therefore, that are adult, these things are inseparable. Therefore, 3.
The difference in this matter cometh unto this head: We say and believe that regeneration consists in spirituali renovationE nature, — “in a spiritual renovation of our nature;” our modem Socinians, that it doth so in morali reformatione vitÊ, — “in a moral reformation of life.” Now, as we grant that this spiritual renovation of nature will infallibly produce a moral reformation of life; so if they will grant that this moral reformation of life doth proceed from a spiritual renovation of our nature, this difference will be at an end. And this is that which the ancients intend by first receiving the Holy Ghost and then all graces with him. However, if they only design to speak ambiguously, improperly, and unscripturally, confounding effects and their causes, habits and actions, faculties or powers and occasional acts, infused principles and acquired habits, spiritual and moral, grace and nature, that they may take an opportunity to rail at others for want of better advantage, I shall not contend with them; for allow a new spiritual principle, an infused habit of grace, or gracious abilities, to be required in and unto regeneration, or to be the product or the work of the Spirit therein, that which is “born of the Spirit being spirit,” and this part of the nature of this work is sufficiently cleared. Now, this the Scripture abundantly testifieth unto.