Just as Jesus is straightforward with Nicodemus, so Piper is straightforward with us from the very beginning of this first chapter. This book does not set out to simply discuss theories on the new birth. As Piper says, “Eternity hangs in the balance when we are talking about the new birth.” (p. 26) The new birth is serious business. “You and I must be born again, or we will not see the kingdom of God. That means we will not be saved; we will not be part of God’s family, and we will not go to heaven. Instead, we will go to hell if we are not born again.” (p. 25)
In order to discuss the new birth at any length we must first ask this question: “What happens in the new birth?” (p. 26) Piper prefaces his answer by pointing out three reasons why the new birth may be unsettling to people. First, it shows us the hopelessness of our situation apart from being reborn. I think this type of news should be unsettling to us. People will not see the need to be born again unless there is something for which they need saved and changed from. Second, it refers to something that is done to us and not by us. This fact is a hard pill to swallow for many people. Independence and the ability to choose are two characteristics that are highly valued in many societies today. Yet Scripture tells us that it is God’s great mercy that has caused us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3). We cannot cause our new birth. Good works will not save us. “Any spiritually good thing that we do is a result of the new birth, not a cause of the new birth.” (p. 27) Third, it is God’s free choice to save whom he saves. Since we cannot earn our salvation, it is completely in God’s hands concerning who is saved. All of these reasons can leave a person unsettled about being born again. Yet it is for these very reasons that we must trust in God for our salvation.
All of this leads us back to our question: What happens in the new birth? Piper answers this question with three statements (two of which he deals with in this chapter). First, new birth is not new religion but new life. Jesus addresses this distinction by pointing it out to Nicodemus in John 3:3. Keeping the law and having a deep well of biblical knowledge cannot save a person. We are not talking about information gathering. We are talking about complete transformation. “All of Nicodemus’ religion, all of his amazing Pharasaic study and discipline and law-keeping, cannot replace the need for the new birth.” (p. 29)
Second, new birth is not simply acknowledging the supernatural in Jesus but experiencing it in our own lives. It is easy to be amazed by miraculous signs and wonders. It is another thing to experience it by personally being changed. We can appreciate a man being healed of his disease without being born again. But we can only truly know the supernatural work of the Spirit by being born again.
Let me end with a section that should yield a bit of discussion:
“The new life makes the faith possible, and since spiritual life always awakens faith and expresses itself in faith, there is no life without faith in Jesus. Therefore, we should never separate the new birth from faith in Jesus. From God’s side, we are united to Christ in the new birth. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. From our side, we experience this union by faith in Jesus.” (p. 32…also see the last two sentences on p. 33)
What do you think of Piper’s statement/summation of the new birth? Do you agree with his explanation of the relationship between new birth and faith? Are there any other parts that you found to be thought provoking?
Read chapter 2 this week and expect a post on Monday (November 23rd).