Regeneration also means to be born again or born anew. Originally we were born of our parents, but now we are born once more, this time of God. The Bible calls this experience being born again. When we were born of our parents, we obtained human life. When we were born of God, we obtained God’s divine life.
Regeneration is not self-improvement or better behavior. It is a rebirth which brings in a new life. It is absolutely a matter of life, not a matter of doing. We have already received the human life from our parents; now we need to receive the divine life from God. For us to have another life we must have another birth. When we have the life of God, we are the sons of God. The life of God gives us the right and authority to become the sons of God (John 1:12). By this life we possess the divine nature of God, and have a life-relationship with God (2 Pet. 1:4). We do not need religious or ethical teachings to regulate and correct us; we need another life, the life of God, to regenerate us.
We need to be regenerated because of two conditions. From the negative side, we need to be regenerated because our life has been corrupted and has become evil, and cannot be improved from evil to good. “The heart is deceitful above all things / And it is incurable; / Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). “Can the Cushite change his skin, / Or the leopard his spots? / Then you also may be able to do good, / Who are accustomed to do evil” (13:23). “For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18).
From the positive side, however, we need to be regenerated because we do not have the life of God. Of all God’s creation, man has the highest development of life. No plant or animal has a higher life than man. Yet man, the highest created life, needs to receive another life for his completion. He needs the uncreated, eternal life of God. When Adam was created, he obtained only created life; he did not at that time obtain God’s uncreated life. Likewise, when we were born of our parents, we obtained only the natural, created human life. That birth gave us an entrance into the human kingdom. But for us to enter the kingdom of God, we must have another birth from another source. We must be born of God. By our first birth we were born into the kingdom of darkness, but by our second birth we are transferred into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13).
God’s purpose is that we may obtain His own uncreated life and be transformed by this life into His image to be like Him. Even if our human life had not been corrupted by the fall of man in Genesis 3, we would still need to be regenerated. In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam was without sin, yet he was void of God’s life. Thus, God placed him before the tree of life that he might receive the life of God and be regenerated. God’s purpose in creating man is not merely to obtain a sinless man, but even more to have a God-man, one who has God’s own life and nature.
John 3 speaks of the new birth. It also contains a wonderful example of one who needed a new birth—Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a person of excellent virtue. He was a teacher with a high attainment in education. As a teacher of the Jews, he taught the Old Testament, the sacred Word. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. He had a position of honor and authority. As an old man, he was full of experiences, and morally, he was an honest and good man. Nicodemus was also a man who was truly seeking after God. Although he was somewhat fearful of the Pharisees, he still came to the Lord Jesus by night. This indicated that he was seeking God. Nicodemus was an old man of perhaps sixty or seventy years of age, yet he came to see the Lord Jesus, who was only a little over thirty years of age. This indicated his humility. Although he was a teacher, he addressed the Lord Jesus as Rabbi. Among the Jews, to call a person Rabbi implies that you are humbling yourself. Could you find a better person than Nicodemus? Surely he was a man of superior standard, great attainment, and high morality.
(What is Regeneration?, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)