God’s salvation, which saves people from the deserved punishment of the flesh and the power of the flesh, was accomplished in the cross of His Son. Now He places this salvation before every man, that whoever receives it may be saved.
God already knows that there is no goodness in man. The flesh cannot please Him. The flesh is utterly corrupted and irreparable. Because the flesh is absolutely beyond repair, God cannot expect man, after believing in His Son, to have anything to please Him if He does not give man something new, something other than the flesh. Therefore, when a man believes that the Lord Jesus died for him and receives the Lord Jesus to be his personal Savior, God gives him a new life, that is, His own uncreated life. This is what the Bible calls regeneration. God does not change our flesh; rather, He gives His life to us. Regardless of whether or not a man has been regenerated, his flesh is corrupted just the same. The flesh in a sinner is the same as the flesh in a saint. Although a man may be born again, his flesh does not become better because of the new birth. One’s regeneration does not affect his flesh a bit and cannot improve him or make him good. No matter what, the flesh is the flesh, and it can never be changed. God does not use His life to educate and train the flesh. Rather, He uses the new life He gives to man to overcome the flesh.
This regeneration is a relationship of real birth between man and God. In the original text, the word born in the sense of to be born anew refers to giving birth, meaning we are born of God. Just as our fleshly body is surely born of our parents, so our spiritual life is also surely born of God. The meaning of giving birth is "to impart life." Therefore, to say we are born of God is to say we have received a new life from God. Just as we received our fleshly life at the time we were born of our parents, we also received our spiritual life at the time we were born of God. This life is a real life.
We already know that we human beings are fleshly—our spirit is dead; our soul controls our whole person; we act according to the lust of the body; there is not any goodness within. Therefore, when God saves us, He must restore in us the position of the spirit so that we may again have fellowship with God. Thus, when we believe in the Lord Jesus, God puts His own life into our spirit and resurrects our spirit. Therefore, the Lord Jesus said, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). It is at this moment that the life of God, which is "the Spirit" referred to here, enters into our human spirit and causes our spirit to recover its position. From this point on, the Holy Spirit abides in the human spirit. Therefore, man is transferred into the spiritual realm. Now the spirit becomes alive and again renews its reign. The "new spirit" in Ezekiel 36:26 also refers to the new life we receive at the time of regeneration.
The condition for a man to be regenerated is not that he has to do a special work, but that he must believe into the Lord Jesus as Savior. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, to those who believe into His name, who were begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). Those who believe into the Lord Jesus as their Savior are born of God; they are the children of God.
Regeneration is the minimum basis of spiritual life. All later spiritual edification has regeneration as its foundation. Without regeneration a person has no spiritual life at all. Such a person cannot expect to grow in the spiritual life, because he does not yet have a spiritual life. Just as people in the world cannot build a house in the air, so also we cannot help an unregenerated person to grow. To teach an unregenerated person to do good and to worship God is to teach a dead person to do these things, because he has not yet received life. To do this is to attempt to repair and improve the flesh, that is, to do that which God cannot do. Every believer should definitely know that he has been regenerated, that he has received a new life that he did not have originally. Regeneration is not repairing the old flesh and changing it into the spiritual life. Regeneration is receiving a life that one absolutely did not have before. Unless a man is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. He can never see all the spiritual mysteries of God’s kingdom and can never savor its taste. Regardless of how much he has changed, he has no other destiny than to wait for death and judgment.
How can one know whether or not he has been regenerated? John 1 has already told us that a man is born anew because of his believing in the name of the Son of God and his receiving Him. The name of God’s Son is "Jesus." Jesus means "He...will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Therefore, to believe in the name of the Son of God is to believe in Him as the Savior from sins, to believe that He died on the cross for my sins that He might save me from the punishment and power of sin, and thus to receive Him as my Savior. Therefore, if any man wants to know whether or not he has been regenerated, he only need ask himself whether he has come to the cross as a helpless sinner to receive the Lord Jesus as his Savior. If he has done so, he has been regenerated. All who believe in the Lord Jesus are regenerated.
(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)