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Christianity begins in the mind. It requires intelligence, thought, reason, meditation, and mental effort. Take Paul’s work in Thessalonica, for instance. He reasoned with its citizens out of the Scriptures (although he was largely unsuccessful) (Acts 17:2). He moved on to Berea where he found those who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). In Corinth, he again “reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
Jesus said we are to love God with our minds (Matthew 22:37). We are transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). Isaiah said, famously, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Where it grows to maturity . . .
For a spiritual birth, two things are necessary: (1) a begetting and (2) a bringing forth. For a healthy baby to be brought forth, it must develop over time. A maturation process is required as it acquires a brain, a heart, bones, organs, systems, limbs, and digits. If it is delivered before it grows, it will suffer and may be unable to survive.
A believer’s faith must develop before the new birth can occur. When the word of God is preached to people and they believe it, they are begotten of God (1 John 5:1) but they are not yet “born again” any more than they were physically born at the point of conception.
A conception is required for a birth, but it does not guarantee a birth. Many more children are conceived than are ever born. In fact, only about 62 percent of conceptions result in live births. This is because 18 percent are aborted in the womb1 (cf. Proverbs 6:16-19), 20 percent of babies miscarry2, and approximately one in 150 babies is stillborn.3
Spiritually, a person may also be begotten yet never experience the new birth. Believing in Christ does not make one God’s child, but it prepares him for becoming a child. Jesus said, “As many as received him, to them gave he power4 to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). Obviously, those who merely have the right to become sons of God are not already sons of God. We do not become what we already are. When a couple is given a marriage license, they are given the right (authority) to become husband and wife but they are not married already.
When we believe in Christ, we have the authority to become sons of God but we are not yet born again. Spiritual conception has taken place but delivery has not. Thus we cannot be saved by “faith only” (James 2:24). The chief rulers John later mentions are good examples of this. They believed on Christ, but they “did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43).
Faith must go through its second and third trimesters of penitence and confession. It is possible to come to Christ in a short time, such as the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40), but most come to believe in Jesus by degrees. They respect His teaching and example; they are impressed by His works; they are touched by His sacrifice. Gradually they become convinced that He is more than a mere man—He is the Son of God (John 20:30-31). For most, still more time is required to learn of sin (2 Peter 3:9, 2 Peter 3:15; Revelation 2:21), and to become sorry for the ones personally committed (2 Corinthians 7:10). Later one’s convictions become strong enough to produce sufficient courage to tell others of one’s new faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32-33; Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10). The new birth includes the entire process of becoming a child of God. For many, that length of time may be similar to the nine months it takes for a physical baby to fully develop.
And is delivered into the world through water baptism . . .
Water is the female of the birth. The Bible even refers to water as feminine (“the sea ceased from her raging,” Jonah 1:15). The phrase “out of the water” produces some interesting parallels as well. When did Moses become a son of Pharaoh’s daughter? When he came up out of the water (Exodus 2:10). When was Jesus declared to be the Son of God? When He came up out of water: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:10).
At this point, we have the second part to the new birth—the “born of water” part of John 3:5. There is one birth; there are two elements, which are “water,” and “the Spirit.” Jesus did not say that a man must be born of the water; that is, some special kind of water. Any kind of water will do—hot water, cold water, clear water, muddy water, lake water, river water, ocean water, or water in a baptistery. To say that one must be born of a certain kind of water is making a law where the Lord has not made one. However, Jesus did say that one must be born of the Spirit; that is, a given or special spirit—the Holy Spirit.
One is born of water and of the Spirit when he receives the Spirit’s message as expressed in the gospel, and is baptized for the remission of sins (1 Corinthians 4:15; James 1:18; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-4). Every change in this entire process is directed by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent in both actions of the spiritual birth—the begetting and the delivery; the written word of God is the instrument the Spirit uses to accomplish his work. Compare these scriptures to clearly see this:
1 In the U.S., there were 4,140,419 babies born in the U.S. in 2006 (latest available info) and 1,206,200 abortions that year in the U.S.
2 The majority occurring during the first 12 weeks. There is a 75% chance of miscarriage in weeks 1-2 when you do not know you are pregnant. There is a 10% chance of miscarriage in weeks 3-6 and this number drops to 5% during weeks 6-12. During the second trimester the chance of miscarriage drops again to 3%. After you’ve reached 20 weeks gestation, it is no longer considered a miscarriage. http://www.amazingpregnancy.com/pregnancy-articles/337.html
4 exousian, “privilege or right.”