Jesus said that to become a Christian we must be “born again” (John 3:3). That phrase implies that we cannot simply remodel our current lives; we must start over. Second Corinthians 5:15 and 17 explain what happens when we put our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord: “And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. . . . Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
Jesus used the illustration of birth because we understand that, when a baby is born, a new creation is evident. Live birth is followed by a transformation over time from infancy to maturity. When we are born again in the Spirit, we who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1; cf. Romans 6:18) are brought to life. We are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God changes our desires, outlook, and focus as we turn from self-worship to God-worship.
Many people try to bypass this transfer of ownership and instead try to change their own outward behavior or start going to church in an effort to feel like a Christian. However, willpower can only take us so far. Jesus did not come to reform our sinful flesh; He came to kill it (Luke 9:23; Romans 6:6–7). The old and new natures cannot work together, nor can they peacefully coexist (Romans 8:12–14). We must die to self before we can experience the new life Jesus offers us (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Every human being is composed of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Before we have a relationship with God through new birth, we live primarily controlled by our soul and body. The spirit lies dormant inside us, like a deflated balloon. When we transfer ownership of our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ, He sends His Holy Spirit to regenerate our deflated spirits. The Holy Spirit is compared to a wind (John 3:8; Acts 2:2). At salvation, He pours into our hearts and inflates the spirit inside us so that we can now communicate with God. Whereas a person was formerly directed by the sin nature, he or she can now be directed by the Holy Spirit who works to transform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice and to renew our minds so that we begin to think as God thinks (Romans 12:1–2). As we focus on knowing God, reading His Word, and surrendering ourselves daily to the control of the Holy Spirit, our choices change. Our pastimes, priorities, and passions change. The fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) becomes evident where there were once only the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19–21). Experiencing the new birth is only the beginning. God continues to work in us to present to Himself a holy people on that day when we see Him face to face (Philippians 1:6; 2:13; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27).