This is a necessary piece of information in understanding how we were saved, and can drastically affect how we worship our Creator. As many have been taught over the years in the church, the passage of John 3:1-15 has been explained to us to say that once you believe then you will be regenerated in your spirit. Jesus could not be clearer in this teaching though that the reverse is true; you cannot do anything (including believe) until you are regenerated (born again) by the Spirit of God. I also believe this teaching is vitally important for understanding the context of John 3:16. Jesus says in John 15:5, “…Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Does this mean we cannot eat and drink, or go here or there? Of course not! It is speaking of doing anything right before the eyes of the Lord, such as believing in Him for salvation. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. And how true this is at all of the levels of salvation! From our deadness in sin prior to Christ, to the end of our life on our death-bed. We cannot be pleasing to God without Christ’s initial intervention to change our awful, spiritually dead plight in sin. In John 6:44 He says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” What is this drawing Jesus is speaking of? No one can come to Christ (believe in Christ, love Christ, draw near to Christ) unless the Father draws the person to Himself. Is it just a wooing of the person to Himself or an actual change performed within the person by the Spirit where they are made alive and now desire to come to Him, whereas they did not before? I would advocate it is the latter of the two. This is regeneration.

It couldn’t be any clearer what Jesus is implying when He says in John 3:6-8, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” First of all, Jesus illustrates a point; flesh is born of flesh, but spirit (a regenerated, born again spirit) is born of the Spirit (capital S, meaning the Holy Spirit); your spirit cannot be regenerated by your flesh; this is an impossible proposition (i.e. man does nothing to affect the regeneration of his own soul). The Holy Spirit alone regenerates or bestows grace upon the dead soul so as to make them alive. Man does not cooperate in this grace, in the regeneration of his soul; God the Holy Spirit alone performs this act.

Then to make it even clearer, Jesus uses the illustration of wind blowing about from here to there in relation to a person being born again (having their spirit regenerated by the Spirit). He says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” What is this illustrating? The Spirit of God is like the wind. We cannot see the Holy Spirit, we do not know where the Spirit comes from or where it is going. It is God’s sovereign choice to do as He pleases and to regenerate whom He pleases. And so in the same way, Jesus says, “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” God the Holy Spirit goes about to whom He chooses to go, as planned from the foundation of the world. Can we tell the wind where to go or what to do? No, but who commands it? God. So who commands the Spirit where to go? God, because the Spirit is God Himself. The Holy Spirit alone, first comes on a person to release them from the bondage of their sin, from the deadness of their soul, removing their resistance to Himself, unplugging their deaf ears, removing the blinding scales from their eyes (spiritually) and giving them the ability to “see” Christ as Lord and Savior, seeing His beauty and excellence, and thus believing in Him so as to be saved.

So what does this passage illustrate? How is it we were saved? Did our faith produce our regeneration (flesh giving birth to spirit, which Jesus already said was not the case), or did the Holy Spirit’s regeneration produce faith within us that wasn’t there before? Our faith is a gift of God, not something we contribute to our salvation. Does God the Holy Spirit believe for us though? No. We genuinely believe, but it is only because of the initial regeneration of our souls that we are even able to believe, otherwise we would have never believed, because we were dead (unable and unwilling to respond to the call of God) in our natural state. This passage could not be any clearer as to the point of this teaching. We must be born again to do anything spiritual, to “see” (spiritually) the kingdom of God, to even believe in Christ. Regeneration precedes faith. This is why Nicodemus was so shocked by this teaching and gave his answer, “How can these things be?” Why else would he have been so shocked so as to give a response like that? God’s grace is bestowed upon those He pleases to bestow it, not based on anything within the person, but based purely in His perfect, holy, and sovereign counsel that no man knows (Deuteronomy 29:29). “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” Salvation is of the Lord, by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, revealed in Scripture Alone, all for the Glory of God Alone.

Excellent resources pertaining to these things:

John 3:1-10, and the Regeneration of the Spirit – C. Matthew McMahon
Regeneration – C.H. Spurgeon