A Regenerated Heart

John 3:3 (ESV)
"Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

I sometimes believe we look at the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus and feel this is not applicable to our own lives, because we are already among the saved. Our evidences of such a state rests in such actions as our fairly regular once-a-week church attendance, our reading of the Bible on occasion, and being nice to others on most days, etc…...

The only thing I will say to this, if it is indeed true, is that it is completely wrong. If you do not think Satan drops in churches now and then or that demons don’t also know Scripture and believe who Jesus is, I challenge you to think otherwise (James 2:19). The point is this: these actions do not in themselves constitute a regenerated heart. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit, not of man.

When we speak of regeneration, we mean our hearts will be fully surrendered to Christ in obedience: “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

We will also have an inward desire to please God instead of being focused on our own satisfaction: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:10–14)

Every aspect of our lives should reflect this regeneration—this is the crux of our sanctification process. Reverend Moody’s sermon on John 3:3 emphasizes the problem with superficial actions and equating them with an unregenerate spirit:

“You may go to church all the days of your life, and yet not be converted. Going to church is not being born again. But there is another class who say, “I don’t place my hopes in going to church. I have been baptized, and I think I was regenerated when that took place.” Where do those persons get their evidence? Certainly not in the Bible. You can not baptize men into regeneration. If you could, I would go up and down the world and baptize every man, woman, and child; and if I could not do it when they were awake, I would do it while they slept. But the Word says, “Except a man be born again”—born in the Spirit, born in righteousness from above—“he can not see the kingdom of God.”

There is another class who say, “I was born again when I was confirmed. I was confirmed when I was five years old.” But confirmation is not regeneration. A new birth must be the work of God, and not the work of man. Baptism, confirmation, and other ordinances are right in their place, but the moment you build hope on them instead of on new birth, you are being deceived by Satan. Another man says, “That is not what my hope is based upon; I say my prayers regularly.” I suppose there was no man prayed more regularly than Paul did before Christ met him; he was a praying man. But saying prayers is one thing, and praying is another. Saying prayers is not conversion. You may pray from education; your mother may have taught you when you were a little boy. I remember that I could not go to sleep when I was a little boy unless I said my prayers, and yet perhaps the very next word I uttered might be an oath. There is just as much virtue in counting beads as in saying prayers, unless the heart has been regenerated and born again.

There is another class who say, “I read the Bible regularly.” Well, reading the Bible is very good, and prayer is very good in its place; but you don’t see anything in the Scriptures which says, “Except a man read the Bible he can not see the kingdom of God.” There is still another class who say, “I am trying to do the best I can, and I will come out all right.” That is not new birth at all; that is not being born of God. Trying to do the best you can is not regeneration. This question of new birth is the most important that ever came before the world, and it ought to be settled in every man’s mind. Every one should inquire, Have I been born of the Spirit?—have I passed from death unto life?—or am I building my hopes of Heaven on some form? In the first chapter of Genesis we find God working alone; He went on creating the world all alone. Then we find Christ coming to Calvary alone. His disciples forsook Him, and in redemption He was alone. And when we get to the third chapter of John we find that the work of regeneration is the work of God alone. The Ethiopian can not change his spots; we are born in sin, and the change of heart must come from God. We believe in the good old Gospel. What man wants is to come to God for this new heart. The moment he gets it he will work for the Lord. He can not help it; it becomes his second nature.”

Moody, D. L. (1877). New Sermons, Addresses, and Prayers (pp. 121–122). Cincinnati, OH: Henry S. Goodspeed & Co.