Jesus introduced the term born again and the concept of the new birth. The new birth was not originally an abstract concept describing a branch of Christianity, but rather a term He used to describe the changes that occurred when a person placed their trust in Him.
The new birth is therefore an event, initiated and produced by God, bringing life where there was previously no life, and allowing a person to now experience God and be adopted into His family.
If an adult, who has lived life without the new birth, is born again then that person can show sudden and dramatic change and begin living a new life. If this is a conscious experience, occurring after many years of life without God, then it will be experienced as life from the dead. The person who has this experience and those that know him/her will all see the difference. For example, take the classic example of an out of control alcoholic, failing to provide for himself and his family, unable to sacrificially love his wife and family, irresponsible, not keeping his promises and intentions and who is incapable of productive steady employment. When this person “meets Jesus” and has a dramatic, conscious, new birth experience, and then goes on as a changed person, finding joy, peace and strength and is now able be who he was designed to be, then this person is clearly “born again”.
If all humans who were born again had a conscious experience that dramatically and permanently changed them into a steadily growing Godly person then the new birth would not be a mysterious concept. As it turns out, though, there are many variations on the theme.
For example, there are many people who “hear the word of the gospel”, who are moved to respond, who then “believe that Jesus died for their sins” but who do not experience sudden, dramatic and permanent change in their lives. They can still struggle with doubt or with moral failure. A person can respond to an “alter call”, feel different, start a new life style, join the church, read the Bible, pray, and yet struggle with doubt and/or moral temptation. Have they really been born again?
Conversely, there are those who by upbringing, training, culture or family have “Christian” values but no conscious born again experience. Do they need a “born again experience”? The answer is that they do not any further adult conscious experience if they are trusting and obeying God. Their new birth occurred, but they can’t remember a time without it.
Suppose such a person feels that even though they already believe the morality of a Christian culture they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus and they want one. Or, if they respond to teaching on the new birth and “ask Jesus into their heart” but don’t feel any different or have any new “ears to hear” does that mean they have not been born again?
There are several traditional ways to address the types of situations described above. One way is to teach that if a person does not have a change that shows evidence of a new birth then there are, indeed, not born again. Others teach that a person should ignore a lack of experience or feeling and instead concentrate on believing that they are born again, by faith. In the first case the person is told to seek God for the evidence of a new birth. In the second case they are told to do their best to follow what Jesus teaches in the Bible.
A safe course is to realize that only God can tell what is in a person’s heart. Therefore, it is wise to counsel seeking God without declaring, by human reasoning, what the person’s state really is. In fact, a good response to either a lack of feeling or to a heart that is not ready and eager to obey God is to seek Him and to obey Him while seeking. Both searching and obedience are aided if the person trusts that God wants good for them even more than they want good for themselves.
Both seeking and obeying are also aided by a good understanding of New Testament spiritual truths. For example, a person needs to come to understand the difference between legalism and New Testament obedience. Furthermore a person needs to learn to wait on God, to seek God and to hear God.
The persistent practice of contemplative prayer is very useful to quite the heart and to make progress in intimate relationship with God. Learning the practice of contemplation will add a powerful tool to the normal protestant methods of Bible study, fellowship and intercession.
One thing for sure: if a person wants God and seeks God with their whole heart then they will find God.