I already answered the question, what does it mean to be born-again in the first volume of Because You Asked, but this question appears here because I consider it significantly different. Exactly what does happen when we are born again? Chafer, in Salvation, lists 33 things that happen when we are saved, but it is perhaps beyond the scope of this brief answer to list them all.
The first thing that happens when we are born again is that we are told that all the angels in heaven rejoice over us (Luke 15:10). Sometimes we are told that we are an “expected event”, and the Bible does indeed tell us that we are chosen before the foundation of the world. Yet, this choosing does not preclude surprise and joy in heaven over one sinner finding the new life. Whatever the choosing means, and it must mean quite a lot, it does not stop the rejoicing in heaven over one who was lost and now is found. What a wonder it is when someone finds the peace of Christ, and begins his new walk with God!
And that is the second thing that is of major importance that happens when we are born again. We are given the very essence of God—the Holy Spirit himself. Making this doctrine up would be too incredible for people to believe. It is beyond preposterous, that we should be given the nature of God himself. Yet, it is true! “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). And again, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).
One of the many things that happens as we accept the sacrifice of God’s Son is that we become aware of just how utterly in need we were. The Bible paints a dreadful picture of sin, and tells us that we are all sinners, and without hope, except for the one and only provision that God has made in his Son. Interestingly, this is one that Chafer considers for special consideration, ”Of the foregoing thirty-three positions into which a believer is brought by the sufficient power and sovereign grace of God, two should be considered at length; both because of their prominence on the Sacred Pages and because of their fundamental character. They are both stated in John 14:20, and are the words of Christ: "Ye in me, and I in you."”1 Chafer is quite correct to emphasize that we are in him, now and forever. When God looks at us, instead of seeing the sin that blots our life, he instead sees only the provision made by the Son. We are forever written in the Book of Life.
One of the unfortunate things of church history is that before Luther and Calvin, leaders in the church would come to people in the community and urge them to good works, saying that they needed to work for their salvation. All too frequently, these good works would stand for just a bit, and then the leaders would come again to the people, saying again that they needed to work for their salvation. Calvin developed the doctrine of perseverance of the saints in reaction to this habit. It is not ever by works that we are saved—it is only the finished work of Christ that saves us, and that saving perseveres forever! We are in him, and in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
But the second part of that is all so important too! God places his own Spirit in us, and that Spirit is his eternal gift to us, marking us as forever (perseverance?) children. This remarkable gift calls us out, or separates us from the world, and places our names in the heavenly realms. As a young Christian I used to idly speculate that if God ever forgot anyone, it would probably be me. But God forgets no one, for he has taken care to place himself in each one of his children. Forgetting even just one of them is not possible, for He will not forget Himself.
I suppose worrying about such things might be part of my early life, for I not only speculated that God might forget me, but I also became aware, for the first time, that I was really not alone. God had invaded my life. Not just my life. My body. Not just my body. My mind. I became aware of His presence in me. In Psalms 139, it teaches us that there is nowhere that we can go to get away from God. We know of a certainty, from the doctrine of omniscience, that God knows everything, and the Psalm teaches us lots of His watch care over us. But now that I was born again, I became aware of Him. There was no place that I could go that I might have “private” thoughts. In fact, the idea of private thoughts was altogether apart from the idea of being a Christian.
I suppose that many Christians do not become aware of the presence of God, or, at any rate, not quite so soon in their lives. Here I was, a Christian but a few weeks, and I was wrestling with a profound awareness of God in me. All of me. I found myself not paranoid, but rather intrigued. The God who had forgiven me, loved me, and who had chosen me, wanted to be a part of my life, not for nefarious reasons, but rather for the best of reasons, that he might build for me a new life, in the image of his own Son. That is what made it bearable for me, to be awakened to a world that I had denied, and to find a reality more real than anything I knew. And yet it was unseen. Sproul somewhere describes the new life as trying to describe a rainbow to a blind person. I certainly saw the rainbow, but could not begin to describe it. But I knew that with him inside me, there was no way that I was ever going to be forgotten.
What of the story that Jesus tells about the man found in heaven without wedding clothes? I think the significance of that story is not that the man was found in heaven. Rather, it is that he was cast out of heaven, for not being clothed in the righteousness that comes by faith. Remember that he was surprised not to be included with all the other guests, surprised that he was not properly clothed. That should serve all of us as a warning to be sure that we have built on the right foundation of faith, checking ourselves that we may not be surprised one day. Ye must be born again.
1. Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 694-697). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.