Labor, Delivery, and New Birth
Twenty-nine years as a bachelor did very little to prepare me for the delivery room.
My wife and I welcomed our firstborn into the world in the last month. While he put on his six pounds and eight ounces during pregnancy, we went to our appointments, prepared our small home for a new tenant, and prayed continually for God’s help. Nine months of waiting, a dozen or more hours of labor, and we still weren’t fully ready for the miracle of meeting our son.
We both would say these days have been the most dependent, most spiritual days of our lives so far, leaning on God for day-by-day provision, strength, and protection.
The birth of a child is always breathtaking, but how much more for those of us who have been born again? The sweetest and deepest things my wife and I have seen and experienced in recent weeks haven’t been mainly about our son, as handsome as he is, but about God. Minute after minute, we’re understanding more of what God did when he brought us to life and made us new.
God could have used countless other pictures to describe what happens when we put our faith in him, but he chose a baby — a six-to-eight-pound human who cannot see, speak, or walk. Jesus says, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Newborns may not be able to stay awake for more than a few hours, or do anything for themselves, but they can teach us an enormous amount about the most important things in the world.
1. Newborns never stop eating.
Newborn life can be overwhelmingly demanding, yet it’s unbelievably simple. Our doctor essentially asks two questions at each appointment: 1. How is he sleeping? 2. How is he eating? The signs of a growing and thriving newborn are rest and appetite. A hungry baby is a healthy baby.
Too many professing Christians have convinced themselves they’re following Christ while having little-to-no hunger for him. They’ve put on Christian clothes, established Christian schedules, and surrounded themselves with Christians, but leave behind the Christian diet. They may feel guilt-free, but they’re starving for real milk, probably settling for a look-alike formula of middle-class, American comfort and security. But a true newborn screams for more.
John Piper writes, “In the new birth, our dead, stony boredom with Christ is replaced by a heart that senses the worth of Jesus” (Finally Alive, 42). A born-again Christian has tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), and now can never taste or see enough of him. Every new day brings its own undeniable need for food — for another serving of new mercy (Lamentations 3:22–23), another sight of Christ.
Piper says, “Faith is a spiritual feasting on Christ with a view to being so satisfied in him that the power of all other allurements is broken” (A Hunger for God, 43–44). A sign of new birth is a desperate, persistent need for more of God, in his word and in prayer.
2. Newborns do not birth themselves; they are born.
Birth happens to a newborn. The baby doesn’t birth himself. He may be more or less ready to leave the womb, but governed by God, the mother’s body decides when it’s time to go. A birth doesn’t celebrate the strength, intelligence, or maturity of a newborn.
If we take a step back — at least my wife agrees — we can even admit that it doesn’t ultimately celebrate the strength of a mother. Many moms feel their weakest and most desperate in the delivery room, especially those delivering in the strength God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). They may have an enormous sense of victory and accomplishment, but they also feel like someone stronger than themselves was fighting for them minute by minute, contraction by contraction.
In Finally Alive, John Piper writes, “New life happens at new birth. This is not religious activity or discipline or decision. This is the coming into being of life. . . . The new birth is supernatural, not natural” (30). Psalm 139 memorably declares, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13–14).
A newborn is fearfully and wonderfully made, not discovered. A new birth is fearfully and wonderfully given, not achieved — not do-it-yourself, but done-for-you.
3. Newborns warn us about the seriousness of sin.
I have never loved someone here on earth like I love my wife, and I have never personally witnessed more pain than her agony in childbirth. The mingling of my love for her and the intensity of her pain made me feel the words of God in Genesis 3 like never before: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).
Why? Because sin welcomes that kind of excruciating anguish. When God wanted Adam and Eve (and every one of us after them) to know the seriousness of rejecting him and his will, he walked to the delivery room — where the most sensitive, vulnerable, and beautiful things in the world happen — and he made it unbearably painful.
Piper says that pain like this is God’s “visual, audible, touchable image of the moral outrage that sin entered the world and pervades the world” (Finally Alive, 88). The more horrifying and unimaginable thought is that the worst pain in the hardest labor pales in comparison to the consequences of sin. People in hell would beg to experience labor instead. That’s how awful any sin against God really is. A newborn warns us to flee from sin at all costs (Romans 8:13).
4. Newborns teach us world history.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22–23)
When I used to think about the whole creation “groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” I thought about the few minutes of pushing immediately before delivery. Those are the moments captured on television and in movies (and all I knew about labor). But the pains of childbirth really begin at conception, and last all nine months — weeks and weeks of discomfort, nausea, less mobility, aching, and more.
World history is something like labor — aching, nauseous, painful, unpredictable, impatient. Waiting for new birth is like waiting for that first breath of fresh oxygen in a sinless world filled with God.
We won’t forget the pains of childbirth in those first moments in the new heavens and new earth, but all the agony will suddenly shrink and fade behind our joy in the new creation. Like a new mom holding her newborn child, the born again will savor every second face-to-face with Jesus, and suddenly appreciate all God was doing in those painful previous weeks, months, and centuries.
Newborns teach us about world history, literally about the state of the entire world between the first sin and the last one. They tell us the whole story, and then remind us to long for Jesus’s return.
When Were You Really Born?
For purposes here on earth, 1986 may prove to be the more defining moment in my life (at least when it comes to tax forms and credit cards). But 2001 will forever mark the beginning of my eternal destiny — the year that sealed my forgiveness from sin and birthed my fullness of joy.
New birth is not a vague spiritual change disconnected from history. It is an objective historical act of the Spirit of God connecting us by faith to the historical act of the Spirit of God connecting us by faith to the historical, incarnate Lord Jesus, so that the life he now has as the crucified and risen Savior has become our life because we are united to him. (Finally Alive, 94)
Your new birth in Christ is as real as the day you were delivered from your mother’s womb. The stretching belly, the focused breathing, the tears streaming down her face, the onslaught of contractions, and the desperate pushing engage all of our senses to tell us that new birth is even more real and even more beautiful.
My wife and I will never forget the day we met our son. He won’t remember those first minutes together, or any of the weeks since. But regardless of what he’s able to recall, he was born. Whether we can remember the day we were finally made alive or not, if we’re alive in Christ today, that birth was as real as any.
Let newborns remind you again that you’re now living and breathing forever because of God.