The Sub-Doctrine of Regeneration
The five major doctrines that include the scope of God's dealings with man are:
- The doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible.
- The doctrine of the divinity of Christ.
- The doctrine of the original goodness of man.
- The doctrine of the fall of man.
- The doctrine of the reconciliation of man.
I have explained that there are ten sub-doctrines that discuss the process of this reconciliation. The first four of these are:
- Election: God chooses Christ to be the Savior of mankind.
- Predestination: God's knowledge that His choice of Christ will achieve His goal, that is, to reconcile man to Himself.
- Atonement: The method God uses, Christ as a payment for sin.
- Redemption: What atonement obtains for man, freedom from sin and death.
Once a person is freed from sin and death he can begin a new life. This new life is referred to as regeneration, and is the fifth sub-doctrine that we will study.
Background of Regeneration
The word regeneration itself
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
- Titus 3:5
The word "regeneration" literally means, "to make alive again," something that was, was not, then is once again. It comes from the combination of two words: born and again.
We therefore can say, "atonement permits a spiritually dead person the freedom to become spiritually alive again."
Old Testament imagery of regeneration
The restoration of the Jewish people from slavery and exile, and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem upon their return there are Old Testament examples of God regenerating His people and renewing the practice of their religion.
New Testament imagery of regeneration
3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'
- John 3:3-7
"Born again," is a term that signifies that a person has an initial birth and eventually experiences a re-birth. One is alive, dead, and then made alive again.
16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,
- Romans 6:16-17
"Slaves of sin... freedom from sin." One goes from slavery to freedom. Regeneration in this case sees one going from freedom to enslavement and then back to freedom.
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"
- Romans 8:15
"Sons who cry out Abba, Father." Regeneration here means a change of status from stranger to son. One begins as one's child, becomes a stranger and then returns as a son.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
- II Corinthians 5:17
"New man in Christ." A person is transformed from being an old man to becoming a new man. The process begins as one is created, becomes old with sin and death, and is then regenerated as a new man through Christ.
for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light
- Ephesians 5:8
"Kingdom of darkness... to kingdom of light." The change is from a place of darkness to a place of light. We begin in light, fall into darkness and through the redeeming power of Christ's sacrifice are regenerated to live in the light once again.
In the New Testament the concept of regeneration is expressed as something that was and then was not for some reason, and then is brought back by God's intervention.
The Gospel and Regeneration
The basic message of the gospel/good news is that regeneration is now possible for all. The gospel describes the regenerative process as a "before and after" picture with the redemptive work of Christ's atoning sacrifice in between.
Romans 5:6-11 explains how these doctrines fit together:
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Sin causes guilt, fear, condemnation, despair and spiritual as well as physical death with no hope of heaven. Some, because of their beliefs or superstitions, may have a false hope of some kind in a paradise or existence after death, but this hope is not one based on the sureness that the witnessed resurrection of Christ provides.
Atoning act on the cross
Jesus pays the moral debt for sin with His sacrifice on behalf of all men for all time.
A response of faith to the cross of Christ produces freedom from the fear of judgment, condemnation and death. This faith also results in a sure hope and peace of mind that in turn leads to the first true experience of what the Bible refers to as "eternal life."
Regeneration and transformation
The doctrine of regeneration describes the transformation that takes place when a person has been freed from sin and its consequences by the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
Regeneration is not something that we do, it is something that happens to us as a result of the redemption/freedom obtained for us by Jesus through His death on the cross. What He does purchases our freedom; our freedom allows us to be regenerated.
For example, a baby does not give itself life. Being born is the result of the actions of others. In the same way, the doctrine of regeneration explains what happens to a person when he or she is born-again as a result of the freedom obtained through the death of Christ on the cross, not as a result of anything we do.
Regeneration details the changes that take place as a person goes from being dead in disbelief and sin to becoming alive through faith in Christ.
Regeneration is usually explained using comparisons to demonstrate the differences between the old and new:
- Lost to saved - Mark 16:16
- Condemned to forgiven - Acts 2:38
- Sinner to saint - Romans 1:7
- Outsider to insider - Galatians 3:20
- Unrighteous to righteous - I John 1:7-9
- Dead to alive - John 3:5
Being a son, being forgiven, being a saint, being saved, etc., these are not things you do, these are things you are, that you have become as a result of your union with Christ. When you become these things it means that you have been transformed or regenerated.
Born-again is a good term because it describes a totally new and different experience of life not experienced or known before.
There is no such thing as a "born-again Christian." Christians are born again as an experience; you are born-again because you are a Christian. The term "born-again" used in this way then, is redundant.
The "Life Signs" of Regeneration
The changes created and described by regeneration cannot be seen. You cannot see forgiveness; sainthood or salvation just like you cannot "see" the wind. However, just as the wind can be seen in what it produces (waves, trees swaying), regeneration is seen in what it produces in the life of the believer.
The new life, the born-again life has a quality, a character that can be seen by others, and in this way proves that regeneration has taken place. I call these regenerative characteristics "life-signs." Just as a person gives signs of life to show that he is alive and well, a born-again/regenerated person also has life signs to show that he or she is spiritually alive as well. Here are a few examples of these "life-signs."
A zeal for the person of Christ
Regeneration puts Christ at the center of one's life. A good example is Paul the Apostle who, after being converted, was entirely focused on preaching the message of regeneration.
19Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" 22But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
- Acts 9:19-22
Newborns are close to their mother, they cling to the one who gave birth to them. It is the same with Christians, those who are regenerated by Christ want to stay close to Him, feed on Him, please Him and know Him.
A zeal for the Church of Christ
In Acts 2:42 we see how new Christians were engrossed in their life in the body of Christ.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Those born-again into God's family delight in the activities of that family which include worship and study, fellowship and service. You cannot have zeal for the head of the body (Christ) without zeal for the body (church) as well.
A zeal for the purity of Christ
18Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. 19And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
- Acts 19:18-19
The regenerated state brings with it a repugnance of evil, a strong desire to do away with sin in one's life. Born-again people hate their own sinfulness and agonize over the continued evil still present in their flesh.
Paul cried out with the plea of every regenerated person faced with his own sinful flesh when he said, "Oh wretched man that I am, who can save me from this body of sin?" (Romans 7:24)
This experience serves only to heighten their awareness of and appreciation for the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Regenerated people do not rejoice over their sins; however, their sins do help them to see how much they need Christ and to appreciate His sacrifice for them. Although painful at times, this realization causes joy.
Regenerated people cannot be perfect because of their sinful flesh, but they have a great desire to be perfect, and they know that this hunger and thirst for righteousness will one day be satisfied not only through the eyes of faith but in actual fact as well.
A zeal for the works of Christ
Regenerated people have a great desire to do God's work in order to demonstrate their gratitude for their new life and thus, give God glory. Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work" (John 4:34). Jesus was eager to do God's work, and so are the people who are born-again through His sacrifice.
The zeal that regenerated people have to do God's work, for doing what is right, for knowing and following Jesus, is not a burden. It is a natural characteristic of the born-again spirit, and is the easiest way to separate those who are dead in Christ from those who are alive in Him.
For the outside world of non-believers these are the signs that point out the differences between those born-again and those who are not. The ones I have mentioned are not the only signs of regeneration but are common to those who have experienced the regenerative power of Christ.
The Point of Regeneration
It is obvious that in regeneration we go from being one thing to being another. There is also a point where we cease being lost and become saved, cease being condemned and become forgiven, sinner to saint, etc. Many ask," What is that point?"
Until we get to regeneration, the process of reconciliation is strictly the plan and activity of God. God chooses, God knows, God in Christ pays the price, God's work opens the door to freedom, but at this point man's will enters the picture.
Through the gospel God now offers to man a new life (regeneration) and man is free and able to accept it or reject it. The deciding point, dividing point, transformation point is faith expressed in repentance and baptism. For example, a baby is conceived, matured, carried, but is not born until it comes out of its mother's body. In the same way, a person's faith is conceived, it grows, feelings of repentance emerge, a sense of spirituality develops, but he is not born-again until he comes out of the waters of baptism.
3Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
4Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" 5Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
- John 3:3-5
Rebirth and baptism are linked together.
3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
- Romans 6:3-4
Paul says we are regenerated, re-born when we share in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ through baptism. In order to be re-born we have to die first and baptism is the way we bury the old person and put on the new.
11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
- Colossians 2:11-13
A transfer from death to life takes place at baptism because at baptism sins that bring death are forgiven, and we receive the means (the Holy Spirit) to live the regenerated life.
5He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
- Titus 3:5-7
The cleansing and the renewal of our spirit by the Holy Spirit takes place at baptism.
In conclusion, we can say that God chooses His Son to die in order to open the gates of freedom from sin and death which will allow us a new life manifested in zeal for Him, His children and His work. We come into this new life when we express our faith in Christ by burying our old lives in the waters of baptism and resurrect with new lives in Christ.
God always knew that the atonement of Christ would free believers to experience new lives.
- Explain the concept of regeneration.
- How does the history of the Jewish people in Egyptian slavery, their release from slavery and their period of wandering in the desert illustrate regeneration?
- What is the significance of Jesus' words to Nicodemus in John 3 regarding being reborn and how Paul spoke to this in various statements (Romans 6:16-17; Romans 8:15, II Corinthians 5:17, and Ephesians 5:8)?
- How is the concept of regeneration good news?
- What is the point of regeneration?
- Contrast the difference before and after regeneration.
- What must begin upon regeneration?
- What are some life signs of regeneration?