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Theology > Salvation > Work of Salvation > Regeneration


The Greek word, palingenesia (a compound of palin, “again” and genete, “birth”) appears only twice in the Greek New Testament: Matt. 19:28 and Tit. 3:5. The word simple speaks of a new beginning.

 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sit on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28);

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5; surely the “washing” and the “renewing” are virtual synonyms).

Note: References in Scripture to the concept of regeneration: Jo. 1:13; 3:3, 5; II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Jas 1:18; I Pet. 1:23.

Note: The Greek gennao is often used in terms of regeneration; it means “to beget,” “to bear,” or “to give birth” (Jo. 1:3; 3:3-8; 5:21; Rom. 6:13; II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; 4:24; I Pet. 1:23; II Pet. 1:4; I Jo. 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).

In both passages the word should be translated “regeneration,” as it is in the NKJV. But  in Matt. the ESV has a paraphrase, “in the new world,” but maintains “regeneration” in Titus. The word in both instances speaks of “renewal,” “rebirth,” or “regeneration,” in Matthew of cosmic renewal and in Titus of personal renewal. Regeneration is both eschatological and soteriological.

Closely related are regeneration and conversion; in fact, some writers combine the two. What is the proper understanding? Is regeneration identical to conversion; does conversion precede regeneration, thereby making the latter dependent on the former; or does regeneration make conversion possible? Obviously, these two events or concepts are intricately related. For the purpose of discussion and presentation this site will distinguish between the two, making regeneration initial and conversion subsequent.

Logically the enabling act of God must, in a creature, precede the act of the creature thus enabled (Boyce, Abstract, 381).

Even when attention is given exclusively to regeneration, there is no unanimity of thought. Calvin understood regeneration to be a life-long process, while the Roman Church relates regeneration to baptism, hence, baptismal regeneration. Should regeneration be interpreted as introductory and continuing, or initial and complete?

More vital than the question of the time sequence associated with regeneration is the essence of regeneration, which is the spiritual life created in the life of the sinner, whereby the sinner is enabled to repent of sin and to exercise faith in Christ. It is the imparting of a new dimension within the individual; regeneration is inner renewal, a creative act by God—an act that man cannot effect.

It is not the result of the work of man nor of the will of man; man is not the efficient cause of his first birth, his physical birth, and he cannot be the efficient cause of a second birth, a spiritual birth. Man cannot bring about his own regeneration because of his inability that arises from his depravity (see: Rom. 3:10-18).

Supernatural intervention is needed because of the sinfulness of man: the sinner is dead in sins, meaning he has no spiritual life for it was lost at the time of Adam; man is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), blind (Eph. 4:18), a slave to sin (Jo. 8:34; Rom. 6:17, 19), in darkness (Col. 1:13), and has no understanding (I Cor. 2:14; Eph. 4:18). His ability is nil (see: Man’s Disobedience and The Character of Sin).

Regeneration, therefore, must be the work of God by which He creates life by imparting a new heart, a new nature. It is His work, and man is completely passive. The new life that is brought into being through the process we call regeneration is life initiated by God, spiritual life from Him and directed toward Him. In regeneration the sinner becomes a new creation.

It is a work that is unseen in its inner dynamic. How can one see the implanting of a new heart, a spiritual heart, a new disposition toward God? (Jo. 3:8). It is the blowing of the Wind. It is the work of the Spirit. The sinner is “born . . . of God” (Jo. 1:13; I Jo. 2:29; 3:9; 5:1, 4; see: Jer. 31:3 and Ezek. 36:25-27) or “begotten” by God (I Pet. 1:3).

The work of the Spirit is the work of God’s grace: regeneration is the work of God by the Spirit of God using the Word of God. The Spirit not only speaks but also creates: He gives the Word and He gives Life, and it is Life through the Word that He brings to the sinner (Jas. 1:18; I Pet. 1:23; does “word” in I Pet. refer to written Word of God, or to the living Word of God, or both?). The Spirit uses the Truth, the Word of God, the word of the cross: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (Jas. 1:18). The means is by the Word, but the Word is without meaning until life is imparted. Regeneration is the exclusive work of the Spirit (Jo. 3:5-8; Eph. 4:23-24; Tit. 3:5), and He neither employs baptism nor the Lord’s Supper; they do not and cannot confer regeneration.

Regeneration is not the changing of the existing sinful nature; it is not the replacing of the existing sinful nature; it is not the improving or renovation of the existing sinful nature; and it is not the adjustment of certain aspects of the existing sinful nature.

To the contrary it is the implanting, the creation, of a new nature, a new creation, with the result being that a new principle is introduced into the life, a principle that pursues God and seeks to please God. The orientation of the life is transformed from self to the Lord God; this transformation is spoken of as going from death to life, because something comes to be in the life of the believer that was not there before: a hunger for the things of God. (I Cor. 4:15). Regeneration marks the beginning of the Christian experience.

Regeneration is a change from self-centeredness to God-centeredness, a new creation (II Cor. 5:17): the mind is enlightened; the will is enabled; the desires are redirected; the person becomes a new creature; a new disposition with new inclinations.

It is to move from humanism to Theism, from a preoccupation with man to a focus upon God.   So just as conception and birth bring new physical life, so the work of regeneration brings new spiritual life (John Frame, Systematic Theology, 945).

To experience regeneration is to be in Christ (II Cor. 5:17); in regeneration a new man begins, one that did not exist prior to regeneration—being “in Christ” and a “new creation” are synonymous. It is to be quickened (Eph. 2:1), with Christ formed in the heart (Gal. 4:19). Regeneration is the beginning of sanctification; the seed is planted: “If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him” (I Jo. 2:29; 3:9; 4:7).

In regeneration the individual become a new person and part of a new fellowship; the new person is a spiritual person and the fellowship is a spiritual fellowship. Before regeneration this person does not exist, and because this person does not exist, the fellowship is impossible. There is no life and where there is no life there can be no fellowship. To become a new creation is automatically to be incorporated into a new fellowship, the Church. New spiritual life overcomes isolation toward God and isolation toward believers.

The concept of regeneration is throughout the New Testament. John 3:1-12 provides commentary on regeneration, even though the word is not used; it is a new birth, it is to be born again. Additionally the New Testament speaks of being made alive (Jo. 6:63; Rom. 6:11, 13; Eph. 2:1).

Regeneration is also found in the Old Testament. The people are told by Moses to “circumcise therefore the foreskins of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deut. 10:16); and later Moses affirms that “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” (Deut. 30:6). To get a new heart is the terminology of Ezekiel (Ezek. 18:31; see: Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:24-30; consider: Ezek. 37:1-14).

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