The term “regeneration” is a Biblical word. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). The Greek word “paliggenesia”
speaks of a spiritual rebirth in Titus 3:5 (the state or the act), that is, (figuratively) spiritual renovation; specifically, Messianic restoration. In theological terms, this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive of the soul before God.
Regeneration is declared to be the work of God the Holy Spirit apart from human help. A person is born again, by the “renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Period. Therefore, time must be taken to state what regeneration is not.
Regeneration is not an outward presentation of the gospel whereby, through moral persuasion, or by emotional manipulation, it remains in the power of man whether or not to be reborn, or converted.
When Jesus told Nicodemus, he must be born again, Nicodemus understood immediately that any rebirth was beyond human ability, or co-operation. “Nicodemus saith unto him [Jesus], How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:1) To ask the question, is to answer it.
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of 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 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:5-7).
Today, many do marvel when the Doctrine of Regeneration is taught to be the exclusive work of God, for there are individuals who are determined to have some part in their own salvation. Individuals insist on exercising their free will, sincerely believing their will is free, autonomous, and not in bondage to the law of sin and death. The helplessness of the human will in the matter of salvation, and regeneration, was understood by Nicodemus, but not by modern man.
Because individuals have been taught to believe they are the master of their own fate, and the captain of their own souls. They have yet to understand how helpless and hopeless they are, before the thrice holy God, in their natural state.
In fact, many do not believe they need to be born again. They do not need to be regenerated. They do not need new life. They are perfect in their own eyes. Therefore, “they that are whole need not a physician” (Mark 2:17).
However, there are others who know something is wrong in life. They are unhappy. They are miserable. They are full of sadness, sorrow, and despair. The past haunts them, the future mocks them. They know they have hurt others, and committed many acts for which they are ashamed. They need a Savior. They need a new birth. They want to be born again. They know they have no power to rebirth themselves.
Regeneration is not moral reformation. For many years, throughout the 20th century, the power of positive thinking prevailed in Christendom. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale had a profound effect on the Christians of his generation. Men like Robert H. Schuller spoke of Self-Esteem, The New Reformation.
Time has passed, and the theology of moral reformation has faded in popularity because it has proven to be a broken reed. Those who have leaned on it, have had their hands pierced. Some were helped, but not healed. There was no last cure in the inner man. “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22).
Regeneration is not a synergistic work between man and God. It is often said that man must do his part in salvation, as God has done His part in the matter, and the verdict is yet to be determined. No, regeneration is not the work of God, comingled with human effort. Regeneration is the divine side of salvation.
This must be kept in mind, because some confuse their conversion experience with the act of regeneration itself. For example, a person might think, because they heard a gospel sermon, went forward when an invitation was given, prayed a prayer, and then went back to their seat, they were saved at that moment. No, the reason why a person responded to the gospel, and was willing to pray the sinner’s prayer, was because they had been regenerated by the Holy Ghost. 1 John 5:1 explains. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
Regeneration is an entirely supernatural work of God, requiring the same omnipotent power required at creation, and in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
The result of this divine recreation in the soul of a person is that they are reborn, and do actually believe.
Regeneration is the divine activity within the soul of a sinner, whereby new life is instilled, so that at the moment of gospel hearing, there is the ability to hear with understanding, see with spiritual illumination, and respond, from the heart, with faith in the Person, and work of Jesus Christ.
How God the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul is not fully understood, as befits the wonderous works of God. But the result of regeneration is discernable.
A person who is regenerated, a person who is born again, a person who has been renewed by the Holy Ghost, will give evidence of a regenerated heart.
There will be a change in lifestyle. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
There will be a new love for holiness, goodness, and truth. There will be a longing to be like Jesus.
“O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer;
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee!
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.”
—Thomas Chisholm, 1866 -1960
There will be a love for the Bible. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18).
There will be a new sensitivity to sin. The conscience will be pierced when the heart has done something, or said something that grieves the Holy Spirit. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:24, 25).
There will be a new longing for heaven, or the return of Jesus. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Does the Doctrine of Regeneration matter? Indeed, it does, and for this reason. The one who does the saving, is the one who receives the glory. If man has one iota in procuring his own salvation, then he has a basis on which to boast, however humble he might make his part in the process appear. If not, then let the Church say, “Soli Deo Gloria!”
However, if God is the one who reaches into the cesspool of sinful humanity and selects individuals to be the object of His sovereign grace, if He elects those on whom He will have mercy, if He regenerates them by the Holy Ghost, if He brings them under the sound of the gospel, then it can be said, “Salvation is of the Lord.”
Any protest about God being unkind, unjust, or unfair, will not alleviate human responsibility imposed by the Creator on every person to repent and flee from the wrath to come.
Every rational person will concede they feel responsible, and are responsible, for the decisions they have made in life, including those sinful choices. Their ultimate rescue however, is dependent on the mercy and grace of God.