Regeneration, how does it happen? By Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding what the Bible calls regeneration. What does this mean? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. Glorify God always!
“An act of God whereby a soul, previously dead to him, experiences a spiritual resurrection into a new sphere of life, in which he is alive to God….”; an inner work of the Spirit in which new spiritual life is implanted so that a person’s whole nature is changed and he or she can respond to God in faith. Also called new birth, rebirth, spiritual birth, being born again or quickening.” *
“The act of God whereby He renews the spiritual condition of a sinner. It is a spiritual change brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit so that the person then possesses new life, eternal life. Regeneration is a change in our moral and spiritual nature where justification is a change in our relationship with God. Also, sanctification is the work of God in us to make us more like Jesus. Regeneration is the beginning of that change. It means to be born again.” **
“And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.’ (Deuteronomy 30:6)
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you and heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
“And I will give them and heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
“Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2Corinthians 3:3)
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)
“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)
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” (Hebrews 8:10)
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” (Hebrews 10:16)
In regeneration, a spiritual new birth takes place. In the Scriptural words and phrases below are various descriptions of the new birth seen in the passages above:
“Born again” or (born from above) John 3:3;
“And you hath he quickened” (made alive) Ephesians 2:1;
“The washing of regeneration” Titus 3:5;
“I will put into their hearts; written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” 2 Corinthians;
“I will give them a heart to know me” Jeremiah 24:7;
“God will circumcise thine heart, a new spirit will I put within you” Deuteronomy 30:6;
God is the One who regenerates the sinner. John 3:3 informs us that a man must be born again. The other passages listed above describe how a man is born again by the action of God. The Holy Spirit gives life. The verb tenses in the above passages that have been underlined are action verbs on God’s part. For example, “I will,” “And you hath he quickened,” “God will.”
Some descriptions of what happens in regeneration:
1. Spiritually reborn
2. New birth resulting in a new nature
3. Heart of stone changed to heart of flesh
4. Circumcision of the heart
5. Rebirth of the old nature, to a new spiritual nature
6. The reborn are restored to a relationship with God
7. Renewed to life, characterized by faith in Christ
8. The act of God causing an inward resurrection from sin to a new life in Christ
Regeneration from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
[1, G3824, palingenesia]
“new birth” (palin, “again,” genesis, “birth”), is used of “spiritual regeneration,” Titus 3:5, involving the communication of a new life, the two operating powers to produce which are “the word of truth,” James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23, and the Holy Spirit, John 3:5-John 3:6; the loutron, “the laver, the washing,” is explained in Ephesians 5:26,”having cleansed it by the washing (loutron) of water with the word.”
The new birth and “regeneration” do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience; they refer to the same event but view it in different aspects. The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; “regeneration” stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old; hence the connection of the use of the word with its application to Israel, in Matthew 19:28. Some regard the kai in Titus 3:5 as epexegetic, “even;” but, as Scripture marks two distinct yet associated operating powers, there is not sufficient ground for this interpretation. See under EVEN.
In Matthew 19:28 the word is used, in the Lord’s discourse, in the wider sense, of the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21, RV), when, as a result of the second advent of Christ, Jehovah “sets His King upon His holy hill of Zion” (Psalms 2:6), and Israel, now in apostasy, is restored to its destined status, in the recognition and under the benign sovereignty of its Messiah. Thereby will be accomplished the deliverance of the world from the power and deception of Satan and from the despotic and anti-Christian rulers of the nations. This restitution will not in the coming millennial age be universally a return to the pristine condition of Edenic innocence previous to the Fall, but it will fulfill the establishment of God’s covenant with Abraham concerning his descendants, a veritable rebirth of the nation, involving the peace and prosperity of the Gentiles. That the worldwide subjection to the authority of Christ will not mean the entire banishment of evil is clear from Revelation 20:7-Revelation 20:8. Only in the new heavens and earth, “wherein dwelleth righteousness,” will sin and evil be entirely absent. (1)
An excellent informative article on Regeneration by J.I.Packer:
Regeneration is the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His Will (Matt. 19:28; John 3:3,5,7; Titus 3:5). It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.
Regeneration, or new birth, is an inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8). The Bible conceives salvation as the redemptive renewal of man on the basis of a restored relationship with God in Christ, and presents it as involving “a radical and complete transformation wrought in the soul (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23) by God the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; Eph. 4:24), by virtue of which we become ‘new men’ (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), no longer conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9), but in knowledge and holiness of the truth created after the image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Rom. 12:2)” (B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, 351). Regeneration is the “birth” by which this work of new creation is begun, as sanctification is the “growth” whereby it continues (I Pet. 2:2; II Pet. 3:18). Regeneration in Christ changes the disposition from lawless, Godless self-seeking (Rom. 3:9-18; 8:7) which dominates man in Adam into one of trust and love, of repentance for past rebelliousness and unbelief, and loving compliance with God’s law henceforth. It enlightens the blinded mind to discern spiritual realities (I Cor. 2:14-15; II Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10), and liberates and energizes the enslaved will for free obedience to God (Rom. 6:14, 17-22; Phil. 2:13).
The use of the figure of new birth to describe this change emphasizes two facts about it. The first is its decisiveness. The regenerate man has forever ceased to be the man he was; his old life is over and a new life has begun; he is a new creature in Christ, buried with him out of reach of condemnation and raised with him into a new life of righteousness (see Rom. 6:3-11; II Cor. 5:17; Col. 3:9-11). The second fact emphasized is the monergism of regeneration. Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” prompt the quickening operation of God’s Spirit within them (see Eph. 2:1-10). Spiritual vivification is a free, and to man mysterious, exercise of divine power (John 3:8), not explicable in terms of the combination or cultivation of existing human resources (John 3:6), not caused or induced by any human efforts (John 1:12-13) or merits (Titus 3:3-7), and not, therefore, to be equated with, or attributed to, any of the experiences, decisions, and acts to which it gives rise and by which it may be known to have taken place.
The noun “regeneration” (palingenesia) occurs only twice. In Matt. 19:28 it denotes the eschatological “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) under the Messiah for which Israel was waiting. This echo of Jewish usage points to the larger scheme of cosmic renewal within which that of individuals finds its place. In Titus 3:5, the word refers to the renewing of the individual. Elsewhere, the thought of regeneration is differently expressed.
In OT prophecies regeneration is depicted as the work of God renovating, circumcising, and softening Israelite hearts, writing his laws upon them, and thereby causing their owners to know, love, and obey him as never before (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:39-40; Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:25-27). It is a sovereign work of purification from sin’s defilement (Ezek. 36:25; cf. Ps. 51:10), wrought by the personal energy of God’s creative out breathing the personal energy of God’s creative out breathing (“spirit”: Ezek. 36:27; 39:29). Jeremiah declares that such renovation on a national scale will introduce and signal God’s new messianic administration of his covenant with his people (Jer. 31:31; 32:40).
In the NT the thought of regeneration is more fully individualized, and in John’s Gospel and First Epistle the figure of new birth, “from above” (anothen: John 3:3, 7, Moffatt), “of water and the Spirit” (i.e., through a purificatory operation of God’s Spirit: see Ezek. 36:25-27; John 3:5; cf. 3:8), or simply “of God” (John 1:13, nine times in I John), is integral to the presentation of personal salvation. The verb gennao (which means both “beget” and “bear”) is used in these passages in the aorist or perfect tense to denote the once-for-all divine work whereby the sinner, who before was only “flesh,” and as such, whether he knew it or not, utterly incompetent in spiritual matters (John 3:3-7), is made “spirit” (John 3:6), i.e., is enabled and caused to receive and respond to the saving revelation of God in Christ. In the Gospel, Christ assures Nicodemus that there are no spiritual activities, no seeing or entering God’s kingdom, because no faith in himself, without regeneration (John 3:1ff.); and John declares in the prologue that only the regenerate receive Christ and enter into the privileges of God’s children (John 1:12-13). Conversely, in the Epistle John insists that there is no regeneration that does not issue in spiritual activities. The regenerate do righteousness (I John 2:29) and do not live a life of sin (3:9; 5:18: the present tense indicates habitual law-keeping, not absolute sinlessness, cf. 1:8-10); they love Christians (4:7), believe rightly in Christ, and experience faith’s victory over the world (5:4). Any, who do otherwise, whatever they claim, are still unregenerate children of the devil (3:6-10).
Paul specifies the Christological dimensions of regeneration by presenting it as (1) a life giving co-resurrection with Christ (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13; cf. I Pet. 1:3); (2) a work of new creation in Christ (II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; Gal. 6:15). Peter and James make the further point that God “begets anew” (anagennao: I Pet. 1:23) and “brings to birth” (apokyeo: James 1:18) by means of the gospel. It is under the impact of the word that God renews the heart, so evoking faith (Acts 16:14-15).
The fathers did not formulate the concept of regeneration precisely. They equated it, broadly speaking, with baptismal grace, which to them meant primarily (to Pelagius, exclusively) remission of sins. Augustine realized, and vindicated against Pelagianism, the necessity for prevenient grace to make a man trust and love God, but he did not precisely equate this grace with regeneration. The Reformers reaffirmed the substance of Augustine’s doctrine of prevenient grace, and Reformed theology still maintains it. Calvin used the term “regeneration” to cover man’s whole subjective renewal, including conversion and sanctification. Many seventeenth century Reformed theologians equated regeneration with effectual calling and conversion with regeneration (hence the systematic mistranslation of epistrepho, “turn,” as a passive, “be converted,” in the AV); later Reformed theology has defined regeneration more narrowly, as the implanting of the “seed” from which faith and repentance spring (I John 3:9) in the course of effectual calling. Arminianism constructed the doctrine of regeneration synergistically, making man’s renewal dependent on his prior cooperation with grace; liberalism constructed it naturalistically, identifying regeneration with a moral change or a religious experience.
The fathers lost the biblical understanding of the sacraments as signs to stir up faith and seals to confirm believers in possession of the blessings signified, and so came to regard baptism as conveying the regeneration which it signified (Titus 3:5) ex opere operato to those who did not obstruct it’s working. Since infants could not do this, all baptized infants were accordingly held to be regenerated. This view has persisted in all the non-Reformed churches of Christendom, and among sacramentalists within Protestantism.
Regeneration Advanced Information
Scripture terms by which this work of God is designated:
Creating – Eph. 4:24
Begetting – 1Jo 4:7
Quickening – Joh 5:21 Eph. 2:5
Calling out of darkness into marvellous light – 1Pe 2:9
The subjects of it are to be alive from the dead – Ro 6:13
To be new creatures – 2Co 5:17
To be born again, or anew – Joh 3:3, 7
To be God’s workmanship – Eph. 2:10
Proof that there is such a thing as is commonly called regeneration.
The Scriptures declare that such a change is necessary – 2Co 5:17 Ga 6:15
The change is described – Eph. 2:5 4:23 Jas 1:18 1Pe 1:23
It is necessary for the most moral as well as the most profligate – 1Co 15:10 Ga 1:13-16
That this change is not a mere reformation is proved by its being referred to the Holy Spirit. – Tit 3:5
In the comparison of man’s state in grace with his state by nature. – Ro 6:13 8:6-10 Eph. 5:8
In the experience of all Christians and the testimony of their lives.
Proofs that believers are subjects of supernatural or spiritual illumination.
This is necessary. – Joh 16:3 1Co 2:14 2Co 3:14 4:3
The Scriptures expressly affirm it. – Ps 19:7, 8 43:3, 4 Joh 17:3 1Co 2:12, 13 2Co 4:6 Eph. 1:18 Philippians 1:19 Col 3:10 1Jo 4:7 5:20
The first effect of regeneration is to open the eyes of our understanding to the excellency of divine truth. The second effect the going forth of the renewed affections toward that excellency perceived.
Proof of the absolute necessity of regeneration
The Scriptures assert it. – Joh 3:3 Ro 8:6, 7 Eph. 2:10 4:21-24
It is proved from the nature of man as a sinner – Ro 7:18 8:7-9 1Co 2:14 Eph. 2:1
Also from the nature of heaven – Isa 35:8 52:1 Mt 5:8 13:41 Heb. 12:14 Re 21:27
The restoration of holiness is the grand end of the whole plan of salvation. – Ro 8:28, 29 Eph. 1:4 5:5, 26, 27
J. Orr, “Regeneration,” HDB; J. Denney, HDCG; B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies; systematic theologies of C. Hodge, III, 1-40, and L. Berkhof, IV, 465-79; A. Ringwald et al., NIDNTT, I, 176ff.; F. Buchsel et al., TDNT, I, 665ff.; B. Citron, The New Birth. (2)
Regeneration an Act of God by systematic theologian, Charles Hodge:
1. Regeneration is an act of God. It is not simply referred to Him as its giver, and, in that sense, its author, as He is the giver of faith and of repentance. It is not an act which, by argument and persuasion, or by moral power, He induces the sinner to perform. But it is an act of which He is the agent. It is God who regenerates. The soul is regenerated. In this sense the soul is passive in regeneration, which (subjectively considered) is a change wrought in us, and not an act performed by us.
Regeneration an Act of God’s Power
2. Regeneration is not only an act of God, but also an act of his almighty power. Agreeably to the express declarations of the Scriptures, it is so presented in the Symbols of the Protestant churches. If an act of omnipotence, it is certainly efficacious, for nothing can resist almighty power. The Lutherans indeed deny this. But the more orthodox of them mean simply that the sinner can keep himself aloof from the means through which, or, rather, in connection with which it pleases God to exercise his power. He can absent himself from the preaching of the Word, and the use of the sacraments. Or he may voluntarily place himself in such an inward posture of resistance as determines God not to exert his power in his regeneration. The assertion that regeneration is an act of God’s omnipotence, is, and is intended to be, a denial that it is an act of moral suasion. It is an affirmation that it is “physical” in the old sense of that word, as opposed to moral; and that it is immediate, as opposed to mediate, or through or by the truth. When either in Scripture or in theological writings, the word regeneration is taken in a wide sense as including conversion or the voluntary turning of the soul to God, then indeed it is said to be by the Word. The restoration of sight to the blind by the command of Christ was an act of omnipotence. It was immediate. Nothing in the way of instrumentary or secondary coöperating influence intervened between the divine volition and the effect. But all exercises of the restored faculty were through and by the light. And without light sight is impossible. Raising Lazarus from the dead was an act of omnipotence. Nothing intervened between the volition and the effect. The act of quickening was the act of God. In that matter, Lazarus was passive. But in all the acts of the restored vitality, he was active and free. According to the evangelical system it is in this sense that regeneration is the act of God’s almighty power. Nothing intervenes between his volition that the soul, spiritually dead, should live, and the desired effect. But in all that belongs to the consciousness; all that precedes or follows the imparting of this new life, the soul is active and is influenced by the truth acting according to the laws of our mental constitution. (3)
The Westminster Catechism, under the headings of redemption and effectual calling covers, regeneration.
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 29 on redemption/regeneration:
Q: How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A: We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit. (1.)
(1.) John 1:12-13. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 3:5-6. 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. . . That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Titus 3:5-6. 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; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Westminster Larger Catechism on effectual calling/regeneration:
Q. 67: What is effectual calling?
A. 67: Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 939.
2. J. I. Packer, Elwell Evangelical Dictionary, “Regeneration,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), pp. 924-926.
3. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), pp. 31-32).
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.thereligionthatstartedinahat.com/
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/
** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary
*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/
Regeneration by A.A. Hodge; revised by B.B. Warfield https://www.monergism.com/regeneration-5
Regeneration by C. H. Spurgeon https://www.monergism.com/regeneration-0