Regeneration: What Is It and How Does It Work?

You must be born again. But what does that mean? Does anything result from being born again? Or do we just stay the same?

This post is about the first step to your growing in Christ.

Let’s start with the very beginning definition.

1.. What does regeneration mean?

It means to be reborn or a rebirth. The –gen– stem is related to “birth” in Greek, and it also came over into Latin as –gen-).

In John 3:7, Jesus said you must be “born again.” In this verse the adverb anōthen can be translated as “from above.” That is, the Spirit comes from above and regenerates the believer. Or the adverb can be translated as “over again” or to be born over again. The first birth is your birth day from your mother’s womb; the second birth is your spiritual birth day, your conversion.

1 Pet. 1:23, Peter says his readers have been born again, and here the Greek verb is anagenaō, (note the –gen– stem), which means “reborn.” The ana– prefix means in some contexts re-. So it is right to translate it as born again, “again” meaning re-born.

In Ti. 3:5 Paul writes that God saved us by the washing of regeneration. Here the Greek noun is palingenesia (note the –gen– stem again), and the prefix palin– means “again.”

Bottom line: You get the privilege of experiencing a brand-new birth from God. It is a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one.

2.. How does water baptism work in regeneration?

Ti. 3:5 that God saved us by “washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Washing seems to be spiritual washing of the heart and soul, just as renewal by the Spirit is done to the heart and soul, not to the outward body, as in taking a bath.

Jesus said that unless someone who has been born of water and Spirit cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Here water seems to indicate baptism (see v. 22), but there are two interpretations.

Some take this water to mean physical water at the physical birth, the embryonic fluid. One needs to be born the first time and the second time before one can enter the kingdom.

Alternatively, some interpret the verse to mean water baptism. Renewal theologian J. Rodman Williams interprets the verse in this second way (vol. 2, pp. 37-38).

Whichever interpretation you follow, it should be noted that physical water has no power in it to effect the new birth. That puts too much faith in H2O, even H2O that has been prayed over. It is the Spirit who causes new birth.

However, this is not to say that water baptism is unimportant; it is. But H2O cannot save. Jesus taught that the Spirit gives birth to spirit (3:6). He said nothing about water. Williams agrees (ibid. pp. 38-39).

3.. What are the means and sources of regeneration?

First, the Holy Spirit is the principal means. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, and Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). The Spirit is the source of spiritual rebirth.

In John 3:9; 4:7; 5:4, 18, says that a person has been born of God. So God through the Spirit is the one who causes new birth.

Second, the Word has to be implanted in the human heart through the power of the Spirit. 1 Pet. 1:23-25 says that his readers (us too) have been born again not by perishable seed, but by imperishable seed. V. 25 goes on to say that the seed is the spoken Word preached to us.

Jas. 1:18 says the Father brought us forth by the word of truth. “Brought forth” looks like a birth of sorts.

In Jer. 23:29 teaches us that the Word is like a fire (purification) and like a hammer that breaks rocks to pieces (stony hearts and bad ideas). It’s the Word that has power.

And in the parable of the sower (or the parable of the soils), the seed is clearly the Word (Matt. 13:3-8, 18-23).

4.. How does regeneration happen?

It happens in three ways: illumination, conviction, and repentance. But the order is flexible.

First, the mind has to be illuminated. 1 Cor. 4:4 says the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to prevent them from seeing the gospel of the glory of Christ. Glory speaks of light. Then v. 6 goes on to say that God said let light shine out of darkness (Gen. 1). Paul spiritualizes it says this light has shone in our hearts to give us knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Jesus reflected (John 14:9) and still reflects the glory of God.

Paul further says that there is a dominion or kingdom of darkness, and we must leave it and enter the kingdom of his light (Col. 1:13).

And 1 Pet. 1:9 says he brought us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

We need knowledge of him through the light of the gospel. The light shining is illumination.

Second, the Spirit needs to bring conviction to the heart and mind. This means proof that the person is guilty. Peter preached a hard-hitting sermon before the Jews who heard the 120 speak in their prayer languages. He told them that put Jesus on the cross. Then their hearts were cut (Acts 2:37). Cut is another word for conviction.

In John 16:8, Jesus teaches us that the Spirit will convict the world of sin. The Spirit has to reveal to the human heart that the person is a sinner. He is the Holy Spirit, after all.

This conviction must go more deeply than just remorse. It must elicit a response. What response? Repentance. John’s preaching was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Jesus came into Galilee saying the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom is at hand. Repent! And believe the gospel! (Mark 1:14-15)

This noun in Greek for repentance is metanoia, which means a “change of mind.” However, it must go more deeply than just a mental change or whim. It has to be a full turning, a radical life change. In Acts 3:19 Peter tells the listeners to repent and turn to God. The verb here is epistrephō, which means “turning” by 180 degrees. In Acts 11:21 a great number of people “turned” to the Lord. So the turning must flow out of an abhorrence of the sinful lifestyle one had led while the good news reaches his heart.

All of this means a conversion, which also means a thorough turning from one direction (self and sin) to the opposite direction (Jesus and his new life he has planned for you). Conversion means total alteration or change.

The best news about repentance is that the forgiveness of sins is connected to it. In Acts 5:31 Peter tells the Jewish high council (Sanhedrin) that God exalted Jesus to give repentance to Israel. And the forgiveness of sins. And in Luke 24:47 repentance and the forgiveness of sins shall be preached to all nations.

5.. What are the results of regeneration?

There are at least three fruits or products of regeneration: the regenerated person is a new creation (or creature), he has a new nature, and he has a new life. Each of these three results are further subdivided.

The first result is that the person is a new creature or creation.

How does this newness manifest itself in our daily living? He has a changed heart, the deepest part of a human being. Ezek. 36:26 says that God will take out a heart of stone and put in a man or woman a heart of flesh.

The heart must be washed clean, because out of it come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and slander (Matt. 15:19). Recall that Ti. 3:5 says the washing of regeneration.

After the heart has been cleansed, God inscribes the law of Christ on the heart. Some teach this is the Ten Commandments, but they are filtered through the New Covenant. Jesus said that loving God with all one’s heart, soul strength and mind and loving one’s neighbor as oneself are the summary of all the commandments. And Paul said should happen by walking in love (Rom. 13:8-10). Walk in love, and this gift of God’s love in you will fulfill the law.

See the post Do Christians Have to ‘Keep’ the Ten Commandments?

Another way the new creation is demonstrated is that the mind is renewed. Eph. 4:22-23 says we used to walk in the old way of life, but we are to be renewed in the spirit of your mind. Our old way of life meant that we walked in darkness (Rom. 1:21). The best verse for a renewed mind is Rom. 12:2 We are not to be conformed to this world, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The best way to do this is to read Scripture. It is filled with things that are true, lovely, just, honorable, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent. We are called to think on these things (Phil. 4:8-9).

Another way that our new creation in our being expresses itself is that the will is liberated.

This is another way of saying the old sins that used to dominate you no longer does. In Ti. 3:3 Paul wrote that we used to be slaves to various passions and pleasures, spending time in malice and envy, hating and being hated. Then in Ti. 3:4-5 God’s goodness and love for humanity appeared, and we were washed and regenerated. And Rom. 6:12-14 says that sin no longer reigns in the body of the believers, and sin does not dominate them.

One sidebar comment is the issue of Rom. 7:13-25, which shows Paul struggling with his old self and its passions and the new self that seeks God and to obey his laws. However one interprets those verses, it cannot mean that sin still had dominion over him, because of what he wrote in 6:12-14. Sin does not dominate the believer in Christ and his finished work on the cross.

The liberated will turns away from darkness to light, from the lordship or dominion of Stan to God (Acts 26:18). Satan no longer can slap believers around and dominate them.

The liberated will means that a regenerated man or woman is free to do God’s will. In the past he or she did not even think about this and disobeyed his will. Now he and are in close communion with him and can discern his will and is enabled to follow it.

The second result of regeneration is that the person has a new nature.

Paul said to put on the new nature, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).

This new nature is expressed in holiness. We were once slaves to sin, but we have become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). John says that everyone who does right is born of him (1 John 2:29). Sanctification is a big word, but it just means the process (-ion) of making (fic-) you holy (sanct-). It is a process. You will never achieve moral perfection down here on earth, but you can see some progress.

The new nature expresses itself in love. 2 Cor. 4:17 says the love of Christ controls us. John says we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19. If we get the sequence switched—he loves us because we first loved him—we will never know for certain whether we achieved the right level of love. God has poured his love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

The new nature is expressed by the love for the truth. John 14:17 says that the Spirit is the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit entrusted truth to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:14). And Jas. 1:8, as noted, says that the word of truth brought us forth.

Third, another result of regeneration is a new life. Paul says we have been made alive (Eph. 2:11) We must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11). Rom. 6:1-14 discusses baptism as a symbol of the grave. We go under the water and are buried—our sins are buried. Then when he come up out of the water, we have newness of life, for we experience a resurrection.

This new life flowing out of regeneration produces in us true happiness and satisfaction. We rejoice every day, or at least we are supposed to (Phil. 4:4).

But the most important aspect of the new life in Christ through regeneration is eternal life, down here on earth, while we live in this mortal coil (our bodies). In the famous verse John 3:16, we believe in Jesus, and the result is that we do not perish, but have eternal life. And John 10:10 says he has given us life–abundant life. The message is clear: eternal life right now.

So how does this post help me grow in Christ?

You must be born again. It is an imperative. The rebirth starts the new life in Christ; it is the first step. Then he leads you towards holiness, righteousness, love and truth. The rebirth has to bring about some change in you—a change in your behavior. The seed—the Word—must go deep in your heart, soul and mind.

Regeneration comes from God. All you have to do is ask for it. John 3:16 says it best:

“God loved the world in this way: he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not perish but have eternal life” (my translation).

All you got to do is believe. That is your only “work.” Faith is not mental assent or a belief in a set of doctrine, though those things are important. Rather, faith means totally trusting God and his Word. He said you must be born again. And this happens by believing in him.

True acronym:

F-A-I-T-H =  Forsaking All I Trust Him.

Once you receive faith in your heart from the Holy Spirit and the hearing of the word about Christ, then God causes regeneration or rebirth in you. Now you are born again. You have new life in Christ. It may take a while for the change to show; you may have to go to a Christ-centered small group that heals you of addictions. But the Word planted in you and the gift of the Holy Spirit will help you to change. Just hang in there, and don’t allow the devil to tell you that your regeneration did not work. No. Don’t beat yourself up if your progress is slow, or as church people like to say, don’t condemn yourself (Rom. 8:1 and 1 John 3:19-24). This change will eventually show. He has you in the palm of his hand. The old saying is wise: Just be patient. God is not finished with me yet!

Go to a good Spirit-filled church that preaches the Word.

Written by James Malcolm

SOURCES

Works Cited at Renewal Theology

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