Though the word “regeneration” is only found twice (Matt. 19:28; Tit. 3:5), it is nevertheless an important doctrine and a concept that is found in many New Testament passages. Regeneration is specifically revealed as the direct work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-6; Tit. 3:5), but the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son as a result of the work of Christ on the cross. It thus becomes a part of the reconciling work of Christ whereby man who is spiritually dead can have life and fellowship with God (John 7:37-39).
In relation to the barrier between God and man, the regeneration is that part of the reconciling work of Christ which deals with man’s spiritual death. It deals with man’s need of spiritual life or the new birth (John 3:3-6; Eph. 2:1-4). Though it is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit, all three persons of the trinity seem to be involved in this blessed work of imparting new life. James 1:17-18 relates the Father to regeneration under the figure of being “brought forth” (apokueo, “to give birth to”). The Son, the Lord Jesus, seems also to be involved in regeneration, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21).
Regeneration is the supernatural act of God whereby the spiritual and eternal life of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is imparted to the individual through faith in Jesus Christ.
(1) The Greek Word for “Regeneration” is palingenesia (from palin, “again, once more,” andgenesis, “birth”) and means “a new birth, a renewal, rebirth, or regeneration.”
(2) Usage: It is used in Matthew 19:28 to describe the refurbished conditions (Eph. 1:10) that exist as of the reign of Christ which commenced at His Parousia (AD 66-70). But in Titus 3:5 the word is used of the bestowal of spiritual and eternal life to the believer on the basis of God’s mercy.
(3) Synonyms Used for Regeneration: While the word regeneration itself is used of spiritual regeneration only once (Tit. 3:5), the concept is clearly taught in a number of passages by a combination of other terms.
John 1:13, “Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The Greek word for “born” is gennao, “to bring forth, give birth, be born.” Verses 11-13 are referencing the Old Covenant Jews and how one becomes a child of God. Verse 12 clearly states, “as many as received Him…to those who believe in His name:” (vs. 12).
John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” The words “born again” mean either “born again” or “born from above.” Actually, both ideas apply here. Because men are born spiritually dead, they need a new birth, one from above accomplished by God the Holy Spirit.
For other passages and synonymous words compare John 5:21; Ephesians 2:5; Romans 6:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17 and James 1:13.
(4) Three Figures of Regeneration:
The New Birth: As a man is born physically by physical birth to human parents so also he must be born by spiritual birth to a spiritual parent whereby he or she becomes a child of God (Gal. 3:26;John 1:12, 3:3-6).
Spiritual Resurrection: Man is born spiritually dead in sin, but by regeneration the believer is made alive, spiritually resurrected so to speak. This means he has spiritual life and can now have fellowship with God and can function for God in newness of life (Rom. 6:5, 13; Eph. 2:5-10; John 5:21-23). The emphasis here is on a new kind and quality of life.
A New Creation: Regeneration also views the born again believer as a creation, a new spiritual creation of God created for Good works. This calls attention to our need to operate out of our new life in Christ through the power of God (Rom. 6:4-14; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10).
(5) What Regeneration is not:
It is not conversion. Conversion is what man does in turning to God. Regeneration is what God does for man to give him life.
It is not sanctification or justification.
It is not an experience, though it is the basis for personal experience with God since it bestows new life and new spiritual capacity.
(6) The Mechanics of Regeneration:
Faith is the human requirement. Compare John 1:12-13 and note the order.
Scripture: The Bible provides the content one must believe so regeneration may occur (1 Pet. 1:23).
God is the cause of regeneration. He regenerates men according to His will (John 1:13; Jam. 1:13).
The Holy Spirit is the agent of regeneration (Tit. 3:5; John 3:6).
The Time of Regeneration: Does it occur before or after faith? In Reformed theology, regeneration precedes faith, for it is inaccurately argued, a sinner must be given new life in order to be able to believe, but the emphasis of the Bible is that one becomes a child of God through faith. If there is new life through regeneration, why does one need to believe? Undoubtedly, faith and regeneration occur simultaneously. Regeneration is instantaneous and occurs at the moment of faith in Christ. It is an instantaneous act of God which bestows new and eternal life.
(7) The Results of Regeneration:
Provides the believer with spiritual and eternal life (cf. Eph. 2:1 with vs. 5-10; 1 John 5:11).
Provides a new nature and capacity for fellowship with God (John 3:6; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
(8) Some Lesson from Regeneration:
Stresses man’s spiritual and eternal death apart from faith in Christ and the new life He gives.
Stresses man’s total helplessness to be a part of God’s Kingdom or to change his life without God’s supernatural intervention through Christ and the work of the Spirit of God.
[For a more in-depth study see soteriology “Study Series 1 Meaning, Need and Scope of Salvation”]