Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Regeneration

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
The Bible tells us that man is totally depraved. He is dead in sins and trespasses. In order for him to be saved, man must be raised from spiritual death to new spiritual life in Christ. This is called regeneration. We may define regeneration as the inner renewal of fallen human nature through the power of the Holy Spirit Who grants eternal life.

God's Spirit grants His life-giving power to the sinner. The power of the Holy Spirit works in the soul so that the sinner is focused upon God and divine matters instead of upon self. The Canons of Dort call regeneration a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. It is a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious and ineffable, that is indescribable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead (III/IV, Art.12).

Regeneration is a Biblical expression. It is mentioned many times in different ways. The Old Testament prophets considered regeneration to be indispensable. Likewise, John the Baptist emphasized this radical change from death to life. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself preached the necessity of this radical change in order to enter the kingdom of God.

In the first three Gospels the expression regeneration, in the sense of the outpouring of spiritual life into the soul, does not occur. However, the subject is dealt with extensively. The Gospel according to John speaks of being born from above, being born by water and Spirit or simply of being born again. We are all familiar with John 3: 3, "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," and John 3:5, "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."

The apostles refer to regeneration in Titus 3:5, James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23 and 1 John 3:9. The apostle Paul does not refer to the term regeneration or being born again often, but incorporates the matter with conversion as being led into a new relationship with Christ. He speaks of the new man and the old man, the inward renewal of man and being quickened from death to life in Christ. The sinner is powerfully called by God and is incorporated into Christ. He is dead with Christ, buried with Him, arises from the dead with Christ and is placed with Him in heavenly places. He is a new creature in Christ.

The expression "regeneration" may not be mentioned frequently in Scripture, but the matter is often dealt with and it is of fundamental importance. There are references to the taking away of the heart of stone and being granted a heart of flesh. We read of the pouring out of God's Spirit upon the sinner, the writing of God's law upon man's heart, ingrafting into Christ, and becoming a partaker of the divine nature. We see that this is a creative work of God wherein man is passive.

Regeneration deals with the most essential matter of our life. We are either regenerated or we are not. We are a new creature in Christ or we are not. This is a matter of the most vital importance for it concerns whether we are spiritual alive or dead. We are either alive in Christ or we are not. There is in-between condition. Therefore the question is of such vital significance: Are you and I born again?

The fact is that by nature we all are dead in sin and trespasses. We are children of wrath and must be born again. Our Baptismal Form says that we and our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath, in so much that we cannot enter into the kingdom of God, except we are born again. Lord's Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism confirms that we must be regenerated by the Spirit of God.

`The matter of regeneration is beautifully explained by the Lord Jesus in John 3 where even a teacher in Israel failed to grasp this most basic doctrine of God's Word. ÒYe must be born again.Ó We may be sure that Nicodemus was a zealous Pharisee who lived according to all the laws of the Old Testament and kept all the man-made rules the Pharisees had derived from their understanding of the Scriptures. But he was still outside the kingdom of God. He was a son of Abraham, he was a teacher among the Jews, and we may assume that he led an impeccable life. He prayed at fixed times and gave tithes of all he had. But that was not enough. He was still a child of wrath, outside the kingdom of God. Outward rituals are insufficient. One must be born again.

A major change has to occur in our lives. Nicodemus could not live by the works of the law; he had to live in Christ. He has to live by a different principle of life. He must be born again.

At first Nicodemus didnÕt understand these things. He thought in terms of the natural birth from a mother's womb. Then the Lord Jesus explains: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of GodÓ (John 3:5).

What does this mean? Born of the Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit Who breathes on a person, infuses new life, gives spiritual energies and in this way renews a person's heart and leads him in a new and living way. To a certain extent we can understand what that means. But what does the expression "water" mean? Some say that this refers to the baptismal water and means that one must be born again by the water of baptism. But that makes no sense. Baptism never causes regeneration.

From a biblical standpoint we can say that water refers to cleansing. In the Old Testament water was a means of purification or cleansing. The outward cleansing refers to the necessity of inward cleansing. One has to be inwardly cleansed and washed to enter the kingdom of heaven. The water of baptism also refers to inward cleansing by the Holy Spirit. The expression "water" in John 3:5 refers to the necessity of inward cleansing by God's Holy Spirit.

The result of being born of water and the Spirit is a renewed and cleansed life in the power of the Holy Spirit. This life is characterized by dedication to the Lord. The awakening of spiritual life is characterized by faith, hope and love.

Therefore, we can never consider regeneration separately from faith or repentance, for these necessarily flow forth from regeneration. "We are born again to a lively hope," Peter says. In the letters of John we read about the link between regeneration and refraining from sin, loving the brethren, and so on. (1 John 3:9,14; 4:7; 5:1,4). In John 3 the Lord Jesus speaks of looking to the brass serpent, which refers to the looking of faith. In the same setting, in verse 16, the text refers to believing in Christ. These are all effects of regeneration. When one experiences regeneration it leads to faith and conversion, or repentance.

Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the means of God's Word, which is called the seed of regeneration. The Word, either preached or read, is the Word of God as it comes to man. This is explained, for instance, in 1 Peter 1:23: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever."

Article 24 of the Belgic Confession speaks of the Word of God as well as of the operation of the Holy Spirit as means of regeneration. Article 35 refers to regeneration as the second birth, "which is effected by the Word of the gospel". This corresponds with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:15, "for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel."

Where the gospel is preached, the miracle of regeneration takes place. God uses His Word as an instrument in His hand whereby sinners are changed. They hear the voice of the living God speaking to them. God's Word changes hearts. This seed is incorruptible, Peter says, and therefore the new life of regeneration in the soul is also incorruptible. It cannot die. It is the principle of everlasting life.

We must keep in mind that there is no automatic saving relationship between preaching and regeneration. We saw earlier that the Holy Spirit has to accompany the preaching of God's Word. There is a relationship between Word and Spirit; they belong together. We see that clearly in the parable of the sower and the seed. There are various reactions to the preaching of God's Word. However, if we wish to be born again, we must use the way of divinely appointed means: GodÕs Word.

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