(ree' gehn uhr ay' shuhn) The radical spiritual change in which God brings an individual from a condition of spiritual defeat and death to a renewed condition of holiness and life. The biblical doctrine of regeneration emphasizes God's role in making this spiritual change possible.
Biblical Terms The term regeneration (palingenesia) appears in
Titus 3:5 as a description of the spiritual change which baptism symbolizes. The idea of regeneration is also conveyed by the use of other terms related to the idea of birth. Jesus referred to regeneration when he told Nicodemus (John 3:3) that he must be “born again” (gennao anothen). The term born again may also be translated as “born from above.” This translation emphasizes the sovereign role of God in bringing about the experience of regeneration. In
John 1:13 the term born (gennao) refers to the act of regeneration. In
1 Peter 1:23 another Greek word (anagennao) receives the translation “born again.” All of these words describe the complete spiritual change which occurs when Christ enters the life of an individual.
The idea of regeneration also appears in other figures of speech which refer to concepts in addition to birth. When Paul described those in Christ as a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV), he was referring to the act of regeneration. In
Ephesians 2:10 Paul referred to Christians as God's “workmanship” made for the purpose of good works. Sometimes the idea of receiving new life is used as a description of regeneration (compare
John 10:28). In
1 Peter 2:2, the apostle described followers of Jesus as “newborn babes.”
Whether the figure used involves birth, life, creation, or flowing rivers, the Bible is presenting a new experience of life which is enriching, comprehensive, and thoroughly renewed in holiness.
Need for Regeneration The great need for an experience of regeneration is apparent from the sinful condition of human beings, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Left to themselves, human beings will corrupt God's revelation of Himself and turn to gross forms of disobedience (Romans 1:18-32). God, however, demands holiness as a condition for having fellowship with Himself (Hebrews 12:14). Human beings therefore must have a radical change in the very character of their personality. God promises such a change in the experience of regeneration.
Source of Regeneration Throughout Scripture the source of regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. Both Scripture (Romans 3:10-23) and human experience indicate that people lack the power and will to reform. God works upon the human disposition by the use of truth (James 1:18). This truth is the message of salvation which we find in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit is to take this truth and commend it to the understanding of each hearer (John 16:8-11). Regeneration occurs when the Holy Spirit takes the truth of the gospel message and allows the individual both to understand it and to commit oneself to it. There is a divine initiative through the Holy Spirit. There is a human responsibility in the response to the Spirit's urging.
Role of Baptism Some churches hold that the experience of regeneration is brought about by the act of baptism. The view which advocates this teaching is known as baptismal regeneration. The Scriptures do not present baptism as the means of regeneration but as the sign of regeneration. Peter's discussion of baptism in
1 Peter 3:21 pictures the experience of baptism as the symbol of a conscientious response to God. In other texts (Acts 2:38;
Titus 3:5) we can understand the meaning of the biblical writer by distinguishing between regeneration as an inward change and baptism as the outward sign of that change. The actual change of regeneration is an instantaneous experience brought about by the Holy Spirit. Baptism becomes a means of demonstrating publicly and outwardly the nature of this change. See Baptism.
Result of Regeneration
Ephesians 4:17-32 makes the result of regeneration apparent. Paul first discussed the nature of the spiritual change in a believer. In regeneration each believer has put off the old way of life, become clothed with a new way of life, and is in the process of having one's mind renewed in its thinking, reasoning, and willing. Because of this experience Paul urged each believer to practice truth, control anger, demonstrate kindness, and submit to the control of the Holy Spirit. The fact of regeneration formed the basis for giving an appeal to live a new life.
The experience of regeneration does not leave an individual content and passive in efforts at Christian growth. Old powers of evil have been broken. The possibility of victory in the constant struggle with sin has become certain.
Thomas D. Lea