When you go to the Bible to learn what the correct interpretation of certain verses is, I don’t believe you can simply pick out terms, look up those terms in the Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew, and define them as rigidly as a dictionary does. It’s much more complicated than that. This method definitely can help in some circumstances, but in most cases you need to find other places in the Bible that use the same term, collect the context of every passage, and then discover how each term is used in each passage.
When you rigidly define a term by a Biblical dictionary, that’s okay to a certain extent, but you can’t get a full picture of what it means until you put it up against a couple things:
- How it’s used in other passages of Scripture
- How it’s seen in light of the whole Bible
- How it’s used throughout history
- What’s it’s theological definition
- What is it’s literal definition
For instance, if you take the literal definition of atonement, you’ll find that it means the covering of sin by an animal sacrifice. Now, that may be what it means literally, but that’s not what any Christian believes it to mean when they hear the word atonement. The word atonement means so much more than that; especially in light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
And so we come to another term of Scripture: regeneration. I believe regeneration to mean a new birth. The death of an old self and the creation of a new self. Because we are all sinners and have died (Romans 3), we need to be made alive again. We need to be reborn. As Jesus said it clearly, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus thought himself spiritually alive by virtue of his religion, spirituality, theology, and moral behavior. He followed the law exactly as every good Pharisee did. But he was likely astounded when Jesus told him simply, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
This idea of regeneration is found in many places throughout the Bible, but many people do not know what it means, or even think about it. Jesus makes it clear that you are not able to be part of His kingdom unless you are born again: regenerated. This being born again is the whole idea of regeneration. And let’s make this clear:
1. You do not make regeneration happen.
2. It’s all God’s doing through the Holy Spirit.
3. You can’t make it happen by praying a special prayer.
4. God chooses whom He wants to make into a new creation.
You see point 4 in the verse where Jesus says, “The Spirit moves where it wills” (John 3). Regeneration is also found throughout the Old Testament. You’ll find that the Old Testament speaks of regeneration as a deep working in the heart so that a new life overflows from a new empowered heart by the Holy Spirit (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 24:7; 31:31-33; 32:39-40; Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:26-27).
Being born again is used a few times in the New Testament (John 1:13; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 5:1). And then there are other images of regeneration (2 Peter 1:4; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:15; 4:24; Eph. 2:5,10; Col. 2:13).
Truths About Regeneration
When thinking about regeneration, you have to consider that this is a complete work of God. Well, now I’m getting ahead of myself. Consider these truths about regeneration found in Scripture:
1. The person that regeneration is done to is ill-deserving; not necessarily undeserving, but somebody who actually deserves Hell for eternity. Therefore, regeneration is complete grace upon God’s part as Titus 3:5 says, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
2. It is the Holy Spirit that does this regeneration in us (John 3:5-8). Therefore, unless God regenerates a person, that person is incapable of obeying any of God’s commands and worshiping Him (Romans 7:7-8).
3. Without this regeneration, there is no hope of entering the kingdom and eternal salvation (John 3:3, 5; 1 Cor. 2:6-16). Therefore, regeneration is required for anybody to be a true worshiper of God.
What Happens to a Regenerated Person?
There are certain things that happen to a person who has been regenerated. I believe that a person (at the moment of regeneration) repents and puts their faith in Jesus Christ. This regeneration leads to faith in Christ like fire leads to light. But here are a few other things that happen:
- A person moves from slavery to sin to slavery to Christ.
- The deepest levels of a person’s nature are transformed into a new creature.
- The delights and desires of that person are forever changed.
- This person has a new identity to live within.
- A person’s mind is changed so that they can desire the Word and be taught by God Himself.
- The power of the Holy Spirit gives this person the ability to love God, other believers, unbelievers, and even enemies.
- This person begins to hate sin more and more. They begin to desire holiness in the sight of God and others.
- There is a new community that one becomes part of and enjoys it.
- A regenerated person is free from habitual sin and able to conquer besetting sins by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- There is a new life of worship that one cannot experience outside of regeneration.
So regeneration is necessary for anybody to become a believer. If you are afraid at all that you have not been regenerated, plead to God for the Holy Spirit to come and change you. Do not stop until He does. This is eternally important. And because it’s the work of the Holy Spirit and not our own doing, then prayer becomes essential for others to be saved. Pray for your neighbors, friends, family, and even enemies, for them to be regenerated and put into the kingdom of Christ and our God.