Doctrine 101: Regeneration
Edward N. Gross
We know that people were created primarily to exalt or glorify God the Creator. With the entrance of sin into this world, through the fall of Adam, our ability and desire solely to magnify God has ended. In order to regain that ability and to correct the awful course of sin in the soul and creation, God purposed a plan of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the course of redeeming us, God has exalted his love (grace), power, and justice to new heights of beauty. Regeneration is the work of God's Holy Spirit in the soul of humans, enabling us to see our sinfulness and peril, and to behold the beauty of the Savior so that we can truly praise and worship him again.
The work of regeneration is described differently in the Scriptures. The Old Testament speaks of it as circumcising and softening otherwise unholy and hardened hearts (Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:26). It is portrayed as the act of God's writing his law on the human heart (Jer. 31:33). In the New Testament, it is represented as becoming a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), being brought from death to life (Rom. 6:13), being called out of darkness into God's wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9), or being born again (John 3:3). In the act of regeneration, God changes the nature of the person regenerated. The same soul exists, but differently. The same will is there, but with a new, spiritual component. It is an altogether new taste for the loveliness of spiritual things, especially as they are taught in God's Word and personified by God's Son.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus was passive, not active, in the process. He was simply an object that God the Son worked on and through by his almighty power. Similarly, when God regenerates the human soul, we are passive. He does the work in us and for us, as we, being spiritually dead, are brought back to life. The Westminster standards refer to regeneration as the work of God's Spirit through which he takes away our heart of stone and renews our will by his almighty power.
The wonderful works of faith and sanctification naturally follow regeneration, but are separate from it. When Christ healed a blind person, he would open his eyes to a thousand new sights that dazzled his being. Similarly, the soul regenerated by the Spirit sees himself and God's creation in a totally new way. The process of seeing is subsequent to being enabled to see.
Conversion follows regeneration and is different from it in the following ways: "Regeneration is God's act; conversion is ours. Regeneration is the implantation of a gracious principle; conversion is the exercise of that principle. Regeneration is never consciously known by us; conversion is thoroughly a process involving our consciousness. Regeneration is a single act, complete in itself and never repeated; conversion, as the beginning of holy living, is the commencement of a series, constant, endless and progressive (A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 460).
Regeneration is the birth by which the new creation of God is begun in the soul. It is the first personal act of rescue wrought by God in us to fulfill his plan of salvation effected by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without regeneration, we would forever remain spiritually blind and dead.
This second in a series of articles on basic Christian doctrines was written by Dr. Edward N. Gross, pastor of Gwynedd Valley OPC in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2000.