Regeneration

Preaching and Worship Resources about Regeneration

Interpretable in a narrower or broader sense, regeneration is either 1) the one-time act of God in which a sinful human being is reborn "from above," or else it's 2) the gradual, lifelong renewal of heart and behavior, also described as sanctification or vivification or repentance or conversion or rising with Christ. This essay will describe regeneration in its narrower sense.

In Scripture

"The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live" (Deut. 30:6).

"A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26).

"To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).

Kingdom of God "Jesus answered him, `Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.' Nicodemus said to him, `How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, `You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit'" (John 3:3-8).

"You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life" (Eph. 2:1-10).

"And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses" (Col. 2:13).

"If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him" (1 John 2:29).

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7).

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God" (1 John 5:1).

Points to Ponder

The Greek verb for "being born" in Jesus' famous words to Nicodemus, is aorist, passive, subjunctive, suggesting that the blessed event of being born from above is a single event and one in which, as in physical birth, we are passive. We do not choose to be born either time. Being born from above is a work entirely of God's Spirit. In John 3:8 ("the wind blows where it chooses"), Jesus suggests the Spirit's sovereignty and mystery in causing regeneration.

Paul's language is not of birth, but of resurrection. "You were dead . . . but God made us alive." "When you were dead . . . God made you alive." Again, the decisive action is God's. And that's a good thing, because dead people can't do much for themselves. That's why the grace of God is so urgently necessary: "By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this [this whole phenomenon of being saved by grace, through faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. . . ."

The language of being reborn or being resurrected suggests how ambitious regeneration is. It's a miracle, in fact — an on-the-ground, God-Almighty, Holy Ghost miracle. The 17[th]-century Reformed creed The Canons of Dort describes regeneration as follows: "It is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead . . . ." (Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, art. 12). Here, again, is the language of rebirth (creation) and of resurrection.

Famous conversion stories sometimes emphasize the involuntary nature of regeneration. C. S. Lewis, for example, wrote that "amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about `man's search for God.' To me . . . they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat . . . You must picture me alone in that room . . . night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England . . . .The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? . . . The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation" (Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1955), pp. 227-229). The title of the chapter in which Lewis wrote this? "Checkmate."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.