The Mystery of Regeneration

This morning I had a few people ask for the list of Scripture passages I referenced in my Sunday School lesson last week, so I decided to just copy and paste my lesson outline to the blog. Hope it’s helpful for the guys who asked, and for anyone else who happens to stop by. Also, the numbers next to each text are references to numbered bookmarks I printed out before class. I figured we’d spend the entire lesson flipping through pages, so I had everybody grab two or three bookmarks and find their passages before class started so I could just call out a number to have the verses read. It worked pretty well!

Here’s the outline:

“The Mystery of Regeneration”

What is regeneration?

  • What does the word make you think of? (biology, theology, electronics?)
  • Dictionary definition of “regenerate”:  to re-create, reconstitute, or make over, especially in a better form or condition
  • Word only used once in Scripture: Read Titus 3:4-5 (#1)
  • Theological definition of regeneration: Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. (Wayne Grudem) Sometimes called “being born again” (the word “generation” has to do with birth; regeneration is re-birth). Scripture tells us a lot about regeneration, but much of the process is a “mystery”.
  • There are some important questions that we must ask about regeneration. All Christians believe that regeneration happens, but differ in how and when it happens. So the way we answer these questions has a lot to do with how we will understand salvation. Rather than reading a system of theology (like Calvinism or Arminianism) into our understanding of regeneration, let’s try to build our understanding from Scripture. Here are the questions we’re going to ask:
    • What is our state prior to regeneration?
    • What happens in regeneration?
    • When does regeneration take place?
    • What is our state after regeneration?
    • What is God’s role in regeneration?
    • What is man’s role in regeneration?

What is our state prior to regeneration?

What happens in regeneration?

  • To sum it up, regeneration does what?
    • New heart
    • New spirit
    • New life

When does regeneration take place?

  • Now it gets trickier… Regeneration is not the same thing as faith. The Bible tells us that we are saved through faith, but given a new life of obedience through regeneration. So which comes first, regeneration or faith? This is one question lots of people don’t agree on, so let’s see what we can figure out.
  • Starting with Scripture:
    • First set of verses:
  • Next set (revisiting):
    • 2 Corinthians 5:17 – New Creation
    • 1 Corinthians 6:11 – You were washed
    • Passages in Jeremiah & Ezekiel – Once God gives us a new heart, it works
    • Conclusion: Regeneration happens in an instant and it only happens once
  • Next set:
    • (#21) 1 Corinthians 2:14 – Remember: what is the state of the “natural” man?
    • (#22) Romans 3:11 – Without a new heart, nobody is seeking God
    • (#23) John 3:5
    • (#24) John 6:44; 63-65 – Notice verses 60 & 66; a lot of people don’t like this teaching!
    • (#25) Acts 16:14, which is similar to…
    • (#26) Luke 24:45 – After the resurrection
    • Conclusion: Regeneration appears to be necessary before someone can understand the message of the Gospel and place faith in Christ. However
    • This is a logical progression from regeneration (or being born again) to having faith and being saved. On a practical level, for all intents and purposes, these things happen at the same time. Another way to put it is that from God’s perspective, he acts to regenerate someone’s heart so that that person can believe, but from our perspective this is pretty much simultaneous. It’s one reason why we tend to use the terms “born again” and “saved” interchangeably, even though the Bible describes them as separate things.

What is our state after regeneration?

  • Scripture verses:
  • Second set:
    • (#30) 1 John 3:9 – This refers to habitual, unrepentant sin
    • (#31) 1 John 5:18 – We have protection from Satan’s attacks
    • (#32) Galatians 5:22-23 – Regeneration produces fruit (evidence of salvation)
    • Conclusion: Though we still have two natures, we become more and more like Christ (sanctification)
  • Last set:
    • (#33) 1 Corinthians 15:49-58
    • Conclusion: One day we will be made perfect like Christ is perfect, and will sin no more (glorification)

What is God’s role in regeneration?

  • What we’ve already seen:
    • Gives us a new heart, spirit, and life
    • Works alone in this (“I will do this…”)
    • See also:
      • (#34) Ephesians 1:3-12
      • Conclusion: God not only works alone to regenerate our hearts; he also had a plan “before the foundation of the world”, and salvation happens according to the purposes of his sovereign will.

What is man’s role in regeneration?

  • Is there anything then left for man to do? Yes!
  • Starting with Scripture:
    • First set:
      • (#35) Acts 2:21
      • (#36) Romans 10:9, 13-17
      • Conclusion: We are not puppets. Man has responsibility to exercise faith. Those who do this will be saved, those who do not will be held accountable for their choice.
  • Second set:
    • (#37) Colossians 3:1-2 – “Seek… set…”
    • (#38) Colossians 3:5-10 – “Put to death… put them all away…”
    • (#39) Colossians 3:12-17 – Things to “put on” in place of the old self
    • (#40) Romans 13:12-14
    • (#41) 1 Peter 2:1
    • (#42) Ephesians 6:10-20 – The armor of God
    • Conclusion: Man has responsibility to walk according to the new life he has been given, following the example of Christ and putting our own sin to death (what the Puritans called mortification).
  • Last set:
    • (#43) James 2:17
    • (#44) 2 Peter 1:10
    • Conclusion: While we are not saved by our works, a regenerated person will produce good works (this is the fruit of the Spirit). Thus, an absence of good works means that our “faith” is dead – it is not true faith at all. Someone who does not bear fruit has not lost salvation; it is evidence that he has not (yet) been given a new heart at all.

Final Thoughts

There is a huge debate going on within the Southern Baptist Convention right now about whether the SBC should officially affirm or deny the “Five Points of Calvinism”. Thankfully, most Southern Baptist leaders on all sides agree that Calvinists, Arminians, and others can all worship and minister together as Southern Baptists. Most of the area of dispute between Calvinists and Arminians (and those in between) has to do with where regeneration and faith relate chronologically to one another. Do we believe because God gave us new hearts, or do we get new hearts because we believe?

As we’ve seen this morning, from our perspective these things happen pretty much simultaneously. Here are some things that Calvinists and Arminians all affirm:

  • Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone
  • God is triune, and sovereign over all things, including salvation – (Though there are different understandings for how God exercises his sovereignty)
  • The Bible is inerrant and authoritative – We all believe the Bible and base our doctrinal beliefs on it
  • We agree on how Christians should live; on what the “new life in Christ” looks like

I really like an illustration that a theologian named Donald Barnhouse used to use:

Imagine a cross like the one on which Jesus died, only so large that it had a door in it. Over the door were these words from Revelation: “Whosoever will may come.” These words represent the free and universal offer of the gospel. By God’s grace, the message of salvation is for everyone. Every man, woman, and child who will come to the cross is invited to believe in Jesus Christ and enter eternal life. On the other side of the door a happy surprise awaits the one who believes and enters. From the inside, anyone glancing back can see these words from Ephesians written above the door: “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Election is best understood in hindsight, for it is only after coming to Christ that one can know whether one has been chosen in Christ. Those who make a decision for Christ find that God made a decision for them in eternity past.”

I’m a Calvinist, and I believe that the doctrines of grace (the Five Points of Calvinism) are true, but I’m not that concerned with convincing you to be Calvinists. But I do want to point out that saying “I don’t believe in predestination or election” is not an option. The words are in the Bible and we have to deal with them. Some people have different understandings of how God predestination and election work, but we can’t just totally throw them out like a lot of non-Calvinists want to do. Likewise, we must avoid thinking of the doctrine of sovereign election as an excuse to not evangelize, which is a common error among Calvinists.

For further study:

2 comments on “The Mystery of Regeneration

  1. Rhonda Thrush says:

    Found this helpful but was unable to forward it on to a friend. I tried 3 times and was unable to decipher was the code was.

    • John Gardner says:

      I’m glad you found it helpful! I’m not certain which code you’re referring to. You should be able to either copy and paste the URL, or you could try using the “share this” feature at the bottom of the post. Thanks for reading and passing it on!

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