The Meaning of Regeneration
The word “regeneration” refers to the bringing in of a new order of things (Matt 19:28). While the term is not synonymous with the new birth it is often used theologically to refer to the impartation of divine life to the soul at conversion. This new life, when imparted, establishes a new order of things in the life of the believer. The Lord Jesus set forth the essential character of this new birth when He spoke to Nicodemus; He was showing that receiving Christ, believing on Him, and being born again, were coincidental experiences, all occurring at the moment of salvation.
The Manner of Regeneration
We have stated that regeneration, as we use the word, refers to the impartation of Divine life to the soul. At conversion we are born again, born from above, and born into the family of God. We become partakers of a Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). His Word is implanted within us (James 1:21), and “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them” (Heb10:16). This work in the heart is done by the Holy Spirit, Who, upon our believing the message of the gospel, indwells us, and empowers us (Eph 1:13). In the work of regeneration, the Holy Spirit of God uses the incorruptible seed of the Word of God (James 1:18, 1 Pet 1:22-23). Regeneration is not reformation; it is not religion; it is, as we have stated, the communication of Divine life to the soul. It is the result of the Will of God (John 1:13, James 1:18), the Work of Christ (John 3:14-16), the Word of God (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23), and the Spirit of God (John 3:5, 8, Titus 3:5).
The Manifestations of Regeneration
A. The Manifestations of Life in James’ Epistle
The words of James 1:17-25 are, “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of Truth that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” God is called in the context “the Father of Lights.” It is anticipated by James that the Father’s children, those born into His family, will exhibit the characteristics of the family. With Him is no darkness. There should not be darkness in our lives if we belong to Him. As firstfruits, there is to be conformity to His will. Those who have had implanted within them the Word of God cannot be hearers only but must be doers also of the Word. They are to look intently into the Word and continue therein. Regeneration is manifested in our character, our conformity, and our continuing in the commandments.
B. The Manifestations of Life in Peter’s First Epistle
Peter wrote, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God” (1:23). What are the consequences of their being born again? Peter tells them that they should “as newborn babes, desire earnestly the sincere milk of the Word” (2:1-3). A desire for the Word is one of the first evidences of life within. Secondly, he tells them that as living stones they are part of a holy priesthood and will naturally “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (2:4-5). Thirdly, as royal priests they will “show forth the virtues of Him Who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light’ (2:10). Fourthly, as strangers and pilgrims they will “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul’ (2:11). The Word, the worship, the walk, and the warfare-these are evidences of the life that has been implanted!
C. The Manifestations of Life in John’s First Epistle
John sets forth the most concerning the new birth and the life that is thereby imparted. Chapter two of his first epistle introduces us to a major theme, The Three Great Tests of Divine Life. These tests have been called the moral test – obedience, the social test – love, and the theological test, this last being a correct view of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will call them here the Tests of Behavior, Brotherly Love, and Belief. They could be called the Test of Our Conduct, of our Compassion, and of our Convictions. With John there is no such thing as a conversion that does not bring change. John deals with the first test, the test of behavior, when he says, “Hereby we do know that we know Him if we keep His commandments” (2:3-6). He takes up the second test, brotherly love, in 2:7-11 and again in 3:13-18, 4:7-12, and 4:16-21. Notice his words, “He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother is in darkness even until now” (2:9). Again, he says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren” (3:14). The third test, the test of belief, is his topic in 4:13-15. He writes, “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the teacher and John goes on to develop his theme, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God.” It is interesting that John combines all three tests of life together in at least two passages: 1 John 3:19-24 and again in 5:1-3.
Paul describes the work of salvation in a rich passage in Titus 3:4-7. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” In this great, Divine, philanthropical passage on salvation, there is regeneration-“by the washing of regeneration.” There is renewal-“and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” There are the riches-“which He poured forth on us richly.” There is the righteousness-“having been justified by His grace.” There is an eternal relationship-“we have been made heirs.” In regeneration we have a new order of things brought in by the impartation of Divine life to the soul. In Ephesians we read of Christ’s great purpose for the Church (5:26-27). In the renewing of the Holy Spirit we are referred back to Pentecost. Because of that once for all initial act, we enjoy all the blessings that accrue to us because of His indwelling the Church and the Christian.