Doctrinal Statements (5): Regeneration

Every generation needs regeneration.” C. H. Spurgeon’s pertinent statement is as true today as it was when the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England was filled to capacity to hear him preach.

The noun “regeneration” occurs on two occasions in the New Testament. The first in Matthew 19:28 and the second in Titus 3:5. This word does not occur in the Old Testament. In Matthew 19, the reference is to the future and is national. The Lord was responding to concerns of His disciples and He speaks to them about the millennial reign and His coming kingdom glory. He reminds them “in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Newberry margin). The reference in Titus refers to the experience of believers and is individual in its focus.

Regeneration – A new state

Regeneration is linked with at least three other terms in the New Testament: “quickening,” “new creation,” and “new birth.” All four refer to the same experience, and while we may use them synonymously each provides a slightly different emphasis with regard to salvation. Paul writes in Ephesians, “Even when we were dead in sins, [He] hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace ye are saved” (Eph 2:5). Quickening emphasizes the new life imparted to the believer in contrast to his former state of spiritual death. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,” presenting to us our new position. Prior to conversion we were viewed as being “in Adam” (1Cor 15:22); we are now “in Christ.” The third term “new birth” (John 3:3) not only emphasizes our new life, but also implies new links to others in God’s kingdom and family. Regeneration is distinct from all of these as it introduces us into a new state. As W. E. Vine notes, “The new birth and ‘regeneration’ do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience, but refer to the same event viewing it in different aspects. The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old; hence the connection of the use of the word with its application to Israel in Matthew 19:28.”

Regeneration – The work of the triune God

In Titus 3:5 we read “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The antecedent to “He” is found in verse 4, “but after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared.” This is a direct reference to God the father. The title “God our Savior” is given to Him five times in the pastoral letters, the only other direct occurrence of the title occurs in the book of Jude verse 25. It delights our hearts to consider that our God is a Savior God; in this era He is not acting in judgment upon the ungodly, but desires the salvation of all men (1Tim 2:4).

We notice also the “renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly” (Titus 3:5-6). Some consider this to be a reference back to Acts 2 to the day of Pentecost, supporting this by the fact that the word “shed” in verse 6 is used in Acts 2:33, also being translated as “pour” in Acts 2:17-18. The context of Titus 3:5-7 links the “renewing” to conversion, so the phrase “shed on us abundantly” links to the same moment. The Holy Spirit is given richly, or abundantly, to each believer at the moment of their salvation (Eph 1:13, Gal 3:2). This makes it clear that we do not need another experience subsequent to conversion to receive the abundance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Lord Jesus is also mentioned in Titus 3:5-7 as the agent responsible for the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the upper room He disclosed the coming of the Spirit to His disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send Him unto you”(John 16:7). The descent of the Holy Spirit took place 10 days after the ascension of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:1-4).

Regeneration – Internal spiritual cleansing

The believing sinner experiences cleansing of his sins “by the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), bringing him into this new state we are considering. An illustration of this washing is found in John 13. The Lord Jesus had laid aside His garments and stooped to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter, objecting to this, was told “if I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me” (John 13:8). Immediately Peter oscillates to the other extreme, “Lord not my feet only but also my hands and my head” (John 13:9). The Lord responds, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet” (John 13:10). Two different washings are in view in this verse, the first word means to bathe all over, the second means to wash part of the body. There is a once-for-all washing (Lev 8:6), which does not need to be repeated, this is what Titus refers to as “the washing of regeneration.” The second word presents to us the bathing required to wash away the defilement we contact on a daily basis in this world. At conversion we received internal cleansing from our sins, however our personal responsibility (John 13:10) is to keep ourselves clean from daily defilement through the application of the Word of God.

Regeneration – Anticipates a future inheritance

Titus 3:4-7 forms one sentence in the Greek text, in which seven things are delineated for us. The last of these presents to us our inheritance, “that, having been justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Darby). It is interesting to note that this passage links to Titus 1:1-3 and to Titus 2:11-14; in each of these we are given a look to the past, to the present, and into the future. Each mentions the subject of hope, “hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2), “looking for that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), and in the passage we are considering, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). Regeneration has brought us into a new state and we have the prospect of future glory as those who are heirs (1Peter 1:4).