The Holy Spirit and Regeneration

Regeneration! The word breathes power and potential! It is one of the many wonderful “salvation” words in the Bible and gives us a marvelous look at the role of the Holy Spirit especially, in the mighty work that occurs at the moment of conversion and continues for a lifetime.

The Meaning & Miracle of Regeneration

Regeneration only appears twice in the NT, with the reference in Titus 3:5, “the washing of regeneration,” referring to personal salvation. The original compound Greek word is “again” and “birth,” and is similar to other biblical terms like “born again,” “made alive,” and “new creation.” Regeneration is the once-for-all cleansing from sin through new life, and seems to focus on the whole new state of life and being into which the believer is brought (2Co 5:17). The Bible informs us that two divine powers accomplish this tremendous miracle: “the Word of God” (Eph 5:26; 1Pe 1:23) and the Holy Spirit (Joh 3:5-8). Regeneration is something that God alone does by His Spirit and His Word, and it will never be undone!

The Uniqueness & Effect of Regeneration

No mere church ritual, personal improvement or moral reform, regeneration is uniquely a divine work in the heart (Joh 1:12-13). It is the implantation of life that brings a true and lasting change. Not only is regeneration the immediate impartation of divine life but it is the sanctifying and renewing power of the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives each day (Col 3:10).

The Necessity & Order of Regeneration

Many hold that regeneration precedes faith, and that God must first regenerate the sinner before they can believe. The phrase “dead in our sins” (Eph 2:1) is explained to mean not just our total depravity but complete inability to respond in faith. R.C. Sproul put it this way: “God just doesn’t throw a life preserver to a drowning person. He goes to the bottom of the sea and pulls up a corpse … takes him up on the bank, breathes into him the breath of life and makes him alive.” Make no mistake, to be spiritually “dead” could not be a more serious and helpless condition. It describes our separation from God and utter helplessness to save ourselves. However, it is beyond what Scripture teaches to say that an unsaved person is completely devoid of any ability to even believe and that they must first be regenerated. Watch the Lord Jesus masterfully and graciously interacting with unbelieving individuals like Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and others in the Gospels. Before their conversions, He draws upon their capacity to recognize the spiritual aspects of His teaching and works, even challenging them to use their moral judgment (Joh 10:37-38).

Thankfully, the Lord always takes the initiative in salvation, but as well, each person has the responsibility and capability to believe. The rest of Scripture confirms this consistently. To the bitten Israelites, the message was not “Live and look!” but “Look and live!” (Num 21:8). Isaiah said, “Hear, that your soul may live,” not “Live, that your soul may hear” (55:3). The Lord Jesus “cried out,” and Lazarus “came out,” not vice versa! (Joh 11:43-44).

Unsaved people can hear God’s voice and, by responding in faith, come to enjoy in all its fullness God’s great regeneration imparted by the Holy Spirit!