At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
– Titus 3:3-7
Regeneration is the spiritual transformation in a person, brought about by the Holy Spirit, that brings the individual from being spiritually dead to become a spiritually alive human being. Regeneration is another way of speaking about the new birth or the second birth or being born again.
This subjective change worked in one's soul by the grace of God is variously designated in Scripture as a new birth, a resurrection, a new life, a new creature, a renewing of the mind, a dying to sin and living to righteousness, a translation from darkness to light, etc. In theological language, it is called regeneration, renovation, and conversion. These terms are often used interchangeably.
According to Hodge's Systematic Theology, the word regeneration is used almost universally to refer to the instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life. He says it is not used to designate "the whole work of sanctification, nor the first stages of that work comprehended in conversion, much less justification or any mere external change of state." In calling it a spiritual resurrection—the beginning of a new life, Hodge adds, "Sometimes the word expresses the act of God. God regenerates. Sometimes it designates the subjective effect of his act" (emphasis added).
The word for regeneration in Titus 3:5 is the Greek word palingenesias. It is used only one other place in the entire Bible—Matthew 19:28. Jesus says to the twelve apostles, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world (lit. "in the regeneration" [Greek en te palingenesia]) when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This is a reference to the rebirth of the creation--“in the new heavens and the new earth” (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).
One's inherently sinful nature is profoundly and miraculously changed by regeneration—the new birth—so that person can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His will (Matt. 19:28; John 3:3,5,7; Titus 3:5). No one can come alive to God apart from the Spirit's work.
Applies to the whole of Creation
John Piper points out that the new birth is conceived by Jesus as something that will happen to all creation, not just human beings. He explains that this is because the whole of creation is defiled and disordered as result of the Fall (Romans 8:20-23). The whole universe will replace its futility and corruption and disease and degeneration and disasters with a whole new order—a new heaven and a new earth. Therefore, the new birth for an individual person may be seen as "the first installment of the final, universal regeneration of the universe."
Jesus said that unless we are born again (or “born from above”), we will not see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Regarding why individuals need this regeneration, Piper points to the poignant description of the human heart in Titus 3:3 for an explanation: "We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another."
The use of the figure of new birth to describe this change emphasizes two facts about it.
- The first is its decisiveness. The regenerate man has forever ceased to be the man he was; his old life is over and a new life has begun; he is a new creature in Christ, buried with him out of reach of condemnation and raised with him into a new life of righteousness (see Rom. 6:3-11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 3:9-11).
- The second fact emphasized is the monergism of regeneration. Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are "dead in trespasses and sins" prompt the quickening operation of God's Spirit within them (see Eph. 2:1-10). Spiritual vivification is a free, and to man mysterious, exercise of divine power (John 3:8), not explicable in terms of the combination or cultivation of existing human resources (John 3:6), not caused or induced by any human efforts (John 1:12-13) or merits (Titus 3:3-7), and not, therefore, to be equated with, or attributed to, any of the experiences, decisions, and acts to which it gives rise and by which it may be known to have taken place.
Meaning of Grace: "But God..."
Piper describes Titus 3: 4 as one of the ‘’most precious phrases in the Bible’’: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, he [God!] saved us. We were foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to sinful pleasures, malicious, envious, hated and hating.”
How the New Birth happens
At the end of Titus 3:5, Paul describes regeneration as a cleansing and a renewing by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives life (John 6:63). Jesus says, "I am the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Piper paraphrases this as Jesus saying in effect, "When the Spirit connects you to me by faith, you experience a new birth." Piper adds that regeneration provides a cleansing from all that is past and a renewal for all that is future.
Seventeenth century renowned theologian Thomas Boston cautions that there are false conceptions in grace. He claims that many are deluded into mistaking some partial changes they experience for the great and thorough change known as Regeneration. Some of his points are these:
- One may engage in all the outward duties of religion, and yet not be born again. They may advance to a great deal of strictness in their own way of religion, and yet be strangers to the new birth.
- Sharp soul-exercises and pangs of conscience of themselves do not bring about the new birth.
- Regeneration is a real thorough change, whereby one is made a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). The Lord God makes the creature a new creature, "as the goldsmith melts down the vessel of dishonor, and makes it a vessel of honor."
- Regeneration is a change of qualities or dispositions. Vicious qualities are removed, and contrary dispositions are replaced.
- Regeneration is a supernatural change. To be born again is to be born of the Spirit (John 3:5).
- It is a change into the likeness of God. "We, beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image" (2 Cor. 3:18).
- It is a universal change; "all things become new" (2 Cor. 5:17).
In conclusion, J.I. Packer offers this detailed definition:
Regeneration has been defined as "an inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8)." The Bible conceives salvation as the redemptive renewal of man on the basis of a restored relationship with God in Christ, and presents it as involving "a radical and complete transformation wrought in the soul (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23) by God the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; Eph. 4:24), by virtue of which we become 'new men' (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), no longer conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9), but in knowledge and holiness of the truth created after the image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Rom. 12:2)". Regeneration is the "birth" by which this work of new creation is begun, as sanctification is the "growth" whereby it continues (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). Regeneration in Christ changes the disposition from lawless, Godless self-seeking (Rom. 3:9-18; 8:7) which dominates man in Adam into one of trust and love, of repentance for past rebelliousness and unbelief, and loving compliance with God's law henceforth. It enlightens the blinded mind to discern spiritual realities (1 Cor. 2:14-15; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10), and liberates and energizes the enslaved will for free obedience to God (Rom. 6:14, 17-22; Phil. 2:13).—J.I. Packer
- John Piper."Through the Washing of Regeneration." Web: 18 Nov 2009
- Charles Hodge. Systematic Theology. Vol 3. Web: 18 Nov. 2009
- R. C. Sproul. "The New Genesis." Web: http://www.the-highway.com/genesis_Sproul.html 18 Nov 2009
- Regeneration, Elwell Evangelical Dictionary.
- B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, 351)
- Piper, John. Finally Alive. Christian Focus, 2009. ISBN 978-1845504212