What We Believe About Regeneration.

What do the New Testament Scriptures teach about God’s work of regeneration? Let me begin by stating that few terms employed in Systematic Theology have the precise meanings in all their biblical uses that they have in Systematic Theology. In Systematic Theology, the term “regeneration” has been defined to mean the implantation of a new, holy, governing principle in the soul of the sinner. It is unlikely the term ever has this precise meaning in either of its two occurrences in the New Testament Scriptures. The word translated, “regeneration” is Paliggenesía, occurs with the article in Matthew 19:28, i.e., the regeneration, referring to the coming age. This age is the long promised “times of the restitution of all things.” Is the “times of refreshing from the Spirit of the Lord.” It refers to “the New Creation” into which all New Covenant believers have been translated. When this “regeneration” that has already been inaugurated is finally consummated, it will bring within its scope the renovation of the cosmic universe itself. Paul wrote, “the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage that is characterized by corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:21). He argues that the reason we can be confident that this age of fulfillment has begun and that we will certainly enjoy our full inheritance is that we now have the “first fruits,” namely, the Spirit. The “first fruits” are the first part of the entire harvest that are considered the assurance that their recipients will enjoy the entire harvest. God’s people live in the already/not yet. Though we have the assurance that we already live in the new creation or “the regeneration” we do not yet enjoy the entire inheritance that we will experience when Jesus returns in glory to redeem the purchased possession, namely, our bodies. There is a sense in which believers have already inherited the fulness of the promised blessings since we are united to him who has received the full inheritance, but in our experience we must still live in a world that is characterized by weakness, sickness, and trouble.

The other verse in which the term “regeneration” occurs is Titus 3:5. This verse describes two of the principal blessings conferred on those who belong to this new age, this regeneration. It is difficult to escape the conclusion Paul is referring to the blessings promised in Ezekiel 36:25-27.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Though the text does not specifically identify these blessings as belonging to the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, it seems clear they belong to it. It also seems clear Jesus had these verses in mind when he told Nicodemus a man must be born of water and Spirit. The clear meaning is that God’s spiritual and eternal blessings are not conferred through physical birth, but through spiritual birth. The two blessings promised include washing from past sins and renewing for future service and obedience.

There are a number of metaphors for this work of God in the New Testament Scriptures. They include baptism, circumcision, birth, creation, deliverance from the prison house, and restoration sight to the blind. It is significant that in all these operations, the recipient is passive. Additionally, it is significant that all these metaphors seem to express one aspect or another of Ezekiel’s promise.

Over at Paul’s Passing Thoughts, Paul Dohse, the purveyor of putrescence, continues to charge that Reformed people do not believe in regeneration. He bases this charge on statements by Reformed pastors and theologians indicating that the basis of justification is wholly a righteousness that is outside the believer. For this reason, he concludes the Reformed believe God does nothing in the believer, producing a holy and obedient life. Don’t try to understand this logically. Paul D. has no ability to understand theology or logic. I am not saying that to be unkind. The alternative is that he is simply a huge liar. For now, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is just theologically inept.

Apart from what we call regeneration, no one would ever come to faith in Christ. Apart from God’s work, internally cleansing and renewing us, we would continue to live in bondage to sin. To say that justification is not based on an internal righteousness is not the same as saying we have no internal righteousness.

What we don’t believe is that regeneration so equips us for righteous living that we can live a sanctified life apart from the continual ministry of the Holy Spirit. It should not escape our notice that the Ezekiel passage cited above not only speaks about God removing the sinner’s stony heart of rebellion and replacing it with a heart of flesh, it also promises the indwelling presence of the Spirit who will cause us to obey. We must not think of regeneration as a work that gives us a bag of tools that enables us to obey independently. Nor should we think the Spirit simply comes to help us once we have picked up the bag of tools. Notice, the promise is that the Spirit will cause us to obey. Apart from his prompting, believers who have neither the desire nor the ability to please God.


1 Response to “What We Believe About Regeneration.”

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