What is regeneration?

Regeneration is a synonym with rebirth.


What does the word regeneration mean in theology?

Regeneration is a word the Biblical authors used to describe the first act of God in bringing a sinner out of his sin and into a new life with Christ.


Why does the Bible use this term to describe this?

Because God often teaches His people by using metaphors or pictures.  This word regeneration is a metaphor for teaching us what God does when He saves a sinner.  In dealing with these metaphors, Fairbairn teaches us:

In the first place, it may be noted, that in a large number of cases, by much the larger number of cases, where the language is tropical [or figurative], the fact that it is so appears from the very nature of the language, or from the connexion in which it stands. This holds especially of that kind of tropical language, which consists in the employment of metaphor—i.e., when one object is set forth under the image of another; and in the employment of parable, which is only an extended metaphor. Thus, when Jacob says of Judah, “Judah is a lion’s whelp, from the prey, my son, thou art gone up;” or when our Lord designated two of His disciples by the name of Boanerges, “Sons of thunder;” or, again, when He spake of the difficulties connected with an admission into His kingdom, under the necessity of “being born again,” and of “entering a strait gate and treading a narrow way;”—in all these and many examples of a like nature, the tropical element is palpable; a child, indeed, might perceive it; and the only room for consideration is, how the lines of resemblance should be drawn between the literal and the figurative sense of the terms.


Fairbairn says that we must consider “how the lines of resemblance should be drawn between the literal and the figurative sense of the terms.”  What is this resemblance between salvation and a human birth?

There are two lines of resemblance which are brought to us by this parallel which the Bible makes between the picture and the reality.

The first is that God’s first saving act on the human soul is entirely His own act.  The human person is entirely passive.  Just as a child is entirely passive in his or her own birth, so a person is entirely passive when God first begins to operate savingly on him or her.  The parallel here is that just as none of played any role in our own birth, so we do not play a role in our spiritual rebirth.

The second is the nature of the change that God works on the human soul.  It is not a partial change but a thoroughgoing radical change that leaves no part of the human person the same.  It is not a renovation or a fixing up of something that is broke.  It is a completely new person.


Why do you say that people are passive when God first saves them. Are not people saved by faith? and is not faith our action?

People surely are saved by believing in Jesus.  The question is whether this act of faith is something that the person generates themselves or whether it is an action brought about because of God’s working on them previously.


Why can’t a person believe in Jesus apart from a prior work of God on their soul?

Because as they are born, human persons are not able to do good works.


Where does the Bible teach that no one is able to do a good work on their own?

Paul teaches this in Romans 8:   For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)


What does Paul mean here by “the mind set on the flesh”?

This is Paul’s way of describing a person who has not yet received God’s saving work; i.e. what we would call an unregenerate or unsaved person.


What other biblical teaching is there that a person cannot of his own self believe in Jesus apart from God’s work?

John says that unless someone is born from above, he cannot even see the kingdom of God.


What does John mean by being “born from above”?

This refers to the Holy Spirit who comes down from above (or heaven) and changes a person so completely that it is as if s/he were newly born.


Does this refer to the second line of resemblance between the metaphor and the reality which you mentioned above; i.e. the change is complete and not partial?



What does John mean by “seeing the kingdom of God”?

This means to be admitted to all the privileges of the children of God such as the forgiveness of all sin and being reconciled to God the Father.


What other metaphors does the Bible use to make this point about God’s saving work?

The Bible uses the metaphor of creation to teach us about this first saving act of God.  We can read this in Paul’s letter to Ephesus:  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)  Later in the same letter, Paul writes:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Paul uses it again in a letter he wrote to those churches which he established on his first mission journey:  For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)







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