Regeneration is the restorational re-lifing of man spiritually with the life of God.
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By the initiative of His grace through His Son Jesus Christ, God has accomplished everything necessary to restore mankind to the functional intent for which He created him. That divine intent was that the life and character of God might be present within the man, allowing for the expression of such in man's behavior unto the glory of God. Originally the spiritual life of God had been breathed into man (Gen. 2:7), but that divine life had been displaced by spiritual death, the personal resource of "the one having the power of death, that is the devil" (Heb. 2:14), when man willfully chose to respond to the satanic temptation in sin. Since all men were "in Adam" (I Cor. 15:22) and all the descendants of Adam come into being spiritually "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1,5), the need of mankind is to be "brought into being again" with the reinvestiture of divine life within man. This is the meaning of the term "regeneration:" the prefix re is from the Latin language meaning "again;" generation is etymologically derived from the Latin generare, and that from the Greek genesis, which means "to bring into being" either by creation or by birth. This latter Greek word is the one affixed as a title to the first book of the Bible, Genesis, which obviously is the account of all things being "brought into being" by God in the beginning.
Mankind did not need a new system of rehabilitation or reformation to deal with their sinful ways and the consequences of death. Additional rules and regulations to try to effect behavioral modification will not suffice. No amount of monies spent on public education in order to enhance and expand man's intellectual capabilities will ever solve man's spiritual problem. Least of all, will the man-made rituals, requirements and reforms of religion serve as any benefit for the resolution of man's problem, and the restoration of intended functionality.
Man's need is to be "brought into being again" spiritually. Perhaps we could say that man needs to be "re-genesized" in a similar manner as he was "genesized" in Genesis 2:7 when God breathed into man the Spirit of his own life and caused him to be spiritually alive by the presence of the divine life within the spirit of man. In his natural state due to the fall of man in sin, man is spiritually dead and needs to be spiritually revived.
Various metaphors are suggested by the regeneration concept of "bringing into being again." The term genesis has long been associated with creation, and the spiritual regeneration of man by the Spirit of Christ is illustrated as constituting the Christian as a "new creation" (II Cor. 5:17; cf. Gal. 6:15). Resurrection also pictures the concept of "bringing into being again," especially in portraying life out of death, and thus is used as a figure of regeneration when Christians are referred to as being "raised to newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). The predominant figure of regeneration is that of birth, of being "born again" with spiritual life. The Greek words associated with genesis are used over one hundred times in the New Testament in reference to birth, and this becomes the primary metaphor to explain regeneration. Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be "born from above," (John 3:3,7) to be "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5). Recent misuse of the terms "rebirth" or "born again" in some religious circles has caused the terms to be despised and caricatured by many today, but the image is indeed Biblical.
The "finished work" (John 19:30) of Jesus Christ entails not only the objective remedial concepts of His work on the cross, but also the subjective restorative concepts of His work which derive from His resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ alone would not have effected regeneration for all mankind. At the cross the remedial features were enacted when Jesus voluntarily and vicariously took the death consequences of man's sin upon Himself, but it was in the resurrection that life "came into being again" out of death, in order that such divine life could be made available to restore mankind. The negative death consequences for sin were taken care of at the cross, but the positive consequences of God's life made available to man were effected in the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical theology must always beware of focusing only on the cross of Christ without giving due emphasis to the resurrection. Christian theology was from its commencement a "resurrection theology." Peter's first sermon was that "God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death" (Acts 2:24). Paul's proclamation was that "God had fulfilled His promises...in that He raised up Jesus" (Acts 13:33).
The resurrection of Jesus was the pre-requisite for regeneration. Using the illustration of a grain of wheat, Jesus explained that it had to die and come to life in order to bear much fruit (John 12:24). He was referring to His own death and resurrection, which would serve as the fruitful prototype of "many brethren" (Rom. 8:29) experiencing life out of death spiritually. "As Christ was raised from the dead...so we too might walk in newness of life...united in the likeness of His resurrection" (Rom. 6:4,5). Christians are "raised up with Christ" (Col. 2:12; 3:14), passing "out of death into life" (John 5:24; I John 3:14). Thus it is that Peter can declare that "God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:3), evidencing the pre-requisite of the historical resurrection of Jesus, with which we identify spiritually in regeneration.
Jesus explained to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies" (John 11:25). The life of the risen Lord Jesus, the resurrection-life of Jesus, becomes the basis of spiritual life in the Christian.
The essential reality of that which is "brought into being again" within the individual who receives Jesus Christ is not just a subjective experience of a "heart on fire" or a "peace within." Neither is it merely a judicial reality of "positional" right-standing with God, being duly recorded as "justified" in the heavenly bookkeeping ledgers. Regeneration is not the receipt of a travel voucher, an eventual one-way ticket to heaven with the guarantee that one will not go to hell. The reality of regeneration is that the divine life of God is "brought into being again" within the spirit of the individual who receives Jesus Christ. The primary objective of Christianity is not how to get a man out of hell and into heaven, but to allow the life of God to be imputed back into man that he might be functionally operative to the glory of God both on earth and in heaven.
There is only one way to experience life. One cannot buy their way into life. Neither can one work their way into life. Being "made safe" from diabolic dysfunction in order to function as God intended, never comes "on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness" (Titus 3:5), but only by regeneration. The only way to receive life is to be born into it, which evidences again the metaphor of "birth" as an illustration of regeneration. Being "born again" is not "turning over a new leaf" of religious dedication and commitment. It is not a renaissance of applied morality. It is the re-introduction of the divine life of Jesus Christ into the spirit of the individual who is receptive to such.
Regeneration expresses the "vital concept" of Christ's "finished work." It is the restoration of the "personal resource of life," being the presence of the living God, into the spiritual function capacity of man. Jesus said, "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). He identified this life which can be invested in us as the very essence of His own being, saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (I John 5:12). Those who have been "made alive together with Christ" (Eph. 2:5), experience "Christ as their life" (Col. 3:4). It is a derived life that can never be separated from the being of Jesus Christ. As such it cannot be static. His life can never be viewed as a commodity to be possessed, an "eternal life package" which has value after our physical death. The reality of regeneration is that we receive the vital dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus which is to have contemporary incarnation in the behavior of the Christian.
"The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; ...he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (I Cor. 2:14). The fallen race of mankind does not naturally recognize their need for spiritual regeneration. "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (II Cor. 4:4). This is why Nicodemus, a religious "ruler of the Jews" (John 3:1), could not comprehend what Jesus was telling him when He explained that "You must be born again" (John 3:7); and "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Nicodemus was thoroughly religious, having attempted to keep all the Jewish moral regulations meticulously as a Pharisee (John 3:1), but he did not understand the spiritual implications of being "born again" and re-lifed with the indwelling presence of God's life. His spiritual ignorance was evidenced when he responded to Jesus, thinking only in terms of physical obstetrics, asking, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" (John 3:4). Jesus explained to Nicodemus quite simply that "unless one is born of water (physical birth) and the Spirit (spiritual birth), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (wherein Christ reigns as Lord, as we reign in life through Him)" (John 3:5). Whether Nicodemus ever understood and was regenerated cannot be ascertained definitively, but he was sympathetic to Jesus and brought burial spices for the body of Jesus at His death (John 19:39).
In order to cause man to recognize the need for spiritual regeneration, the Spirit of God engages in the revelatory solicitation whereby Jesus "draws men to Himself" (John 12:32). It is not just a matter of religious education and catechism whereby one can intellectually perceive the need for such a spiritual exchange, but the revelation of such need and the availability of the provision of Jesus Christ, must be recognized in the enlightening and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Revelation is "caught," not "taught." God, in Christ, and by His Holy Spirit, solicits our response, working providentially even in the arrangement of circumstances whereby we are caused to hear the gospel. He convinces and convicts our mind and emotion "concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:7-11), thereby revealing our spiritual need and the provision for such need in Jesus Christ.
Regeneration becomes personally effectual for an individual when he is willing to receive the life of Jesus Christ in him by a freely chosen response of faith. "Belief" and "faith" are two English words which are both used to translate the Greek word pistis. Differentiation must be made, however, between a "belief" that is but mental assent to historical accuracy and theological orthodoxy, and the "faith" that is receptive to the spiritual life of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not just an epistemological belief-system of doctrinal data, despite the fact that fundamentalistic religious perversions often project it to be such. One does not "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31), in the same manner as one might believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States of America. Believing the veracity of the circumstantial historical data, one might assent and concur that George Washington was the first president of the U.S.A. over two hundred years ago. In like manner, one might believe that Jesus Christ lived almost two thousand years ago, having been born in Bethlehem, and having been crucified at Golgotha. In addition, a person might affirm the theological interpretations of Jesus' incarnation and redemptive death, but it might remain but a rationalistic mental assent to evidentiary data. Such is not the faith required for the receipt of regeneration. Biblical faith involves spiritual receptivity. Faith is our receptivity of God's activity; the receipt of the redemptive, regenerative, and restorational work of God in Jesus Christ. On many occasions when the New Testament uses the Greek word pistis, or the verb form pisteuo, it is followed by the Greek preposition eis, meaning "into." We might believe in, on, or about George Washington, but we do not believe "into" George Washington. On the other hand, since we are referring to spiritual reality in Jesus Christ, it can be said that we "believe into" an ontological communion with Jesus Christ as we receive His Spirit into our spirit. "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe into (pisteuousin eis) His name" (John 1:12). "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes into (pisteuon eis) Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). The receptivity of faith is "believing into" a connection with the very life and being of Jesus Christ.
John explains that he wrote his gospel narrative "that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). The receipt of regenerative life is based upon the receptivity of faith in Jesus Christ. "Having believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13).
The receipt of spiritual life requires a source from whence that life is drawn. It is true both physically and spiritually that one cannot give birth to themselves. There must be a progenitor of the life that is given. Life cannot be derived from nothing or from a non-living source. The "personal resource" of spiritual life is the One who "is Spirit" (John 4:24), and who has "life in Himself" (John 5:26) as the "living God" (I Tim. 4:10). When Nicodemus questioned, "How can a man be born when he is old?" Jesus explained that we must be "born from above," from the spiritual life of God. John writes that those who receive Jesus and become children of God are "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). The personal resource of life from whom we receive spiritual life is God Himself. God is the progenitor of the life that we receive in regeneration.
It is also true physically and spiritually that "like begets like" in the process of the birthing of life. Since in regeneration we are "born of God" (John 1:13) and "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5,6), the life that we receive is divine life. The Christian becomes a "partaker of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). This does not mean that we thus have divine life inherently as God does (John 5:26), but only that we have the derived life of God within the man.
The agency of the implantation of this divine spiritual life is the Holy Spirit, using the means of the gospel of Jesus Christ. "You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (I Peter 1:23). Jesus said that "It is the Spirit who gives life" (John 6:63), which is echoed by Paul's explanation that "the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3:6).
Where is it within the constituted levels of functionality that man needs to be renewed to life? The region where fallen man is dead is within the life-function level of his spirit. Every individual in the human race is born spiritually "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1,5). Such death does not imply the non-functionality of spirit, but spiritual identification with "the one having the power of death, that is the devil" (Heb. 2:14), the "personal resource of death." The need of man, therefore, is to "pass from death to life" (John 5:24; I John 3:14) spiritually in a spiritual exchange of identification and indwelling from one personal spiritual resource to the other, from Satan to God (Acts 26:18). The region of regeneration is the life-function level of the spirit.
The prophet Ezekiel served as an instrument of God's foretelling what He was going to do through His Son Jesus Christ in the new covenant. "I will put a new spirit within you...I will put My Spirit within you" (Ezek. 36:26,27), God said. This transpires in regeneration when the "spiritual concept" of Christ's "finished work" becomes effectual, and an individual is spiritually re-lifed. Jesus clearly specified the region of regeneration when He explained to Nicodemus that "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).
Although it has been previously indicated that the life that we receive in regeneration is the life of God, i.e. the life of Jesus Christ, it is important to emphasize that the entire life of God in His triune form is put within us and comes to dwell and live within us. The life of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit becomes the essence of our spiritual life. This is the ontological feature of the "finished work" of Jesus Christ, whereby the Being of the triune God is restored to mankind.
God the Father dwells within the Christian. "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (I John 4:15). To the Corinthians Paul notes that God had indicated long ago that "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (II Cor. 6:16). Explaining the receptive relationship between God and the Christian, Jesus included the Father saying, "We will come to him and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23).
That Jesus Christ dwells within the Christian is abundantly documented in the New Testament Scriptures. This is the mystery of the gospel, writes Paul, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20), he writes to the Galatians. "Do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?" (II Cor. 13:5), Paul asks the Corinthian Christians. John adds that, "We know that Christ abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given us" (I John 3:24). "By this we know that we abide in Christ and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (I John 4:13).
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is also amply posited by the New Testament. Paul asks the Corinthians, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?" (I Cor. 6:19). God "jealously desires the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us" (James 4:5). "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (II Tim. 1:14).
The ontological reposit of regeneration is the divine being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the restoration of the "breath of lives" (Gen. 2:7) that God breathed into man in the garden.
To "bring into being again" by "the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5), allows for a renewal of the individual that is variously described throughout the New Testament. The Christian is participating in a "new covenant" (Heb. 8:8,13), a "better covenant" (Heb. 7:22), a superior arrangement wherein God's "Laws are written in our minds and upon our hearts" (Heb 8:10; 10:16), for the presence of His being and character dwell within our spirit. It is "a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the flesh of Jesus Christ" (Heb. 10:20), and His willingness to become humanity in order to take our death consequences and give us His life.
"If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Cor. 5:17). The metaphor of "new creation" is suggested by the Greek word genesis, from which the English word "regeneration" is derived. Man is "re-genesized," that is, "brought into being again" in accord with God's created intent to have His life dwelling within and functioning through humanity. The real issues of Christianity are not the externalities, Paul notes, "but a new creation" (Gal. 6:15) of humanity.
The newness of humanity is effected by the "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4) that the Christian shares in identification with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the indwelling of His resurrection-life. By receptivity of Jesus Christ the individual becomes a "new man" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), "created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:24). The believer has a new spiritual identity as a Christ-one, a Christian.
"All things have become new" (II Cor. 5:17) for the Christian. This must be understood in reference to spiritual realities, for the patterns of fleshly behavior in the function-level of the soul are still present in recurrent conflict with the new impulses of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).
Receiving the life of God in spiritual regeneration, the Christian has a "personal relationship" with God through the "one mediator, Jesus Christ" (I Tim. 2:5). We are "reconciled to God" (Rom. 5:10; II Cor. 5:19,20; Col. 1:20) in a spiritual oneness. "The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (I Cor. 6:17).
Regeneration also creates a spiritual relationship with every other individual who has likewise received Jesus Christ. God does not intend that we become "lone ranger" Christians, isolated in individualism. Using the metaphor of birth again, it might be noted that an individual is always born into a family. The Church of Jesus Christ is the "family of God" wherein we are to relate to one another, love one another, and minister to one another. "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together,...but encouraging one another" (Heb. 10:24,25). Within such interactive Christian fellowship the Christian individual will "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).
The question of the permanency of this regenerative placement of God's life in man's spirit has long been debated. The misunderstandings often result from man's propensity to reason in strict logical categories that fail to take into account the dynamic ontological reality of the presence of God. Our security is not based on a logical positivism that results from certain receptive actions of man in a rigid cause and effect procedure. Instead, our security is based on the continued faithfulness of God (I Cor. 1:9), who has no desire to renege on His express purpose to manifest His life in man. The character of God is indeed an eternal security, as He is allowed to function dynamically within mankind.
Christians can have the subjective assurance that God does indeed dwell in them. John wrote to Christians, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (I John 5:13). Paul noted that "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16).
Receiving the Spirit of life into our spirit in regeneration is not an end in itself. The objective is not to "store up" the Holy Spirit in the spirit of a Christian as a "deposit" that will later be employed or "cashed in." Some Christians in their evangelistic zeal have encouraged regeneration, but never proceeded to explain what the Spirit was to do when He came to dwell in the Christian. There are Christians who have sat in their pews every Sunday for many years, and heard sermon after sermon on "What it means to be 'Born Again'," but have never been taught concerning the Spirit's continued activity. This phenomena is also oftentimes a result of an eschatological futurism that projects all the benefits of Jesus Christ into the heavenly future and has no expectation for the effectiveness of His life in the world today. It is tragic that many Christians conceive of the Christian life as "the past is forgiven; the future is assured; but the present is the pits!"
Regeneration is a crisis with a view to a process. At a particular point in time the Spirit of Christ takes up residence in the spirit of an individual who receives Him by faith. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Rom. 8:9). The Spirit of Christ in the spirit of the Christian is not "on hold" until we get to heaven. God's intent is that the life of Jesus Christ be released into behavioral expression. This is the "functional concept" of His "finished work." The derivation of spiritual condition must lead to the derivation of behavioral expression. Regeneration must extend into sanctification. The writer to the Hebrews admonishes, "Let us press on to maturity" (Heb. 6:1).
When the "personal resource" of Christ's life is received into the spirit of man at regeneration, the "prevailing ramifications" of that life are to become behaviorally operative expressing the character of God, and allowing for a "perpetual representation" of ontological union of life in Jesus Christ. To the Galatians, Paul wrote, "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20). To the Corinthians, he explained that the objective was that "the life of Jesus might be manifested in our body...in our mortal flesh" (II Cor. 4:10,11). The life of Jesus Christ must be released in order to be manifested in the Christian's behavior, to be lived out to the glory of God.
The apostle John in his typical "black and white" thinking, explains particular behavioral manifestations that should be indicative of one who has been regenerated and received the divine life within:
"You know that every one who practices righteousness is born of Him" (I John 2:29). Those in whom the "Righteous One" (Acts 3:4; 7:42; 22:14) dwells and lives will derive His righteous character in righteous behavior. There is no other way to manifest righteousness except as derived from Christ, for all other feeble attempts at such are as a "filthy rag" (Isa. 64:6) and to be "counted as rubbish" (Phil. 3:8). The character of righteousness in our behavior will be a result of the regeneration whereby "Jesus Christ, the Righteous" (I John 2:1) comes to live in us and manifest His life through us.
"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death" (I John 3:14). "God is love" (I John 4:8,16), and when He comes to dwell in us at regeneration, the manifestations of His loving character, the "fruit of the Spirit which is love..." (Gal. 5:22,23), should be expressed behaviorally. "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5).
"No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (I John 3:9). This verse has spawned numerous perfectionistic theses, but the meaning seems to be that the Perfect One, Jesus Christ, comes to live in the Christian at regeneration. As the "Sinless One" (II Cor. 5:21; I Peter 2:22), He does not sin, nor tempt us to sin (James 1:13). An individual in whom Christ dwells should desire that the character of Christ be derivatively expressed in his behavior, repudiating the sinful expressions that are contrary to His character. Realism forces us to remember that "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8).
"Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; ...and who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (I John 5:4,5). Jesus is the Overcomer who has "overcome the world" (John 16:33). When He comes to live in us at regeneration, He is the sufficient spiritual provision for the overcoming of Satan's world-system with all its evil influences and sin. "Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4). "The Lamb will overcome, because He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings" (Rev. 17:14).
"We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him" (I John 5:18). Again, the Sinless One, Jesus Christ, who has come to live in us at regeneration, does not sin or prompt us to sin. He also "protects us from the evil one" (II Thess. 3:3) by "the power of God" (I Peter 1:5), "not allowing us to be tempted beyond what we are able" (I Cor. 10:13). Christians are thus empowered by the indwelling Christ for the avoidance of temptation as "He comes to the aid of those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18).
The results of regeneration will be the
expression of God's character in the behavior of man. God's intent
in the reinvestiture of His life in man through the work of His
Son Jesus Christ was that man might function as God had originally
intended by allowing the life and character of God to be expressed
in man's behavior to the glory of God. Only when the life of
God is "brought into being again" by spiritual regeneration
in man, is the divine dynamic present in man whereby He might
derive from God and express godly character. Regeneration is
necessary if man is to be man as God intended man to be.