The disaster of our present day crisis is that we have so many people in the church and on some church registers who claim to be born again and yet live without producing any corresponding fruits of that same experience. The words of John the Baptist still send warnings to many such professing Christians: “Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptised by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our Father”…’”(Luke 3:7, NKJV).

The challenge presented by John the Baptist to the people is that the proof of true conversion should always show by the fruits of turning away from sin and turning to God. The Scriptures are very clear that a radical inward change produced in regeneration has a corresponding outward change in the life of a person who is regenerate. John Murray crystallises this by simply saying that “regeneration is at the basis of all change in heart and life” (1961, 105).

The failure to understand the true nature of regeneration has led to the current tragedy in many churches. This has resulted in the common error and assumption that everyone who makes some kind of profession of faith in Christ is a Christian. This sad development has in a subtle way resulted in the acceptance and accommodation of the so-called “non-committed” or even “carnal Christian” members of the church who have no single evidence of new life.

This article addresses the subject of regeneration with a specific focus on its consequent results. Under this head the following questions will serve as a guide to the discussion: What happens in the new birth? What does regeneration change in the human heart? What is the nature of transformation which regeneration brings about? And what are some of the distinguishing marks of a regenerate heart? These, plus many other matters, will help us unpack the issues related to the consequent result of regeneration.

What happens in the new birth?

The terms regeneration and new birth are used interchangeably, meaning one and the same thing. The term “new birth” never occurs in the Bible. The noun “regeneration” occurs only twice in the Bible (Titus 3:5, Matthew 19:28). The Greek word translated “regeneration” is palingenesia, which, when broken down into parts, means “born-again” (i.e. palin = again; genesia = birth). While the term “new birth” is not directly found in the Scriptures, related words occur many times, such as “new creation”, “born again”, and “new man”. The import from these phrases vividly illustrates what takes place spiritually when the life of God completely transforms a sinner.

In regeneration an experience of the “quickening” of the heart or the receiving of new life takes place. This holy operation sets in motion the whole process related to the practical experience of conversion. The divine agency, the Spirit of God, creates a new nature, which results in new desires, affections, and interests. These new desires are spiritual in nature and God-centred. The Spirit of God is active in this operation to give life to a spiritually dead human heart (John 6:63). In this change, the Spirit of God is the only agent; and the person – the subject – is wholly passive. He does not act, but is acted upon. This is so because of the state of the human heart. It is said to be totally depraved and corrupt in its natural, fallen state. By total corruption of the heart, we mean that it is wholly without any degree of right disposition or principles that should be a foundation for holy exercises. It is altogether under the power of an opposing principle and disposition, so that there is no capacity of heart to act or will in righteousness.

The heart, which is said to be as hard as stone, is softened in regeneration and becomes a “a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NKJV). It is made to desire and love God, to draw near to God, to long for spiritual things and to apprehend the things of God. This new life is the very essence of regeneration, by which a spiritually lifeless person is enlivened with the very life of God. The picture of the valley of dead and dry bones in Ezekiel 37 illustrates what happens in regeneration. By the power of God the lifeless dry bones are given life so that they can live again. So it is in regeneration. God’s power produces new life in a spiritually dead person.

This new life, which is produced by the power of God, is not just a passive or inactive form of new life. It is a new birth that consequently manifests itself in real and living activities. Thus, this new life serves in one sense as the cause and in another as the effect of the new spiritual life in a person, resulting in a change of heart.

Regeneration results in the change of human heart

The question as to what extent or degree regeneration changes human hearts should be of great importance to us. I now move on to particularly inquire into this change here spoken of and called the new birth.I want us to consider the nature of it, and wherein it consists, and the effects of the same.

Students of the Bible offer differing views on the divine order with regard to the new birth. The position one takes is not merely an academic or theological exercise, but one which has far-reaching consequences. The accepted Reformed theological position teaches that regeneration, or new birth, must precede faith. The giving of the new life, or quickening, must come before conversion. The divergent teaching, that regeneration results from conversion, denies the fact that the unregenerate person is dead and unable to respond to the gospel. The individual must first be regenerated so that he can receive the gift of faith. To affirm otherwise is to deny total depravity, and dangerously teach that people have the will or ability to save themselves through some self-effort. Professor Dr. R. C. Sproul makes the following comment: “In regeneration, God changes our hearts. He gives us a new disposition, a new inclination. He plants a desire for Christ in our hearts. We can never trust Christ for our salvation unless we first desire Him. This is why we said earlier that regeneration precedes faith” (1986, 118).

Regeneration consists in a change of the heart [the heart understood as the very core of the human being – affecting the whole person – intellectually, emotionally, and morally.] The change that is produced in regeneration affects the very centre of human life and, therefore, the heart must be the immediate subject of this change. The blinding corruption of the heart is in some measure removed, giving a person eyes to see, and the ability to act and positively respond to God.

It is important to note that regeneration, per se, does not produce any new naturalcapacity or faculty in the soul. The old nature remains within the believer, struggling with the new. J.P. Boyce in his Abstract of Systematic Theology argues that in regeneration, the new heart is prepared to turn to God and does actually so turn. Without regeneration the sinfulness of man keeps him away from God, causes him to set his affections upon himself and his own pleasure, and to find gratification in things which are opposed to God and holiness. The regenerated heart has new affections and desires and is, therefore, fitted to seek after God and holiness of life (Boyce:1973).

The truth of the foregoing argument clearly shows that the corruption of the heart is the only ground of the necessity of regeneration. It remains then that regeneration consists in introducing new life in the heart and so laying a foundation for any further holy exercises, such as faith and repentance, resulting in conversion.

Regeneration results in conversion

In conversion the person is active, but in regeneration the Spirit of God is the only active cause. The person who is the subject of this change is, indeed, active in conversion as he exercises faith and repentance. Conversion is a result of regeneration. It is equally important to note that both faith and repentance are also divine works wrought in a person by the Spirit of God. When a person is regenerated, and a new heart is given, divine things will appear in a new light, and the heart will exercise itself in a new way. This change in the heart lays the only foundation for all right views and exercises of the heart, and is, therefore, the cause of all successive activities. Before this change, the heart is wholly sinful, a heart of stone, an impenitent, rebellious heart. All the exercises of it are acts of rebellion, in opposition to God and his commandments. God takes this stubborn heart in his hand and speaks the powerful word; and it immediately, all at once, becomes a heart of flesh – a new, regenerate “quickened” heart, enabled to respond positively to the call of God. The change that occurs in regeneration is instantaneous.

The heart from that moment can now see and feel that there is a God, with a conviction and assurance that it never had before. In this operation, the person is prepared to receive the good news and be able to respond to it, in faith and repentance. The person now becomes truly humble, with a clear sense of his own sins, vileness, unworthiness and guilt, and his absolute dependence on God. There is now a fuller, clearer, and more constant view and sense of one’s own amazing vileness and misery that leads to a meek and humble conduct before God and other people. This new principle results in active conversion from sin and results in receiving Christ Jesus. This new disposition is what the Holy Scriptures say: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV). Things are new. The old value systems, priorities, beliefs, loves, and plans are gone. There is now a new principle with a new view and sense of the truth, divinity, excellence, and sweetness of a new found relationship with God and an amazing delight in the things pertaining to God. The conversion that occurs in a person is a result of regeneration.

Some of the distinguishing marks of a regenerate heart.

A person, who is truly converted, born again, born of the Spirit of God, will exhibit some unmistakable distinguishing marks that characterise a spiritually changed life. The change in a person’s disposition must inevitably issue into some corresponding change in the life of such a person. Jesus gives us the litmus test. He said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but are ravenous wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20, NKJV, emphasis mine).

It is clear from the words of Christ that one of the sure evidences of a regenerate heart is the manifestation of Christ-like character traits, which the Bible calls the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23). Without any fear of contradiction, let me mention some things that cannot be sure evidence of a regenerate heart. A mere change in visible morality cannot be evidence as proof a changed life (Matthew 19:21, 23:27). A possessing of deep understanding or comprehension of biblical truth can not be a sign of a regenerate heart (Romans 1:21, 2:17-24). Religious and ministry involvement are in themselves not an evidence of new life (Matthew 25:1-10, 7:21-24). One may even experience some conviction of sin (Acts 24:25) and possess some kind of assurance (Matthew 23, Luke 3:7), but all these cannot be evidence of a regenerate heart. Regeneration is not the reshaping of one’s lifestyle, or some form of “reformation”. It is new life begotten in a soul by the power of God.

What, then, are some of the distinguishing marks of a regenerate heart? Regeneration results in a new relationship, established with God and with the family of God. The person desires and does what is right. He does not continue to practice sin and is prevented or restrained from practicing sin. He loves and keeps God’s commandments and loves others, especially God’s people (1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:3-4, 5:4, 18). There is a genuine humility and a devotion to God’s glory. Such a person becomes a devout and zealous worshipper of God. With pleasure he daily enters into his closet, and prays to and praises him who sees in secret. There is simply an amazing love and hunger for God’s Word present in such a soul (1 Peter 2:1-3). A transformation and not just a “reformation” of life take place (2 Corinthians 5:17). Wayne Grudem makes these pungent comments on the necessary results of a regenerate heart. He says, “If there is genuine regeneration in a person’s life, he or she will believe that Jesus is the Christ, and will refrain from a life-pattern of continual sin, and will love his brother, and will overcome the temptations of the world, and will be kept safe from the ultimate harm by the evil one.” He concludes by saying that it is impossible for a person to be regenerated and not become truly converted (1994, 705).

The other obvious distinguishing marks are the fruit of the Spirit recorded in Galatians 5:22-23. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These godly attitudes or elements of the fruit of Spirit will manifest in some noticeable measure in all those who are regenerate. A regenerate heart is known by the fruit it produces and not by some church activities or extraordinary “spiritual” manifestations. It is known by possessing the life of God.

Conclusion

We have seen that in regeneration, spiritual life is imparted to a spiritually dead person. Regeneration is the genesis or beginning of new life and God is the only source of regeneration and remains the only active player in regeneration. This spiritual operation results in a new life, which issues into a changed heart leading to conversion. This changed heart has distinguishable marks of being “begotten” of God. The notion of accommodating the so-called “non-committed” or “carnal” Christian should not be entertained when these non-negotiable distinguishing marks of a regenerate heart are absent in a person. That individual needs to be born again and experience new life in Christ. The very essence of regeneration is to produce new life in Christ that provides a new nature or disposition, by which we can now have a relationship with God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Berkhof Louis. Systematic Theology, Edinburgh Banner of Truth Trust, 1994.
  2. Boyce J.P., Abstract of Systematic Theology, Philadelphia, American Baptist Publication Society, 1973.
  3. Grudem Wayne, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan.1994
  4. Hodge Archibald Alexander. Outlines of Theology, London, Paternoster Row.1896.
  5. Murray John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1961
  6. Sproul R. C., Chosen by God, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 1986