The Bible tells us that all people on earth are sinners and are given to sin. It further tells us that there is nothing that man can do to save himself from this all invading and evil influence. In Jeremiah 17:9 the heart of man is described as follows: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

                Having noted that sin has invaded man and influenced him towards evil, we must, however, know that it is not a hopeless situation. God in his goodness has set out the redemption plan for man. This redemption is a process (see Romans 8:30). It does not begin and end with our confession of sin. It is a process. Regeneration is part of that process.

What is Regeneration?

Vines says that regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old (p.517). Hence it is right to say that regeneration brings about a change in an individual’s life. This change is a moral one – a change of heart and a change of mind. This does not, however, imply that there is a physiological change in the said individual. Regeneration brings about a new perspective or life style to the regenerate. The 1689 Baptist Confession says that, “Their minds are given spiritual enlightenment” (1975, 32). In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” The newness mentioned here is as a result of knowing Jesus Christ and has nothing to do with any physical attainment. Furthermore, the Scriptures tell us that no one can come to Christ Jesus unless the Father makes it possible (John 6:44). Regeneration then is an act of God and God alone (Murray: 1977, 170).

When we say that regeneration is an act of God and God alone, it simply means that no one can come to faith in Christ Jesus unless God bids it. He does so by means that he deems fit. Through the person of the Holy Spirit we see God drawing people to himself by regeneration. In Titus 3:5, the Scriptures record, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” The work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration has no substitute in the redemption plan of God.

The question, however, that still remains to be answered is: What is the means or the instrument of regeneration?

We have briefly mentioned the Holy Spirit as the one who regenerates, but what means does he use? It is important at this stage to make it clear that the Holy Spirit is not himself the instrument in regeneration. He does the work: “He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness…” (John 16:8). But, what instrument does he use to bring this about?

Erroneous Views on the Means of Regeneration

As it is on many other doctrinal issues, various authorities express different views on this doctrine. Obviously not all the views are right. Some views are due to erroneous biblical interpretations. Other views arise out of respect for church traditions rather than the Scriptures. The following are some of the erroneous views:

Baptismal Regeneration: This view propagates that baptism, other than bringing about spiritual renewal, also brings about justification or the forgiveness of sin (Berkhof: 1958, 477). This view argues that the act of baptism literally washes away one’s sin. One of the Scriptures which they use to argue that baptism does wash away the sins of individual to bring them into a relationship with God is John 3:5. The word “water” in this text, they argue, signifies baptism. For this reason we can safely conclude that a people holding to this view believe that baptism is a means of regeneration. When we, however, consider the context that the Lord was in with Nicodemus, he was talking to one who believed in Judaism and needed to enter the kingdom of God. For that reason water must have signified purification and not baptism (Murray:1961, 97).

The Extra-Ordinary: We have chosen to use this term for lack of a better one. This group claims to have come to faith through some extra-ordinary experience in their lives, such as having a dreadful dream of going into hell or of going into heaven and talking to God. As we shall prove shortly, God has not appointed such means as the means of regeneration. The Scriptures have not told us that such powerful dreams or any such extra-ordinary events are a means of regeneration.

When the Lord Jesus Christ taught about Lazarus and the rich man (in Luke 16:19-31), he clearly taught that salvation does not come about because he has heard a preacher from the other side of the grave but by one simply believing the Word of God. Having noted this we can safely say that any means that are mentioned as the God-given means of regeneration, no matter how exciting, must not be tolerated.

The Law: “The law is not the instrument [of regeneration]” (Charnock:1980, 277). Charnock goes on to say, “The law taken as a covenant of works was not appointed for renewing the soul; otherwise what need had there been of enacting another law for that work?” The law brought condemnation and hopelessness to man. In this hopelessness man was shown his distance from God because man failed to satisfy God through the law. The only option then that can satisfy God apart from the law is Christ Jesus as se is proclaimed or preached in the gospel.

The Will of Man: Those who teach this believe that regeneration is not the exclusive the work of God. They teach that man cooperates with God in his regeneration. But, as it will soon appear, this is totally impossible!

The Means (Instrument) of Regeneration

The primary means of regeneration is the Word of God (the gospel). It is the Word that God uses to call people from the bondage of sin (Charnock:1980, 279). In the Scriptures we read that those that are saved to eternal life are “the called of God”. In other words we are saying that if one does not hear the call of God such a one can not be saved and cannot respond. We can also say that many are called but only those who hear the effectual call meant for them will respond. This call is tied up with predestination: “…those he predestined he also called…also justified…also glorified” (Romans 8:30). This calling is not a mute call but it comprises of words.

                Furthermore when Paul talks of the Word of God, he talks of it as an instrument that is able to bring change in the life of an individual. We had earlier said regeneration brings about moral change. This moral change comes as one reflects on God’s Word and then experiences its life-changing power. This life-changing power initially starts with people thinking through the Word of God which they have heard. Paul in his writings shows us that he has a very high and uncompromised opinion of the gospel (the Word of God) for the regeneration of many. He knew the power that was in the gospel as he wrote: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of…” (Romans 1:16). In other words Paul is saying that salvation is found in the gospel. He does not give us any other option.

The Word of God is the word of truth. It is this very Word (the gospel) that God has given as the means of regeneration. The reason why God gave us his Word is because it is reliable and consistent. In James 1:18 we read of the Scriptures as the word of truth by which we are born again. Dreams and feelings can change, but the Word of God that is able to bring new life through regeneration does not change.

Furthermore, without this Word, faith cannot be generated in the life of individuals. When faith is generated we see people calling out to God in repentance. The reason which leads people to such faith is because the Word of God spells out the beauty of God in righteousness and his forgiveness. This reality is one that cannot be ignored by the regenerate because it gives the only alternative to life. Hence in Romans 10:17 we read that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. We can safely say here that the Scriptures, being the means of regeneration, bring faith and a real relationship with God into being.

The Word of God in regeneration is without repentance. It does not bring us to salvation with reservation or to a half-baked salvation. The salvation that progresses in us through the Word is meant to last through all eternity. God will not go back on his promises. It is for this reason that the Scriptures talk of the Word being imperishable (1 Peter 1:23).

Difficult Cases

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith does not have a chapter called “Regeneration”. It handles this subject under “Effectual Calling”, emphasising the fact that God regenerates by the Word. The Confession states unequivocally: “At a time appointed by and accepted to God, those whom God has predestined to life are effectually called by his Word… Their minds are given spiritual enlightment.”

The difficult question is: How are infants and those who cannot be called outwardly by the Word (gospel) regenerated? The simple/difficult answer is that the Lord will regenerate and ultimately save the elect by his Spirit as he pleases (John 3:8) – whoever they may be.

Conclusion

Regeneration is a work of God from beginning to end. We cannot exclude God from biblical regeneration and remain on safe ground. In this article, we have noted that regeneration brings about a change in an individual’s life. This is a moral change – a change of heart and a change of mind. Regeneration brings about a new perspective or life-style. This is made possible by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word in an individual’s life. I again need to state that the means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about change in an individuals life is the Word of God (the gospel).

                The challenge, however, is that are you the regenerate of the Lord. Have you responded to the call of God and abandoned your old ways of life to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words are you born of God (born again) by the Word of God (gospel). This birth, beloved one, is a conscious birth and it is an act of God as well. Hence to experience it we listen to the preaching of God’s word.

                The place of the gospel cannot be replaced if we are to have truly regenerate church members. This is so because that is the only God-given means by which we must be born again (saved). To teach anything other than this is to teach another gospel, completely divorced from God. The apostle Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist by preaching the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). We must do the same. Amen!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Berkhof L (1958), Systematic Theology, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

2. Charnock S (1840), The Doctrine of Regeneration, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

3. Murray J (1979), Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

4. Murray J (1977), Collected Writings of John Murray, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.