This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from the new MBC resource, “What Every Christian Should Know About Salvation,” available at mobaptist.org/apologetics.
Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit that brings a sinner from spiritual death into spiritual life. While Christians may disagree about such issues as the relationship between regeneration and baptism, or whether regeneration precedes faith, it is biblically faithful for a follower of Jesus to say, “I am regenerated.”
While the Greek noun palingenesia appears only twice in the New Testament (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:5), the concept of regeneration, or new birth, is a consistent theme of Jesus and the New Testament writers. Jesus makes it clear that people must be “born again,” or “born of the Spirit,” if they are to see the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3, 5).
The work of the Holy Spirit, making an individual a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), prepares that person for the future work of Christ as He creates “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:13). All those the Spirit regenerates are assured a place with Christ when He refurbishes the cosmos, purging it completely of sin and its stain.
Regeneration is necessary because the Bible describes unbelievers as the walking dead. Not only are they spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), but they are depicted as natural / without the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14); blinded in their minds (2 Cor. 4:4); bound by Satan (2 Tim. 2:26); alienated from God (Eph. 4:17-18); enemies of the Lord (Rom. 5:6-11; Col. 1:21-22); condemned in their unbelief (John 3:18); and in spiritual darkness (Acts 26:18; Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9).
Regeneration is a one-time, non-repeatable act by which the Holy Spirit enters the dead human spirit of a sinner and makes him or her spiritually alive. Regeneration also is permanent. That is, a person whom God foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies cannot lose the gift of regeneration without losing all of the associated links in God’s golden chain of redemption.
Completing our study of the fourth spring feast, we find that every person can see Jesus in the Feast of Pentecost by observing His promises about the coming Holy Spirit:
- His promise to depart and return to the Father (John 16:7). The coming of the Holy Spirit was contingent upon Jesus completing His work of redemption and returning to His Father. See also John 7:39; Acts 2:32-3. A.J. Gordon writes, “The Spirit of God is the successor of the Son of God in His official ministry on earth. Until Christ’s earthly work for His church had been finished, the Spirit’s work in this world could not properly begin. The office of the Holy Spirit is to communicate Christ to us – Christ in His entireness” (The Ministry of the Spirit, p. 28).
- His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is said to be a gift from the Father (John 14:16, 26) sent by the Son (John 15:26: 16:7). Roy B. Zuck, in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, comments: “Whatever else is meant by the difficult statement that the Spirit ‘goes out from the Father’ (John 15:26), it implies that the Spirit shares the same essential nature as the Father. In fact, John was indicating here the parallelism between the mission of the Son, sent from God (3:17, 34; 5:36-38; 6:29, 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21), and the mission of the Son’s replacement, the Holy Spirit, who would be ‘another Paraclete’ to the disciples and who would enable them to carry on Jesus’ mission after He returned to the Father.”
- His promise of the Spirit’s ministry to unbelievers (John 16:8-11). Without the Spirit’s work to convince unbelievers of the sin of unbelief, the righteousness of Christ, and the judgment that will fall upon them if they persist in their rejection of Jesus, no one could be saved. In fact, the Spirit already was at work on the morning of Pentecost, pricking the hearts of the Jewish unbelievers listening to Peter (Acts 2:37).
- His promise of the Spirit’s ministry to believers, specifically:
- To regenerate us, or make us spiritually alive (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5).
- To indwell us, or take up permanent residence in our human spirit (John 14:17; 1 Cor. 3:16).
- To baptize us, initiating our relationship to Him and establishing our connection with Christ and other believers (Acts 1:5; 1 Cor. 12:13).
- To seal us, a guarantee that God will take us fully into His presence one day (Eph. 1:13-14).
- To teach us, or give us divine assistance (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 1 John 2:27).
- To empower (fill) us for witnessing (Acts 1:8).
- To empower (fill) us for service (Act. 6:5; Eph. 5:18). As Paul S. Karleen writes in The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System, “Filling is the result of a consistent walk with God, and depends on a genuine and mature relationship with the Holy Spirit, Simply asking to be filled will not bring it.”
- To equip us with spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11; Eph. 4:11; 1 Peter 4:11).
5. His promise to identify His Body (the church) by the Spirit (John 14:16-18; Rom. 8:9-11).
Objection 8: There are so many Christian denominations today, it’s clear that Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.
The Handbook of Denominations in the United States (12th Edition) lists more than 200 Christian denominations in 17 broad categories, from “Baptist Churches” to “Community and New Paradigm Churches.” If Jesus prayed that His followers would be one (John 17:11), and if there is to be “one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5), why can’t Christians get along? Even within denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention there have been major splits over issues such as the inerrancy of Scripture and the role of women in the church. Doesn’t all this contentiousness prove a fatal flaw in the Bible, since even people who study it and say they believe it can’t agree on what it teaches?
First, it should be noted that many of the disagreements among Christians are over matters of conscience, such as which day of the week to worship, dietary restrictions, or which translation of the Bible to use (see Rom. 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 10:23-33), or they focus on lesser points of doctrine, such as the mode of baptism, church polity or the manner in which missions activities are organized and funded.
Second, it should be acknowledged that Christians often have engaged in petty squabbling, internal power struggles and political wrangling, resulting in unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ, not to mention damage to the church’s reputation. The New Testament implores believers to be gracious toward and forgiving of one another; clearly, this has not always been the case.
At the same time, Christian denominations generally developed out of a desire for fellowship and joint ministry between individual churches – a biblical concept (Acts. 11:27-30), according to Charles Draper (“Why So Many Denominations?” Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1709). In addition, denominations many times began as renewal movements. The Reformed movements of the 1500s sought to restore the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and justification by faith to the church, which had all but abandoned these biblical teachings. In time, some Presbyterians drifted toward liberalism and new conservative Presbyterian groups emerged to preserve the Reformed teachings. Baptists came along within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostals and charismatics formed new unions based on their view of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.
There is a rich diversity among Christian denominations, and the differences between them often are not as wide as they appear. This is not to say that all differences are minor, or that all should be set aside for the sake of unity, for in Scripture Christian unity is the product of God’s Spirit working in the hearts of regenerate people and anchored in the truth of God’s Word. Some separations are, in fact, necessary. In the New Testament, many false teachers were disciplined or left the churches (see 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 1 John 2:19). In addition, the apostle Paul warns the church that false teachers will rise to prominence in the church in the days before Christ’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-9). The church today should be on guard against those who preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). For example, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christian in their theology and practice, yet both organizations deny the central teachings of Scripture, particularly those having to do with the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel.
Charles Draper summarizes: “The most important thing to do is to examine a church’s teaching and practice to see if it is consistent with Scripture. And finally we have to realize that in this life Christians will not agree on everything” (Ibid.).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips