Regeneration and Religious Fashion

Looked at from the perspective of God the Father, regeneration is the first element in the effectual calling of those for whom Christ died.

As we are in the divine purpose united to Christ in his death, God has ‘quickened us together with Christ’ (Eph 2:5). And looked at from the point of view of the Holy Spirit, regeneration comes about as a result of his activity in the soul. A man is born again ‘of the Spirit’.

 

‘Regeneration’ is a key word in Reformed theology. As with other key words it is possible to approach an understanding of it from a number of different directions. From the point of view of the work of Christ it may be said that regeneration takes place in a human soul as a result of Christ’s ascension in glory and triumph to the right hand of his Father. Just as he purchased forgiveness and righteousness for his people, so he purchased all that was necessary to apply forgiveness and righteousness to them. It is as a result of Christ’s work that people come to recognise their guilt and pollution, and to experience forgiveness and cleansing. God exalted Jesus with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31).

Looked at from the perspective of God the Father, regeneration is the first element in the effectual calling of those for whom Christ died. As we are in the divine purpose united to Christ in his death, God has ‘quickened us together with Christ’ (Eph 2:5)And looked at from the point of view of the Holy Spirit, regeneration comes about as a result of his activity in the soul. A man is born again ‘of the Spirit’.

Regeneration, then, is the result of the immediate exercise of divine power in the soul. Life comes to a dead soul. It is not brought about by baptism, nor is it the inevitable accompaniment of baptism, but it takes place usually in conjunction with the preaching of the Christian gospel. Believers are born again, Peter says, by the incorruptible seed of the word of God (1 Pet 1.23).Usually, it is as the gospel is apprehended that God sovereignly regenerates.

An understanding of regeneration in this way makes it clear that it is to be carefully distinguished from what is usually called ‘conversion’. Con­version refers to the conscious experience of repentance and faith, the turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9)Regeneration, as it has been sketched above, immediately precedes and produces conversion. It is not identical with conversion, nor does conversion bring about regeneration. The baby cries when it is born; it is not born because it cries.

I

What can be said about the character of the change that we call regeneration? What is it like? What is involved? How is it to be understood? How the divine agency immediately affects the soul of man, producing conversion and a changed life, will never be completely fathomable. But this does not mean that nothing can be said about it, that Scripture leaves us either to silence or speculation.

All Reformed theologians agree that two elements are involved in regeneration. It consists in intellectual and moral renovation. The mind that once was blinded and darkened by sin now is enlightened to appreciate the divine reality of the gospel and of human need. The ‘eyes of the understanding’ are opened (Eph. 1:18)God shines into the darkened heart (2 Cor. 4:6). The soul receives what Jonathan Edwards, using the terminology of John Locke, called a ‘new simple idea’. Further, the will, enslaved to sin, is freed from that slavery, and sees in the gospel message of the ‘glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ its own best and chiefest good. God’s people are made willing in the day of his power. He works in them to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Although Reformed theologians have agreed that these two elements are present in regeneration, they have not always agreed on which element should be emphasised. Is regeneration to be understood primarily in intellectual, or in moral terms? This question might seem at first to be a theoretical quibble, with no practical bearing. But as is usual with theological differences, even abstruse ones, considering them does help to clarify the debated issue, and to bring out some of its practical implications.

Read More