The Necessity of Regeneration
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:3-8).
The Beginning of All Saving Grace in Us
The biblical doctrine of regeneration points us to the beginning of all saving grace in us. It is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit of God and is called being born again or being born from above.
Our union with Jesus Christ through faith begins with and by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit by which he begins the transformation of our lives into the image of Christ.
In the modern Church there has been a failure of many pastors to ask an essential question when it comes to the biblical doctrine of regeneration. What is the question? Well, it’s a simple but very important one, because what hangs in the balance is God’s sovereignty. Here’s the question: Which comes first, faith or regeneration. The answer we give to this question has far reaching implications and applications for our lives.
In light of what the Bible clearly teaches about man after the fall being spiritually dead (cf. Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 13:23; Rom. 8:5-8; Eph. 1:1-2) it would seem that this would be an open and shut case. This is, in the modern Church, unfortunately not the case. As a result, many in the modern Church end up with a notion of God that treats him as impotent rather than omnipotent.
If regeneration does not come first, then God must wait for man to exercise his “free will” (where is that in the Bible?) and choose him so that God’s plan can be worked out in that person’s life. Up until that point, spiritually dead man has sovereignty over God. God cannot do anything about man’s unwillingness to come to faith. The other piece of silliness you often hear is this: God is too much of a gentleman to force anyone! (Where is that in the Bible?)
Of course, it’s true that the mystery of regeneration does not include coercion. God doesn’t force us or drag us into the Kingdom of God, but the Holy Spirit works both powerfully and pleasantly to make us willing to come. This is in keeping with the truth about the sovereignty of God in salvation found throughout Scripture (cf. Eccl. 11:5; Ezek. 36:26-27; John 1:12-13; 6:44, 65).We are not and cannot be saved by works, by being “good” people, or by keeping the Ten Commandments. Even a cursory reading of Ephesians 2:1-8 makes it patently clear that we cannot (read: are not able to) take the first step towards God.