Born-Again, Born from Above
“Regeneration is a mighty and powerful change wrought in the
soul by the efficacious working of the Holy Spirit, wherein
a vital principle, a new habit, … and a divine nature are
put into and framed in the heart, enabling it to act holily
and pleasingly to God… a certain spiritual and supernatural
principle… infused by God… an habitual holy principle
wrought in us by God… what is changed is the Spirit of the
mind, the dominant tendency… the mind itself is not changed
in essence or in substance, but its bias, the prevailing
character is changed… a new spiritual sense and new
dispositions… giving a person ability and disposition… not a
new faculty of understanding… but a new kind of exercise for
the same faculty of understanding… lies deeper than
consciousness… (a giving of) stability and perseverance.”
These words are a summary of Stephen Charnock, John Owen,
Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Hodge in John Laidlaw, The
Biblical Doctrine of Man, pp. 257-260 (Klock and Klock,
1983 Reprint of 1895).
My definition of regeneration
is the change wrought by the Holy Spirit in the soul or
spirit(1) of a person that changes from trust (belief or faith)
in oneself, as the source of truth about life and how to
live it, to trust in the Bible, as God offers
forgiveness in Jesus Christ and tells us who we are and what
our responsibilities are. Regeneration is initiation
of sanctification. Other terms in the Bible for
regeneration are “born-again” and “born-from-above.”
What happens at regeneration
is commonly misunderstood among Christians and leads to
wrong priorities. The common
focus is on salvation(2), forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the
(seemingly) simple statement of John 3:16. This focus
is not to be minimized, but neither is the source of
that information, the 66 books of the Protestant Bible.
One of the best summary
definitions is found in Noah Webster’s Dictionary of 1828
(See reference below). “The new birth (is ) by the
grace of God; that change by which the will and natural
enmity of man to God and his law are subdued, and a
principle of supreme love to God and his law, or holy
affections, are implanted in the heart."
Or, more simply, regeneration gives to a man or woman the
"ears to hear!" (Matthew 11:15)
The Bible is much more than
the simple message of salvation. If that were its only
focus, it could have been much shorter. There is the
larger Old Testament and the large part of the New Testament
that orders a way of life. To
focus on Christ, as important and necessary as that is, is
to miss the greater instruction of the Bible.
Ask yourself this question,
“How much of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation do I
really know?” Would God have written useless words?
The full application of all of the Bible is what
regeneration and its subsequent process, sanctification, is
directed towards. The Cultural or Creation Mandate
preceded the Fall in Genesis 1:26-28, and was reinforced in
the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”
Making disciples involves much more than just “saved” and
waiting to die and go to heaven. (For more on the
Cultural Mandate, see <Link to be determined>
No Knowledge Is Imparted in Regeneration
Once, when I was reading Abraham Kuyper's Principles of
Sacred Theology, a simple statement exploded on my mind,
and I believe, is one of the major keys to understanding
salvation and the Christian life. That phrase is,
"Regeneration by itself is no enlightening."
That is, as powerful and life-changing as this work of the
Holy Spirit is, regeneration conveys no
knowledge. Regeneration is a change in one's
disposition or attitude and the object of one’s belief
(faith). (Read again the introduction above.) But, the
knowledge of what has happened and an understanding of the
finished work of Jesus Christ is not conveyed by
regeneration. That knowledge is conveyed by the
Scriptures, spoken or read, and is included in God's working
faith and salvation in the individual. But, that know
is not conveyed by regeneration per se. The
change is in the heart, not in the mind. (See
Reference, Stob... below.) The mind is not the "head,"
as in "heart vs. head" that many Christians portray as some
important contrast. (See
Heart and Head.)
This lack of conveyed knowledge is the reason for the Scriptures.
Through a diligent study of it, we learn what God has done
for our salvation and what he requires of us. That
knowledge is not conveyed by regeneration, but by faith in
action in studying the Bible. God's plan is for
"transformation" (metamorphosis, the same word for
"transfiguration" in Matthew 17:12) by the "renewing" of the
regenerated person's mind (Romans 12:2). The heart is
regenerated so that the mind can be renewed to the
transformation of the one regenerated.
Acceptance of the Bible as the
very Word of God written and governing principle of one's
exactly what faith is. While the focus of faith is in
Jesus Christ for salvation, what does one know of Jesus
Christ other than what is taught in the Bible? “If
anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have
received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). There
is no knowledge of Jesus Christ outside of the Bible.
If knowledge were imparted with regeneration, then God would
be giving new special revelation. That is, He would be
adding to the Scriptures. The canon (all the books of
the Bible and their content) are fixed now and until the end
of time (Revelation 22:18-19).
Translation into the
Kingdom of God
Regeneration establishes a
person as a member of the
God and a citizen
of heaven (John 3:5). So that to be “born again” is to
be a member of Christ’s Kingdom and His Church (Matthew
Because regeneration is a
permanent change in the soul, a Christian cannot help
doing good works. Our souls have been altered so
that we cannot live other than to follow the instructions of
God’s Word. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the
leopard its spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23). Of course, one
must have instruction from God's Word in what those good
works are. (Link to Law and Grace.)
Regeneration may occur from
any moment after conception to just prior to death. It
may be a sudden, intense experience or a more subtle quiet
event. It may occur before consciousness early in
one’s life, even before birth. Children, born and
raised to Christian parents, may never have a born again
experience but their speech and behavior gives clear
evidence that they “trust and obey” the Savior and His Word.
That does not mean that such a person will not have a
profound sense of sin and the necessity of repentance.
Indeed, this is that evidence of regeneration.
This variation in timing and
differences in experience are not often taught or preached.
Thus, Christians often get confused whether they themselves
are saved or others are saved. But, dear brothers and
sisters, the Bible and practical experience answer this
dilemma. The evidence of salvation is not based upon
an experience of change, but evidence of salvation.
Assurance of Salvation: Simply
One evidence is
specific knowledge. “If you confess with your
mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has
raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The second is works. “Faith without works is dead”
(James 2:26). The answer does not lie in an experience
at a moment of time or even “feeling saved,” but in speech
with specific content and the works (fruit) of one’s life.
The following quote is from The New International
Commentary on the New Testament by John Murray.
While its subject is not identified as regeneration,
Murray's discussion of the characteristics of "the flesh"
and "the Spirit" actually describe the characteristics of
the unregenerate ("the flesh") and the regenerate ("the
Spirit"). "The flesh" and "the Spirit" are categories
that are separated by a chasm (Luke 16:26) that is cannot be
crossed by anything that man can do. Only God can
regenerate the soul from "flesh" to "Spirit."
expressions “after the flesh” (vss. 4, 5) and “in the
flesh” (vss. 8, 9) have the same effect, with this
difference that in the former the flesh is viewed as the
determining pattern and in the latter as the
conditioning sphere -- the persons concerned are
conditioned by and patterned after the flesh. “The
flesh” is human nature as corrupted, directed, and
controlled by sin. “After the Spirit” (vss. 4-5) and “in
the Spirit” (vs. 9) are also to the same effect, with a
similar distinction as to the angle from which the
relationship to the Holy Spirit is viewed. Those
concerned are conditioned by and patterned after the
To “mind the
things of the flesh” (vs. 5) is to have the things of
the flesh as the absorbing objects of thought,
interest, affection, and purpose. And “the mind of
the flesh” (vs. 6) is the dispositional complex,
including not simply the activities of reason, but also
those of feeling and will, patterned after and
controlled by the flesh. In like manner, to mind “the
things of the Spirit” (vs. 5) is to have the things of
the Holy Spirit as the absorbing objects of thought,
interest, affection, and purpose, and the “mind of the
Spirit” is the dispositional complex, including
the exercises of reason, feeling, and will, patterned
after and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
expressions, “after the flesh” (“in the flesh”), “mind
the things of the flesh” (“the mind of the flesh”),
“walk after the flesh” stand in causal relationship to
one another and are also, most probably, to be
understood as causally related in the order stated. The
first defines the basic moral condition, the
second, the inward frame of heart and mind resulting
from that condition, and the third, the practice
emanating from both, but more particularly from the
first through the second. The same principles in the
opposite direction hold with reference to “after the
Spirit” (“in the Spirit”), to mind “the things of the
Spirit” (“the mind of the Spirit”), and walk “after the
“The mind of
the flesh is death” (vs. 6) does not mean that the mind
of the flesh causes or leads to (physical) death. There
is an equation, and the predicate specifies that in
which the mind of the flesh consists. The principle
of death is
separation, and here the most accentuated expression
of that principle is in view, namely, separation from
God (cf. Isaiah 59:2). This separation is thought
of in terms of our estrangement form God whereby we are
dead in trespasses and sins (cf. Ephesians 2:1).
The mind of the flesh is therefore that kind of
“The mind of
the Spirit is life and peace” (vs. 6). The same kind of
identification appears here. “Life” is contrasted with
“death” and in its highest expression, which must be in
view here, it means the knowledge and fellowship of God
(cf. John 17:3; I John 1:3), the communion which
is the apex of true religion. “Peace” can readily be
seen to be the correlate of life. In this case, it is no
doubt the subjective effect of peace with God (5:1) that
is contemplated, the sense of being at one with God and
the tranquility of heart and mind which the sense of
reconciliation evokes (cf. Philippians 4:7).
Peace is antithesis of the alienation and misery which
Relative to personal
Vincent Cheung writes: Therefore, when you assess the
condition of your soul, the first question to ask yourself
is not whether you have made a decision to reform your life,
or whether you have repeated a prayer of salvation, but the
question is whether God has performed this cleansing action
in you, whether he has given birth to you in the spirit, and
whether he has thus adopted you through Jesus Christ."
From Cheung's exposition, "Born Again" @
1. Regeneration takes place in the
heart, one designation of man's immaterial self.
It is a work of God the Holy Spirit in which God actively
changes a person. As a
person does not assist with his own physical birth, neither
does he have any part in regeneration which is entirely an
act of God the Holy Spirit. The person is passive in
the process, but its effect initiates and perseveres in
faith, repentance, and sanctification.
2. Regeneration begins sanctification
which is in itself a life-long process.
Regeneration is a permanent change that can never be lost or
reversed. This change initiates the
ordo salutis which ends
in glorification (the fulfillment and final stage of
The Kingdom of God). A person who is truly saved
(regenerate) can never become unregenerate, although he may
"fall into grievous sins and for a time continue therein
(Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17, Section 3—see
website link below).
3. Regeneration translates a person into the Church and
the Kingdom of God. Regeneration is the only
means by which a person becomes a member of the Kingdom of
God or a member of the universal (catholic) church.
Unfortunately, some "conversion" experiences mimic
4. Regeneration allows infants and children to enter the
Kingdom of Heaven upon their untimely death before their
ability consciously to confess and repent or what some call
"the age of accountability." (See the
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 10, Section 3)
5. Regeneration, as a change in the soul, does not
convey any knowledge. It causes belief (faith) in the
Scriptures as the Word of God and the message of salvation
in God’s Son. Thus, one evidence of a regenerated
person is his love of the reading and study of the Word of
6. Since regeneration does not convey knowledge (see
that we learn is by our study and others’ teaching of
the Bible (Ephesians 4:7-16). Direct verbal teaching
from God (revelation) is no longer given, as God's speaking
directly to men and women has ended (Revelation
7. Since regeneration is an act of the Holy Spirit, He
will never give direction that is contrary to the Bible.
A perceived leading of the Spirit that does not agree with the Bible
cannot be of the Holy Spirit, as He cannot contradict
8. Regeneration may occur early in life, or even
before birth. Thus, all Christians with solid evidence
of a life of faith will not have had a conversion
experience. However, all who are regenerate (true
Christians) will have ample evidence of faith, repentance,
and progress in sanctification. Officers must keep these differences in
mind when interviewing candidates for acceptance into the
9. Regeneration of a
person always results in good works (James 2:17) and
progress in sanctification.
always precedes saving faith and repentance, although many
persons may have many years, even decades, living the
Christian life before God regenerates them (as the author
himself experienced). The "second-birth" that many
experience and claim as such is actually the true experience
of being "born-again" (regenerated). They fail to
understand the ordo salutis (see this website link
above), and thus distort it.
1) I believe that a
person is bipartite. Heart, soul, mind, will, and
spirit are different views of the same immaterial substance
of a person.. As colors are diffused through the
various facets of a diamond, the immaterial dimensions of a
person are described according to their function.
While, indeed, man is a unity of body (material) and soul
(immaterial), it is important to recognize that he has a
substance that is non-physical.
2) Salvation, also, has
a greater concept that is commonly realized. See
The Wonderful Fullness
3) The Church, as being used
here, is the “holy catholic (universal) church,” not a local
body or denomination.
***The best summary of all the aspects of regeneration:
Practical discourses on regeneration by Philip
Dodderidge, University of Michigan Reprint Series, reprinted
from the original, of 1855. Available from Amazon.com.
On regeneration before birth and early in life, see Abraham
Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 21 and
Kuyper’s Principles of Sacred Theology, p. 389.
On regeneration not infusing knowledge, see Abraham Kuyper,
Principles of Sacred Theology, p. 580. Also,
note the absence of the mention of knowledge in the
introduction to this section above.
One of the best summaries,
yet, again does not contain all the above is Louis Berkof,
Systematic Theology, “Regeneration and Effectual
Calling,” pp. 465-479.
On regeneration of the
heart and not the mind, see Henry Stob, Theological
Reflections, pages 235-236.
See the impeccable John Calvin on law, grace, regeneration,
and free will.
Webster’s 1828 definition of
Again, there is no place that
contains everything that I have said here. The most
comprehensive reference is