Regeneration. The word “regenerate” means “to give a new and more vigorous life to something”. It doesn’t mean “to give a new life when there was none before”, but “to give a new lifestyle”. It is the same word from which we get the English word “Renaissance” or “re-birth”. In scripture, regeneration has to do with a total transformation, or a new state of things. It is only found two times; once in Matthew 19, and once in Titus 3.
- The world’s regeneration. “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). The world today is overrun by evil, and when Christ returns, He will judge the evil and set up a kingdom where He will “reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1). This will be a complete contrast to the world today when believers “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (1 Pet. 3:14; Matt. 5:10). The world’s regeneration refers to the moral transformation that will be accomplished in the Millennium!
- The believer’s regeneration. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). The washing of regeneration refers to the total transformation of lifestyle that a person undergoes when they are saved! Regeneration is not limited to new birth and the moral cleansing associated with new birth, but to the effect of the whole work of grace in our lives. It involves a new life, and also the energy of that new life; i.e. the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is connected with New Creation, whereby we are “created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10), and “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17-18).1 The “washing of regeneration” is process by which we are brought into the New Creation. Quickening and sealing are the work of the Spirit of God, and the effect of both is regeneration. You see the work of regeneration begin in a person when they are born again, because they have a new life. But they cannot get free of that old lifestyle until they are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, who comes in as the energy of that new life. It is “washing” in the sense of cleansing from an old moral state; cleansing of associations, and separating us into a new sphere entirely. Baptism is the outward sign of regeneration.23
There is a connection between these two aspects of regeneration. The Spirit indwelling us is the earnest of our inheritance, giving us now a taste of things to come (Eph. 1:14). The regeneration of the world is still future, awaiting the return of Christ. But by grace the believer can beforehand apprehend that state of things in his own life, through the indwelling Spirit of God! In the Millennium the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2) resulting in global regeneration, but for the believer God has “poured out on us richly” the Holy Spirit “through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Tit. 3:6).
- This is similar to the practical result of putting off the Old Man and putting on the New Man (“put off all these”, Col. 3:8, and “put on therefore”, Col. 3:12).
- “Regeneration” is a new state of things, and not merely “to be born again,” as anyone can see in Matt. 19:28. “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” It is the changed state of the earth which the Lord will introduce at His appearing, as the kingdom of God pre-supposes according to John 3. That state is not yet come. But there is an action of grace which already apprehends a believer for it, the moment he receives Christ and His work proclaimed in the gospel. Of this new and changed state baptism is the sign — not of the new birth, but of deliverance from sin and its effects by the death of Christ, witnessed in the power of His resurrection which has taken away the sting. Hence it is that in 1 Peter 3:21 we read, “Which figure also now saveth you, baptism.” But it is carefully added, “not a putting away of filth of flesh, but request of a good conscience toward God through resurrection of Jesus Christ.” How wondrous to know that “if any one is in Christ, it is a new creation! The old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new, and all things are of God that reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” – Kelly, W. Exposition of the Epistle to Titus.
- Some believers hold that regeneration is God coming in and regenerating our human nature. That isn’t true. God condemned sin in the flesh, and doesn’t try to improve it. Instead He gives a new life (quickening) and a new power (the Spirit) and the result is regeneration.