The greatest message on new life ever delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ was addressed to a deeply religious man (John 3:1-15). The new birth that Jesus spoke of is, at its core, about the work of God in the soul of man. Theologians call it regeneration. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes the new birth as “the great, climactic event in the history of the saved soul.” The new birth is the most radical and amazing description of how God could take a life that is conscious of failure, emptiness, dissatisfaction, and sin, and transform it to make it full, strong, clean, and victorious.
The word “regeneration” means “to beget again,” “to quicken,” or “to give birth” (John 1:13; 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1; James 1:18; 2 Cor.5:17; Gal.6:15; Eph.2:5; 4:24; Col.2:13). It is the creating of life in the heart. It is the implanting of new spiritual life in the soul. It is the making alive of the sinner who is dead (Eph.2:5; Col.2:13).
The new birth is the supernatural work of the Spirit that makes the call of God effectual in the believer. It is not something we do; it is something done to us by God. It is that divine work of God enabling the sinner to believe the truth, with the result that the governing disposition of the soul is radically changed.
We can see the difference between regeneration and conversion or sanctification in the difference between conception and the giving of birth. Conception is the generation of life. It is not gradual, it is instantaneous. Either there is life or there is not. Birth, on the other hand, is the bringing forth of that life.
What conception is to a woman, regeneration is to a Christian. What birth is to a woman, conversion is to a Christian.
- Regeneration does not mean that a change takes place in the substance of human nature.
- Regeneration does not mean that a complete change of the whole man occurs.
- Regeneration does not mean that we become like Christ with two natures, one divine and the other human.
- Regeneration does not mean that God adds or subtracts from the facilities of the soul.
- Regeneration is not moral reformation or some psychological conversion.
The supplier of new life is the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you turn to Him?
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible, p.75
I am a huge nerd! Math and science have always been my strong suit and, throughout college, I pursued biology and the medical field as areas of study. One of the basic concepts in science and medicine is known as the Cell Theory. The third statement in the cell theory states that cells can only come from other pre-existing cells, essentially showing that life can only proceed from pre-existing life. You could gather the greatest and most talented minds in the entire realm of history, put them in one room, lock them away with the most expensive equipment for research, and give them one task: create a cell and none of them could do it. I bring up this point to show the incredible power of God and how this serves as a beautiful parallel to the regeneration seen in salvation. Man’s power is so weak and limited compared to God’s; despite our greatest efforts, we can never bring back to life that which is spiritually dead.
In Acts 3:19 Peter speaks to a crowd of Israelites saying, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” This time of refreshing is regeneration and often times the entire splendor of this truth is missed. What we can always agree with is regeneration is the awakening and growth seen when God through His Spirit softens the hearts of those who would trust Christ as seen in the Gospel and the refreshing moment of being at peace with God through salvation. What I think is often “short changed” in this truth is that God uses regeneration as a means for us Christians to be steadfast in the faith regardless of what comes our way in this life. God’s work in regenerating hearts of those who trust Him is that they would trust Christ all the more. As we go through life, we see it is bumpy, rough, depressing, and full of joy and setbacks. But through regeneration, we become resilient to what life throws at us; damaging circumstances that were meant to trample us instead make us bold and steadfast in our faith. Just as the human body continues to regenerate and grow in the midst of different environments and causes of nature, so does the Christian. Our environments change (full joy, peace, stress, persecution, etc.) but our God remains the same, working in and growing us in order to bring glory to Him and show others how awesome the God we serve truly is.
So Christian, look at your life—are you being pushed by every wind and wave of the hardships of a fallen world? Remind yourself the reason why God has regenerated you: to be resilient and steadfast through any situation that life may bring. God has worked and saved you to enjoy Him eternally. While in this wretched world, may we be reminded that being saved by God means we continue to grow in Him through all things. So let us stay charged up in the Word and persistent in prayer and our faith will be one that is durable and long-lasting in all of life’s twists and turns.
I have two young children. My wife and I have tried to teach both of them the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus faithfully (though far from perfectly) since their births. Yet, when it comes to a profession of salvation, one is quite confident while the other perpetually wallows in insecurity. Does this mean one of my children is regenerate and the other is not? No. Does this mean that neither is regenerate, despite their professions? No. Does this mean they are both regenerate, but simply have different levels of assurance? Not necessarily. What this means is that kids, like us, are complicated, and we need wisdom and discernment when it comes to the matter of their regeneration.
The doctrine of regeneration, or the new birth, is central to Christianity. For the Christian parent, therefore, it is an issue of great concern. If we care about our kids, which we tend to do, we spend a lot of time wanting them to be saved, wondering if they are saved, and/or waiting for them to be saved.
It is important, however, that we parents be careful about falling into one of two extremes.
On the one hand, we can assume our children are what they say they are simply because they say so. However, if we understand the doctrines of regeneration and conversion rightly, we know that a mere profession of faith if meaningless. It would be extremely easy for most parents to lead their young children in a “sinner’s prayer” any day of the week, wipe a “phew” from our foreheads, and check the salvation box. In so doing, we run a great risk of implanting a false security in their minds that will become more and more difficult to supplant with age.
On the other hand, we can be so close-minded about salvation in our young children that we never even entertain the possibility that God may have genuinely regenerated them. One thing that is clearly absent in Scripture is the notion of an age requirement for following Christ. Jesus certainly welcomed the children, and rebuked those who would keep them from Him.
So, what do we do?
- Live out a Christian life in front of your kids. No one listens more closely to your words, sees more consistently how you react, and watches more carefully what you do than your kids.
- Preach and teach the Gospel clearly, accurately, fully, faithfully, and joyfully. We must be diligent to teach the full counsel of God—His attributes, our sin, His judgment, His salvation, our response. And pay attention to that last word “joyfully.” If the Gospel doesn’t excite us, why should we expect it to excite them?
- Discourage sin and disobedience. Be consistent in discipline, and take as many opportunities as possible to point out what the Bible says about that sin.
- Encourage them when they show signs of understanding, obedience, and faith. Do not disregard professions of faith, or imply they are lying about it—but encourage them by using Scripture to affirm or modify their vision of what true faith looks like. Show them that genuine salvation is a work of God alone, and encourage them to continue to seek after Him.
- Never cease praying for your children’s salvation. Never cease praying for yourself, that you would be a faithful witness and guide into God’s truth for them.
Regeneration. In Christian circles, that’s a ten-dollar word that refers to the spiritual transformation of a person, brought about by the Holy Spirit, which changes that person from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. It is another way of referring to the second birth or being born again (John 3:3), which, according to Jesus, is a requirement to get into heaven (John 3:7). It’s part of becoming a Christian, as evidenced by becoming a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17); God is in the business of restoring people spiritually. So if Christians are new people, how should that affect their finances?
One area is our generosity. Christians should be giving people. If we are truly focused on Christ and all He gave for us to inherit eternal life (His life), then giving of ourselves becomes less of a burden. I remember when I was first ushered into His kingdom, when I became a Christian, I was aglow with new love for Christ. When I first heard of His command to give a tithe (a tenth) of my income to support the work of the church (Mal.3:10), I freely gave it because my Lord commanded it. To love Christ is to love His commands and do what He asks (John 14:15)—so when He says, “Give,” we say, “How much?” We give because we love the Lord and we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We give because He gave Himself first. That’s the pattern. This kind of giving, filled with affection for Christ, is the very essence of being a cheerful giver, which God says He loves (2 Cor.9:7).
When I first became a Christian, I was the very definition of a cheerful giver. If you looked up the meaning of the term in a commentary on 2 Corinthians, there would’ve been a picture of my face next to the explanation: to be a cheerful giver means to give like this guy. However, what about now? I have to confess that I don’t always give so cheerfully now. Sometimes I give out of routine—and with the invention of electronic giving, many times my giving is completely devoid of any love for Him.
So what has happened? Did He change His command to give? Did His fatal sacrifice on my behalf change? Has His affection toward cheerful givers changed? No, nothing on God’s part has changed. The change is all mine. My focus on Christ has changed. My love for Him has waned. The glow of my first love has dimmed. If you’re like me and find yourself challenged at times by your giving, don’t question your finances or look to your budget; question your love.
Lord, give us grace to repent and return to our first love where giving was a delight in light of Your sacrifice for us. Help us to value You above all else.