There are two acts of regeneration: for the present, man's spiritual regeneration; in the future, creation's regeneration.
The word "regeneration" itself means again-birth, or again-creation. Thus it means recreation, and making new. It occurs only twice in God's Word, in Matthew 19:28 where our Lord spoke to His disciples about the condition which will prevail upon earth after His return in glory: "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"; and in Titus 3:5, which tells us that "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." But though the word occurs only twice, the doctrine of regeneration is set before us in many other passages, some of which we shall notice in our present study.
When our Lord spoke in Matthew 19:28 of a regeneration He stated that this regeneration would be at the time "when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory." This looks forward to the time of His return to this earth, the time "when the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, [for] then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory" (Matt. 25:31). Throughout the Word we read of that coming time of glory for this earth, when a new order of earthly conditions will prevail, when "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose" (Isa. 35:1); when "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them" (Isa. 11:6); for "then shall the earth yield her increase" (Psa. 67:6). "And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity" (Isa. 33:24).
The facts that the desert is now barren; that animals kill and devour each other; that the earth does not yield its fruit in fullness, but thorns and briers instead; and that sickness is a universal thing are all due to God's curse upon sin. When our first parents were placed in the Garden of Eden by the Lord God, they were given one simple prohibition: "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:16, 17). They chose to believe Satan's lie and to disbelieve God's truth, and so "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12).
After this sin in the Garden of Eden, the Lord God spoke thus unto Adam: "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:17-19).
None of Adam's descendants have known anything but a cursed earth, with its resultant thorns and thistles; its deserts and barren areas; its storms and earthquakes and hurricanes; its sickness and death; with all the sorrow and tears that accompany such things. But it will not always be thus. There will be a regeneration of this social order as we now know it, and of the earth itself. "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath rejected the same in hope, because the creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19-21).
This will be the time of regeneration of which our Lord spoke to His disciples: the time when earth's curse is removed; when Israel and the nations will know the Lord and "they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa. 35:10). It will truly be a making new of the world order, a regeneration in every sense of the word, "the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory."
Let us now notice the other reference to regeneration, which has to do with our being made new individually, "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Cor. 5:17).
Just as the regeneration of the earth will be altogether the work of God, so is our personal regeneration. "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 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; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Tit. 3:4-7).
Man, too, is under the curse, as is creation itself. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned...Therefore as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation" (Rom. 5:12, 18). "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab. 1:13), so if any one is to stand before a holy God, it must be as a new creation, by the means of a new birth. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:15).
The unregenerate cannot please, honor, or even know God. "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8). "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14). We see, then, the necessity of regeneration, againbirth, or again-creation.
Notice the familiar words which the Lord spoke to Nicodemus, a moral and religious leader of that day: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto 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, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:3-7).
Regeneration, then, is by the new birth. It comes to us when we are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (I Pet. 1:23). And we are born again by simple trust in the Lord Jesus as our personal Saviour, by our reception of Him into our hearts. "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12, 13).
"The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit. 3:5) cannot be separated. The Son of God "loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5). With that washing comes the "renewing of the Holy Ghost," for, as already mentioned, "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Cor. 5:17). Because we are new creations in Him, "we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). The true believer belongs to the Lord, and "His divine power hath given unto us all that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (II Pet. 1:3, 4).
The unregenerate are in darkness; the regenerate are in the light. The unregenerate abide in death; the regenerate have eternal life. The unregenerate stand condemned before a holy God; the regenerate stand justified before that God. The unregenerate are "alienated and enemies in...mind by wicked works" (Col. 1:21); but we who have been regenerated "are His workmanship, created in Christ unto good works, which God hath before ordained that should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). So the "renewing of the Holy Ghost" which accompanies the "washing of regeneration" ought to be a continual thing in our lives. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1, 2).
Needless to say, this "renewing of the Holy Ghost," this "renewing of your mind," comes by a process. Just as the physical body is renewed by what is eaten, so the spiritual life must be properly fed if it is to be kept in a state of constant renewal. This comes by feeding upon the Lord Jesus Christ as He is set before us in the written Word. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Cor. 3:18). God's Word to us is: "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:22-24).
Regeneration, then, is the creative working of the Holy Spirit by which we, through the new birth, are taken out of Adam and his fallen and cursed race, placed "in Christ," and "blessed...with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. (Eph. 1:3). Instead of being under the curse, we are now under grace, "which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Tit. 3:6). To His name be the praise and glory.
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation by John B. Marchbanks. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1970. Chapter 3.
Selections from Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation