Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration… Titus 3:5 (AV)
The following article will explore the biblical truth of regeneration or spiritual rebirth, or what is commonly known as being “born again”. An accurate biblical definition of regeneration will be given and contrasted against some of the common misconceptions out there today. The doctrine of regeneration is a highly important element of teaching in the truth of godliness; therefore, it must be understood in the correct manner, as it resides at the very core of the gospel message.
The true reality of being a born again Christian will distinguish emotional, mental and formal religion from true salvation and resurrection power. This is achieved through a deep and thriving spiritual relationship with the Godhead–the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The term regeneration is drawn from the Bible in the Book of Titus where Christians are said to have been saved by “. . . the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Titus 3:5 (AV). When we speak of regeneration, it is synonymous with the term ‘born again’ as used elsewhere in the Bible as we will go on to explore.
Jesus and Nicodemus
Jesus Christ said in the Gospel of John 3:3:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3 (AV)
This verse is important to understand for two specific reasons as follows. Firstly, when Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again . . .” He makes it clear that being born again is a significant point and an absolute necessity, not merely a suggestive or insignificant point. Secondly, He makes it clear that it really is a matter of legitimate and genuine salvation when he states, “. . . he cannot not see the kingdom of God.” Not entering the kingdom of God ultimately means that a person will not be saved from their sins but suffer God’s wrath, and be disqualified from the kingdom of God.
At this point in the gospel narrative Jesus is conversing with a certain religious teacher named Nicodemus, from the Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. The narrative goes on to say that Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was saying, thinking that He was referring to returning into the womb to be born physically for a second time. However, Jesus reveals to Him that He is speaking of spiritual rebirth, that is, that a person must be born into new spiritual life by the Holy Spirit of God; this is known in more definitive biblical terms as, “regeneration”.
Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:5-8:
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. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. John 3:5-8 (AV)
To be reborn into a new spiritual life and supernatural reality, empowered by the Spirit of God is what is necessary for true salvation and entrance to the kingdom of God. This is regeneration.
In the common evangelical church traditions of today, the definition of being born again is often misunderstood due to a simplistic, inaccurate or incomplete interpretation of the Bible. At the same time in the more distant interpretations of the Christian faith such as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, it is even be overlooked or redefined altogether–which is very negative. The above verse and perhaps the applicable passage (John 3:1-12), can often be where believers confine their interpretation and understanding of being born again to. However, there is most surely further detailed teaching on the doctrine of spiritual rebirth.
It is appropriate to note, even before Jesus spoke of being born again in John 3, in the first chapter of John in verses 12 and 13, it states:
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 (AV)
Now someone would surely ask, “How can you be born again?” The answer to this question would need to be presented together with what it truly means to be born again. However, there are many–though not fully understanding what it means to be born again– who are quick to deliver instructions of “how to be born again,” even in the giving of a formula. Theses formulas can come in various appearances such as, simply praying a prayer, coming to a church service, joining a church, having an emotional experience, being confirmed by a priest or pastor that they have been born again etc. But let us now explore what it means to be born again according to the Bible.
Regeneration: The Event
So then firstly, what does it mean to be ‘born again’ or regenerated, and what does the evidence of this reality look like? Above we learned in short, that being born again equates to spiritual rebirth by the Spirit of God, which is an event that achieves certain spiritual purposes. Building a platform for this truth, it is important to understand that before a person is born again, their spiritual life is by default under the possession of the dark and demonic spiritual forces of this world. This means that they are a spiritual child of the devil, or Satan.
It says in Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you he hath quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfillling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Ephesians 2:1-3 (AV)
The above passage describes us in our natural or unregenerate state as “dead in trespasses and sins” or in other words, because of sins and trespasses against God, we were in a spiritual sense dead and without true spiritual life. It describes us concerning identity as “children of disobedience” and children of wrath” under the “prince of the power of the air”, or the devil, Satan. This gives us the biblical understanding that without Christ, and being in the unregenerate state, we are owned by Satan under the demonic control forces of this world operating in the supernatural realm, or the “power of the air”, of which the devil is the ruler or “prince” of.
To be truly born again means that a person, through Jesus Christ, must be released from their spiritual life under the ownership of Satan, and be spiritually born again as a child of God by means of His Holy Spirit. By being born again or regenerated, a person is completely stripped of their current spiritual nature under the possession of Satan, and then their identity and spiritual condition is completely transformed and redefined under the ownership of God. This is the event of regeneration.
The true results of being born again are further evidenced in a person’s life by a complete internal transformation in character principles and spiritual attributes being expressed in completely renewed outward conduct as a newborn Christian saved by Jesus Christ. This is the basic biblical definition of being born again. This is why it is important to be truly born again or experience the true event of regeneration, as it is a qualification to enter into the kingdom of God.
Bible Truth vs. Traditions
Certain evangelical traditions often equate being born again to a simple confession of prayer, a decision to change, or a spontaneous commitment being made to Jesus, an emotional stimulation/awakening, a simplistic view of salvation, or to an almost ritualistic set of practical steps, or other formulated understandings depending on which tradition is examined. However, these definitions in themselves are traditional interpretations rather than a full understanding of biblical truth concerning the matter.
If there is a failure to grasp the wider truth of spiritual rebirth, the evidence of this rebirth will be non-existent therefore rendering a person’s “born again experience” invalid–which is sadly a common occurrence in churches today due to the lack of emphasis on true transformation.
Now, with what it means to be born again established, the question of how it begins can be addressed. How then does this spiritual rebirth begin? The first chapter of John states:
“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 (AV)
According to the will of God, Jesus Christ must first give a person the power of right to become a child of God. This is done by receiving Him through faith, receiving His words as written in the Bible, receiving His Spirit as a confirmation and seal of regeneration.
The most popular definitions of being born again have a common thread in stressing a figurative acknowledgment as exampled in common evangelical phrases such as “if you accept Jesus into your heart,” or “accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour,” or “confess with your mouth and believe in your heart and you will be saved.” These phrases are good and well, and come from scriptural language, but without the scriptural references being interpreted and applied accurately within the wider scope of biblical instruction, they can be misleading, and have definitely proven to be.
To receive the Lord Jesus and be born according to the will of God goes far beyond a figurative acknowledgement of Who He is or what He has done. What do I mean by figurative acknowledgment? It means that a person’s acknowledgement or recognition of Jesus only goes as far as a general acknowledgment of the mind, or in other words, only the idea of Jesus or Christianity is embraced, rather than a true conviction of heart and faith.
In today’s Christianity, to believe or receive the Lord Jesus Christ often goes only as far as verbal confession and mental assent, which unfortunately is not true belief, and is therefore detrimental to a person being saved. Truly legitimate belief in Jesus Christ produces faith and in turn, that faith effects action and change according to the will of God.
Faith and Belief
Let us examine the words believe and faith in the original languages of the Bible which are Hebrew and Greek. This will give a more thorough understanding of what it is to believe and have faith.
The word ‘believe’ in the Bible is translated into English from the Hebrew word ‘aman’. The Hebrew word ‘aman’ is defined most applicably here as: to be firm or faithful, to trust or believe, to be permanent, be faithful of long continuance, stedfast, sure, and trust.
The Greek word for believe is ‘pisteuo’ and defined in summary as: to have faith in, to entrust, put in trust with.
The Hebrew words for ‘faith’ are ‘emun,’ and ‘emunah’ The definition of ‘emun,’ and ‘emunah’ is summarised as: established (as in fixed), faithful, trust, firmness, security, fidelity, stability, steady.
The Greek word for faith is ‘pistis’ and defined as: persuasion, persuaded, conviction, belief, believe, faith, fidelity and fidelity.
These definitions clearly emphasize the complete notion of what it means to believe. In other words to truly believe in Christ will produce the resulting evidence of that very belief, that is, the spiritual rebirth according to the will (or determination, desire, good pleasure, purpose) of God. This means that the acknowledgment of a person’s belief in Christ can only be verified as legitimate if indeed the literal transformation into new spiritual life is produced. If there is no change, one has not been born again.
To summarise so far, to be born again or regenerated is not purely a figurative event, a matter of status change, performing rituals, confession of prayer, or purely a mental acknowledgment of the name and work of Jesus Christ; but rather, together with the a true belief and faith in Jesus Christ, it is also a matter of true life transformation by the Spirit of God according to the will of God.
Things such as prayer, confession of Christ, obedience to His commands and other well known things mentioned above, are good and have their place, but the real transformation begins and is accomplished through receiving Jesus Christ in firmly established and productive faith.
The Birthing Analogy
So now these questions arise: What does regeneration look like? And how is it practically accomplished? Often, being born again is perceived as merely a simple change of mind. However, Jesus used concept of birth wisely and intentionally in order for hearers or readers to visualize the birthing process. The birth of a baby is not a matter of a finger click or change of mind, on the contrary, the birth process is an extensive ordeal. First you have the conception, then the development of the infant in the womb, then the birth itself and afterwards the nursing of the infant and so on. This is the perfect illustration to describe the transformative reality.
Paul the Apostle knew that this was the reality of Christian spiritual rebirth as he elaborates in the book of Galatians. He had been notified that the Christian converts in Galatia had been interfered with by Jewish religious workers. Because of which they had turned aside from the truth of the gospel towards abiding by Jewish religious law. Thus, he knew that they would have to undergo the spiritual birthing process once again when he said in Galatians 4:19: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,” He goes on to differentiate between those who are born by the flesh and those born by the Spirit (Gal 4:19-31).
Paul knew that because they had regressed and began practicing Jewish religious law, that they had need of being redeveloped as those born of the Spirit. Paul places an emphasis on the labouring aspect of birth, knowing the importance of, not only the event, but the process involved leading up to and also following that event.
Those who are truly born of the Spirit must, by faith, come through the event of birth and then be developed by the Holy Spirit to complete transformation until the point is reached where, “. . . Christ be formed in you,” as Paul said to the Galatians. This is all achieved though the grace of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
One critical purpose of the regeneration event (being born again), is to begin the transformation where Christ-like character and Holy Spirit empowered spiritual life in true love, righteousness and holiness is fully formed in a believer. The transformation must be internally completed to the spiritual reality and therefore, outwardly evident and visible in the life of the believer. When all of this has taken place, it can be evidenced that an individual is truly a born again child of God. This is the wider understanding of regeneration and what the transformation looks like.
The way this transformation is practically accomplished through the Holy Spirit is truly important to understand. Peter the Apostle understood this aspect of the spiritual rebirth all too well. In his first letter to the dispersed Christians scattered throughout a number of regions in the ancient Greco-Roman world, we find the truth concerning the transformation process which accompanies the event. Peter said to the dispersed Christians in several places in the ancient world:
“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” 1 Peter 1:22-23 (AV)
The Apostle Peter hits it directly emphasizing the reality of being born again through the Word of God and moving further through to completion. He speaks of the Christian converts having purified their souls in obeying the truth of the gospel through the Holy Spirit, and that because of this they then abandon their old corrupt conduct, and desire the pure milk of the Word of God so that they can continue on to growth and maturity. A person must continue in the Word of God and persevere so that the new infant (new Christian) may be nurtured and nursed.
People who come to God must be converted though belief and conceived through the gospel message in obedience under the labour process according to the will of God contained in His Word. All of this is done through the special and supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit. As a result, these converts then desire to feed continually on the pure milk of God’s word, or the elementary teachings of the Bible, and begin growing spiritually and in faith. These analogies of conception, labour, the birth, further nurturing and growth, are perfectly aligned with the description of being truly born again.
True Spiritual Rebirth
As you can see the biblical description of spiritual rebirth is vastly different in comparison to the description of today’s common understanding. The biblical definition of regeneration implies both a significant event and literal process led by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, resulting in true spiritual development. The common or superficial understanding of regeneration emphasizes a figurative acknowledgment, a simple prayer, a mere change of mind or a ritualistic practice etc.
For one to be truly born again, they must be given the right of power to become children of God by Jesus Christ according to the will of God. They will be delivered from their former spiritual life and possession under the satanic power of this world and become a child of God. They will have sincere belief in Jesus Christ and the gospel message expressed in faithful obedience through the Holy Spirit.
These events proceed further on to maturity in true love, righteousness and holiness, all manifesting further evidence of being born again by the Spirit of God. If one has truly been born again through the Spirit in the true word of the gospel, this process should happen naturally by the grace of God and be personally directed by the Holy Spirit. God’s children are spiritually regenerated from the life and power of God and will surely come to maturity in Him as it is the will of God.
Hindrances to Regeneration
Too often many who profess to be Christians and be born again have not truly come through the process of new birth. A number of things can happen here which will now be explored. Often this happens because the gospel preached is not properly delivered due to “traditional fertilisation” or confuscating of the message.
This means the gospel preached by certain traditions has missing or misinterpreted elements due to certain preferences of churches, denominations and other factors; or it can simply be a false or misleading gospel or form of teaching outrightly to begin with. Therefore, the message is absent of the true will of God and spiritual power, making it therefore, unable to conceive and develop true spiritual children of God in the first place.
This renders the development of spiritual rebirth impossible, or otherwise impotent. When approaching those described under these circumstances, a false sense of security is instilled in their heart which convinces them that they have been born again, when they have not been. Therefore, they can only overlook and ignore the wider implications and understanding of regeneration due to spiritual blindness, thinking that there is no further development concerning the matter.
At the same time, the simple absence of the Word of God will absolutely hinder successful regeneration. Without the Word of God there is essentially no conception, let alone any successful birth of a Christian. This means that the Word of God is the critical component which is responsible for bringing to pass a true regeneration event and following manifestation in a person’s life. Therefore, in the case of either a professing Christian who has really not been born again or a person new to the faith, the pure Word of God must be at the core of their experience.
The biblical definition and practical detail of spiritual rebirth has been explored in this article. A distinction has been made between current traditional and superficial interpretations, and the biblical truth of regeneration. OFG Ministries encourages the reader to come to the knowledge of this important truth if they have been following these kinds of interpretations up until now.
If you have been caught in a traditional or superficial snare about being born again, and things have not been going as they should, perhaps you have not been born again. If this is the case, please have hope in that it is the will of God for you to be truly born as a child of God and still truly possible for you now. Rest assured, be encouraged and excited, the Holy Spirit will walk you through it and you will be exposed to the wonderful reality of freedom in the Spirit of God, as a child of God born and developed and empowered in true love, grace, righteousness and holiness.
Seek the face of God on this matter, let the Holy Spirit approach you, teach you and empower you. Sincerely dig in to His Word and you will come to the truth. Jesus said in John 8:31-32, “. . . If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And the Holy Spirit through the Apostle James says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” James 1:22 (AV). Do not meditate on your past concerning this matter, but rather, look forward to the beautiful things ahead and may you be blessed in the Spirit of God and set free in the truth.
If you are not a Christian, seeking to know about God and wondering about the reality of being born again or regeneration, know that you have the right through Jesus Christ to be born as a child of God through sincere belief in His name. It simply begins now by receiving Jesus Christ by faith, believing the gospel and God’s Word in the Bible, as the Bible says in the Book of John:
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 (AV)
Understand that the Holy Spirit will lead this process and bring it through to completion according to the grace of God via the Word of God, the Bible. Because of this reality you will certainly see the kingdom of God. May the grace of God guide you at this time and may you enter the blessings of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
Please see the article concerning The Everlasting Gospel or email the ministry at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and practical advice on Jesus and salvation.
Grace and Peace be unto you.
One Faith Gospel Ministries.
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4 (AV)