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The Doctrine of Regeneration

Graphic from the Monergism Website

Someone brought up the doctrine of regeneration recently in the comment section. I suspect that most people have no idea — including Evangelical Christians — what regeneration is all about.

By definition, regeneration means the “giving of life” by God to sinners. No one is saved apart from being regenerated. Many Evangelicals believe regeneration and being born again are one and the same. When God saves you, you are regenerated — given new life.

Wikipedia defines regeneration this way:

Regeneration, while sometimes perceived to be a step in the Ordo salutis (‘order of salvation’), is generally understood in Christian theology to be the objective work of God in a believer’s life. Spiritually, it means that God brings a person to new life (that they are “born again”) from a previous state of separation from God and subjection to the decay of death (Ephesians 2:5). Thus, in Lutheran and Roman Catholic theology, it generally means that which takes place during baptism. In Calvinism (Reformed theology) and Arminian theology, baptism is recognized as an outward sign of an inward reality which is to follow regeneration as a sign of obedience to the New Testament; as such, the Methodist Churches teach that regeneration occurs during the new birth.

While the exact Greek noun “rebirth” or “regeneration” (Ancient Greek: παλιγγενεσία, romanized: palingenesia) appears just twice in the New Testament (Matthew 19:28 and Titus 3:5), regeneration represents a wider theme of re-creation and spiritual rebirth.

Furthermore, there is the sense in which regeneration includes the concept “being born again” (John 3:3-8 and 1 Peter 1:3). Regeneration is also called the “second birth”. When Christians believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation, they are then born of God, “begotten of him” (1 John 5:1). As a result of becoming part of God’s family, man believes to become a different and new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As you can see, Christian sects have a variety of interpretations of what regeneration is and when it happens — just like with every other doctrine. The Bible says ONE Lord, ONE faith, and ONE Baptism, but modern Christians didn’t get the memo.

From 1988 to 2003, I was an Evangelical Calvinist. Calvinists have a different take on regeneration from that of other Christians. Calvinists are the intellectual party. They spend countless hours arguing and debating the finer points of Christian theology. I know I did. One Sunday night after church, the men sitting in the gates and I argued about whether Arminians are real Christians; about whether famous preachers of yesteryear such as D.L. Moody and Charles Finney were True Believers®. Some of the men believed the five points of Calvinism and the gospel were one and the same. Thus, Arminians were not Christians. Moody and Finney were in Hell. I objected to their claims, saying that the five points of Calvinism were NOT one and the same as the gospel and that Finney and Moody, who were greatly used by God in the nineteenth century, were most certainly saved. We argued back and forth, without resolution. Later on, a rumor was floated among the members that I was not a “true” Calvinist. If I learned anything about Calvinists, it is that they love (and even relish) doctrinal skirmishes.

One argument among Calvinists is whether regeneration precedes faith. Most Calvinists say yes. Unsaved sinners are dead in trespasses and sins, unable to believe unless God gives them the ability to believe. Dead people can’t do anything, right? Once God gives a sinner life, he or she can then exercise faith — which is also a gift from God. For the Calvinist, salvation is the work of God from start to finish. Arminians also believe that salvation comes from God alone, but they also believe that human volition plays a part. This leads some Calvinists to label Arminians as heretics — saying they believe in “works” salvation.

Who is right? Opine away in the comment section. Personally, I left the ministry believing that the measure of one’s relationship was not right beliefs, but good works. This led to the keepers of the Book of Life labeling me as a “works salvation” preacher. To that charge, I gladly pleaded guilty. While I no longer believe in the existence of God, I still believe that the measure of all of us is not what we believe, but what we do. Don’t tell me, show me.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    I’ve always felt that some people push the “saved by grace alone” (not works) because it’s a convenient way to get out of feeling the need to do anything good for anyone (besides themselves). I think this makes “salvation” sound pretty cheap and pathetic. These folks suppose that Jesus gave everything to save them yet they can’t be bothered to give two cents or five minutes of their precious time to help anyone else. I think that self-righteous, greedy assholes probably describes them best.

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      I agree, Jen – this “saved by grace alone” nonsense flies in the face of Matthew 25:35-40, wherein Jesus is clearly telling people to do good works such as feeding the hungry. The “grace alone” crowd must have torn those pages out of their Bibles.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I abandoned that sort of theology in the mid-80s. I don’t know how anyone can read the Bible and not conclude that salvation and works are linked. The book of James, in particular, is poison for the proponents of “Grace alone.” And Matthew 25? Jesus is clear, entrance to God’s kingdom is based on good works.

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    When I was a student at a fundamentalist Christian school, I remember in some grades 5-7 (I don’t remember the exact grades) we had catechism workbooks from Bob Jones University. This is where I learned terms like “soteriology”, “eschatology”, “justification”, “atonement”, words that I didn’t encounter even in the Southern Baptist church my family attended (and trust me, we were there A LOT, for services and classes). If Bruce hosted an evangelical Jeopardy style show on his site here, I am confident I would be a Master Level Champion of this sort of thing. My brain stores a lot of otherwise useless Bible knowledge. (My husband stated the other night that he is impressed with my Bible knowledge as I typically run any sort of Bible category listed on the actual Jeopardy show, and he gets excited to get 2/5 right from that category 🤣🤣🤣).

    I’ll take Fundamentalist Christian vocabulary for $500, Bruce!

    I can’t quote the exact definition from the BJU catechism, but we were presented with the notion that regeneration occurs from the moment we are saved and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who starts working in our lives.

    I suppose from a secular standpoint, I could use the term “regeneration” to refer to any sort of active change process in order to achieve a positive result that I choose to take in my life. Like participating in therapy, or in a support group, or studying a particular topic, or an exercise/training regimen.

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Bruce Gerencser