Richard Watson defined regeneration as “a new birth; that work of the Holy Spirit by which we experience a change of heart. It is expressed in Scripture by being born again.” The new birth, being born from above, being made alive, Christ being formed in our hearts, and partaking of the divine nature are descriptions of regeneration (John 3:3-8; John 7:37-39; Gal 4:19; Eph 2:1; 2 Peter 1:4).
Titus 3:5 is the only place in Scripture where the word “regeneration” is used to describe Christian experience. In Paul’s admonition to maintain good works, he specifies the means by which the new birth is made possible. The process of regeneration is 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 Savior; that being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Paul then admonished us to be careful to maintain good works. Yet it is not by our good works or righteousness we are saved, but by his mercy.
Then Paul describes salvation as the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. We are both washed and renewed by the Holy Ghost. This washing produces a new person! This washing occurs when the Spirit is shed on us abundantly (or richly) through Jesus Christ our Savior; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:6-7). This washing of the Spirit is accomplished through the baptism with the Spirit and water baptism is the outward sign of that inward grace. Ananias called on Paul to arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). According to Acts 9:17-18 Paul was first filled with the Spirit, then baptized with water. John Wesley explained that the expression “born of God” does not imply merely being baptized or any outward change, but “a vast inward change; a change wrought in the soul by the operation of the Holy Ghost, a change in the whole manner of our existence; for from the moment we are ‘born of God’ we live in quite another manner than we did before; we are, as it were, in another world.”
The phrase “shed on us” or “poured out on us” in Titus 2:6 also occurs in Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17 and Romans 5:5. In Acts 2:4 the same action is described as “filled with the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 10:44 the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard Peter’s message and the result of this baptism was that they were granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:18). This new life was regeneration.
We see then in regeneration that we are baptized with the Spirit, washed by the Spirit, and renewed by the Spirit. Baptizing, coming upon, filling, pouring out, receiving — are equivalent expressions. According to John 7:39 regeneration was not a common privilege until the Holy Spirit was given. Biblical writers refer to the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as receiving, being filled, being baptized, and being endued with power. The Spirit was sent, given, poured out, and fell. The result is a new life—life in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
At the same time we are born again we are also justified by his grace and made heirs, according to Titus 2:7. Justification is what God does for us. Regeneration is what God does in us. They are not the same, although they usually happen at the same time. Both aspects are brought together in Romans 5:1-5. Paul describes justification as peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This right standing before God is a work of divine grace which is gained through faith. But God also gives us the Holy Spirit. This is regeneration and it results in the love of God being poured out into our hearts.
One may ask how this regeneration differs from entire sanctification, as described in 2 Thessalonians 5:23. Entire sanctification is not an entirely different working of the Spirit. It is a continuation of what was begun in regeneration. It could be said that regeneration or the new creation is not complete until all sin is cleansed from the soul. It could also be said that regeneration is sanctification begun. Actually our salvation will not be complete until the resurrection.
This is what Paul meant in Philippians 3:11-21 when he said he was not already perfect. In verses 20-21 he said he was looking for Jesus Christ who would change his vile body to be like His glorious body. Yet in verse 15 he stated that he, and others as well, were already perfect. Christian perfection is a maturation of what was begun in the new birth. It is a perfection of that love which was poured out in regeneration. In the new birth we have the fruit of the Spirit, but this fruit can increase in quality and quantity.
Titus 3:7 also says that those who are born into God’s family become heirs of eternal life. To be made heirs means that we are no longer merely servants, but are adopted as sons and daughters of God. Paul also taught in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that by one Spirit we are baptized into one body.
The work of the Spirit in regeneration not only cleanses us from acquired depravity, but it renews or transforms us. It is a mighty change, a change from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). It is a resurrection from the dead. It is a renewal of the image of God. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17 if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.
Until we are baptized or filled with the Spirit we are not a true New Testament believer. We may be a Christian in our theology or a Christian in our core values. We may even be a Christian in our lifestyle, but until we are born again through this regeneration by the Spirit we are an “almost Christian.” Unless we are born from above we cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). John Wesley concluded his distinction between an “almost Christian” and an “altogether Christian” by explaining that the altogether Christian has been “justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus, knowing we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us!”
It would not be fair if I did not briefly review the process through which the Holy Spirit brings regeneration. It begins with conviction of sin or “the drawings of the Father” (John 6:44). Repentance precedes saving faith. The faith that saves is next. This faith is an assurance that my sins, even mine, are forgiven me. This happens as we look only to the merits of the sufferings of Christ and to his resurrection.
Later as we walk with Christ, we will become aware of sin yet remaining in our hearts. This is a proclivity toward sin. Eventually a crisis is reached and we cry out for deliverance from this inward foe. Again trusting in the merits of Christ’s atonement, we receive the assurance that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all sin. Pure love then rules in our hearts without a rival. May God’s love, joy, and peace reign in your heart!