The Doctrine of Regeneration
The Christian faith is like a magnificent tapestry in which all its teachings hold together in splendid array. From first to last—from the doctrine of our Triune God to the doctrine of Last Judgment, and everything in between—all things fit together into a beautiful and lovely work of art in which God’s glory is manifest and His people redeemed. At the center of that tapestry is the Incarnation of God’s Son whose life, death, and resurrection stand for all eternity as the greatest display of God’s glory and His love.
Orbiting the doctrine of our Lord’s Incarnation and work on the cross is a doctrine expressed in these few verses which makes all the difference in the world to believers. Yes, our Lord came down from heaven and was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and died for our sins and rose for our justification—but all of this must be appropriated by sinners in need of redemption. In other words, there is no such thing as generic salvation, which is often the language some churches use, whether consciously or not. Christ’s work on the cross must be appropriated by faith by the one who would be saved in a life-transforming work which our Lord referred to when he said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). It is called the doctrine of regeneration.
Paul describes this doctrine in these few verses: a circumcision made without hands (of the heart), putting off the body of flesh (the sinful nature), having been buried with him in baptism, being raised with Christ in faith, being made alive from being dead in trespasses and sins—all of these are ways of talking about our rebirth in the Spirit. And our being filled with God is predicated upon this happening to us. Please understand, though some may refer to these words as “metaphors” to describe what is happening to us inwardly, this does not mean that what happens to the believer upon his rebirth is unreal; on the contrary, regeneration, rebirth in the Spirit, is every believer’s most sacred gift, that event (for that is what it is—an event, happening, occurrence) to which he clings, whereby the Spirit took up residence in his heart and he knew he was forever changed. Paul had his “Damascus Road” experience to which he always referred; the believer has his experience, perhaps not as dramatic but just as profound and life-changing. Our Lord’s work on the cross accomplishes nothing for me unless I am born again of his Spirit by faith in him and that work. To sum, a believer is one who has appropriated the work Christ has done for him—and been born again. A glorious doctrine is regeneration; but then they all are.