STUDY 4: REGENERATION AND ETERNAL LIFE

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014

To understand the Christian significance of the word ‘regeneration’ it is necessary to understand the magnitude of the Genesis 3 event. There in that original rebellious rejection of God and his word Adam and Eve severed themselves from their Creator.  Unless we understand what happened here, and how, according to the Bible, this original sin has impacted all of Adam’s descendants, our understanding and appreciation of the salvation God gives us in his Son, Jesus Christ, will be minimal.

AA Hoekema states:

‘One’s doctrine of man is determinative for his or her doctrine of salvation. Nowhere is this more true than in the consideration of regeneration. For our understanding of regeneration hinges on our conception of human depravity. If human beings today are not depraved at all, regeneration or new spiritual life is not really necessary. If human depravity is thought of as being partial – that is, if fallen man is conceived of as still having the ability to turn to God in faith apart from a special working of the Holy Spirit – regeneration will be understood in a way quite different than if “natural” (or unregenerate) human nature be thought of as totally depraved. If, however, human beings are seen as being totally or pervasively depraved – that is, as totally unable to turn to God in faith apart from a special working of the Spirit – one’s understanding of the nature of regeneration will be different still.’ [p94 Saved by Grace]

 

A. THE PERSPECTIVE OF GENESIS 3 – WHY REGENERATION IS NECESSARY

There are those who believe Genesis 3 is myth. There are those who do not realize what it is teaching us. There are those who hear what it is teaching and choose not to believe it because it is too offensive, too insulting to human ability. But for those who both hear and accept what it is saying, Genesis 3:1-24, and Biblical comments on Genesis 3, are instructive.

Task #1: What do these verses teach about our post-Genesis 3 condition?
    
Adam’s sin brought death [both physical and spiritual] to all mankind
Genesis 2:17
Romans 5:12-21; 6:23
Ephesians 2:1,5
Colossians 2:13    

 

Adam’s sin brought God’s curse on all mankind [to be cursed is to be cut off from God]    

Genesis 3:14-19

Galatians 3:10    

 


Because of Adam’s sin God barred/banned all mankind from eternal life, and from his kingdom

Genesis 3:22-24
John 3:3,5    

 

Leaving aside the physical death which entered our existence at this time, and which is also overcome by Jesus Christ [John 11:1-44; 1Corinthians 15:12-58], let us focus on the spiritual meaning of these three effects of Adam’s sin. Each of them speaks of separation from God, who is the source of spiritual life. Death is characterized by cessation and separation.

Here in this Genesis 3 death, our spirit died.

Here in this death we, by our rebellion against God and rejection of God, were severed from the source of our spiritual life.

To be under God’s curse is, likewise, to be cut off from God, and from all the spiritual blessings that are enjoyed in positive relationship with him.

To be barred from eternal life means that neither now nor in the future is it possible or permissible for us, in ourselves and by ourselves, to regain access to that positive relationship or union with God which is called ‘life’ or ‘eternal life’.  

In our natural inclination to cling to our own ability and integrity there is a constant tendency to reduce the meaning of this spiritual deadness, this separation from God, this impossibility of and prohibition from life with God. We like to believe that we still have the capacity, even if only a small one, to make a move towards God, a move to which he will respond with the gift of a restored relationship with himself.

But the message of Genesis 3, affirmed in the Scriptures listed above, is that such a move on our part, such a reaching out towards God, is not possible. We are spiritually dead, and that which is dead can do nothing. Thus the Bible teaches that in ourselves we are incapable of making any move that will undo the effects of Genesis 3.

Thus Hoekema states:

‘Jesus had already said to the unbelieving Jews who were listening to him, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Not willing to grant that we are only sick or half alive spiritually by nature, Paul tells the Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eh. 2:1). A few verses later, however, he goes on to affirm, “But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (vv. 4-5). Since this is our condition by nature, it is abundantly clear that we can no more give ourselves or help give ourselves spiritual life than a corpse can give itself biological life. In the light of the biblical description of fallen human nature, regeneration must be understood, not as an act in which God and man work together, but as the work of God alone.’ [ibid, p95].

A.1 The importance of the factuality of Genesis 3

From all of the above it is clear that Genesis 3 plays a key role in our understanding of man and sin. Those who reject the historicity of Genesis 3 have effectively undermined the biblical teaching of what sin is, what it means that we are sinners, what the impact of sin is, and why salvation is necessary. This in turn impacts the necessity and meaning of the coming and the cross of Christ.


B. OLD TESTAMENT IMAGES OF REGENERATION

The Old Testament, looking forward to the salvation God would provide in Christ to both Jew and Gentile, anticipates the concept of regeneration or new birth.

Task #2: Answer these questions

What images of regeneration do these passages contain?
What do they teach about the role of God in regeneration?
What is true of us ‘before’ and ‘after’ God makes this radical change?

Ezekiel 11:19

 

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

 


C. REGENERATION: THE LIFE-GIVING ACTION OF GOD

C.1 The human condition that makes it necessary for God to act [see A above]

Into this state of deadness, prohibition and disempowerment (Romans 5:6) in which we can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5); in which it is not possible for us to do anything to establish a relationship with God (John 15:5); in which we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 8:7-8): into this state God comes to us in the person of his Son. Into this helpless state God comes, God speaks, God acts.

This act of God, in which he gives new spiritual life to that which is spiritually dead, is called regeneration, that is, being born again by the Spirit of God.

 

Task #3: Answer these questions about these verses

How do these verses describe God’s role in regeneration?
In what way do they negate any human ability to bring about regeneration?

John 1:12-13

John 3:3

John 3:5,6,8


John 3:7

James 1:18

1Peter 1:3

1Peter 1:23

1John 3:9

1John 4:7

1John 5:1,4,18

1John 2:29

 


From these verses it is obvious that the active party in regeneration is God. God, in an action of sovereign grace, brings to new life, new ‘birth’, a person who without his regenerating action would still be spiritually ‘dead’ – cut of from him forever.

 

C.2 The meaning of the words

The New Testament words used to teach regeneration

palingenesia : palin = again. genesia = birth. This word is used by Paul in Titus 3:5.

gennethe anothen - ‘born from above’. This is the phrase used in John 3. ‘anothen’ can mean ‘again’ or ‘anew’, but John usually uses the word in the sense ‘from above’.

anagenao – to beget again, to cause to be born again. Peter uses this word in 1Peter 1:3 and 23.

In popular Christian language, regeneration is being born again.

The distinction that is made in some circles between a ‘Christian’ and ‘born-again-Christian’ cannot be supported by the Biblical witness. Any Christian is essentially someone who has been ‘regenerated’ by God, that is, born ‘again’ or ‘from above’. [There are of course people who wrongly assume they are Christians because of family, national or denominational associations, but we are not talking of those.] As far as the Bible is concerned, all genuine believers in Jesus Christ, all who have personally believed in his name, are born again. All have been the recipients of the regenerating work of the triune God. God has done something to them which they could never do for or to themselves.

 

C.3 Our inability to regenerate ourselves

It is essential to stress that regeneration is a work of God. We do not regenerate ourselves. Just as an infant does not bring itself to birth, so also we do not bring ourselves to spiritual re-birth. We who are spiritually dead, are the passive recipients of the life-giving action of God. This truth is prophetically depicted in Ezekiel 37 where the prophet is confronted by a valley filled with very dry human bones. The Lord asked Ezekiel: ‘Son of man, can these bones live.’ Ezekiel replied: ‘O Sovereign Lord, you alone know’ (37:3). Then that which is impossible happened. By the word and the power of the Lord the bones were clothed with flesh, by the word of the Lord breath came into them and they lived. By God’s power life replaced death.

This truth is also depicted by Jesus Christ when he raised Lazarus from death to life (John 11:1-44). Throughout John’s gospel Jesus repeatedly claimed a direct association between himself and life. Here in chapter eleven Jesus authenticates his claims to be the only source and giver of life. Here he anticipates both his own resurrection and the spiritual regeneration and physical resurrection of all believers. Here Jesus confronts death. Physical death. His ability to undo the death and decay that was already disintegrating the body of Lazarus will demonstrate that he also has the authority and ability to undo that other side of the curse of Genesis 3, that spiritual death in which we are inescapably cut off from life with God.  Here in this death of Lazarus we are each confronted with our own dying, with our own subjection to and imprisonment in that curse.

Jesus stands before the grave. His voice commands the one who is dead. By his word he calls forth life out of death. Just as in the original creative act at the beginning of time the word of God summoned into existence all that is, so here the living Word, the Son of God, calls into life him who was dead. He reconstitutes the putrefying flesh; he renews the dehydrating blood; he restores the body fluids; he reverses the cold, hard stiffness of death; he resuscitates the heart and the lungs. All of this and more, simply by the power of his word.

Just as Lazarus could not revive himself, even so it is impossible for us to regenerate our spirits. As we have already seen, the Bible teaches that we are dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1,5); that we are powerless (Romans 5:6); that we cannot come to the Father except through Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6) and that we cannot come to the Son except the Father draws us (John 6:44). To know God is eternal life (John 17:3), but Jesus, the Son of God, said that no one knows the Father except those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matthew 11:27).  Regeneration, being born again, occurs when God, of his own will, in an action of sheer grace, comes to us in our deadness, our inability, our disempowerment, our exile, and does for us that which we are utterly incapable of doing. He, the triune God - Father, Son and Spirit, comes to us and gives us life.

 

C.4 Some comments on regeneration

Leon Morris comments:

‘This salvation is not at men’s disposal. It is not given at men’s whims and fancies. It is a divine gift … Left to themselves, men do not want to be saved, as every preacher of the gospel knows. Men do not think of themselves as sinners and therefore they see no need of a Saviour. … John tells us that salvation is a process of rebirth and that this is brought about by the Spirit … These words are addressed … to Nicodemus. … To this eminent representative of Jewish orthodoxy, Jesus makes it clear that the way into the Kingdom is not by human striving. It is by the way of rebirth, rebirth through the activity of the divine Spirit. A man must be reborn if he would see the Kingdom. This process of being born all over again is first brought up in the Prologue [of John], when it is insisted that the ‘children of God’ are those who are born, ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:13).’ [p150 The Cross in the New Testament]

TC Hammond comments:

‘[The new birth] is an act of God, whereby a soul, previously dead to Him, experiences a spiritual resurrection into a new sphere of life, in which he is alive to God and united to Him in Christ. God has implanted in the new-born soul a totally new principle of life. If any man be in Christ he is a member of a new order in creation.’ [p147, In Understanding be Men]

AA Hoekema Comments:

‘… regeneration is a radical change from spiritual death to spiritual life, brought about in us by the Holy Spirit – a change in which we are completely passive. This change involves an inner renewal of our nature, is a fruit of God’s sovereign grace, and takes place in union with Christ. … regeneration … is not an act in which human beings cooperate with God, but an act of which God is the sole author. Regeneration, in other words, is “monergistic.” The work of God alone, not “synergistic” (something which is accomplished by God and man working together)… regeneration is described in John’s Gospel and first epistle by means of verbs in the passive voice. …. How now [referring to Ephesians 2:5] could dead people make themselves alive? How could dead people cooperate with God in making themselves alive? Regeneration, the Bible teaches, is a work of God in which human beings are passive.’ [ibid, p101]

 

C.5 The nature of regeneration

Regeneration is entirely a work of God – it is something that God does to us. Because it is a work of God, it is not something that we can observe people doing. It is a hidden and mysterious work that God does in the depths, or the inner core of our being. This is why the prophecy in Ezekiel spoke of the renewal of our ‘heart’, which in Biblical concepts is not our ‘emotions’ but the centre of all our choices, actions, will.

Hoekema [ibid, p102-104] suggests the following aspects of the nature of regeneration:

  • Regeneration is an instantaneous change – an instant change from ‘death’ to ‘life’.
  • Regeneration is a supernatural change that is totally the work of God.
  • Regeneration is a radical change
  • The giving or implanting of new spiritual life
  • A change that affects the whole person
  • A change that takes place below consciousness.

The Synod of Dort [1618/19] formulated the following statements about regeneration:

‘Article 11: The Holy Spirit's Work in Conversion
Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.

Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work
And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man's power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvellous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvellous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.

Article 13: The Incomprehensible Way of Regeneration
In this life believers cannot fully understand the way this work occurs; meanwhile, they rest content with knowing and experiencing that by this grace of God they do believe with the heart and love their Saviour.’

Article 16: Regeneration's Effect
However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back. As a result, a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists. Thus, if the marvellous Maker of every good thing were not dealing with us, man would have no hope of getting up from his fall by his free choice, by which he plunged himself into ruin when still standing upright.

Article 17: God's Use of Means in Regeneration
Just as the almighty work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul. For this reason, the apostles and the teachers who followed them taught the people in a godly manner about this grace of God, to give him the glory and to humble all pride, and yet did not neglect meanwhile to keep the people, by means of the holy admonitions of the gospel, under the administration of the Word, the sacraments, and discipline. So even today it is out of the question that the teachers or those taught in the church should presume to test God by separating what he in his good pleasure has wished to be closely joined together. For grace is bestowed through admonitions, and the more readily we perform our duty, the more lustrous the benefit of God working in us usually is and the better his work advances. To him alone, both for the means and for their saving fruit and effectiveness, all glory is owed forever. Amen.’

 

C.6 Unbiblical concepts of regeneration

C.6.1 – Baptismal regeneration
Baptismal regeneration is the belief that it is baptism which either changes a person, or contributes to the change, from spiritual death to spiritual life. Some apply this concept to infant baptism, some apply it to adult baptism, some apply it to both.

[1] Roman Catholic teaching:

The Council of Trent

On Justification: Chapter IV: By which words a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated—as being a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, can not be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written: unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God.

Canon II: If any one saith, that true and natural water is not of necessity for baptism, and, on that account, wrests, to some sort of metaphor, those words of our Lord Jesus Christ: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost: let him be anathema.
Canon V: If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation: let him be anathema (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. Found in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, 1877), Decree on Justification, Chapter IV, p. 91; Canons on Baptism II, V; pp. 122-123).

The Code of Canon Law

Canon.849: Baptism, the gateway to the sacraments, is necessary for salvation, either by actual reception or at least by desire. By it people are freed from sins, are born again as children of God and, made like to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church. It is validly conferred only by a washing in real water with the proper form of words (The Code of Canon Law (London: Collins, 1983).

[2] The Orthodox church:

"Baptism is a new birth. It is being born to the life made new by our Lord Jesus Christ. It means to be alive in Christ... Through Holy Baptism all become Christ's. We become Christians and have the opportunity to inherit God's Kingdom... Why in the world would any parents who claim to be Christians want to put off making their offspring Christians as soon as possible? Don't they want their infants to share in the Kingdom of God? The baptized one becomes a member of Christ's body-His Church" (Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church, One Church, 1981).

[3] Mormons:

‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, they who believe not on your words, and are not baptized in water in my name, for the remission of their sins, that they may receive the Holy Ghost, shall be damned, and shall not come into my Father's kingdom where my Father and I am" (Mormon Doctrine and Covenants, nos. 84:74).

[4] International Church of Christ [Boston, or ‘non-denominational’ Church of Christ]:

"The Boston Church of Christ teaches that when one initially receives Jesus Christ, one's response must include faith, repentance, confession, and water baptism. It teaches that apart from water baptism, one's sins are not forgiven" (The Issue of Water Baptism and the Boston Church of Christ, E. Bourland, P. Owen and P. Reid, p. 1).

Past Church of Christ leaders David Lipscomb and EG Sewell wrote “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit puts them into the enjoyment of all the blessings to be received in Christ, the blood of Christ, the remission of sins, the fellowship of God … baptism is essential to entrance unto Christ. Water is the medium through which in baptism, we pass from a state of sin and condemnation into a state of acceptance and favour with God” [Questions Answered, p36, 39-40].

 

C.6.2 Decisional regeneration

Decisional regeneration refers to the belief that the human ‘decision’ to follow Jesus is the cause of regeneration. Among those who think like this some see this human choice as capable of being made without the Holy Spirit. [It is interesting to note that the practice of making ‘altar calls’ did not exist until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Some church historians attribute it to Finney in 1821; others believe that the first instance was when Methodist preachers infiltrated a Presbyterian camp meeting two decades earlier and called people forward.] Many of the evangelistic practices of the evangelical church express or encourage this unbiblical perception of regeneration, promising people who have ‘gone down the front’ or ‘prayed the prayer’ or worked through the ‘four steps’ or whatever, that they are saved, on the basis of their human response or ‘decision’. Being ‘saved by faith’ loses its Biblical meaning and content, and becomes something like being ‘saved by faith in their decision.’

James Adams explains:

‘The history of the Christian Church has seen many errors concerning the new birth. These teachings depart from Scripture by attributing to man the ability to regenerate himself. When these false concepts of man and the new birth are adopted, churches soon become corrupted with false practices. The Roman Catholic church, the Anglican church, the Lutheran church and many other churches have all been corrupted at different times and to different degrees with the teaching of Baptismal Regeneration. Because of this erroneous teaching on regeneration, these churches have embraced false practices.

In the nineteenth century few controversies were so heated as the one over Baptismal Regeneration. It is interesting to note that C. H. Spurgeon (1836-1892), the most prolific preacher of that century, had printed in 1864 more copies of his sermon denouncing Baptismal Regeneration than of any other sermon. Baptismal Regeneration teaches that the new birth is conveyed by the waters of baptism. The sacrament is performed by man and is in his control.

But the twentieth century Church has, in 'Decisional Regeneration,' a more subtle falsehood to combat. 'Decisional Regeneration; differs from Baptismal Regeneration only in the fact that it attaches the certainty of the new birth to a different act. This doctrine, just as Baptismal Regeneration, sees the new birth as the result of a mechanical process that can be performed by man. What is here called 'Decisional Regeneration’ has in its deceptive way permeated much of the Christian Church …

Some may still not understand exactly what is here meant by this term 'Decisional Regeneration.' Perhaps some are unfamiliar with the counselling courses that are being taught by many organizations in this country and abroad, and with the numerous 'Soul Winning Conferences' that are taking place. In these meetings counsellors are instructed that successful counselling must conclude with an individual's absolute assurance of salvation. Counsellors are often instructed to assure an individual that his salvation is certain because he has prayed the prescribed prayer, and he has said 'yes' to all the right questions.

We have an illustration of 'Decisional Regeneration' when a popular present-day preacher prescribes a counselling procedure. He directs 'Mr. Soul Winner' to ask an unconverted 'Mr. Blank' a series of questions. If 'Mr. Blank' says 'yes' to all the questions, he is asked to pray a prescribed prayer and is then pronounced saved. For the most part this counselling results in an individual being 'regenerated' through a decision. This is essentially the same counselling method used in large evangelistic crusades across the world. These campaigns are like huge factories turning out as many as ten thousand 'decisions' in a week.’

http://www.the-highway.com/articleOct98.html

 

 

Example from Finney:

‘Some persons speak of a change of heart as something miraculous--something in which the sinner is to be entirely passive, and for which he is to wait in the use of means, as he would wait for a surgical operation, or an electric shock. We need nothing added to the constitution of our body or mind; nor is it true in experience, that those who have a new heart have any constitutional alteration of their powers whatever. They are the same identical persons, so far as both body and mind are concerned, that they were before. The alteration lies in the manner in which they are disposed to use, and do actually employ, their moral and physical powers. A constitutional change, either in body or mind, would destroy personal identity. A Christian, or one who has a new heart, would not be the same individual in regard to his powers of moral agency, that he was before--would not be the same agent, and under the same responsibilities. …

Sinner! Instead of waiting and praying for God to change your heart, you should at once summon up your powers, put forth the effort, and change the governing preference of your mind. But here some one may ask, Can the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, change itself? I have already said that this text in the original reads, “The minding of the flesh is enmity against God.” This minding of the flesh, then, is a choice or preference to gratify the flesh. Now it is indeed absurd to say, that a choice can change itself; but it is not absurd to say, that the agent who exercises this choice, can chance it. The sinner that minds the flesh, can change his mind, and mind God.’ Finney’s Sermon: Sinners bound to change their own hearts - http://www.gospeltruth.net/1836SOIS/01sois_sinners_bound.htm.

 

Task #4: Think about Baptismal Regeneration and Decisional Regeneration.
Why are they unbiblical?
What biblical teachings about the nature of fallen man do they deny?

 

 

 

 


D. REGENERATION AND ETERNAL LIFE

We have seen that regeneration is an act of God in which he makes our spirits live again. An act of God in which we are reunited with him, the source of life.

D.1 The relationship between life and Jesus Christ

This restoration to life is directly related to the biblical fact that life is indispensably associated with Jesus Christ. In fact, apart from Christ, this restoration to life, this regeneration, is impossible.

Task #5: In what ways do these verses from John’s gospel and first letter teach the impossibility of having spiritual life apart from Jesus Christ?

From John’s Gospel:

3:15,16


3:36


4:14


5:15


5:25,26


5:40


6:27,33,35


7:38


8:12


8:51


10:10

10:28

11:25,26

14:6

17:3

20:31

From John’s first letter:
1:2

5:11

5:12

5:13

5:20


This gift of life, which is called ‘eternal life’, is given to every person united to Christ by faith; those who believe in Christ, the Bible teaches, have eternal life. Eternal life is not something for which we have to wait till we pass beyond this world to the next, it is our present possession.

This is clear in some of the above texts, for example:

Jesus said: ‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ [John 5:24]. This teaches us that the genuine believer has, present tense, eternal life. It also teaches us that these same people have already crossed over from death to life. This ‘has crossed over from death to life’ is in the perfect tense, which refers to a completed action in the past, the results of which remain in the present. In the Greek text the phrase is also put in strong contrast with ‘be condemned’. This crossing over from death to life is the strong opposite of being condemned. Regeneration, the gift of eternal life in Christ, is our removal from that death which is God’s condemnation and judgment on sin, our removal from separation and alienation from him and our reestablishment in relationship with him.

In John 17:3 Jesus said to his Father: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ Knowing God, knowing Christ, is eternal life. We do not wait for it – all who know Christ already have this life.

In 1John 5:11,12 a similar statement is made: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.’  Here we understand that when the Spirit of God regenerates us this regeneration is never apart from Jesus Christ. To know Christ is to have this life. To have Christ is to have this life. Because Christ is eternal life. Note again the present tense.

1John 5:20 confirms this yet again when it says of Jesus Christ ‘he is the true God and eternal life.’

Leon Morris comments:

‘It is a present reality. ‘He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life’ (John 5:24). The present tense, ‘hath’ is significant. This is not to deny that John sees a glorious future awaiting the believer in a life beyond death. But it is to affirm that the believer has present possession of a life that death cannot destroy. Death is concerned with the body. Eternal life is nonetheless real and nonetheless permanent because its possessor will one day pass through the physical gateway we call death. Again and again John brings out the truth that this life is a present possession. See John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 6:33, 40, 47, etc’ [ibid, p149-150].

 

D.2 Jesus Christ is eternal life

When we look at the verses in Task #5 above we realize that Jesus Christ is life, or, eternal life. We speak of Jesus giving us eternal life, as though this life was something separate from himself. But it isn’t. If we have Christ, we have eternal life, because he himself is life. Yes. He does give it to us, but this life that he gives to us is always in him. We cannot have this life without having him. We cannot receive this gift, without receiving him. If we have received him, if we believe in him, we have this life, even if no one has told us, even if we do not know it. If we know him, we have eternal life. We have already crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual life.

 

D.3 What makes this gift of life possible?

If, as Romans 6:23 teaches, the wages of sin is death, how can God justly reverse death? How can he, as John 5:24 teaches, take us out of condemnation [death] and put us in life? How can he justly undo separation from himself [his judgment on sin] and replace it with a positive relationship with himself?

Jesus explained this in his conversation with Nicodemus. Let us follow his argument in John 3:

Verses 3-8: Jesus states that regeneration is necessary if a person is to see and enter God’s kingdom.

Verse 9: Nicodemus asks how can it be.

Verses 14-17:    Jesus says that his death is the means by which people can receive eternal life – that is, can escape from condemnation, or, in other words, be saved.

Verses 15-18: Everyone who believes in him receives this gift of eternal life, and has ceased to be condemned.

Verses 18ff: Those who do not believe in him are already condemned – the only way to escape condemnation is to believe in him.

Although Jesus does not explain here how his death procures life for those who believe in him, he does make it clear that it is his death that makes it possible. The explanation of how it makes it possible comes later, and is the focus of later studies.

 

Task #6: Discuss these questions using the Scripture to support your answers

[Keep in mind that regeneration is a completed divine action.]

1. Does regeneration mean a ‘make-over’ of our fallen nature?

 

2. Does regeneration mean a new nature or a new relationship with God?

 

3. Does regeneration mean that sin is eradicated from our nature?

 

4. Does regeneration mean a reversal of the impact/result of Genesis 3?

 

5. What is the relationship between regeneration and eternal life?