Definition of Regeneration

What is regeneration?

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I think that regeneration is a much more robust term than we sometimes consider as Christian theologians or students of the Bible. The most extensive discussion of regeneration in the New Testament is 1 Peter 1:3–2:3, almost an entire chapter unpacking the doctrine of regeneration. There the apostle Peter, with reference to John 3, tells us several important points about regeneration. Number one, he teaches us that regeneration results in a new relationship with God. In the new birth, we who were the enemies of God become the children of God. When he gives us spiritual birth, he becomes our Father; we become his children — an amazing truth. Because of that new relationship with God, we also have new rights with God. Peter says that we now have a right to the Father's protection. Fathers protect their children. Now the heavenly Father protects his spiritual children. He says that we have a right to a heavenly inheritance. Every child has a place in their father's home. Now we have a place in our Father's home by virtue of the new birth. But in addition to the new relationship and the new rights, there's a very important point to emphasize. We have a new resemblance to God. When you think about it, the Lord Jesus and the apostle Peter could have emphasized our new relationship to and rights with God by simply using the imagery of adoption, but they prefer the language of new birth, regeneration, instead. Why? Because there's an important distinction between an adoptive child and a child that you conceived and to whom you gave birth. What's the difference? Well, the child that you gave birth to has your own DNA, your own make up, and so that child resembles you as his parent in many remarkable ways. And so the Lord Jesus and the apostle Peter say God didn't just adopt us as his children, he gave us new birth. As the apostle John will say in 1 John, God's seed is in the believer — his spiritual DNA, if you will — not so that we become God as he is God, obviously, but so that we partake of his holy character. The new birth emphasizes that truth, "like Father, like son." And finally, I might add, though we could go on, that the new birth results in new responsibilities to God. As Peter unpacks the doctrine of new birth, he describes believers as, quote, "obedient children." It's the responsibility of a child to honor father and mother and obey father and mother. And now that we have become God's children through the new birth, our responsibility to submit to his authority and obey him is heightened all the more. So, new relationship, new rights, new resemblance, and new responsibilities are all entailed in the new birth doctrine.

Answer by Dr. Charles L. Quarles

Dr. Charles L. Quarles is Director of Ph.D. Studies and Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.