For the last year+ I’ve been working on a new book, A Change of Heart: Understanding Regeneration and Why it Matters. Now that I’ve finally completed my M.Div, I’ve taken this project back up again. I thought I would share the first two chapters in a series of blog posts with our readers. I hope you’re edified by it and I hope you’ll pray for the completion of this project!
Chapter 2, Part 2 is below:
John 3 is not the first time we see birthing language in the gospel of John. John 1:12–13 states, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John 3:7 will not be the last time we see this concept either. In John 6:63a, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” So, the idea of the new birth and new life are repeated themes from Jesus in the Gospel of John. In every instance it is revealed to be a work of God and not initiated, produced, or aided, by the idea, will, or flesh of man.
This brings us back to the theological term — regeneration. At its base, regeneration is about a change of heart, but I want to give you some more formal definitions. We will start with the Southern Baptist (the largest evangelical denomination in the United States) statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message (2000):
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
We see here that regeneration is a work of God’s grace. That’s what Jesus says in John 3 (and John 1 and John 6) — that being born again is a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not about genes, jumping through hoops, or ingenuity, but sovereign grace.
Wayne Grudem defines regeneration as, “A secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us; sometimes called ‘being born again.’” Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Regeneration, then, is both supernatural since it is a work of the Spirit of God, and it is “a secret act” — you don’t see it happen, but only the effects of it. It’s quite a glorious work of God in the soul of man.
Finally, the late J.I. Packer (1926–2020) defines regeneration this way,
Regeneration is the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His Will. It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.
We’ve seen some important words repeated in these definitions. We’ve seen the words “new” and “spiritual.” And we’ve seen that each definition has at least hinted at the idea of a total transformative change.
The Christian message is not about sick people in need of medicine. It’s not merely that people are immoral and merely need to amend their ways and do better. It’s not that people need to just learn new stuff or enact more laws. It’s not even ultimately that people are oppressed and need justice. It’s not about merely modifying behavior. No, the Christian message is, you must be born again.
As I said, regeneration is a change of heart.
A Christian is a person who has a new heart (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). We will talk about why a new heart is needed in a future chapter, but for now we need to understand that regeneration is a total overhaul. And it is God the Holy Spirit through the resurrection of Christ who brings about this change of heart we stand so desperately in need of.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1253.
More posts from Allen’s book, A Change of Heart:• Christianity is Supernatural
• A Change of Heart, ch. 1 — Heart Matters
• A Change of Heart — Chapter 2: Mere Christianity (Part 1)
• A Change of Heart — Chapter 2: Mere Christianity (Part 2)
• A Change of Heart — Chapter 2: Mere Christianity (Part 3)
• A Change of Heart - Chapter 2: Mere Christianity (Part 4)
• Cradle or Credo?: A Defense of Biblical Baptism