Regeneration: Baptismal, Decisional, or Constitutional?

Infant Baptism is still practiced in many churches with the hope that it saves the infant from original sin.


The term “born again” has been a central term among Evangelicals and the Pentecostal/Charismatics. However, it has also generated a number of controversies among Christians who desire to understand the nature of their salvation in Christ. In this paper, we will try to highlight and evaluate some of the various teachings on the new birth and attempt at an examination of the same in the light of scriptures.

Baptismal Regeneration

The doctrine of baptismal regeneration teaches that a person is “born-again” or is spiritual born anew through baptism. The affirmers of this doctrine usually find scriptural proof for this doctrine in passages such as John 3:5 and Titus 3:5 where the terms “water” and “washing”, with reference to regeneration, are interpreted as meaning baptism. This doctrine is upheld mainly within Catholicism. According to The Catholicism Answer Book,
It is through Baptism that we become adopted children of God, hence the notion of being “born-again.”... Catholics believe one does not need to be aware of being “born-again” in order for it to still happen (as in the case of infant Baptism)....

…Western (Latin Rite) Catholics are baptized as infants and usually receive confirmation as an adolescent. Eastern (Byzantine) Catholics get both sacraments as an infant on the same day. In Baptism, Catholics are born-again in water and the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are imparted to the previously baptized.

Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics receive all three sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist) at once. So a baby is baptized, is confirmed (called chrismated), and receives Holy Communion upon her baptismal day....[1]
Through baptism, it is maintained, “Spiritually, the soul is cleansed of original sin (inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve), then infused with sanctifying grace”, by which is meant “indwelling of the Holy Trinity.” Through baptism we become “adopted children of God, heirs to the heavenly kingdom, and members of Christ's mystical body, the Church.”[2] In contradiction to this, Evangelicals generally teach that baptism has no validity without the presence of repentance and faith based upon scriptures like:
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16 NKJ)
In the above passage, faith precedes baptism and faith is essential to salvation: “he who does not believe will be condemned” despite of whether he was baptized or not. Again,
Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Act 2:38 NKJ)
Obviously, there can be no remission of sins unless there was first repentance. Baptism would be a meaningless rite unless it was attested by fruits of repentance (Luke 3:7,8).

During the Reformation, Calvin was the first to oppose baptismal regeneration though Martin Luther made room for it. For Luther, salvation was certainly by faith; however, since faith itself was a gift of God, infants can receive faith even when “there is no normal consciousness of it.[3] The Lutheran liturgy of baptism today reads: “We are born children of fallen humanity; in the waters of baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life.”[4] However, Calvin is considered to be the first who separated regeneration from baptism[5]. In his commentary on John 3:5, Calvin rules out the interpretation of “water” as meaning “water baptism”. Though he acknowledges that “by neglecting baptism, we are excluded from salvation,” he doesn’t consider regeneration as an effect of baptism. “Water” like “fire” to Calvin was synonymous with “Spirit”. John Gill, as well, in his commentary, rejects the idea of baptism from the passage and interprets “water” as “the grace of God”. He explicitly mentions that baptism has no regenerating influence in it. On June 5, 1864 the famous Charles Haddon Spurgeon stirred up a storm of controversy by preaching a message against infant baptism from Mark 16:15-16.[6]

The Protestants who hold on to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration usually make faith and repentance the condition of baptism in adults. It became a matter of great controversy in the Church of England when Evangelicals began opposing it against the affirmation of the same by the High Churchmen.[7] Vicars such as Rev. W.H. Hicks tried to argue that baptismal regeneration was not only commonly taught by both the Church of Rome and the Lutheran Churches but was also theologically consistent with the teachings of the Church Fathers and the Scriptures. He stated the Church of England’s position in these words:
In common with the Church of Rome and the Lutheran Churches, we hold that Regeneration, or the new birth is the spiritual grace of Baptism, conveyed over to the soul in the due administration of that Sacrament. We hold in common with those Churches, that in adults duly qualified by repentance and faith, the guilt of sin, both original and actual, is cancelled in Baptism: that in Infants, who have committed no actual or wilful sin, and can possess no such qualifications, the guilt of original sin is done away; and that Infants, no less than adults, are made in Baptism children of GOD, members of CHRIST, heirs of salvation, inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven, and partakers of the privileges, and blessings, and promises of the gospel covenant....

The Church of Rome contends that not only the guilt, but the very essence and being of original sin is removed in Baptism: the Church of England declares that, “this corruption of nature remains even in the regenerate.”[8]
However, obviously, Hicks could bring no scriptural proof to support the view that original sin is done away in infants through baptism, regardless of whether they consciously accept the word of the Gospel or not. When the Bible talks of being born again, it expressly assumes the presence of faith that alone can receive the Word of God.
…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. (1Pe 1:23-25 NKJ)
Among the Methodists, all allusions to original sin and baptismal regeneration were removed from the infant rite by 1916. “The adult rite still spoke of sin, but only of actual sinning rather than any natural depravity; and the citation from John 3 was reworked so that one is not born of water and Spirit but simply born “anew”.[9] Evangelicals generally understand the word “water” in John 3:5 as a metaphor for the word of God (cf. Eph.5:26).[10] But, there are others who see “water” and “Spirit” as referring to the work of the Spirit. For instance, Robert V. McCabe of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, quoting Old Testament prophecies of the new covenant such as Ezekiel 36:25-27, sees the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” as signifying the Spirit’s work of cleansing from sin and imparting new spiritual life”[11]

With all certainty, the New Testament does not teach baptismal regeneration. Paul said that Christ didn’t send him to baptize but to preach the Gospel (1Cor.1:17). Regeneration is by the word of the Gospel (1Pet.1:23-25). However, water baptism does serve as an external testimony of one’s identity with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom.6:1-12; Gal.3:27); as such it is mandatory (Luke 7:30). In conclusion, it is not by baptism but by faith that a person is saved; baptism without faith is meaningless.

Constitutional Regeneration

The Fall of Man brought in a constitutional depravity
The doctrine of constitutional regeneration says that when a person is born again, his spiritual constitution is changed. The Calvinist version of constitutional regeneration argues that since a person is totally depraved and spiritually dead due to original sin and so is incapable of faith in God, God sovereignly regenerates an individual that He elects to be saved and makes him capable of repentance and faith. The only difference between the Calvinist and the Catholic model is that in the Calvinist model, regeneration involves a conviction of sin, repentance, and turning towards God in faith; but, these are the result of regeneration not the cause of it. Thus, in his commentary on John 3:5, Calvin argues that Nicodemus “was not capable of receiving the Gospel, until he began to be a new man.”

In his Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson tries to find a golden mean in the doctrine of effectual calling.
Calvinists...have insisted that if all persons are truly sinners, totally depraved and incapable of responding to God's grace, no one can be converted unless first regenerated. Repentance and faith are not human capabilities.

Nonetheless, the biblical evidence favors the position that conversion is logically prior to regeneration...

The conclusion here, then, is that God regenerates those who repent and believe. But this conclusion seems inconsistent with the doctrine of total inability. Are we torn between Scripture and logic on this point? There is a way out. That is to distinguish between God's special and effectual calling on the one hand, and regeneration on the other. Although no one is capable of responding to the general call of the gospel, in the case of the elect God works intensively through a special calling so that they do respond in repentance and faith. As a result of this conversion, God regenerates them.[12]
What Erickson means by “logic” here is the conclusion first on the basis of several scriptural passages (and especially as Augustine formulated) that man is totally depraved; for if he was not, the atonement of Jesus would not have been necessary; Pelagianism would win. But, if total depravity was true, then man was incapable of faith unless he was regenerated. However, if man was incapable of faith unless he was regenerated, then how could salvation be of faith, for it would only mean that no one could believe unless he was first regenerated and transformed? But, Erickson introduces the concept of general and special calling as a solution. Those whom God has chosen to be saved are given the ability to believe through a special calling. However, the web gets even more tangled here. This “special calling” or grace/enablement doesn’t appear very much different from the original grace that, according to Boettner, God withheld from Adam in order to let him fall into sin:
God…withheld that undeserved constraining grace with which Adam would infallibly not have fallen, which grace He was under no obligation to bestow. In respect to himself, Adam might have stood had he so chosen; but in respect to God it was certain that he would fall. He acted as freely as if there had been no decree, and yet as infallibly as if there had been no liberty…. God was pleased to permit our first parents to be tempted and to fall, and then to overrule their sin for His own glory.[13]
But, if this element of special grace was real, then total depravity would make no sense, since Adam’s inability to prevent his fall would be as natural as his inability to accept the gospel in his “unregenerate” state. Secondly, the idea of regeneration looks superfluous if there is no resistibility involved in the faith granted through effectual calling. The whole sequence of calling-conversion-regeneration only seems like parts of a single spectrum of regeneration.

Charles Finney observed that a doctrine of constitutional depravity would logically necessitate a doctrine of constitutional regeneration. He repudiates this teaching as an abominable falsehood.
Those who hold to physical or constitutional moral depravity must hold, of course, to constitutional regeneration; and, of course, consistency compels them to maintain that there is but one agent employed in regeneration, and that is the Holy Spirit, and that no instrument whatever is employed, because the work is, according to them, an act of creative power; that the very nature is changed, and of course no instrument can be employed, any more than in the creation of the world. These theologians have affirmed, over and over again, that regeneration is a miracle; that there is no tendency whatever in the gospel, however presented, and whether presented by God or man, to regenerate the heart. Dr. Griffin, in his Park Street Lectures, maintains that the gospel, in its natural and necessary tendency, creates and perpetuates only opposition to, and hatred of God, until the heart is changed by the Holy Spirit.… The favourite illustrations of their views have been Ezekiel's prophesying over the dry bones, and Christ's restoring sight to the blind man by putting clay on his eyes…. What must be the effect of inculcating the dogma, that the gospel has nothing to do with regenerating the sinner? Instead of telling him that regeneration is nothing else than his embracing the gospel, to tell him that he must wait, and first have his constitution recreated before he can possibly do anything but oppose God? This is to tell him the greatest and most abominable and ruinous of falsehoods. It is to mock his intelligence.[14]

However, one must be careful to lay on the subject the total onus of faith. It is impossible for a person to believe without the work of the Spirit in him (1Cor.12:3). Yet, at the same time, there is no freedom of the Spirit without repentance (2Cor.3:18-20). Grace precedes faith; unless God shows grace, faith is an empty reaching out. However, God gives His grace only to the broken hearted.

The Calvinist affirmation of constitutional regeneration logically leads to the doctrine of eternal security, since it is impossible for someone who has been regenerated to become unregenerate; it is impossible for eternal life to die. Thus, to be once saved means to be saved for ever. At regeneration, something new takes place inside, something real, a substantial, constitutional change, which is not the act of man (say, of going to the altar and saying a prayer), but is the act of God. One scripture that Calvinists often quote is Acts 16:14 where it talks about God opening the heart of Lydia so that she attended to the things Paul was speaking. The extrapolation is that every human heart is so closed until God sends His Spirit to open the hearts of those He wishes to save, a kind of effectual calling.

It is certainly the case that the Fall brought in a constitutional change in humans; for through the Fall humans became not only mortal (the death principle active in them), but they also went through a psychological and spiritual alteration (their eyes were opened) to an extent that even God is compelled to move in accordance to this change (He casts them out of Eden and gives them clothing of skin). However, while this Fallenness implies an evident weakness because of the dominance of the carnal in man, there is no scriptural proof to say that man has become morally incapable of spiritual desire for liberty because of this, or that man is incapable of response to the striving of the Spirit.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion… (Heb 3:7,8)
Obviously, the very command, “Do not harden your hearts” implies both the possibilities of either hardening or humbly receiving. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

Now, if in regeneration constitutional depravity was removed through the infusion of a new spiritual nature, then it should mean the reversal of both death and the sense of shame; however, that is not the case yet. The saints still continue to die in Christ and there are prescriptions in the New Testament for Christians regarding dress-code in the Church. In fact, there is not going to be constitutional regeneration till the Last Day:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God... (1Cor 15:50)

So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt 19:28)

Not only [that,] but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Rom 8:23)

But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:36)

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Phil 3:20,21)
This regeneration through the resurrection is the anticipated “adoption” by which we become “sons of the resurrection.” At present, all we experience is the “firstfruits of the Spirit”; but, it is possible for one to fall from the Spirit from Grace.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb.10:26-29)

For [it is] impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put [Him] to an open shame. (Heb 6:4-6)

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer…. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Rev 2:10,11)
At present, the Christian experiences the same kind of struggle against sin that any other man in the world who doesn’t wish to sin experiences. But, while the unbeliever does it under the power of the Law, the Christian’s struggle is in the liberty of the Spirit. Thus, the unbeliever continues to experience condemnation, but, the Christian is called to overcome sin through his faith in Christ, by reckoning himself dead to sin and alive to God (the logical implications of faith in the Cross).
Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For [the death] that He died, He died to sin once for all; but [the life] that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members [as] instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members [as] instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom.6:9-14)

[There is] therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God [did] by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom.8:1-4)
However, it is possible for someone, who fails to be careful, to be overcome by the desires of the flesh and turn away from the Gospel of faith; such a person may resort to either the bondage of legalism or the bondage of sensual licentiousness.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain -- if indeed [it was] in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, [does He do it] by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Gal.3:1-5)

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. (2Pet.2:20)
But, there are differences of opinion in the Calvinist camp with regard to the nature of the struggle; while there are some who contend that the regenerate person has two natures (the old sinful nature and the new divine nature, coexisting), others, especially deny that a really born-again Christian can have two natures. As William Combs notes:
In recent times the popular radio preacher and author, John MacArthur, has attacked the idea of two natures in the believer. He says at one point: “If you are a Christian, it’s a serious misunderstanding to think of yourself as having both an old and new nature. We do not have a dual personality!” Similar attacks have come from a number of others. J. I. Packer says: “A widespread but misleading line of teaching tells us that Christians have two natures: an old one and a new one.” John Gerstner labels the two-nature viewpoint “Antinomianism.”[15]
To John MacArthur, for the Christian to have one new nature means that the sin-nature no longer subsists. Therefore, the nature of struggle with sin in a believer is unique; the non-Christian has actually no struggle, since all his acts proceed from the sin-nature and even his “good” acts are actually sinful--totally depraved.

Whatever, the disagreement on “nature” in the Calvinist camp, and the ramifications built thereon, it all goes back to an understanding of regeneration as constitutional to the extent that something new is literally created. They agree on the “new nature”; they disagree about whether the old was removed or co-exists with the new in the regeneration. Thus, for constitutional monergists, since regeneration is a literal constitutional new-birth, it is impossible for a really born-again Christian to continue in sin or to fall out of faith. However, Renewal Theologian Rodman Williams finds the idea of interpreting “born-again” constitutionally in this manner defective. For Williams, “born-again” cannot be seen as an independent life-by-itself; “born-again” is only meaningful in the context of continuing faith. Thus, regard to being “born anew” by the Holy Spirit to eternal life, it is important to recognize that this life is related to the operation of faith. Whoever “believes” has “eternal life” (John 3:16), and “believing” signifies continuation. This is apparent from the words of Jesus in John 8:51--”If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” “Keeping” is not a matter of a moment, but an ongoing process. So unless there is “keeping,” one will see death. This is the same as a failure to abide in Christ and His words, which, Jesus later says, results in being “cast forth” (John 15:6). There is no longer life, but death.[16]
Still, Williams borrows a bit from the constitutional concept, when he writes: “It is sometimes said that since we have been “born again” to eternal life it would be impossible to be “unborn.” While this is quite true, what is “born again” may die. It is possible that the “twice dead” of Jude 12 refers to such persons (Jude 5 speaks of how God “saved a people out of the land of Egypt” and “afterward destroyed those who did not believe”).”[17] The possibility of the constitutionally “born again” dying is contradictory to “eternal life”. It casts doubt on the power of “eternal life”, if that life can die. But, the problem disappears if one looks at “born again” in the present experience as not constitutional regeneration but the experience of redemption through Christ. The slave that is bought out of the slave market receives a new life; however, it is still possible for the slave to go back to his old slavemaster and be enslaven again. But, the one who remains with the true Master to the end receives inheritance. The only difference between the worldly redemption of a slave and the redemption by Christ is that the redemption by Christ is through His blood according to the power of His endless life; therefore, His redemption is eternal (Heb.9:12-14). But, though the price of this redemption is infinite and the redemption eternal, it is possible for a slave to turn away from it and miss the salvation of God.
But God be thanked that [though] you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness…. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Rom.6:17-19)

While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. (2Pet.2:19-20)

Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb.10:29) [All emphatics in bold mine]

Decisional Regeneration

'Decision' is a keyword in the
ministry of  Billy Graham
While it is possible that in both the views of baptismal regeneration and decisional regeneration a form of constitutional regeneration may be involved, the point of difference is that the constitutional regeneration described above takes the analogy of birth literally and logically places regeneration prior to faith (since, it is argued that a dead person cannot believe unless he is regenerated first). However, in decisional regeneration, faith is placed before regeneration. One believes unto regeneration; is not regenerated unto faith. The controversy about decisional regeneration revolves around whether it is faith that is the cause of regeneration or God who is the source of regeneration.

According to A.B. Caneday, the doctrine of decisional regeneration originated from the attempt to avoid the error of baptismal regeneration during the Second Great Awakening that replaced baptism with decision:
Ironically, since the Second Great Awakening, this same zeal has permitted “new measures” of various kinds, such as the “mourner's bench,” the “invitation system,” or a recited “sinner's prayer” to displace baptism as the rite of conversion, thus shirking and even marginalizing Christ's command to the church. Zeal to avoid “baptismal regeneration,” which many perceived to be the necessary consequence of Alexander Campbell's teaching, actually spawned another error, “decisional regeneration.” This was an error rooted in revivalism that is now a traditional element in American evangelicalism. If the former error is to relegate regenerating efficacy to the rite of baptism itself, the latter error assigns the same efficacy to the human decision to act upon whichever measures preachers may use.[18]
Citing examples of how decisional theology is applied in evangelistic meetings, Erwin Lutzer criticizes assurance of salvation based on decision to come forward and repeat a prayer or sign a card:
And what shall we say of “decisional regeneration” practiced so widely in evangelical churches today? A potential convert is told he must know that he is a sinner, pray a prescribed prayer to “accept Christ into his heart,” and answer a few questions. Then he is told that he is now a Christian. No wonder there are many people who say they are trusting Christ as their Savior but only think they are.
This kind of teaching is often accompanied by invitations to come forward at evangelistic meetings. The impression is given, even if not stated, that coming to Christ means walking down an aisle or signing a card. Although most who use this kind of appeal know that coming to Christ and coming forward in a meeting are not the same thing, they do give the impression that the first step for sinners is to walk to the front, perhaps to the platform or the altar.

An invitation might be properly used if those who come forward do so to have their questions answered, receive prayer, or be given counsel. But by confusing coming to Christ with coming to an altar, many people have been misguided. Some think they are saved because they came forward and did all that they were told. Others think they cannot be saved because they are too shy to walk in front of a crowd.[19]

For Lutzer, faith is an evidence of regeneration and not the cause of it: “To be saved, a person must transfer his trust to Christ alone and accept Him as his sin-bearer. Only such faith is evidence that God has regenerated him.” He quotes the example of Spurgeon who not only refused to give altar calls but even “discouraged people from coming to be counseled in an inquiry room” as he “feared that they might be lured into a fictitious confidence that their conversion actually too place. He urged them “Go to your God at once, even where you now are. Cast yourself on Christ, ere you stir an inch!”“[20] However, though it is true that the “altar call” is open to several abuses today, with manipulative techniques and procedures being adopted to lure people to the front, the abuse of it doesn’t mean that one should throw the baby with the bathwater. Several scriptural instances make it obvious that the evangelistic moment cannot cut itself off without allowing or providing guidance for the express moment decision. Nowhere in the Scripture does an evangelist tell an inquirer, “Go to your God at once, even where you now are. Cast yourself on Christ, ere you stir an inch!” On the other hand, we find instances like these:
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:47-49)

Now when they heard [this,] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men [and] brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added [to them.] (Acts 2:37,38,41)

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, [here is] water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John's baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard [this,] they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:2-6)
Charles Hambrick-Stowe explains that “the anxious seat” which was introduced by Charles Finney, along with the altar call, was an invitation to the sinner to renounce sin and give himself to Christ “then and there”. It certainly was not an invitation to repeat a simple prayer and get a guaranteed place in heaven. True repentance involves fruits worthy of repentance (Matt.3:8) and true faith is one that is seen in works (James 2:18). Finney’s meetings were charged with a strong sense of conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
…Charles Finney introduced the anxious seat during the Rochester revival as a “new measure”… From the start of his ministry, he had offered special inquiry meetings to encourage penitents to give themselves to Christ. At these gatherings he typically moved among those kneeling to counsel and pray with them personally. In every place he worked, he visited penitents in their homes and welcomed them at his lodgings for individual prayer. On occasion, perhaps inspired by the Methodist practice of an altar call, he had invited those “anxious for their souls” to stand or to come forward for special prayer. Business and professional people, who tended to be “too proud” to make their spiritual anxiety known, were naturally shy about all this. But Finney did not believe that this tendency should be accommodated by a retreat into more private counseling. These were public people, he reasoned, and they needed to be pushed into “some public manifestation or demonstration that would declare to all around them that they abandoned a sinful life then and there, and committed themselves to Jesus Christ.” In Rochester, Finney called those ready to renounce sin and embrace Christ “then and there” to occupy some reserved seats at the front of the church “while we made them subjects of prayer.” He was pleased that a large number came forward, and especially the “prominent lad[ies] . . . lawyers, physicians, merchants, and indeed all the most intelligent class of society.” The anxious seat became a standard feature of Finney's religious meetings and, with its cousin the camp meeting altar call, of American evangelical revivalism in general.[21]

Confessing himself as closer to decisional regeneration, Donald Bloesch writes:
Revealing an affinity to evangelical Pietism, I confess that I am closer to decisional regeneration, since the Bible does not teach regeneration apart from personal faith. Yet when we speak of decision we must have in mind not just our decision for Christ but his decision for us, and we must emphasize the priority of the latter, especially when speaking of regeneration. What secures our salvation is not our baptism with water but his baptism with blood. Yet the fruits of the salvation won for us by Christ take effect in us as we respond in faith and repentance and seal our response in a public act of baptism. This public act represents our obedience to Christ, but it also testifies to Christ's election of us. Moreover, it is used by the Spirit to confirm Christ's gracious election in our lives and thereby to seal us in his body.[22]
The decision to embrace Christ involves repentance from sin; for, one cannot turn to Christ without turning away from sin. This turning towards is the moment when one experiences the liberty of Christ in the Spirit, hearing whose voice he responded through the faith that comes from the hearing of the word of God. And, without the Spirit no one can know Christ as Lord. But, faith in the heart goes along with confession with the mouth. And, the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are sons of God. It is not a sonship apart from Christ, but the sonship grounded in Christ, witnessed by the indwelling Spirit who is the seal of redemption to all those who believe; the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is the guarantee that He will raise us up on the Last Day. The child of God who lives a lifestyle of repentance, walks in the light, in fellowship of the Spirit, is through this divine communion transformed from glory to glory.
Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord [is,] there [is] liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2Cor 3:16-18)

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, (Heb 3:7,8)

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. (1Cor 12:3)

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9,10)

So then faith [comes] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom 10:17)

In Him you also [trusted,] after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:13-14)

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom 8:11)

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Rom 8:14-16)

In the words of Billy Graham,
Jesus Christ says that we must be born again. How do we become born again? By repenting of sin. That means we are willing to change our way of living. We say to God, “I’m a sinner, and I’m sorry.” It’s simple and childlike. Then by faith we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master and Savior. We are willing to follow Him in a new life of obedience, in which the Holy Spirit helps us as we read the Bible and pray and witness. (How to be Born Again)


With all certainty, the above material doesn’t cover a lot more that needs to be said about regeneration. The goal has chiefly only been to investigate the three major approaches to an understanding of this experience in light of the Scriptures. Let’s sum up our results and implications in the following words:

1. Regeneration is the newness of life in Christ that one receives by faith through identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom.6, 7; 1Pet.1:3 ). It involves the becoming of a new creation and putting on of the new man (Col.3:10). When a person is born again, his heart is transformed from hostility and indifference to God to love and peace (repose) with God (Rom.5:1-5). Regeneration involves a primary transformation of mind, our affections, and our dispositions from godlessness to godliness through Christ (Col.1:21,22; 2Pet.1:3,4).

2. One is not born again through water baptism but is born again by the word of God (1Pet.1:23). However, water baptism is an essential external act of obedience to the commandment of Christ; it is evidence of a public acknowledgement of Jesus as Christ.

3. Regeneration has two aspects: (a) redemptive regeneration, in which one is freed from the condemnation of the law when he repents and embraces Christ by faith in the word of the Gospel (Rom.7:1-4; Jn.3:5; Jn.16:8; Heb.3:7; 1Cor.12:3; 1Pet.1:23-25; Eph.2:15-22; Jn. 15; 2Cor.3:16-18; Rom.8:1-14; 1Thess.1:9,10) (b) constitutional regeneration, at the Second Coming of Christ (Jn.3:5,6; 1Cor.15:42-56; Phil.3:21; Rom.8:23;1Jn.3:2-3).

4. Man cannot regenerate himself in the same way that man cannot save himself; regeneration is the act of the Spirit by which He not only draws a person to Christ through the word, but sanctifies and indwells the heart of the one who obeys the word of the Gospel; however, it is not the Spirit that makes a person believe; faith is integral to the word of the Gospel and a person is free to receive or reject the faith of God (Rom.10:8,17; Heb.3:7,8; 4:2; 10:29; Jn.14:23). Yet, without the Spirit no one can say that Jesus is Lord (1Cor.12:3).

5. Redemptive regeneration involves turning towards Christ through obedience of faith to receive the newness of life.

6. Constitutional regeneration at the Second Coming of Christ will physically and constitutionally transform us so that we will be free from sin and the effects of sin on our spirit, soul, and body forever. With reference to this consummation of salvation, the statement “once saved, forever saved” holds true.

7. However, anyone who has experienced the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit can lapse back and fall from faith and be lost. Therefore, there are several warnings given to Christians in the New Testament (Heb.6; Heb.10:26-29; Heb.12).

8. There are various symbols that explain regeneration in the New Testament; some of which are new birth (Jn.3:5), quickening (Eph.2:1), grafting (Rom.11:17-24), and redemption (Gal.3:13-14, 26-29).

9. Regeneration involves personal decision to receive and embrace Jesus as the only True God and Eternal Life (Jn.1:12; 1Jn.5:20).

10. The washing of regeneration involves cleansing from and forgiveness of ours sins, crucifying of the old man with all its lusts and union with Christ (Rom.6,7; Tit.3:5; 1Cor.6:17,20; Col.1:14).

11. Regeneration is not an experience independent of Christ; it is the experience of Christ; therefore, its validity and effectiveness only exists in being rooted and grounded in the faith of Christ (Col.1:23). It involves being grafted in the Vine and partaking of the divine nature; however, if one hardens oneself and becomes barren, he is cut off (Rom.11:22). Therefore, the expressions “becoming unborn” and “the born-again life can die” don’t apply to regeneration.

12. The evidence of regeneration is chiefly peace of Christ, faith in Christ, love for Christ and fellow humans, desire for the pure word of God, hatred of sin, and the inner testimony of the Spirit that we are sons of God (Jn.14:27; 1Jn.3:23; 1Pet.2:2; 2Pet.2:8; Rom.8:14-).

[1] John Trigilio Jr. and Kenneth D. Brighenti, The Catholicism Answer Book (Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc, 2007), pp.98,99
[2] Ibid, p.98
[3] Erwin W. Lutzer, The Doctrines that Divide (MI: Kregel Publications, 1989,1998), p.131
[4] Ibid, p.128
[5] Richard Laurence, The Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration Contrasted with the Tenets of Calvin (Oxford University Press, 1815), p.7
[6] Erwin W.Lutzer, The Doctrines that Divide, p.132
[7] Kenneth Hylson-Smith, Evangelicals in the Church of England 1734-1984 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), p.124.
[8] Rev. W. H. Hicks, A Concise View of Baptismal Regeneration (London: Joseph Masters, 1856), pp.4,5
[9] Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, American Methodist Worship (Oxford University Press, 2001), pp.108,109
[10] Vernon McGee, John 1-10 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991).
[11] Robert V. McCabe, “The Meaning of “Born of Water and the Spirit In John 3:5”, DBS Journal 4 (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Fall 1999), pp.85–107
[12] Ibid.
[13] Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (1932)
[14] Charles G. Finney, Lecture XLII. Regeneration. VIII of Systematic Theology (1851).
[15] William B. Combs, “Does the Believer Have One Nature Or Two?”, DBS Journal 2 (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Fall 1997), pp.81–103
[16] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismastic Perspective (Zondervan, 1996), p.128
[17] Ibid. p.130
[18] A.B. Caneday, “Baptism in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement”, in Thomas R. Schreiner, Shawn Wright (Eds), Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (USA: B&H Publishing Group, 2006)
[19] Erwin W. Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity With God (Moody Publishers, 1996)
[20] Ibid.
[21] Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicanism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), p.108
[22] Donald G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission (IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), pp.157-158

Last updated on June 12, 2015


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