This will be the second in a series of short articles in which I am introducing the “order of salvation” (ordo salutis). In last month's article we were exposed to the doctrine of “effectual calling” and that doctrine is inextricably linked to the doctrine of “regeneration.” That is why these two are often dealt with together in theological works. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 34 asks, “What is effectual calling?” The answer is: Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. Regeneration is the part where our wills are renewed and we are persuaded to come to Christ. This is a big doctrine in terms of its tremendous importance. Everything hinges on this doctrine because apart from regeneration there is no possibility of salvation.
The first thing we need to know about regeneration is that is a creative work of God in which man is purely passive. Man has nothing to do with it; it is all of God's initiative. One of the best definitions of regeneration can be found in one of our great Reformed Confessions, the Canons of Dort. There, in section III and IV, article 11 says this:
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.
When you read that you may be like me and have to read it again to try and take it all in. Those few words say a lot! They refer in part to one of my favorite passages of scripture from Ezekiel 36:26, And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
All-of-a-sudden, by God's grace, we are changed and are given a new spiritual life, the Holy Spirit gives birth within us to a new nature that moves in a “Godward” direction. This change affects our whole being, the intellect, the will, and the emotions. We will be able to see and hear the truth of Christ as He is presented to us in the Gospels. We will love Him and we will submit to Him as Savior and Lord. Apart from this work of regeneration in the heart, man is left bankrupt, dead in trespasses and sin, utterly unable to respond to the gospel. Now we see this doctrine for what it is. This is a life and death doctrine. Apart from regeneration there is no salvation. Just as the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the pivotal events in all of history, so regeneration is the pivotal event in the life of any believer. I will leave you with this definition of regeneration from Louis Berkhof that will tie it to our next topic, conversion. See if you can catch the link. “Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy and the first holy exercise of the new disposition is secured.” That is so cool. Enjoy your June.