Regeneration–How A Christian is Born-Again–J.I. Packer

Posted: August 8, 2009 in doctrine, General Discussion, Scripture, Theology
Tags: , , ,

Regeneration is a New Testament concept that grew, it seems, out of a parabolic picture-phrase that Jesus used to show Nicodemus the inwardness and depth of the change that even religious Jews must undergo if they were ever to see and enter the kingdom of God, and so have eternal life (John 3:3-15). Jesus pictured the change as being “born again.”

The concept is of God renovating the heart, the core of a person’s being, by implanting a new principle of desire, purpose, and action, a dispositional dynamic that finds expression in positive response to the gospel and its Christ. Jesus’ phrase “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) harks back to Ezekiel 36:25-27, where God is pictured as symbolically cleansing persons from sin’s pollution (by water) and bestowing a “new heart” by putting his Spirit within them. Because this is so explicit, Jesus chides Nicodemus, “Israel’s teacher,” for not understanding how new birth happens (John 3:9-10). Jesus’ point throughout is that there is no exercise of faith in himself as the supernatural Savior, no repentance, and no true discipleship apart from this new birth.

Elsewhere John teaches that belief in the Incarnation and Atonement, with faith and love, holiness and righteousness, is the fruit and proof that one is born of God (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4). It thus appears that as there is no conversion without new birth, so there is no new birth without conversion.

Though infant regeneration can be a reality when God so purposes (Luke 1:15, 41-44), the ordinary context of new birth is one of effectual calling—that is, confrontation with the gospel and illumination as to its truth and significance as a message from God to oneself. Regeneration is always the decisive element in effectual calling.

Regeneration is monergistic: that is, entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit. It raises the elect among the spiritually dead to new life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause. Regeneration is the work of what Augustine called “prevenient” grace, the grace that precedes our outgoings of heart toward God.

  1. Phil says:

    Hey Bill, Yeah, I am really having hard time getting over the “regeneration precedes faith” hurdle. It seems to me when I read scripture that regeneration is a result of faith.

    At any rate, I want to thank you for answering my questions and spending time with me. You (and others) have caused me to take a hard look at what I have been taught in my church growing up. I am currently studying both the Calvinist and Armeninist posistion and everything in between concerning Soteriology. Please bear with me, because at times I may appear toi be disagreeable, but I am just trying to work things out in mind concerning these important matters.

  2. Bill says:

    No problem Phil. I love the fact that you come at us with your questions!

  3. UNKNOWN says:


  4. Bill says:

    @ unknown. I’m not sure how you can make that statement. It’s the belief’s stated in this article that LEAD me to worship, and if you are born -again it should you too. Thinking about how a holy and righteous God chose to awaken me from my dead state grant me faith, allow me to partake in his righteousness….. why, would I not worship? How could I not worship? It’s the beliefs stated in the article above that lead me to share my faith also……..if your wondering. 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. God Bless.


    Some of the greatest hymn (worship) writers, in church history, agreed with the article in question. Isaac Watts, John Newton, Martin Luther etc…..

    • unknown says:

      meant your beliefs as a calvanist in general. the church you attend is deeply against those views. just had to pick a article to leave a comment because you don’t have a place for general comments. Born again is great…but some of this stuff is twisted. maybe you need to talk to your pastor. i once went there and know that he can tell you how calvinism is wrong.

  5. Randy says:

    Hey Bill, Hope your’e feeling better. I think you handled the mysterious UNKNOWN post way better than I would have. I wouldn’t even have let them post if they are to chicken to mention their name.

  6. Bill says:

    Randy I feel fine, thanks for asking. Usually I do not post the comments of people that do not use their name, but I saw this as an opportunity to share some knowledge. The question they ask is a legitimate one from someone that does not understand the doctrines of grace. To God be the Glory!

  7. Richard Kiefer says:

    Hey Bill. I just wondered if anyone reading this blog would have the courage or the audacity to search out the historic protestant positions on regeneration and the doctrines of the church. For the most part, the American church today is very closely related to Roman Catholicism. Please see the Council of Trent (1545 and 1564) for enlightenment. The questions are, “Why are we called Protestant? What were we protesting?” Yes, there are multiple issues but the core issue concerning salvation is pivotal to the historic protestant position. Also, many of our mainline denominations such as Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and the like are all deeply rooted in the Protestant Reformation which points specifically to the doctrines of grace. If we go back and study further into church history, we will see even our early church fathers (John Huss, Augustine, the Apostle Paul…and Christ Himself) preaching these doctrines. For example: John 6:45… “It is written, in the Prophets, AND they shall all be taught of God everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” This is our Lord and Savior, HIMSELF. If you can put this in any other context when you read this Scripture, please tell me where we are wrong.

    If people would slow down and diligently study the Scriptures to rightly divide the Word of Truth…so that they understand the culture, language, and geography, etc. to which the writer was writing the letter, we would more clearly understand the context of the Scripture being read. BUT! So many people desire to spout their opinions and beliefs without full knowledge of what they are talking about. I ask people constantly if they have fully read God’s Word…every word…cover to cover…the great majority never have but they are soooo dogmatic in their positions concerning free will. In Proverbs 14:15, it says “The naïve believes EVERYTHING! But the prudent considers his steps.” We are called to be like the Bereans … to search out these things and see if they are so.

    I know that in this short statement NONE of the positions or beliefs will be answered. It is my desire, though, that people have the courage like Phil to really study this matter for I myself was once a devout ‘free-willer’ until I was confronted by the Scripture which is the final authority on this matter! In all things, we MUST bow to IT…the Scripture! If we who hold the positions of the doctrines of grace are incorrect, we must repent. If we are correct, there is much rejoicing not in being right, but being the benefactors of a Sovereign God’s Grace…upon those of us who have proven ourselves to be totally unworthy of His Grace. To that I say THANK YOU LORD for your mercy to me, a sinner. KNOWN BY HIM, Richard Kiefer

  8. Randy says:

    Hey Bill, yet another lively topic brother…good going this will cause us to study! Just a note to R K . Now brother why can’t we just all get along? You surely know that it’s not P C for anyone to suggest that we should actually STUDY to show ourselves apporved unto God. Or to find out what the reformation was all about. And beside all of that what does context have to do with anything? Everybody knows that only the reformed mindset in people is what causes them to be dogmatic….right? And last but not least, how can the scripture be the final authority on a subject? You know we have to use our FREE WILL as to whether or not to beleive it’s true don’t you? By now you see i’m being sarcastic. Sometimes the truth hurts but we can either fall on the rock and be broken. Or the rock will fall on us and grind us to powder. Here is a sobering thought. 1 Peter 2:2-9) 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, 8 and a stone of stumbling,and a rock of offense.(They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do). 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Folks we should study earnestly and diligently until we find out what the scriptures mean, then we should obey.
    “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” Augustine quoted this.

  9. Bill says:

    @Unknown– 1)When my family and I were searching for a church home, we were not looking for a “calvinist” church or an “arminian” church. We were looking for a church were the Word of God was preached faithfully and expositorily. When we sat down with the Pastor, he told us that is what he does. After visiting for several weeks he proved to be just what we had been praying for. My whole family has grown through his preaching ministry. We are extemely happy there.
    2)You say that the things you have read on my blog are “twisted”. I challenge you to find anything I have posted that is unbiblical or heretical, or that does not agree with historical southern baptist beliefs. Keep in mind I expect you to use scripture and to use it in it’s proper context. Your “opinion” will not suffice, as I count my own opinion as insufficient in these matters. Scripture alone is our final authority.
    3)My Pastor (whom I consider a friend) and I have had many theological discussions and he knows exactly where I stand and he knows my heart. He has had numerous opportunities to tell me I’m wrong and he has not done that . We do not agree on everything, and that is fine, but I’m sure if he felt I was a threat to the congragation, or a heretic, he would have told me to leave long ago.
    4)I’m curious about what you’re understanding of “calvinism” is anyway. And I also wonder why you are curious as to why I attend this church. Which makes me wonder why you don’t.

    Finally, I love my church and I have no problem whatsoever fellowshipping, worshipping,breaking bread and growing with everyone there, even if we don’t see eye to eye on every theological issue. I hope I have answered your questions in a satisfactory matter.

    @Rich–You hit the nail on the head. Study to show yourself approved.:) I also find it difficult to believe that a theology that is grounded in the Word and whose purpose is to exalt God and give Him all the glory is so offensive to so many people…………….

    I also agree with your opinion of people, I consider Phil a friend and a fellow believer even though we disagree on alot of things. I admire his willingness to search out the scriptures and bring that to the table, and his willingness to listen to us.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts brother.

  10. Bill says:

    Randy–You’re sarcasm had me rolling. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us an engaging in this conversation. You bring a whole lot of truth to the table my friend! God Bless!

  11. Mark Gunkle says:

    I am a monergist and believe that faith and repentance are the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:48; Acts 18:27; Phil 1:29; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 2:24-26; Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 12:3, etc..)
    However, I also note that monergists often don’t recognize that synergists have proof texts as well. It would be helpful to know how I can explain their proof texts, like Gal:3:2 and Gal 3:14. I have read Calvin’s commentary on both (John Piper was good on Gal 3:14) , but I would like more of a refutation of synergism. Are there any other synergist proof texts for showing that faith causes regeneration?

  12. Bill says:

    Mark, Thanks for stopping by and adding to this conversation. Maybe the debate I found here will help. SDG!

  13. Love the quote, Bill and the grace you show in response to the comments (something I am trying to work on). Out of curiosity, what Packer work are you citing? Sounds like something from Knowing God, but I can’t recall for certain.

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