Key Issues About Regeneration

Different Evangelical views of regeneration

 

There are a number of views of regeneration that Evangelical Bible teachers have. Here are the main ones:

 

·         The first is the wholistic view. This view suggests that regeneration involves the coming into union of our human spirit, mind, will and emotions with the Holy Spirit at the point of conversion. As a result of regeneration, all of these parts of our human personality have God’s eternal life imparted to them and are immediately begun to be renewed. This wholistic view says regeneration involves the imparting and infusing of God’s eternal life into the various components of our human nature. It is said to be like a transfusion of new life-imparting, health-bringing blood through a diseased body. Growing in Christ involves this infused eternal life of God renewing, refining and transforming our human nature from glory to glory and more deeply penetrating the various parts of us.

This wholistic view does not accept the idea that our spirit is perfected at the point of conversion, but instead proposes that our human spirit needs continual cleansing, renewal and strengthening after conversion until it is perfected after we die. 2 Corinthians 4:16, 7:1, Ephesians 3:16-17 and Colossians 3:10 are argued to support this. This view says the “inner man” of 2 Corinthians 4:16 and Ephesians 3:16 and “the new” (usually translated “the new man”) in Colossians 3:10, include the human spirit, mind, will and emotions. 2 Corinthians 7:1 says: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

The wholistic view regards regeneration as merely one aspect of God’s broader perfect work of completely saving us. Because regeneration is not a totally separate work of God unconnected to sanctification, continual renewing by the Holy Spirit, transformation into God’s image, resurrection and so on, regeneration cannot be regarded as an imperfect work of God. This is just as the physical healing of a believer cannot be regarded as an imperfect work of God, just because the believer later dies. Physical healing must be seen as one aspect of the broader perfect work of God in saving us. Nothing God does is imperfect.

Those who believe in the wholistic view say that the expression “old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” in 2 Corinthians 5:17 about the new creation is a statement of faith and not sight about us as regenerated believers until we are perfected at the resurrection. This view argues regeneration recreates our human heart or self as genuinely new though not yet totally new. While regeneration is not said to be a process, the wholistic view suggests the New Testament teaches our regenerated self needs continual renewal, transformation and deepening of its union with the Spirit of Christ after the initial point of regeneration. One variation on this wholistic view teaches regeneration at conversion involves the Holy Spirit coming into a perfect union with our human spirit (see John 3:6-7) while at the same time coming into an imperfect union with our mind, emotions and will.

·         The second view argues regeneration relates only to the coming into a perfect union of the Holy Spirit with our human spirit and the impartation of God’s eternal life to it. This view suggests that this regeneration of our human spirit is always accompanied by a purifying and an incomplete influencing, empowering and changing of our mind, will and emotions by the Holy Spirit at and after the point of conversion. This second view suggests John 3:6 teaches regeneration relates only to our human spirit: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” This view also argues 1 Corinthians 6:17 teaches a perfect union of our human spirit with the Holy Spirit: “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”

·         The third is the schizophrenic view of regeneration. This third view argues that regeneration involves the Holy Spirit coming into perfect union with our human spirit and that at the point of conversion our human mind, emotions and will are not purified, influenced, empowered and/or changed by the Holy Spirit in even the slightest way. This schizophrenic view insists all such purifying, influencing, empowering and changing by the Holy Spirit are only post-conversion, optional extras seen in only some believers’ earthly lives.

 

Out of the above three views, the first two have various strengths and weaknesses. At this stage, I do not wish to commit myself to either of these. But I am certain that the third view is unbiblical. This is because the Scriptures give evidence of the purifying, influencing, changing and empowering by the Holy Spirit of various aspects of the human mind, emotions and will in an incomplete sense at and from the point of conversion. For example as seen in Chapter……… “Repentance,” repentance is something which is empowered by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25) and involves changes in the human mind and will. Also Acts 3:26 shows God empowers believers to turn away from their sins. In context, this verse is referring to conversion (see Acts 3:19).

Also, note turning away from sins does not just involve the human spirit, but also relates to the human mind and will. It is impossible for humans to have saving faith in God unless the Holy Spirit has inspired this in their hearts. New converts are not like schizophrenics, with their spirit turning from sin to God, repenting and having faith in Him while their will and mind refuses to repent, turn from known sin to God and have faith in Jesus Christ. It is ridiculous to suggest the human spirit can repent, convert and have faith without the agreement of the will and mind.

In Philippians 2:13, Paul reveals that God living within us motivates and influences the wills of all believers continually: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12 – the previous verse – shows believers must willingly co-operate with God Who is working and influencing them from within. Humans are not robots. But this does not diminish the fact He is continually influencing believers’ wills through His Holy Spirit.

 

The schizophrenic view of regeneration

 

The schizophrenic view of regeneration teaches that from the point of conversion, believers are two different persons – a regenerated spirit-person and a separate totally fleshly person in the area of their mind, will and emotions. This schizophrenic view of regeneration is based on pagan Greek dualistic philosophy and has much in common with the teachings of some of the Gnostic sects who competed with the early church. The Gnostics varied but many of them believed humans were basically two persons – a higher spirit person who could be “saved” and a lower physical body “person” who was totally evil and could never be “saved”. This is why the Gnostics are called dualistic. The word “dualistic” comes from the Latin word “duo” meaning two.

Some Gnostics suppressed their bodies by various harsh ascetic practices. Other Gnostics taught that because their supposed physical body person was so evil and unsavable, it did not matter if their physical body was used continually for sexual immorality and other sins. These latter Gnostics believed their higher spirit-person could be saved without any turning from what true Christians would regard as sinful usages of the body.

How similar this is to easy believism and abused grace attitudes associated with the modern schizophrenic view of regeneration! This latter view tells churchgoers not to be overly concerned if their minds and wills are still totally carnal and absolutely ruled by sin all the time. These churchgoers are told God has regenerated their spirits thereby saving them, so it does not supposedly matter if their minds’ thoughts and wills’ purposes are still completely ruled by what Satan wants.

Romans 8:6 says: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” This verse is used wrongly by some who argue believers are two persons with two totally separate minds. In the original Greek, this verse refers to two different states of mind, not two minds. This is shown in the fact the word “minded” in this verse is “phronema” which means a condition or state of the mind. “Phronema” means “what one has in the mind, the thought” [1] or “way of thinking, mind (-set), … (only Romans 8) aim”. [2]

Romans 8:6 is referring to the difference between flesh-mindedness or Holy Spirit-mindedness. This is why the King James Version and the New King James Version translate the word “phronema” as “minded” twice in this verse and why the New American Standard Bible translates it as “the mind set on”. Romans 8:7 uses “phronema” also. The best translation of this word in Romans 8:7 is found in the New American Standard Bible when it says “the mind set on”. In this verse, the King James, the New King James and the New International Versions translate “phronema” with the less suitable word “mind”. Note “carnal” in Romans 8:7 is “sarkos” which is derived from the Greek word “sarx” meaning “flesh”. “Carnally” in Romans 8:6 is also “sarkos”. Romans 8:7 refers to flesh-mindedness or the state of the mind set on the flesh.

No believer is continuously perfectly filled and ruled by the Holy Spirit in every area of their lives while here on Earth. Also no believer is absolutely ruled by the flesh after conversion. All believers are mixtures of varying degrees of Holy Spirit-mindedness and flesh-mindedness. But this is different from saying believers are two persons with two totally separate minds with unchangeable features. We are whole persons, not two or three separate persons in one.

Even though for the purposes of analysis, we can split ourselves up into various parts such as spirit, mind, emotions, will and body, we are still one whole person.

The New Testament is written in Greek, but is not in agreement with pagan Greek philosophy. The Hebrew Biblical way of thinking sees humans as one whole with a number of parts. The pagan Greek and Gnostic ways of thinking focus to an extreme extent on humans as a number of divisible parts. In saying these things, this does not mean I have chosen the wholistic view of regeneration as my view at this stage. I am still undecided. I am here attacking pagan Greek and Gnostic tendencies amongst some Christians.

 

Am I a spirit or more than that?

 

Materialistic people think of humans as just being bodies with brains. Overly mystical people regard themselves as spirits with unnecessary natural bodies, minds, wills and emotions. Other mystics regard themselves as two persons in one.

The New Testament reveals humans are whole persons with spirits, minds, emotions, wills and bodies. Each of these parts are important. The human spirit is essential for a person to be able to have a relationship with God. But the mind, emotions, will and body are used in our relating to God also and are needed in our relating to His natural creation. Also in their resurrected form, they will be required by us for living with God eternally. Adam and Eve were created as whole beings, not just as spirits with optional unnecessary bodies, minds, emotions and wills.

Believers are not two persons in one, just as Jesus Christ is not two persons in one. One of the heresies condemned in the early church period was the idea Christ was two persons in one. Christ had His Divine Spirit and His human mind, emotions, will, spirit and body. But He was only one Person with two natures. He was not two persons.

New Testament verses which could be taken to suggest that our real “I” is our spirit are 1 Corinthians 14:2, 2 Corinthians 12:3, 1 Peter 3:4 and 2 Peter 1:13. 2 Corinthians 12:3 says: “And I know such a man – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” Other verses in the New Testament refer to our real “I” as including things other than our spirits. Examples of these are Luke 23:46, Acts 17:16, Romans 7:25, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 14:14-15, 14:18-19 and 14:32. 1 Corinthians 2:11 says the spirit of a man is in him: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?…” The word “him” above refers to our real “I”.

1 Corinthians 14:14-15 and 18-19 show our “I” includes both our human spirit and mind or understanding: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the result then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding…I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding…”

Zechariah 12:1 is an Old Testament verse suggesting our real “I” includes more than our spirits: “…Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.”

1 Corinthians 5:3 compares the outer bodily “I” to the spirit aspect of the inner “I”: “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, concerning him who has so done this deed.”

Hebrews 3:12 refers to the full inner “I” – the heart – as being in “you”: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief…” “You” here includes the outer “I” also. In Luke 24:32, the disciples refer to their heart – their inner “I” – being in “us” – their whole “I” therefore including their heart and outer body.

The above-quoted verses do not mean God regenerates our bodies at conversion. But they do show our “I” is broader than our human spirit.

 

A new heart

 

Ezekiel 36:26-27 prophesied that New Covenant Israelite believers would receive a new spirit and heart: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you…”

One view argues that Ezekiel 36:25-27 will only be fulfilled in the future Great Tribulation and/or Millenium. Another view insists that Ezekiel 36:25-27 began to be fulfilled after Jesus’ death and resurrection and will continue until the Final Judgement. The latter view also argues that because non-Israelite believers are part of the Israel of God (see Galatians 6:16), the general principles found in Ezekiel 36:25-27 may be applied to non-Israelite believers also. Regardless of which view is right, Ezekiel 36:25-27 reveals some important principles about what the new creation in Christ is.

In the original Hebrew of Ezekiel 36:26, the word “heart” in the expression “new heart” is “leb”. This is one of the two Hebrew words for “heart”, the other being “lebab”. Brown, Driver and Briggs define “leb” as “inner man, mind, will and heart: the inner man in contrast with the outer…mind, affections and will…memory…conscience”. [3] The word “lebab” means “inner man, mind, will, heart…memory…inclinations, resolutions, determinations of the will…conscience…the seat of emotions and passions”. [4] Holladay defines “leb” as “heart, inner self, seat of feelings and impulses, mind, character, disposition, intention, purpose, attention, consideration, understanding, mind and mood in its totality, the self”. [5]

Richards says: “The Hebrew word ‘leb’ is a broad, inclusive term. In our culture we tend to divide a human being into isolated functions, such as the spiritual, the intellectual, the emotional, the rational, and the volitional. But Hebrew thought maintains the unity of the person. It looks at a human being as a whole and expresses all of these and other inner human functions by use of the word ‘leb’. In the Old Testament the heart is thus the conscious self – the inner person with every function that make a person human”. [6]

Harris, Archer and Waltke say, “By far the majority of the usages of “leb” refer either to the inner or immaterial nature in general or to all of the three traditional personality functions of man; emotion, thought, or will”. [7]

In the Old Testament, the heart includes the mind, emotions, will, conscience, memory and spirit. Verses which show the heart includes the mind are Genesis 24:45, Exodus 36:2, Deuteronomy 7:17, 8:5, 8:17, 15:9, 1 Samuel 1:13, 27:1, 1 Kings 12:26, 1 Chronicles 29:18, Psalm 4:4, 19:14, 49:3, 77:6, Proverbs 6:18 and Isaiah 44:19. Deuteronomy 15:9 says: “Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying.”

Old Testament verses which show the heart includes the will are Exodus 35:5, 35:29, Deuteronomy 24:15, 2 Kings 12:4, 1 Chronicles 22:19, 2 Chronicles 29:31, Psalm 140:2, Proverbs 16:9 and Daniel 1:8. Exodus 35:5 says: “…Whoever is of a willing heart…” Proverbs 16:9 states: “A man’s heart plans his way…”

Deuteronomy 30:1 and Job 22:22 indicate the heart has a memory. Job 22:22 says, “lay up His Words in your heart.” When Deuteronomy 30:1 refers to calling things “to mind”, the word “mind” is “lebab” in Hebrew. 1 Samuel 24:5 reveals the heart contains the conscience: “Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe.” The New American Standard Bible translates “leb” (or “heart”) here as “conscience” in the above verse.

1 Samuel 16:7 reveals the heart is the inner part of our being when this verse contrasts it with our outward appearance: “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In this verse, God is not making a physical-verses-spiritual comparison, but an inward-verses-outward comparison.

Also, note when Ezekiel 36:26 speaks of God’s people being given a new heart, it does not mean God annihilates their old hearts and replaces them. Instead it refers to their hearts being renewed by the incoming of God’s holy eternal life-giving nature and Presence. So the heart is recreated but not replaced by God.

 

New Testament teaching on the heart and regeneration

 

The New Testament reveals that the human “heart” includes the human spirit, mind, will, emotions and conscience (see 1 Peter 3:4, Matthew 9:4, 15:19, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Corinthians 2:4, Acts 2:37, Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:22).

The New Testament teaches that all believers have the Spirit of the Son of God living in their hearts. Galatians 4:6 says: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”

Ephesians 3:17 is a similar verse. 2 Corinthians 1:22 refers to the Holy Spirit living in believers’ hearts: “who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.”

The wholistic view of regeneration uses the above three verses to prove regeneration involves the Spirit of Christ coming into union with our spirit, minds, wills and emotions. As was shown above, the New Testament word “heart” or “kardia” in Greek refers to not just our spirits alone.

But the second view of regeneration says Galatians 4:16, Ephesians 3:17 and 2 Corinthians 1:22 are teaching that the Spirit of the Lord lives in only the spirit component of believers’ hearts. This is similar to how when we say we have petrol in our car, we really mean the fuel is in the petrol tank which is one part of the car.

 

Qualifying comments

 

Regardless of which view of regeneration is correct, I believe regeneration does not result in a total ruling by the Holy Spirit of the convert’s mind, will and emotions during this earthly life. Also, I believe the degree of the Holy Spirit’s rule in these aspects of the person is related to the decisions of the same person’s will and mind. The Holy Spirit can influence any believer in whatever way He chooses. But such influence is different from His rule over the person. His rule over a believer relates to the latter’s free-will responses. The degree of rule by the Holy Spirit varies from believer to believer.

Also, I believe the mind, will and emotions of a new convert can revert back to being a total manifestation of sinful flesh after conversion if the person chooses.

 

Errors about regeneration

 

1.       One of the most common errors related to regeneration is the unbiblical notion of baptismal regeneration. This is the idea taught by the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, High Church Anglicans and many Lutherans. These groups have slightly differing teachings about it, but they all claim that through water baptism a person can be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and become a new creation in Christ without the person having to turn from his sins to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ at that time.

2.       An error about regeneration taught by many liberal Protestants is the pagan Eastern religious idea that every human is regenerated with God’s life from the moment they are conceived. This is based on the false idea God is the spiritual Father of every human. According to this view, Adolf Hitler and other sadistic mass murderers who never turned from their sins were born-again. It is true God is the Creator of all. Also He was originally the spiritual Father of the human race. This was before the first humans turned to sin and as a result were no longer in spiritual union with Him. As stated earlier, John 8:44 and 1 John 3:10 show Satan and not God is the spiritual Father of the unsaved.

3.       Some other liberal Protestants wrongly believe that sinners are automatically regenerated by God Who is present everywhere the moment they come into some sort of relationship to the Church.

4.       Others falsely regard regeneration as merely changed thinking and actions.

5.       Another error is the idea regeneration is a gradual process occurring over months or years like growing in holiness in a practical sense.

 

The relevant Greek words

 

In the original Greek, the word “regeneration” is “palingenesia” which means “new birth”. [8] “Palingenesia” is a combination of two Greek words “palin” meaning “again” and “genesis” meaning “birth”. [9] Bauer defines “palingenesia” as “rebirth, regeneration”. [10]

In the original Greek, the word “born” when used in the context of being born-again of God by His Spirit, is “gennao”. Louw and Nida say “gennao” means “to give birth to a child”. [11]

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.         Explain the wholistic view of regeneration.

2.         Discuss the second view of regeneration listed in the section on the “Different Evangelical views of Regeneration”.

3.         Why is the schizophrenic view of regeneration so unbiblical?

4.         Why is it wrong to use Romans 8:6 as supposed proof of the schizophrenic view of regeneration?

5.         What Bible verses reveal that our real “I” is more than just our spirit?

6.         What is the meaning of the two Old Testament Hebrew words for heart – “leb” and “lebab”?

7.         What does the New Testament Greek word for “heart” – “kardia” mean?

8.         What are some of the other errors we can make about regeneration?


 


[1] Vine, page 409.

[2] Bauer, page 866.

[3] Brown, Driver and Briggs, pages 524-525.

[4] Ibid, pages 523-524.

[5] Holladay, page 171.

[6] Richards, page 334.

[7] Harris, Archer and Waltke, page 466.

[8] Vine, page 517.

[9] Ibid, page 517.

[10] Bauer, page 606.

[11] Louw and Nida, page 256.

 

 


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