Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.
Regeneration or being born again is a process of becoming the sons of God in character. This starts with the gift of forgiveness that gives a conditional reconciliation with God. This must be maintained by avoiding sin, confession for forgiveness when sin recurs, and continuing exposure to the ministry of the Word. As progressive understanding transforms the carnal soul to possess the new soul Christ promises (Luke 9:23-25) as one’s disciple’s cross functions regeneration is experienced (2 Peter :19).
The Epistle of First John speaks of the evidence in a believer’s life of spiritual rebirth:
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; 1 John 5:13 that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
Characteristics of Regeneration
1. Believes the Gospel enough to ask for forgiveness
(1 John 1:1-9; 5:5-12).
2. Keeps clean by confessing and forsaking sin
(1 John 1:0; 2:1, 2)
3. Keeps Christ’s Commandments
(1 John 2:3-8; 3:19-26; 5:2, 3, 14-21).
4. Loves fellow Christians
(1 John 2:9-11; 3:10-18; 4:7-21).
5. Lives an overcoming life
(1 John 2:12-14; 3:3-10).
6. Does not love the world culture
(1 John 2:15-17; 5:4, 5).
7. Is aware of and rejects false teachers
(1 John 2:18-26; 4:1-6).
8. The expectation of Christ’s return refines and transforms (1 John 2:27-3:3).
Regeneration enables us to overcome by the Lord through a faith union with Him to death to sin (Rom 6:11) and a faith perspective of being resurrected with Him (Rom 6:13).
As the Apostle Paul testified: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20).
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3).
“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33).
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (1 Peter 1:23; compare 2 Peter 1:4).
Regeneration is real only when it changes the way we think and feel! (Compare 2 Cor 10:4, 5).
A thoughtful review of the process of regeneration is sufficient to recognize that forgiveness does precede being born again (regeneration). Consider the following Scripture passages:
The Old Testament
In Ezek 33:13: “When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.”
However, concerning Solomon, God promised:
“He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.” (2 Sam 7:13-15).
The difference: in Ezekiel conditional righteousness is possessed, but must be maintained! But Solomon was given the status as God’s son.
The New Testament
In the New Testament, receiving Christ by faith accords only “power (or right) to become the sons of God, . .”
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21).
To be successful one must make himself Christ’s possession:
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 10:32, 33).
“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:26-28).
“... the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” (2 Tim 2:19).
Initial Forgiveness Can Be Lost
Instances where initial forgiveness and cleansing was experienced, but lost by not letting God’s Word and the Holy Spirit change their natures by regeneration.
This is taught i Jesus' parable of the Sower (Matt 13:18-23). The rocky soil believer (received Christ’s Word) initially, but later fell away. The fact that he initially rejoiced shows that he had faith to think he possessed at least forgiveness. Assurance of reality is only seen by the fruit the Word was allowed to produce in a believer’s life.
Difficulties work both ways, in the shallow believer, difficulties can create enough trauma to give up one’s faith, but one who holds onto the Word fruit is produced: “. . . it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Heb 12:11).
And: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect (Greek: complete) and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4).
This is what happens when the Lord’s challenge to new believers becomes a way of life (John 8:31-35 compare Lk 9:23-25).
In 2 Peter 2:22, Peter describes false prophets and deceiving teachers, who from the context had initial faith of cleansing from sin, i.e., forgiveness, but have forsaken the hope they had as the Apostle says: “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
The point is that their nature had not been changed even though they had the condition of initial forgiveness. That is, they returned to their sin because They have not been over come, yielded to the Lord: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom 6:16).
Or: Faith reckoned themselves to be in union with Christ in His death to sin and resurrected to be God’s servants. (Rom 6:11, 13).
The solution is to exchange one’s soul life by living the Disciple’s Cross (Luke 9:23-25) again as the Apostle did: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20).
A person can loose their initial forgiveness according to Hebrews 6:4-6: “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the (“a” there is no “the” in the Greek) Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” (NASU).
If there is NO WAY that people who have initial forgiveness can fall away, because they have not yet been born again, the warning against falling away is meaningless: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;” (Heb 3:14).
Speaking to the Corinthian Church members, the Apostle Paul asks whether they are “in" the faith: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor 13:5).