Another word for regeneration is rebirth, related to the biblical phrase “born again.” Our rebirth is distinguished from our first birth, when we were conceived physically and inherited our sin nature. The new birth is a spiritual, holy, and heavenly birth that results in our being made alive spiritually. Man in his natural state is “dead in trespasses and sins” until he is “made alive” (regenerated) by Christ. This happens when he places his faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:1).
Regeneration is a radical change. Just as our physical birth resulted in a new individual entering the earthly realm, our spiritual birth results in a new person entering the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6). After regeneration, we begin to see and hear and seek after divine things; we begin to live a life of faith and holiness. Now Christ is formed in the hearts; now we are partakers of the divine nature, having been made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). God, not man, is the source of this transformation (Ephesians 2:1, 8). God’s great love and free gift, His rich grace and abundant mercy, are the cause of the rebirth. The mighty power of God—the power that raised Christ from the dead—is displayed in the regeneration and conversion of sinners (Ephesians 1:19–20).
Regeneration is necessary. Sinful human flesh cannot stand in God’s presence. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said twice that a man must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 7). Regeneration is not optional, for “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). Physical birth fits us for earth; spiritual rebirth fits us for heaven. See Ephesians 2:1; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:13; 1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18. Regeneration is part of what God does for us at the moment of salvation, along with sealing (Ephesians 1:14), adoption (Galatians 4:5), reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18–20), etc. Regeneration is God’s making a person spiritually alive, as a result of faith in Jesus Christ. Prior to salvation we were not God’s children (John 1:12–13); rather, we were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 5:18–20). Before salvation, we were degenerate; after salvation we are regenerated. The result of regeneration is peace with God (Romans 5:1), new life (Titus 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:17), and eternal sonship (John 1:12–13; Galatians 3:26). Regeneration begins the process of sanctification wherein we become the people God intends us to be (Romans 8:28–30).
The only means of regeneration is by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. No amount of good works or keeping of the Law can regenerate the heart. “By works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight” (Romans 3:20). Only Christ offers a cure for the total depravity of the human heart. We don’t need renovation or reformation or reorganization; we need rebirth.