He stealthily traveled by night, so as not to be seen. Finally, he arrived and saw the one who had caused so much commotion, the one some called a miracle-worker but who others called the Messiah. Nicodemus had pondered these events in his head, but when he reached Jesus he said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).
He waited for Jesus’ response, unsure of what he would say. Finally, Jesus unpredictably responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v.3). Perplexed, Nicodemus responds, “How can this be?”
How can a man be born again? What does that even mean?
We continue our study of of “Great Doctrines of the Bible (vol. 2)” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) which focuses on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Today, we’ll look at chapter 8, “Regeneration– a New Disposition.”
What is Regeneration?
MLJ refers to regeneration as the planting of new life in the soul of a person. He refers to it as “the act of God by which a principle of new life is implanted in a man or woman with the result that the governing disposition of the soul is made holy” (Great Doctrines, 78).
Regeneration is what makes the “effectual call” effectual. It is different from conversion and it precedes conversion. Regeneration is like a planting of a seed and conversion is the result of such a seed being planted (77).
What Takes Place When We Are Regenerated?
To provide a better picture of what regeneration is, MLJ shares what regeneration does NOT mean, then a few points on what it DOES mean.
Regeneration does not mean “a change takes place in human nature” (78). The substance of a person does not change but his disposition does. A person has the same mind, personality, etc. but the disposition that drives him is different. There is no “addition to or subtraction from the faculties or the essence of the soul” (78). He further adds that regeneration is not simply moral reformation. While morals are transformed, he would argue more is happening.
What regeneration DOES mean is that, first, there is “the implanting of a principle of new spiritual life and a radical change in the governing disposition of the soul” (79). The key to understanding regeneration is to understand the idea of disposition. We all have the faculties of the soul (mind, memory, affection, will, and conscience) and these do not change…however, behind all these is something that governs them all and that is our disposition. Two people with similar mindset, memories, affections, etc. can live completely different lifestyles if their disposition is different. Therefore:
What happens in regeneration is that God so operates upon us in the Holy Spirit that this fundamental disposition of ours is changed. He put a holy principle, a seed of new spiritual life, into this disposition that determines what I am and how I behave and how I use and employ my faculties (79).
Secondly, MLJ points out that regeneration affects the whole person. Our mind is affected, our emotions, our will, etc. because our disposition has been changed. Someone who hated God now loves him. Someone who thought church was boring now desires to worship corporately with God’s people! They have been changed!
Thirdly, regeneration is instantaneous. There are no intermediate stages…one is either regenerate or not. It is not gradual, although certain affects of it may be.
Finally, regeneration is something that is done by God. Men and women cannot contribute to it (John 1:13). Just like you didn’t decide when you were born, so you can’t decide when you are born again (regenerated).
Where is Regeneration in Scripture?
MLJ argues there are various terms that describe the reality of regeneration. The first is the word regeneration itself, as seen in Titus 3:5 where Paul refers to the “washing of regeneration.”
Terms such as “to beget” or “give birth to” are used in Scripture to refer to regeneration. For example, in John 1:13 those who receive Christ are those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Also see John 3, 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, and 5:1).
Words such as “bringing forth” or “begetting” also at times refer to regeneration. James 1:18 states, “Of his [God] own will he brought us forth with the word of truth.”
Lastly, “to quicken” or to “make alive” is often used to refer to regeneration. Ephesians 2:5 reads, “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [he] made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved…” These words are also used in Colossians 2:13.
MLJ argues that the doctrine of regeneration is one of the most important doctrines that a Christian needs to understand (75). The good news is that God does for us what we could never have done for ourselves so that we may be redeemed! May we exclaim with MLJ, “what a wonderful salvation, what a glorious way of redemption!”