Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – What does it mean to be born again?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In this chapter on regeneration, Wayne Grudem explains the act of being born again. Grudem defines regeneration as “a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us.” He demonstrates how it is an act of God and is mysterious to us. It also comes before saving faith in the order of salvation. Finally, regeneration is evident in its results because it brings a change of life. 

Regeneration is Totally a Work of God

Some parts of the order of salvation seem to be more cooperative, however regeneration is completely a work of God. The most clear biblical explanation of the concept is found in John. In speaking of a Christian, he writes, “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). 

The Trinity is active in regeneration. Both the Father and the Spirit are actors in a person’s regeneration. Jesus says the born again person is “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). And Peter tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). So it is the Father and the Spirit who regenerate a person through the work of Jesus. 

Regeneration Comes Before Saving Faith

Regeneration is a secret work of God. Though it is sometimes mistaken for more visible signs of belief, Scripture does not speak of regeneration in that way. Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The person who is born again by God, will demonstrate a changed heart after their regeneration, not before.

To apply this truth, we should use more Scriptural language in a gospel call like “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). A non-biblical call to salvation would be something like “be born again and you will be saved.” The fact is we cannot cause ourselves to be born again. Only God can do that. 

Application: Genuine Regeneration Brings Results in Life

God’s act of regeneration is a powerful one. When it actually happens, the person will change. John’s first epistle tells us, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). This does not mean the born again person will live perfectly after they are regenerated, but it does mean there will be a marked difference in the person’s life. 

This should both encourage and reprove us. It should encourage us in that when we consider our own conversion, we should be reassured of our salvation to see positive changes in our life. On the other hand, it may also reprove us. If we don’t see those changes in our lives after our so-called conversion, we should be concerned whether we were actually saved. In either case, the doctrine of regeneration is a very practical teaching.        

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[b] must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Special Terms

  • born again
  • born of the Spirit
  • born of water
  • irresistible grace
  • regeneration

Resources: Wayne Grudem

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