Dr. Elijah Thompson, Jr.: Regeneration, Not Reformation (From “The Torch”)

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

—2 Corinthians 5:17

The Bible plainly teaches that there is no other way of becoming a Christian except through Regeneration (the New Birth). The Doctrine of Regeneration is quite important because there is so much false teaching  contrary to the Word of God concerning it. I believe that Bible language is plainer and more definite on this doctrine than on possibly any other. The language of our Saviour is imperative—“. . . ye must be born again.”

To Nicodemus, a devout ruler and a good man, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:7).

Nicodemus was also a strict Pharisee. The Pharisees stood for the rigid observance of the Law, but Jesus stated, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Regeneration, then, is the door by which we enter the Christian life. If we do not enter here, we do not enter at all.

I need your prayerful attention as I preach on this vital subject. But before I share from the Word of God what Regeneration is, let me from God’s Word, share with you what Regeneration is not.

I. Regeneration is not Reformation

Reformation is the act of the old nature turning from certain evils. We cannot alter the old nature or reform it. We cannot re-invigorate it, that is, turn over a new leaf and quit certain sins to live a better life in our own strength. Regeneration is a supernatural act of God. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, unto good works, which God  before ordained that we should walk therein” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

These verses plainly teach that Regeneration is not an “evolutionary process,” a gradual climb to God, but it is a miraculous work done by God. We are created in Christ Jesus the moment we believe.

II. Regeneration is not Baptism

Baptism is a church ordinance signifying that one is a Christian and has died with Christ, been buried, risen, and is now living with Christ, daily.  Some teach that such passages as “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:3) and “the Washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) mean that baptism is an essential part of the New Birth. However, it seems evident from the context of these passages and other related passages that  the reference to water and washing is figurative language meaning the cleansing power of the Word of God. Other passages that lend to this interpretation are: Ephesians 5:26: the “washing of water by the Word” and John 15:3: “Ye are clean through the Word.” The Holy Spirit uses the Word in Regeneration. This is clearly set forth in James 1:18 which states, “. . . of his own will begat us with the word of truth” and in I Peter 1:23 which states, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible by the Word of God.”

In Acts 8:36-38, the Ethiopian Eunuch said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” And Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still and they went down both into the water . . . and he baptized him.” We see here, that Philip baptized the Ethiopian after he believed.

The thief on the cross was not baptized at all, but we know from Christ’s words to him that he was regenerated as he hung there because Jesus said to him, “Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

III. What is Regeneration?

Regeneration means a rebirth, a re-creation, a new birth, a second birth, or a new creation. Regeneration is the creation by the Holy Spirit of a new life in man called the “New Creation” or the “New Man.”

Like the first birth, it is an event and not a process. Although the period from the conviction of sin to regeneration may cover many days, weeks, months, or even years, the actual birth takes place in a second, as one passes from darkness to light. The person has a second birthday and begins a new life.

A. The Agents used in the New Birth

1. The Word of God. James 1:18: “Of His own will begat us with the Word of Truth.”

First Peter 1:23 states: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” One reason I believe so few people are born again today through modern preaching is that there isn’t enough of the Word of God in modern sermons.

Galatians 3:2: “. . . received ye the Spirit by the words of the Law, or by the hearing of faith.” It is faith generated by the hearing of the Word of God that saves a soul.

2. The Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit. John 3:5: “Except a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot  enter.” John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Spiritual life is begotten by the Holy Spirit. John 3:8: “. . .so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” The Ministry of the Holy Spirit is first to convict the sinner and then to convert him—to do the actual work of bringing him into the Kingdom of God.

IV. The Necessity of Regeneration

All need to be born again. There are no exceptions to this rule (outside of the Saviour). Neither sex, age, position, or condition exempts anyone from the necessity of being regenerated. There is no substitute for the new birth; to fail to be born again is to be lost.

Galatians 6:15: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” To become a new creature is to be born again.

Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to evil.” It is impossible without a rebirth.

Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Only God can give a new, clean, pure heart; this is the new birth.

The universal, sinful condition of man demands a change, the new birth for salvation. The holiness of God demands that man be born again. Hebrews 12:14 states, “Follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” Holiness is foreign to the natural man; it can only be obtained through regeneration.

I Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

To live the life of God, we must have the nature of God—God’s own holy nature. Every man is a sinner. “There is none righteous, no not one” Romans 3:10). “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23).

God created Adam, the first man, in His own image. That is, man differed from the animals in that he was given a spirit with God’s consciousness. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

God desired fellowship with man whom He created for His own glory. Man was the object of His affection, but to have fellowship, Adam must also show his love for God. Therefore, Adam was given a free will to express his love toward his Creator. If God had demanded Adam’s love, Adam’s affection would have been the result of fear and would not have been true love. He would be nothing more than a puppet in the hands of a mighty Creator.

Adam’s love must be proven by a test. He was placed in a beautiful garden with freedom to eat all the fruit except from one tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This was the test: God said, “Thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve, our first parents, disobeyed God’s command. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant  to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (Genesis 3:6). Because of Adam’s disobedience, all men became sinners; for by one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience, many were made sinners (Romans 5:19). “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin: and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

This scene in the garden of Eden is re-enacted in the life of each one of us. We all come to the same “crossroads” in life. What is our decision? One road is marked: “OBEDIENCE AND LIFE”; the other: “DISOBEDIENCE AND DEATH.” We automatically take the road to destruction, for “that which is born of flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and it can never by any human process become anything else. Our root nature is to sin, just as a dog’s root nature is to bark. Automatically, we go in the wrong direction. Paul tells us in Romans 8:8, “. . . they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” He also tell us in our flesh “dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). By our natural birth, in the flesh, our mind is darkened so that we cannot understand spiritual truth.

To live the life of God, we must have the “Nature” of God; that is, we must have God’s holy nature. If without holiness no man shall see God, and if we cannot attain this holiness by our own effort or any natural development, then the Regeneration of our nature is absolutely necessary. This change which makes it possible for us to appear holy before God takes place when we are born again.


V. The Evidence and Results of Regeneration

Therefore, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).


In Regeneration, we are made partakers of the Divine nature. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1). A change from death to life; this is a spiritual resurrection. This Divine nature is called “The New Man” (I Peter 1:4). “Put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). “And have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him (God) that created him” (Colossians 3:10).

The Apostle Paul  expressed his own experience this way: “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” (Galatians 2:20).

Note that Paul is speaking about two “I’s.” The first “I” is the old nature which has its roots in him (Paul); the second “I” is the new nature which has its roots in righteousness (Christ). It is God dwelling in the believer.


1. John 2:29: “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.” The born-again one does not live a life of sin as is pointed out in I John 3:9: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” First John 5:18: “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not.”

2. The born-again one will fulfill the command to love. Luke 10:27: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself.” First John 4:7: “. . . and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.”

3. The born-again one lives an “over-coming life.” I John 5:4: “For whosoever is born of God overcometh the world.”

4. The born-again one believes that Jesus is the Christ. I John 5:1: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born again.”

Yes, friends, when Regenerated the heart is changed; sin is hated, Christ is loved; the life is changed. New and holy desires spring up like a well of living water (John 4:14). The New Life overflows in love and good works to others.

It was January 16, 1961, here in Philadelphia, PA, at 1621 Bainbridge Street on a Monday night that I was born into the family of God. I was reared in a strict environment. My father was a Baptist preacher, but prior to January 16, 1961, I just methodically went through the motions. I was a church member. But I will never forget January 16, 1961. “For go so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I heard, I believed, and I received Christ as my personal Saviour.

Oh, the joy that thrilled my soul. Immediately I loved the preacher, I loved the church, I loved the Bible, and I hated sin. And ever since that hour, I have not been able to get away with sin. How about you, friend? Have your desires and life been changed through the power of God’s Word?