As I’ve written elsewhere regeneration is:

that activity of God wherein he radically transforms the moral fiber of a person through the unique work of the Holy Spirit. This transformation is analogous to a new birth where one begins his/her life (Jn. 3:3-7; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Tit. 3:5; Jm. 1:18; 1 Pt. 1:3; 1 Jn. 2:29)….Value systems are wholly renovated, not just altered. Old impulses and habits are replaced with new ones (Gal. 5:19-24; Col. 2:11-12) and a death takes place of the old self (nature), which was dominated by sinful desires and activities (Rom. 6:1-11-11; Gal. 2:20). In the place of the old life God renews the converted person and imparts new spiritual life never to be corrupted (1 Pt. 1:4).

How might this happen? How does the new displace the old? I once heard an analogy from chemistry that I thought was useful (albeit analogies have limited usefulness). Consider:

A mixture consists of not less than two chemical elements, each of which can be distinguished and separated from the other when combined in the same container. A compound, on the other hand, is the combination of two or more elements that are chemically bound to each other such that they cannot be extracted individually. In a compound the ratio of the individual elements remains constant (like water having 88.8% oxygen and 11.2% hydrogen), whereas in a mixture the ratio of the elements can vary.

Or, consider Aristotelian metaphysics. A compound could be likened to a picture. Once the picture is on the canvas, the paint cannot be extracted without compromise to the picture. The paint and the picture are inextricably tied together. The very essence of a thing, argued Aristotle, consists of the sum of its essential parts. When individual parts are combined in a compound (paint + picture), a new substance obtains. The paint, in a sense, becomes the picture.

Similarly, Augustine noted in Book XII, Chapter XXIX of his Confessions:

When a song is sung, the sound is heard simultaneously. It is not that unformed sound comes first and is then shaped into song….That is why a song has its being in the sound it embodies, and its sound is its matter. The matter is given form to be a song.

In other words, no sound, no song. No paint, no painting. Sound is to song as paint is to painting. The two elements, though separate, are so entangled that the one is bound up in the other.

Similarly with regeneration. When God’s Spirit enters our souls (via faith in Christ) we become a new creation altogether. We are metaphysically changed from the inside out. When God’s Spirit enters us we become an integrated being; a compound, metaphorically speaking, whereby God’s Spirit unites with our human spirit to form one new substance. Though the uniqueness of each part (God’s Spirit and ours) is evident, the predominating expression for those born from above is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); our new life is now “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Thus, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Just thinking….

P.S. I refer to the human “spirit” not as a third part in the human make up, (also known as a trichotomous view of “body, soul, and spirit”), but only to refer to that immaterial aspect of our humanity; in essence our “soul.” Humanity is a complex unity consisting of material and immaterial substance. Biblical usage suggests that soul and spirit are referring to the same aspect of our being.

[The quote from Augustine is from Paul Helm’s Analysis 8 – The Gifts of the King. The original text can be found here.]


  1. Paul, as you may or may not recall, my very first book, Handmaid to Theology (Baker, 1981, now available from Wipf & Stock), concludes in the last chapter that our regeneration includes becoming new and different creatures. The philosophical concepts that you and I use to express this reality differ, but the more important point is that, however we express it, they do justice to this very important biblical teaching, and it appears to me that this is what you are doing. Quite a few theologians of the past and the present, e.g., B. B. Warfield, have taken a strong stance against this concept, but I really can’t make out a >good< reason for their objection. They confine the meaning of "regeneration" to a change of the will only and refuse to give the idea of an ontological change the time of day. In other circles, regeneration is treated as equivalent to the process of sanctification, which does not seem to fit the biblical data at all. Given the scriptures you quote and–if I may add, the ones that I bring up in Handmaid–it is pretty clear that we receive a new nature as the Holy Spirit enters us, which goes far beyond a change in our wills. Although at first we may not actualize our new nature very much and live as thought we are still our old selves, we are actually new and different beings who will come to increasing maturity. Note: the Holy Spirit is, of course, God and He is not our new nature, but he creates a new nature within us. Thank you, Paul, for coming to this insight and having the courage to share it on your blog. Win
    (I would appreciate it, if anyone wishes to respond to my ideas in this comment, that they would do so within their setting in Handmaid to Theology.)

  2. A most sincere “Thanks” to you Win for taking the time to read and comment and for the pointer to your Handmaid to Theology. I agree with you that if only the will is changed in regeneration, then we are selling the work of faith far too short. Though the realization of our regeneration may be slow and gradual (or fast and acute, depending on the circumstances and God’s movement), it is a change that affects the whole person, inside and out.

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