Baptists bristle at the teaching of baptismal regeneration (i.e. baptism is necessary for salvation). It is inimical to our cherished belief that we are saved by faith alone. But, does the popular Baptist viewpoint on regeneration fare any better than baptismal regeneration?
The popular belief amongst Baptists is that a person is (regenerated) born again after or simultaneous to the time he places his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Thus, one’s faith is the cause of regeneration. Some opponents of the popular Baptist view point call this “Decisional Regeneration.” Thiessen expresses this point of view well: The new birth is conditioned on faith in the crucified Christ.
However, “Decisional Regeneration” fares no better biblically than baptismal regeneration. The Bible nowhere teaches that regeneration is conditioned on faith. In fact, it teaches that God alone apart from the will of man, whether by faith or baptism, causes the new birth.
John 3 is one of most well known passages on regeneration. In this text, Jesus explains to Nicodemus the necessity of the new birth: No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3 NIV). Born again could also be translated born from above as well as born again. Leon Morris argues that John wants us to understand the word in both senses. Obviously, if one is born the first time, then he also experiences a birth from God, he is born again. John apparently wants us to understand both ideas in this one word. In other passages where this word is used, it is translated as above and is clearly referring to God (See John 3:31, 19:11; James 1:17). From this, one may conclude that being born from above means that the source for new birth is from God, which is the expression that John uses in John 1:13 to describe the new birth.
In this verse, John makes absolutely clear that the human will is not involved in the new birth but that it is brought about by the work of God. Some may attempt to argue that verse 12 teaches that receiving Jesus is the cause of the new birth. However, verse 12 says no such thing. It only affirms that those who received him will become children of God. It does not comment on how the birth of the child of God occurs. John saves his explanation for this in verse 13. It is here that John teaches man’s will is not involved in the process of the new birth. Moreover, James adds that God is the one who chooses to give us the new birth (James 1:18). Since God causes the new birth and chooses to give birth to persons apart from their will, faith cannot be a condition for regeneration because faith involves the human will.
Because most Baptists believe that born again and saved are synonymous terms, they also think that regeneration is synonymous with being saved. This mistake causes most of the misunderstanding about regeneration and it cause. However John 3:3 aids in clearing up the confusion. Jesus says here in order to see the kingdom of God one must be born again. Unger’s Bible dictionary defines the kingdom of God as “all created intelligences…who are willingly subject to God and thus in fellowship with him.” One could easily sum up this definition: the kingdom of God is all who are saved. If this is the true meaning of the phrase in this context, then Jesus is telling Nicodemus that in order to be saved one must first experience the new birth. In addition, Titus 3:4 teaches that regeneration is the means to salvation when it says “he saved us through the washing of the new birth.” Clearly, regeneration cannot be the same thing as salvation if it precedes it and is the means to salvation.
Regeneration is only beginning of the blessings of salvation purchased by Christ. Salvation also includes justification, sanctification, glorification, adoption, conversion and union with Christ. While the other blessings of salvation may be conditioned on faith, regeneration is brought about by God and not the human will. Regeneration is the initial act of God whereby he imparts a new nature in a sinner; as a result of regeneration, the regenerate person accepts the Gospel and is saved. Thus, properly speaking regeneration has no condition; however, salvation is conditioned on faith.
Thus, whether one teaches Baptismal or Decisional Regeneration, he is in error. The correction for both of these errors is to accept the biblical view of regeneration that God acts on the heart of man independent of his will in order to change his sinful will so that he savingly repents and believes, and by this means God saves him.
 Theissen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology (Eerdman’s 1999) pg. 280
Pastor Jeremy Lee
Twining Baptist Church