The birth of a baby is often referred to as the miracle of life. The origin of our physical bodies and the complexity of the birthing process is truly a testimony to God’s wisdom in providence. When we think of our own spiritual regeneration there are none who can doubt this is also a frustrating and involved mystery. Regeneration is defined in the glossary of The Christian Faith, “the Spirit’s sovereign work of raising those who are spiritually dead to life in Christ through the announcement of the Gospel.”
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) writes man is dead in sin (Eph 2:1-2) only to have a new life put into them as a result of their union with God. Regeneration is not done from a distance but through Christ, the voice of the Father is mediated by the power of the Holy Spirit working upon and in us. In The Economy of the Covenants Witsius says regeneration is accomplished in a moment rather than a transition from death to life. To be born again is to live (John 3:3,5). Regeneration is a work of the Spirit not a work of our natural faculties. Thus we find our doctrine of Regeneration closely tied with our doctrine of Total Depravity. We do not prepare for our regeneration, we are subjects of God’s work through his Word.
Regeneration (sometimes used interchangeably with effectual calling) of the Elect is manifested differently in the Elect. There are those who are born without God’s covenant, the regeneration of these is followed with sadness over sin and desire God’s grace and mercy followed by joy (Acts 16). It can be dormant in some where no vital operations are yet seen as “the case with respect to elect and regenerate infants whose is the kingdom of God.”(Witsius, 367) The new life can sometimes exert itself in in those who received it in their infancy as they advance in years, as if observed in the small “sparks of piety and devotion” of our young children.
We are the Sons of God by grace bearing some resemblance to our Savior who is the Son of God by nature.(Witsius, 369) In regeneration, the life the Father has in and of himself is what we partake of as adopted children of God. We also understand the ordained means through which God ordinarily regenerates his Elect is the hearing of his Word (Rom 10:17; 1Pet 1:23; Jam 1:18). The Father, objectively reveals to Son, and the Spirit inwardly illumines the understanding to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, liberation the will not only to assent to the truth but to trust in Christ.
Regeneration is a great mystery of the faith and I believe the Canons of Dort are helpful in putting our inquisitive minds a bit at ease “In this life believers cannot fully understand the way this work occurs; meanwhile, they rest content with knowing and experiencing that by this grace of God they do believe with the heart and love their Savior.” (COD 3&4.13)