If you’ve ever played paintball, you’re probably familiar with the idea of regeneration.1 After a player has “died,” he must make his way to the “dead zone.” After a set time has passed, he is regenerated and may re-enter the field of play.
In order to understand why regeneration is necessary, you have to understand that man is born dead. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said to Nicodemus “you must be born again.”2 Why the need to be born a second time? Because the first time, we were born physically alive, but spiritually dead. This spiritual death is imputed to us because of our sin in Adam. “Many died through one man’s trespass”3 because “in Adam all die.”4
This means that every person is born dead. We are dead men walking. Spiritually, we are zombies. There is a living body, but spiritually, there is nothing there. We do not seek for God.5 We do not love God.6 We do not want the truth.7 This is the pathetic state in which fallen man finds himself.
Man’s hopeless state is poignantly described in Ephesians 2.
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Children of wrath… That’s a damning assessment. Think about that for a moment and then look at the very next words: But God… God… made us alive together with Christ! In Adam we are all dead. In Christ, God has made us alive! We are brought to life! Regenerated!
Why did God do this? Because he is rich in mercy. Because of the great love with which he loved us. Even when we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive.
I once was blind
When I was spiritually dead, I could not see the spiritual realities of the gospel. I was blind. But now I can see!8 When I was spiritually dead, I was condemned to a life of self-righteous effort and defeat. Now, I have the life of Christ empowering me to obey! When I was spiritually dead, I had no hope and wanted no rescuer. Now, my eyes have been opened to see my desperate need of a rescuer, and I have found one!
No work of mine
Note that this was not my work. I was dead. I was blind to the truth. “But God…” It was not something I did that intervened to regenerate me. There was nothing I could do. This is how it is with dead men. “But God…” When hope was gone, God stepped in. He brought me to life. And that changed everything.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening9 ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!10
Grace to you.
1 This is sometimes called “reincarnation” instead (a term that has no theological parallels to regeneration).
2 John 3:7.
3 Romans 5:15.
4 1 Corinthians 15:22.
5 Romans 3:11.
6 John 3:19.
7 John 3:20.
8 See 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 for a reference to the blindness of the unregenerate mind.
9 “Quicken” is an Early Modern English term for “bring to life.” When the King James Version uses the word “quicken,” it is generally referring to regeneration.
10 Taken from the text “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” by Charles Wesley, 1738.