Today we will examine the immediacy of regeneration. Typically, when we speak of something being immediate we are speaking of something that happens in time. In other words, the term immediate refers to something that happens instantly or suddenly. If we say that Sarah asked her husband to come into the kitchen and he immediately goes there, we mean that Sarah’s husband did not hesitate even for a moment to fulfill her request.
However, we are not referring to time when we say that regeneration is immediate. Instead, we mean that the new birth is something that happens without means. God the Holy Spirit alone works upon the soul, He does not use any other agent to change the heart. Now, it is true that God’s Spirit brings a person to salvation through the preaching of the Gospel, for someone must know about his sin and the grace offered in Christ if he is going to repent and believe (Rom. 10:14–17). Yet the quickening power of the Holy Spirit must act on us first, otherwise we remain dead and unable to heed Scripture’s call to trust in the Messiah (Eph. 2:4–5).
One possible biblical example of the immediacy of regeneration is the encounter of Elizabeth and Mary recorded in today’s passage. Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, leaps in his mother’s womb when she meets Mary (Luke 1:41). Some theologians take this as evidence of John’s regeneration. He is dancing in the womb because he knows he is in the presence of Jesus, who is in Mary’s womb at the time. The precise point at which John was regenerated is unknown of course, but the Lord had to have worked without means to change his heart since in one sense, only God can get to someone in the womb.
Because we are not omniscient like our Creator, we likewise cannot know with surety the precise point the new birth comes to us. We may know the exact time at which we first trusted Jesus, but this faith is evidence of regeneration, not regeneration itself. Still, there is a clear line that separates the regenerate heart from the unregenerate heart. A person is either regenerate or not, for just as no one is almost pregnant, so too is no one almost regenerate.
Though God does not make use of any means besides Himself to bring about regeneration, He does work through means in our sanctification, the process of growing in personal holiness. Scripture read and preached, the sacraments, prayer, and so on are all means that the Lord uses to mature us in Christ. When you engage in one of these activities, ask God to make you aware of how it can be used to conform you to the Savior.