The Sovereign Regenerating Spirit
“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (vv. 4–5).- Ephesians 2:1–10
God the Holy Spirit does many things in the life of the believer. We have seen that He is present among us and within us to give us the courage and strength to do the Lord’s will (John 14). He also gifts God’s people to create beauty (Ex. 35:30–35). And as we will see in the days ahead, He also gives believers many other spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). Before He does any of these things, however, the Spirit makes us Christians.
In today’s passage, we see Paul referring to the Ephesian believers as formerly dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). This, we know, is the condition that all descendants of Adam—except Jesus Christ—are born into (Rom. 5:12–21). In our natural state, we hate the things of God and want nothing to do with Him. In short, we are in a state of spiritual death and we can do nothing to make ourselves spiritually alive. We must first be born again before we can exercise the faith that alone saves us, for we cannot even see the kingdom of God, let alone have the desire to enter it, before we are reborn spiritually (John 3:3). A simpler way of stating this is to say that regeneration precedes faith.
Who is the agent of regeneration who brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life? John 3:5–6 explains that the Holy Spirit does this work, but this does not mean that the Holy Spirit acts all by Himself in regeneration. The external acts of God—that which He does in and for creation—are undivided, so the Father and the Son are active in the regeneration of sinners as well. John 6:44, for example, tells us that the Father draws people to Christ and that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. Ephesians 2:10 explains that we are “created in Christ Jesus.” Paul is clearly talking about the re-creating work of God in that text, so we see that regeneration happens “in” the Son of God as the Father draws us and the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us.
All three members of the Trinity are active in our regeneration, but it is worth noting that regeneration is another one of God’s external works that especially reveals the Holy Spirit. Father, Son, and Spirit are all active, but the Spirit stands out in regenerating dead sinners. This is because Scripture ties the giving of life particularly to the Spirit of God (Job 33:4; John 6:63). He acts sovereignly and apart from our efforts to change the hearts of those whom the Father has chosen for salvation.
To believe that regeneration precedes faith is to believe that salvation is ours apart from any of our works. We believe only because God the Holy Spirit enables us to believe and guarantees that we believe. If we want to truly understand the grace of God, we must understand that regeneration is a sovereign act of God alone and is not the result of anything we do, even our exercise of faith.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 3:5–6
1 Peter 1:3–6