The Order of Salvation: Regeneration

Do you remember the moment when the Spirit of God effected your regeneration? Can you pinpoint the instant in which you were “born again” (1 Ptr. 1:3, 23)? You have probably heard testimonies describing a sudden rush of spiritual realization and conviction of sin, a settled persuasion of the truth, and a flood of affection for God in Christ and His ways, taking place all at once and at a particular time on a particular day in a particular setting. These are glorious testimonies that describe a dramatic experience of God’s regenerating grace. Yet, such accounts are not all that common, even if they illustrate the theological dynamics at play in our experience of God’s great salvation.

In the context of the ordo salutis, regeneration is most tightly linked to effectual calling, justification, and sanctification. Regeneration is the logically necessary result of the Spirit’s work of inwardly calling one of God’s elect to Christ. Temporally speaking, the new birth occurs immediately after – or better, simultaneously with – effectual calling. Without regeneration, faith – the receptive instrument of our justification – is utterly impossible. As the Westminster Standards make clear, regeneration is the indispensable precondition for believers’ sanctification (WCF 13.1) and their holy living in conformity to God’s moral law “as the rule of their obedience” (WLC 97).

As centrally important as regeneration is, most of us – including me – cannot recall the day and hour of our inward conversion to Christ, when we were “born from above” (Jn. 3:3). Though we may not remember the precise moment the Spirit changed our hearts, we can know for certain that God has granted us new life in Christ. For at that unknown moment, God our Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13, 14). In our regeneration, “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4, 5). Such a translation from darkness to light and death to life has unmistakable effects in immediate and ongoing abhorrence for sin, love for God, delight in Christ, joy in the Holy Spirit, and sanctification, all of which are likewise born of divine grace.

However uncertain I may be of when exactly I was born again (sometime late in the summer of 2003), I do remember when the importance of the doctrine of regeneration was first impressed upon me. It was in the setting of a conference for evangelistic workers from a wide variety of places and backgrounds. My wife, firstborn child, and I were at a Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF)[1] Family Conference in July 2012 when I was introduced to Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III, Dr. Henry Krabbendam, and the centrality of the doctrine of regeneration for personal evangelism and gospel proclamation.

Dr. Reeder powerfully emphasized the necessity of regeneration for the success of our efforts in personal evangelism, and his former Covenant College professor “Dr. K” brought the doctrine to bear on preaching ministry. Many of Dr. K’s colleagues and students know him as a champion for foreign missions to Uganda, as an original signatory to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or as one of the original faculty of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS), but I will always associate him with his sonorous refrain, “You must preach regeneration!” He forcefully and repeatedly applied to our preaching the words of our Savior in His dialogue with Nicodemus the Pharisee, “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:8).

More recently, Dr. Jonathan L. Master of GPTS, speaking at Briarwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) for a Gospel Reformation Network conference sounded a similar note in an address entitled, “You Must Be Born Again! Recovering Proclamation on the New Birth.”[2] With reference to the Gospel accounts, he observed, “We know from what Jesus says that without being born again, anything else we might say about God’s Kingdom is utterly irrelevant.” Without the Spirit’s work of regeneration in the hearts of those with whom we share (and to whom we declare) the gospel, all our evangelistic and ministerial efforts shall be in vain.

So, how are unregenerate men born again? It is true that this is an invisible work of God in the hearts of men, and we cannot examine it with our senses. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8). The gospel truth about the Son of God is revealed by the Father, who works spiritually and invisibly in the hearts of men, as Jesus pronounced in blessing Peter in Matthew 16:17, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Even as it is the Father who reveals the Son, it is God in Christ who speaks to us by His written Word (Heb. 1:1, 2), and it is the Son who reveals the Father to those “whom He wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). Furthermore, the Spirit accomplishes His faith-generating work in the hearts of men through the ministry of the Word (Rom. 10:14-17), which is the Father’s appointed means of revealing His Son to the world that He loves (Jn. 3:16-21). In both our private evangelistic conversations and our public preaching engagements, we must proclaim the doctrine of regeneration: the necessity of the new birth, the grace of God in the new birth, and the glorious reality of life with God. Our regeneration is our revivifying reformation, and what a glorious reformation it is indeed.

Zachary Groff (MDiv, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC, and he serves as Managing Editor of The Confessional Journal and as Editor-in-Chief of the Presbyterian Polity website.

[1] Note that PEF has since changed its name to Reformed Evangelistic Fellowship (REF). More information about this historic Christian organization is available at

[2] This address is available on the GRN’s vimeo page here:


Zachary Groff