“But when the benevolence and philanthropy of God our Savior appeared, not because of works of righteousness which were produced by us, but according to his mercy, he saved us through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, in order that, being justified in that grace, we became heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
“When you conceal your face, they are horrified. When you gather their spirit, they die. They return to the dust. But you continually send your Spirit and they are created; you renew the face of the earth.”
As if regeneration — new birth — wasn’t glorious enough, Paul intensifies his language by speaking of that regeneration being a renewal of the Holy Spirit. I fear that is a fact that we sometimes forget. Regeneration is new life, but like blood flow restored to a part of the body that is atrophied, there is a renewal of life and muscle can once again grow and be used due to the oxygen and life-giving nutrients that the blood flow brings, so too, our lives, in our spiritual rebirth become renewed and thus the whole of our person now lives differently than we had lived before.
Paul only uses this word twice in his writings, once here and once in Romans 12:2, where he speaks of the renewal of the mind (our thoughts, our reason, our will and the motives for our actions). It is a reminder that we who were once dead and lived with the dead lusts and desires of this world are no longer such. We should approach our lives in a new way in the renewing that comes from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
And this renewal should be clearly visible in a person’s life. Too often, professing Christians act no differently than they did before as they live our their lives. Too often, people profess Christ and then live gloomily, as if Christian living has taken all of the fun out of their day. How our lives must reflect the reality that in being renewed, our passions and desires have changed and that God has removed the lusts of the flesh from our lives only to replace it with the joy of the Holy Spirit. And how often we (as Christians) do not live lives that hopefully anticipate the promise to make all things new (Revelation 21:5).
And this renewal is not generated by us, but it is generated in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is where the words of the Psalmist should ring true in all of our ears. When God removes the Spirit, we are dead…dust. But it is God’s Spirit who creates life in us. The word used in this passage regarding the creation of life is ברא (bara), which refers to God’s miraculous creative act. Just as he created the universe out of nothing (same term as is found in Genesis 1:1), so too, in the life of every believer, he creates the living soul out of nothing — regeneration being an act that is ultimately and totally a work of God’s divine hand…a miracle worked on the life of every believer. Without that work of God upon our lives, we have nothing.