Is the "regeneration" of Titus 3: 5 the same as being "born anew" (John 3: 3, 7) and "born again" (1 Pet. 1: 23)?
The Lord’s teaching in John 3 brought this response from Nicodemus: “How can a man be born being old? can he enter a second time into the womb of his mother and be born?”(v4). This proves that the sense here of born anew is to experience another birth—or, we might reasonably say, be regenerated. The same conclusion might also be drawn from 1 Pet. 1: 23, as “born again” there could legitimately be translated regenerated. But is this right? Regeneration, as commonly understood, means to re–start or renew something. To some, therefore, the term regenerate refers to those whose nature has been given new life. When they read 1 Pet: 1: 3 (“begotten us again”) they take the verse to imply restoration.
However, to be born anew is not the renewal of the nature we were born with. Scripture is absolutely clear that the old nature can never be regenerated: “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not wonder that I said to thee, It is needful that ye should be born anew” (John 3: 6, 7). Therefore, if I say that regeneration is the same as being born anew then I am, in effect, saying that to be born anew is to give the old nature a new beginning. The fact that there is a correlation between the expressions born anew and born again and the word regeneration is not the point. What we are concerned with is their usage in Scripture.
The Greek word translated regeneration (paliggenesia) occurs only twice in the Bible. The first occurrence is in Matthew 19: “Verily I say unto you, That ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit down upon his throne of glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (v28). This Scripture alone is sufficient to prove that regeneration is not the same as being born anew. The context of Matt. 19: 28 is clearly the millennial kingdom to come, in which Christ will “reign in righteousness” (Is. 32: 1) as sin will still be present on earth (see Is. 65: 20; Rev. 20: 8). The regeneration here is not a new earth, but the old one outwardly cleansed, and brought into moral subjection to the rule of Christ. When, after a thousand years He gives up the kingdom to His God and Father (see 1 Cor. 15: 24), there will be “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness” (2 Pet. 3: 13, my emphasis). Righteousness is still there, but it no longer reigning but dwelling, sin having been removed forever. In the regenerate earth, sin is suppressed; in the new earth, sin is absent. Peter speaks in Acts 3 of the “times of refreshing” and the “restoring of all things” (v 19, 21, my emphasis) in the world to come, and the sense is the creation being reconstituted to its original state or regenerated (see Is. 11: 6–8 etc.). However, when he speaks of the new heavens and earth of the eternal state that will follow, the word he uses for new is kainoς which means of an entirely different kind. Kainoς is never used in relation to the millennial world, for that is only a refreshed or restored scene.
The second occurrence of paliggenesia is in Titus 3 where God is said to have “saved us through [the] washing of regeneration and renewal of [the] Holy Spirit, which he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (vs. 5, 6). If we keep in mind what we have learned from Matt. 19: 28 as to regeneration being a fresh state of things, it will help us as to its usage here. Earlier in Titus 3 Paul had recounted what he and others once had been: “without intelligence, disobedient, wandering in error, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, [and] hating one another” (v3). Now go to verse 8: “I desire that thou insist strenuously on these things, that they who have believed God may take care to pay diligent attention to good works”. The “washing of regeneration” (v5) is thus the moral change accomplished in my life by the Holy Spirit consequent upon conversion. Thus “having got your freedom from sin, and having become bondmen to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life” (Rom. 6: 22). Of course this outward cleansing is the result of an inward cleansing, and so not only do we have regeneration but also the “renewal of [the] Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3: 5, my emphasis). Here we meet the Greek word kainoς again, this time embedded in anakainwsioς (“renewal”). The work of the Holy Spirit in the soul is therefore to create something entirely new. That is what is referred to as being “born anew” (John 3: 3, 7) and “born again” (1 Pet. 1: 23). The outward effect on the one who has experienced the “renewal of [the] Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3: 5) is that the way he lives is regenerated. His natural life is cleansed and re-constituted because he has a new spiritual life.