Sometimes we think of our regeneration as the moment when we first put our faith in Christ, but as Jesus himself says in John chapter 6: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Regeneration, then, is something that must happen before we can put our trust in Christ. Before we can reach out for the life preserver, we must first be given life.
Regeneration is a word theologians use to describe how someone becomes a believer.
I became a believer in Oxford in 1992, during the spring semester. And as I look back at that time, it’s tempting to wonder, Why is it that I reached out for Christ, while it’s quite possible that the person sitting in the pew next to me did not?
Was it because I listened a bit more closely, or read the Bible more attentively? It’s embarrassing to talk like this, but was it because I was slightly more teachable, or slightly more humble? Maybe I was a bit braver or more selfless than the person sitting next to me?
I’m not talking about taking a huge amount of credit here. Some have said that a person becoming a Christian is like a drowning person reaching out for a life preserver. You wouldn’t exactly say that by doing that, the drowning person was rescuing themselves. But they do at least have to make some effort to reach out and grab it. Christ, the life preserver, is clearly doing the heavy lifting in this act of rescue, but nevertheless, you’ve got to take hold of Him in order to be saved.
Is that the biblical picture of salvation?
At the heart of the issue is the question, What does God actually do when a person comes to faith?
One writer puts the question like this: “When the Holy Spirit regenerates a sinner, does He contribute only some power, such that the sinner must add some of his own energy or power to bring about the desired effect [that’s the life preserver view of salvation], or is regeneration a unilateral work of God?