The term “baptismal regeneration” is thrown around a lot in discussions and debates about baptism. It is very important to define the term first before engaging in any debate on the topic because it is often misunderstood and therefore misapplied, or misrepresented.
It must be noted the ways “baptismal regeneration” is spoken about. To the critics of New Testament baptism, the term is used most of the time to misrepresent the position of the church of Christ. Hopefully this will help to set the record straight and clarify much misrepresentation. There are two ways “baptismal regeneration” is taught:
1.) There are some groups who teach “baptismal regeneration” in the sense that baptism has some wondrous power in the water itself. Subjects of this baptism are usually infants and these groups also teach the false doctrine of “original sin”. Subjects of this baptism are usually void of the Scriptural pre-requisites of FAITH and REPENTANCE. These groups teach baptism alone, excluding the essential “elements” of faith and repentance as prerequisites, is valid for salvation. The Catholic Church is the most well known and recognized of all the groups who teach this view. But it should be obvious that unless the individual being “baptized” has any kind of understanding or awareness, that this kind of “baptism” can be nothing more than a man-made tradition. It is merely “getting wet.”
2.) Then there is the New Testament teaching on baptism. The New Testament teaching on baptism requires the “elements” of FAITH and REPENTANCE to be present in the heart and mind of the candidate seeking baptism at time of immersion. It is when faith and repentance are combined in baptism that conversion occurs. It is not faith alone. It is not repentance alone. It is not baptism alone. Biblical conversion consists of faith, repentance and baptism, together. It could be said that faith and repentance are the “active ingredients” in baptism.
When considering all the conversions in the book of Acts, it can be clearly demonstrated that all three of these elements are present (faith, repentance, and baptism). Through baptism God cleanses our sins in the blood of Christ at this point of our obedience and faith. So “regeneration” does indeed occur at baptism. It occurs as a result of man obeying God and claiming His promise to forgive our sins (Acts 2:38-39). But the “regeneration” is accomplished by God’s power, not by man’s.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit
The word "washing" is from the Greek word loutron, which refers to (according to Thayer's Lexicon) the act of bathing and is used here in the New Testament and in other writings to refer to baptism. The word "regeneration" is from the Greek word palingenesia, which is taken from two root words "born" and "again."
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word “regenerate” as to be spiritually reborn or converted. (See John 3:3-5)
God applied your sins to Jesus at the cross 2,000 years ago--before you were even born.
God applies the cross to your sins today when you are baptized.
So if Christ’s blood was shed for us nearly 2,000 years ago, and it is at the point of baptism we can come into contact with the blood of Jesus, it can truly be said we are saved through faith and grace.