Is regeneration a work of God and are the results of regeneration (e.g. repentence, confession) the works of God?
By way of survey regeneration is the inward quickening of the repentant and believing sinner. It is also referred to as the point of transition from being dead to God to being a child of God.
The Greek New Testament uses the Greek equivalent of regeneration (palingensia), meaning “new birth,” or “born again”) only once in regards to conversion (Titus 3:5) but the same idea is expressed using different terms elsewhere (cf., Eph. 2:1; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). The term is also used by Jesus when he spoke to Nicodemus and the listening crowd when he said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee [Nicodemus], ye [all those listening in the crowd] must be born again.” This idea of being reborn was not a new teaching to the Jews as the prophets of old had foretold of it (Ezek. 36:26, for example).
The NT uses the term “regeneration” (born again) with the assumption that man has fallen into a state of sin that is so encompassing that man is unable to lift himself up from it (hence the need of mediation in the first place that was begun by the levitical priesthood in the OT). The NT then presents the idea that God our Lord offers a change in the human nature through the mediation of a new and better covenant that breaks those who repent and believe free from the bondage of our sin nature. This is not a new idea in Jewish thought since Moses taught as much when he called for the Israelites to circumcise themselves. Herein the illustration of circumcision in the OT highlights the idea of outwardly rejecting sin and embracing godliness by the cutting away of the sinful Adamic nature. But Moses called for an even greater circumcision than the outward cutting away of the sinful Adamic nature, he said, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut. 10:16).
Circumcision of the heart ties into the formal meaning of regeneration (literally “to be again”) which involves the replacement of the old individual with a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). The “new man” is, in regeneration, made alive, given new patterns of incentive and motivation and enabled to walk in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). The felt reality of regeneration is the awareness of God and a desire, even if words cannot give it form, to please the Lord patterning oneself after God’s only Son who always pleased the Father.*
Theologians consider that the agent of regeneration is God, the Holy Spirit who moves within the heart. For the disciple of Christ then, they partake in the promised kingdom of God and are filled with peace and joy with regards to their relationship with God. For the kingdom of God is not meat or drink or any exterior good or outward thing, but righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 14:17). All loves are loved in relation to the love of God and the love of God engrosses the whole of the heart taking up all affections, filling the soul and is manifested to the extent of ones faculties when one is “crucified to the world.”
In regards to the fruits or works manifested by the believer that are said to be pleasing to the Father: It is considered that these “right responses” are the manifestation of God the Spirit working through a willing soul just as the Father worked through the Son. Thus it is said that the believer, in submission onto God as the Son was obedient unto the Father, manifests the righteousness of God which works through the individual manifesting the fruits of the Spirit (cf., Gal. 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance). In this way does a person have works that please the Father in contrast to the works of the flesh in which the Father has no pleasure.** Therefore “righteous responses” are credited onto God because they are not of ourselves, but are the out workings of a holy and righteous God, who dwells in us and works through us.
* In Romans 5-8 it has been noted that Paul lists fifteen “righteous responses” that come from hearing and believing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. “These include boasting in hope, tribulation and God (5:2, 3, 11); demonstrating love for God (5:5), reigning in life (5:17b), walking in newness of life (6:4), being ashamed now in regard to past sin (6:21), producing fruit leading to sanctification (6:22), bearing fruit to God (7:4), serving in newness of the Spirit (7:6), walking according to the Spirit (8:4), minding the things of the Spirit (8:5), being led by the Spirit (8:14), praying for God’s help (8:15), groaning for bodily redemption (8:23), expressing love for God (8:28), and being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29)” (Jonathan Pratt, “The Relationship Between Sanctification and Justification in Romans 5-8,” unpublished paper, p. 10).
** It is written in Jeremiah 17:9-10, that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Romans 3:10-11 says, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Finally, in Romans 8:8 Paul writes, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” All these verses show that man is naturally in a state of sin and that that the works of the flesh will never please the Lord in heaven.