Regeneration not an event before God’s Imputation of Righteousness

Reformed folks know that people have to be born again in order to believe, so they often make the new birth another condition (with faith) before God’s imputation of righteousness.. Some of the Reformed (Gaffin, James Jordan) have noticed that the Bible does not talk about regeneration as a distinct event before divine imputation.

I have not signed on to a Reformed confession, not because I don’t like confessions but because I don’t agree with some of the chapters. It is inconsistent to say that justification by righteousness and the cross are the priority (as I think Calvin does) and then make the Spirit uniting to Christ by faith the condition of God’s imputation of rightetousness..  They end up saying that definitive sanctification (defined by them as release from sinning too much or too often. or, biblically, as having a heart cleansed by faith in the gospel, Acts 15:9) is a result of union, along with justification, but then fail to explain what union by the Spirit means if it’s not this very same “sanctification”.

People are begging the question about what union means. If union results in justification and sanctification, but then also sanctification is what union means, then it would be better to say straight out that sanctification (biblical, definitive, cleaning by the Spirit) results in justification, and that therefore justification is not of the ungodly.

But I deny that new birth comes before God’s imputation of righteousness, and say that it’s the righteousness imputed which results in having Christ and life. So am I also begging the question about what union means? I hope not. Christ, who was far off, is brought near by the news of the gospel (Romans 10:8), and united to the elect when they are imputed with His righteousness. The elect don’t get Christ and then get His righteousness . The elect cannot first get in Christ, and only after that get His righteousness. Imputation is union. Imputation is God’s putting us in Christ and in His death, so that we who were ungodly are now dressed in His righteousness.

Being baptized into Christ in Romans 6 (which is NOT regeneration by the Spirit, which is NOT baptism by the Spirit) is another way to talk about God’s imputation. And this means that Christ baptizing the elect with or into the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13) is not the union, but a result of the legal union with Christ.

Christ is in the elect, but not until after the elect are in Christ. The elect are always loved in Christ, but they do not have life or Christ or justification, until they are made righteous on the basis not of faith or the new birth but only because of Christ’s death and resurrection for the elect alone. This explains why Paul can write about Andronicus and Junia being “in Christ before me” in Romans 16:7. All three of them were elect before the foundation of the world. By His Spirit now indwelling them, Christ is in all three of them . But the union described as being “in Christ” has to do with when God justified them. God justified Christ when God raised Christ from the dead, but the many (the elect in Christ) will be justified at various times, so that some are in Christ before Paul was and some are in Christ after Paul was in Christ.

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5 Comments on “Regeneration not an event before God’s Imputation of Righteousness”

  1. Nick Says:

    Interesting points, I have never heard of a non Lutheran denying regeneration before justification. However, I fully agree with your argument that it is incorrect in the way “Union” via the Spirit is able to separate justification and sanctification as two separate “phases.”

    You made one comment which I don’t believe fits with Scripture when you said: “People are begging the question about what union means. If union results in justification and sanctification, but then also sanctification is what union means, then it would be better to say straight out that sanctification (biblical, definitive, cleaning by the Spirit) results in justification, and that therefore justification is not of the ungodly.”

    I agree with your argument, except for the last sentence. Justify means to make righteous, and that is why the “ungodly” Corinthians in 1 Cor 6:9f were said to be saved: “11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    I’ve found that the Reformed I come across cannot answer this verse, yet it cannot be denied this is a clear example of the ungodly being justified!

    The only problem about denying regeneration before justification is that you have to explain how an unregenerate can turn his thoughts to God, repent, hear the Gospel, etc in the FIRST place. It’s impossible.

    • mark mcculley Says:

      You might want to read the Barthian Bruce McCormack in the IVP book on justification edited by Husbands. Or read Boehl’s The Reformed Doctrine of Justification (but Boehl was as much Lutheran as Reformed). Try also Michael Horton’s third volume in his systematic and the chapter on union. But of course, Gill and Kuyper and all who teach eternal justification taught justification before regeneration.

      Of course I am not teach eternal justification. Justification is God’s act in time, immediately resulting in regeneration.

      I am sure that I don’t agree with you about there being no distinction between justification and sanctification. You would of course need to define sanctification. I assume you define it in terms of regeneration, infusion, and progress. You are wrong to do so, even though Protestants also usually define it that way.

      The Bible defines sanctification in two ways. One, there is II Thess 2:13, sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Sanctification is being changed so that one understands and believes the true gospel.
      Two, there is Hebrews 10:10 and 14, for by a single offering, he has for all time sanctified those who are being sanctified. The elect are being sanctified one by one, sanctified for all time-they stay sanctified after they are sanctified. This sanctification is not by the Spirit, but by the cross.

      You will not read anything about this biblical sancification in the Westminster Confession. The WCF has a more and more view, and is like Rome in that respect. For more on this, see AW Pink on Sanctification or Petersen’s book Possessed by God.

      As for I Cor 6:9, you were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit, again we need to define sanctification. You are merely assuming a water and an infusion. Gaffin and John Murray assume some kind of definitive breaththrough where the justified are no longer characterised by their sinning. You are both wrong in your definition and assumption of what sanctification is. To be a saint is to be legally declared holy, constituted holy, set apart holy.

      This is the problem with talking about justification (and sanctification) before regeneration. People are working with different definitions. You, for example, are assuming that regeneration is before justification because you think justification has not yet happened, since it is by our works. Of course the text I Cor 6:9 says, “were justified”. How do you explain that, Nick? How can he possibly know what’s in the future?

      An unregenerate person cannot believe the true gospel. That’s why righteousness imputed immediately results in a regeneration so that the person repents of their by works false gospel and believes the true gospel.

      What in my text makes you think I think an unregenerate person can do anything?

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Horton’s Covenant and Salvation, p 201–“John Murray’s notion of regeneration (as a new habit infused or implanted) before effectual calling (through the gospel’s forensic announcement) is what keeps justification (for John Murray) from being constitutive across the entire order of application.

    Institutes 4:17:5, Calvin—For there are some who define the eating of the flesh of Christ, and the drinking of his blood, to be, in one word, nothing more than believing in Christ himself. But Christ seems to me to have intended to teach something more express and MORE SUBLIME in that noble discourse, in which he recommends the eating of his flesh—viz. that we are quickened by the true partaking of HIM, which he designated by the terms eating and drinking, lest any one should suppose that the life which we obtain from him is obtained by simple knowledge.For as it is not the sight but the eating of bread that gives nourishment to the body, so the soul must partake of Christ truly and thoroughly, that by his energy it may grow up into spiritual life. According to them, to eat is merely to believe; while I maintain that the flesh of Christ is eaten by believing, because it is made ours by faith, and that that eating is the effect and fruit of faith.

    According to them, eating is faith, whereas it rather seems to me to be a consequence of faith. The difference is little in words, but not little in reality. For, although the apostle teaches that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians . 3:17), no one will interpret that dwelling to be faith All see that it explains the admirable effect of faith, because to faith it is owing that believers have Christ dwelling in them. In this way, the Lord was pleased, by calling himself the bread of life, not only to teach that our salvation is treasured up in the faith of his death and resurrection, but also, by virtue of true communication with him, his life passes into us and becomes ours, just as bread when taken for food gives nourishment to the body.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Gaffin review of Horton’s book on Covenant Union— throughout Part Two Horton voices reservations about the Reformed doctrine of regeneration. He agrees with its substance and intention but finds problematic the way it has been formulated, in particular the notion that regeneration produces a habitual change and involves the infusion of new habits (a new habitus). This he sees as a lingering residue of the medieval ontology that eventually made the Reformation necessary. These concerns, with his own proposal, are articulated especially in Chapter 10 (“Covenantal Ontology and Effectual Calling”). The promising alternative for him lies in adapting the Eastern Orthodox distinction between divine essence and energies, so that the activity of the Spirit in salvation is understood as an exercise of his energies that avoids “a causal scheme of infused habits” (213).

    I share fully Horton’s concerns about the notion sometime present in Reformed treatments of the ordo salutis that regeneration is prior to effectual calling and produces an antecedent state addressed in effectual calling. That notion is quite problematic and ought to be rejected.

    from Gaffin review of Horton’s Covenant and Salvation, in Ordained Servant: “Having been called effectively involves having been regenerated, but the two are not identical. The exercise of the Spirit’s energies in calling produces an enduring change within sinners distinct from that exercise. The result is a new and lasting disposition, what Scripture calls a new “heart.” That is, at the core of my being, I am no longer against God and disposed to rebel against his will but, now and forever, for him and disposed in the deepest recesses of whom I am to delight in doing his will.

    In view of the undeniable reality of their own indwelling sin, believers need to be exhorted not to quench or grieve the Spirit at work in their lives. But his work in the justified ungodly does not merely consist of an ongoing countering activity within those otherwise only disposed to be thoroughly resistant and recalcitrant. The definitive, nothing less than eschatological death-to-life change effected and maintained in believers by the Spirit provides a stable basis within them for his continuing day-by-day activity of renewing and maturing them according to their inner selves (2 Cor. 4:16), for his continuing toward completion the good work begun in them (Phil. 1:6). The Reformed use of “habitual” to describe this irreversible change, this radical dispositional reorientation, in believers seems appropriate. http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=141

    In By Faith Not By Sight, Richard Gaffin : “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…” p110

    Gaffin wants to say that both the “in us” and the “outside us” combined are our hope. His hope “as well” is Christ’s life in us defined as the power to avoid sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

    Instead of making a distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin bases assurance partly on Christ’s life in us evidenced by our imperfect but habitual obedience.


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