If Justification Depends On You Accepting It, and Accepting Depends on Your Regeneration, Then Your Regeneration Is More Important Than Justification
One idea common to both the Arminians and the mainline Reformed is that God is holy and that propitiation is needed. God expiated our sins. The common false gospel is that God took care of everybody’s sins at the cross, and the common false solution is that a specific sinner’s faith allows what God did at the cross to work for that specific sinner.
Even though it becomes clear in the false gospel that what Christ did for you won’t save you if you don’t believe, what is not so clear is exactly what Christ did.
Whatever it was that Christ did, the common false gospel assumes that Christ did it for every sinner, even for those sinners who perish. What Christ did becomes one of several conditions, because God does not forgive sin without first showing God’s anger at sin.
But if God’s purpose is simply to make the forgiveness of sin possible, if God’s purpose is to make a general statement about the need for wrath and punishment, what has become of substitution? In a general atonement which plans for the possibility of all sinners being saved, Christ can be the most important person on the team, doing what is necessary to win, but this false Christ can never do anything without the rest of the team.
He cannot be a substitute for people, so that they don’t have to do anything; the false Christ of the false gospel still depends on them to let Him save them. They have to accept it, and the mainline Reformed think that means that God first has to regenerate so they will accept.
But both agree that there is no strict specific substitution.
Substitution is the death and resurrection of Christ for certain specific sinners, so that these elect sinners do not die for themselves. Elect sinners do not die for their sins.
But doesn’t the New Testament say “died with” and not only the word “for”? II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but who for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
We can think about a “for” which is not substitution. I can score a goal for my team, without any idea that I am the only one playing the game. I score the goal for the sake of others on my team, and not only for myself, but that does not mean they do nothing and I do everything.
In II Corinthians 5:14-15, it is not the “for” which get us to the idea of substitution. What gets us to substitution is “therefore all died”. It is a mistake to reference the death of the all to some conversion experience that believers have.
The death of all is not their repentance. Nor does “those who live” refer to faith or to conversion. The idea is not that Christ died one kind of death and as a result believers die another kind of death. The idea is not that Christ rose again from death and as a result believers now experience regeneration and the possibility of pleasing God.
Rather, the idea is that the death Christ died to propitiate God’s wrath because of imputed sins is the death which is credited to the elect. The elect do not die this kind of death. Their substitute died it for them. Christ alone, by Himself, without them, died this death. And it is that death, not some other kind of death, which II Corinthians 5 teaches that the “all died.”
To teach substitutionary atonement from II Corinthians 5:14, 15, it is not enough to explain that the “all” is those who died and those who live. It is not enough, in other words, only to teach that Christ died only for the elect.
It is of course impossible to teach substitution if we don’t talk about election, and if we don’t teach that all for whom Christ died will live. But it’s not sufficient to only see the extent of the atonement. We must see the nature of the atonement. The common false gospel thinks it can teach the nature of the atonement without talking about extent, and so it makes its false Christ one of the team to do something about sin and holiness.
But a gospel which only talks about the extent of the atonement (only for those who live) has not yet explained substitution if it has not taught that what Christ did is done by Christ alone, by Himself, without the help or consent of the elect. Christ either died for a person, and that already, or Christ did not die for a person, and that already.
If Christ died for a person, that person becomes also dead legally, when that person is placed into the death. (Romans 6). This means that the person becomes immune from the wrath of God. It is not that person’s repentance or anything else to follow in that person’s life which makes them free from God’s wrath. It’s Christ death alone which saves anybody from wrath.
If Christ died for a person, one day that elect person will be joined to that death, and will become free from sin and death and wrath. It will not be their faith which frees them from wrath.
It will not even be the Holy Spirit joining them to the death which will free them from wrath. Romans 6 does not say that the Holy Spirit joins the elect to the death of Christ. Romans 6 does teach a transition from wrath to favor in the life of an elect sinner.
Romans 6:20-22, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to holiness and eternal life.”
Yes, the elect experience a change. Before they had nothing but dead fruit leading to death, dead works. But it’s not a matter of more works and better works. It’s a question of no fruit or fruit.
The elect did not become servants of righteousness by becoming fruitful. The elect became fruitful by first being joined to the death of Christ. That death by Christ was always only for them alone, but it did not become their death until they were justified and imputed with that death.
Union with the death is not regeneration, because regeneration is a result of being joined to the death. The Lord Jesus Christ did not die along with the elect. Christ died instead of the elect.
Christ died alone, by Himself. Describing the nature of the death of Christ means that “all died” is about a legal substitution, so that Christ’s having satisfied justice for the elect alone is counted as the elect themselves having satisfied justice.
Yes, “you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” (Romans 6:17) But being committed by God to the gospel so that their mind obeys the gospel is not the condition of the elect becoming servants of righteousness but the result.
Regeneration and calling are the immediate effects of being legally joined to Jesus Christ’s death.