Don’t Confuse Regeneration and Justification

As long as our categories for judging saved and lost are “regenerate” and “unregenerate”, we will be assuming (even if we don’t define it) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance” and that there is a time gap between it and the hearing of the gospel.

2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration but legally a change of state before God. To be in Christ in this way is to be justified.

Union with Christ is justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits. Immediately after this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, because union IS justification.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God has changed the person’s nature. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

As long we define union as regeneration and judge saved and lost by regeneration, we will be tempted to ignore the gospel of justification and judge by morality and immorality.

Romans 6 describes two legal states, one of which is “free from righteousness”. We tend to judge people to be saved on the evidence of morality. But God sees that morality as something to be ashamed of, when those moral people are still in their sins, still not yet justified.

Romans 6 defines the “in Christ” in terms of legally being placed into the death of Christ. Union with Christ is justification. The hope of the justified elect is that God has counted the death of Christ as their death.

I ask you to think about it.Why do you always draw the line between the regenerate and the unregenerate? Why don’t you draw the line between the justified and the condemned? Why don’t you judge by if a person knows and believes the gospel?

I am not denying the absolute necessity for the new birth. I am only saying that the new birth is about Christ in us, not about us in Christ. I am only say that the “new creation” has to do with a change in legal state, and not first of all with a change of Character or nature.

II Corinthians 5:14 “one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh (judging by morality or immorality or by other non-gospel standards)….If anyone is in Christ, there is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed; the new has come.”

“Those who live” means first of all those who are justified. The category of “we died” is not about regeneration but about atonement imputed in order to justification. So also the category of “those who live” is also not about a change of character or nature but about an imputed legal reality, a new and different (than before) judicial state before God.

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12 Comments on “Don’t Confuse Regeneration and Justification”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    DG Hart: “A monergistic understanding of sanctification or union is of no great help in the Christian life the way it is commonly explained, as if a rebuttal to Rome’s charges of antinomianism. If union is the work of the Spirit, as is sanctification, how can Protestants claim that these doctrines or realities become motivations for good works? Rome’s logic was that once God does it all in salvation, a believer has no reason to be virtuous. Of course, Protestants rightly respond that the work of the Spirit is a reality that is conforming believers more to the image of Christ. Good works are inevitable such that those that are justified are also sanctified. But conformity to the image of Christ is not the work of a believer. It is the work of the Spirit.

    In which case, Rome’s accusation stands. The Spirit-wrought nature of salvation in the Protestant scheme has an antinomian impulse and appearance because good works are not the substance or catalyst for any of the blessings of Christ’s work.”

  2. markmcculley Says:

    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 defines sanctification as power over against sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

    Gaffin (By Faith Not By Sight) says many good and right things about imputation. For example, on p51, he lists 3 options for the ground of justification. A. Christ’s own righteousness, complete and finished in his obedience…B. the union itself, the fact of the relationship with Christ…c. the obedience being produced by the transforming Spirit in those in union. Gaffin rightly concludes that “the current readiness to dispense with imputation” results from taking the last two options as the ground of justification.

    But Gaffin always has a not yet. Though we are justified now, Gaffin still teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a justification which is contingent on faith and works.

    Gaffin follows his mentors John Murray and Norman Shepherd in taking Romans 2:13 to be describing Christians. Challenging any law-gospel antithesis, Gaffin teaches an “unbreakable bond between justification and sanctification” in the matter of assurance and hope for future justification. (p100)

    I suggest that one evidence of effectual calling is that the justified elect do not put their assurance in their “bearing fruit for God”. To work for assurance of future justification is to “bear fruit for death”. Romans 7:5

  3. markmcculley Says:

    The ministry of reconciliation is NOT the ministry of regeneration. I am not denying regeneration, but I am denying that our reconciliation to God is by regeneration. Our reconciliation to God is our justification before God. Reconciliation happens in history. Justification happens in history.

    Reconciliation is becoming the righteousness of God in him. Regeneration is not our righteousness. Regeneration is not our Reconciliation. Reconciliation is received by God’s imputation in history, not by our regeneration and not by our faith.

    II Corinthians 5: 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, new creation ! Old things have passed away, and look, new has come. 18 Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 21 He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that become the righteousness of God in Him.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Since regeneration is without means, hardhsells argue, then it has no temporal connection whatsoever with repentance and belief of the gospel. Thus, they believe that a person can go for a period of hours, days, weeks, or even years between being regenerated (saved, born again) and being converted (repenting, believing the gospel). They believe that a regenerate person can go for hours, days, weeks, or even years being ignorant of the only basis of salvation that is revealed in the gospel and even being openly hostile to the gospel. They say that this glorifies God’s sovereignty in salvation. They say that to believe that conversion is an immediate and inevitable fruit of regeneration is to believe that God cannot save someone without the means of the gospel, thus denying God’s sovereignty.

    However, to say that God does or does not do things in a certain way is not a denial of God’s sovereignty; in fact, it establishes the truth of God’s sovereignty. God, the sovereign Creator and Controller of the universe, has revealed to us in His Word how He glorifies Himself in the salvation of sinners.

    God will not “save” a sinner and then “leave him” (actually cause him to be) in unbelief even for a second, because this does not glorify Him. When God justifies someone, God glorifies Himself in the heart of that person by causing that person to repent of his dead works and fruit unto death and to believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ alone, giving all the glory to God for his past and future salvation.

    The Hardshells say that this “limits God.” But it does no such thing. It acknowledges that God glorifies Himself in the hearts of His people as He says in His Word. It is actually the hardshells who are limiting God by saying that God unable or unwilling to cause His people to believe in Him and give Him all the glory in their salvation at the time He regenerates them.

    “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek; for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; even as it has been written, But the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). Hardshells do not believe that the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing.

    “Brothers, truly my heart’s pleasure and supplication to God on behalf of Israel is for Israel to be saved. For I testify to them that they have zeal to God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God. For Christ [is] the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes” (Rom. 10:1-4).

    Hardshells do not believe that all who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, who are seeking to establish their own righteousness, Hardshells do not believe that those who do not submit to the righteousness of God, are unregenerate.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Nobody comes along and says that Jesus didn’t need to die. They just say that Jesus died for everybody but that it doesn’t work unless the Spirit causes you to consent to it. They just say that, even if you are not elect and even if the Spirit doesn’t cause you to consent to it, Jesus loves you and died for you and offers to save you, but His death didn’t take away your guilt and it doesn’t work, because you didn’t have faith in it.

    But if Jesus died for everybody, then it is that death PLUS you being changed so that you can and want to, and if the difference of the new covenant is regeneration, then the promise is not about Christ alone or His death alone; and if it is about your being changed (so that grace is not cheap and Jesus is King), then salvation is not by Christ’s death. The message of His death plus your regeneration is really at the end a message about your regeneration.

    And even if Arminians can’t agree with Calvinists about regeneration being before faith, or about regeneration being purchased for the elect by Christ, then they can still all unite in faith that the Jesus who died for everybody and the Jesus who died only for those who are saved are one and the same Jesus. Because in the end, it’s not the death that matters to them–. It’s only regeneration, We don’t need to over-react to that, by saying–only Christ’s death

  6. TR Says:


    How do you respond to this video:

    This catholic is saying that the protestant doctrine of justification contradicts the protestant doctrine of regeneration. He uses Titus 3 for example, which states that we were saved through the washing of regeneration, and then infers that justification and regeneration are one, and not separate as Protestant theologians say they are.

    Your thoughts?

    A concerned Protestant,


    • markmcculley Says:

      Psalm 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and
      blameless in your judgment.

      Romans 3:3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in
      your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

      Modern Reformation: interview of Sungenis by Mike Horton

      Horton: Fitzmyer says that this is clearly is a forensic term in the
      greek and the latin, iustificar, “to make righteous”, is actually a
      minstranslation of the greek “to declare righteous”.

      Nick: I don’t believe grace is a merely external favor, nor do I believe any transfer is taking place, I believe justification is about a change in the soul. Grace is infused.

      mark: How do you define soul? Where does Romans 4 or any other text talk about Abraham’s soul? The Bible says that the soul that sins shall die, that God is able to destroy the soul. Even if somebody’s soul is changed, they are still a sinner, and have been sinners. So how can they be saved, if there is no transfer of guilt? Where does the Bible talk about “infusion”?

      Nick:Paul was aware of the term imputation, yet he never used it around original sin nor atonement, and only one time in regards to justification.

      Mark: Well, the word is in Galatians 3:6, not only in Romans 4, and the concept is in I Cor 1:30, Philippians 3:9, Romans 9:30-10:4. And in Romans 5, there is legal constitution, original guilt before there is original corruption. And all you have said about II Cor 5:21 is that the word imputation is not there, but you haven’t told me what righteousness means there if the concept of legal transfer is not there.

      And don’t forget the non-Pauline antecedents in the OT, like Leviticus 17:4, 25:31, or Genesis 31:14-15. The sinner who cried out for mercy cried out for propitiation: God be propitiated…me the sinner.

      Nick: It hardly ever (if ever) means to reckon something other than what it really is when the Greek term for “impute” (logizomai) is used in the NT.

      mark: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say it’s not often in the text, and then say it often means only declare. Give me one example where even you think it might involve a gracious transfer, in which God is both just and justifier of a sinner.

      You misrepresent the Protestant usage when you say “reckon as something other than it really is”. After the legal transfer, the justified person is really legally righteous. When you deny this or say it’s not real, you merely beg the question.

      Nick: Christ wasn’t taking the electric chair death penalty which was supposedly legally transferred to his account, thus he did not justify in the sense you are thinking.

      mark: You skip a step, as do most Protestants and so-called Reformed. It’s guilt, and not merely punishment, which is transferred to Christ. Christ is punished, because He really was guilty. Christ was really guilty, because of the legal transfer of the guilt of the elect. He bore their sins, and thus was under the law and death, according to Romans 6. He bore the sins of the elect in His body on the tree, according to I Peter 2:24, which is why the justified elect have died to sin and live to righteousness. No maybe or might about it. His death to sin is the elect’s death to sin.

  7. TR Says:

    Hi Mark, have not heard back from you. Can you please let me know how to refute this catholic argument? Would like to be able to share a rebuttal of the video I posted in my prior post with my catholic friend. Thanks, TR

    • markmcculley Says:

      Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings

      p238 “According to fatalism, the word of truth having no influence, is of no use in regeneration, the salutary and important change being produced entirely without it..It is too hastily assumed that the mind is prepared to receive the light of spiritual knowledge before the truth have any influence on it.”

      p247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of sin.

      p249 “For an ‘awakened sinner’ to be persuaded that regeneration is effected without the instrumentality of divine truth, is to give an injurious direction to his prayers and expectations.

      “The entrance of thy word gives light” — Psalm 119:130.

      “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” — Ephesians 6:17.

      “Is not my word like as fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer, that breaks the rock in pieces?” — Jeremiah 23:29.

      “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” –John 6:63.

      “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” — 1 Corinthians 4:15.

      “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures” — James 1:18.

      “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever” — 1 Peter 1:23.

      “He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” — 2 Thessalonians 2:14.

      “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” — John 15:3.

      “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” — John 17:17.

      “That they also might be sanctified through the truth” — John 17:19.

      “God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed, from the heart, the model of doctrine into which ye were delivered” — Romans 6:17.

      “The gospel, which is come unto you, as it is in all the world, and brings forth fruit” — Colossians 1:5, 6.

      “The word of God, which effectually works in you that believe” — 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

      “You have purified yourselves in obeying the truth, through the Spirit” – 1 Peter 1:22

      “The gospel of Christ — is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believes” — Romans 1:16.

      “The gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved” — 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2.

      “The word, or doctrine of the cross, is to us who are saved the power of God” — 1 Corinthians 1:18.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    I Corinthians 2: 14 But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because what comes from God’s Spirit is foolishness to them

    Ephesians 1: 13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.

    Ephesians 2 is NOT about “spiritual death” (corruption) and regeneration

    in the flesh, and under the wrath, are not the same thing–two different categories

    if you are in the flesh and do not believe the gospel, then you are also under God’s wrath

    if you are still under God’s wrath, then you are also still in the flesh and do not believe the gospel

    Ephesians 2: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our flesh, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses.

    Romans 8: 7 For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because the flesh does not submit itself to God’s law, for the flesh is unable to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh CANNOT please God.

    John 3 : Unless someone is born of the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.

    justification is not regeneration John 5: 24 “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has lasting life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

    regeneration is not justification John 5: 25 “I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

    no faith in the true gospel, no sign or evidence of regeneration—faith in the true gospel is not a condition but a result of the new birth

    Don’t confuse regeneration and adoption.
    becoming “Children of God” does not mean “becoming regenerate”
    In order to “receive Christ”, sinners first have to become regenerate, and only when they “receive Christ” do they become “children of God

    John 1: 12
    But to all who did receive Him,
    He gave them the right to be[children of God,
    to those who believe in His name,
    13 who were born,
    not of blood,
    or of the will of the flesh,
    or of the will of man,
    but of God.

    Galatians 3: 26 for you are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, IVP, 1996

    p 95 Augustinian theology was committed to a process of justification. In the process grace moved the will to hate sin and to desire justification, providing the opportunity to return to the grace of baptism. Justification could never be complete.

    p 97 The way we present the gospel invariably expresses an implicit understanding of the order of salvation.

    p 102 It is only by the Holy Spirit that we are being united to Christ. The Spirit’s agency and priority is the architectonic principle, and for this reason there is always a not yet character to our present salvation.

    Mark:So we are back to Augustinian model, where justification is not yet complete…..

    p 102 There is always a not yet character to our present salvation. It is doubtful if the chain model of the order of salvation could ever express this fully. Its very form suggests that one link is complete in itself and thus distinct from the others; thus for example, regeneration is viewed as coming to an end were faith begins.

    Mark: So justification is not distinct from the Christian life? Justification is not distinct from regeneration? And most importantly, regeneration is not distinctly before faith? Regeneration is never complete? Regeneration and the Christian life are the same, and the Christian life is not complete yet? In this way, the idea of a complete present justification can be discarded, because it depends on future regeneration. Ferguson (and Gaffin) can have no justification complete and done right now.

    p 103 And while it requires a carefully guarded statement, it is also true that….justification awaits its consummation, in the same way in which adoption (like justification, a legal act in the New Testament, will enter a new stage…when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive what is due to us (II Cor 5:10)

    mark: The dialectic requires guarded statement, because if you say it too plainly, Ferguson might get in the same political trouble as Norman Shepherd. But it’s still two-stage justification (despite his “have already been justified with irreversible finality), and it’s justification which depends on works the Holy Spirit has produced in us, after we are (provisionally) Christians. Ferguson reads the Westminster Catechism (openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment) as teaching a future justification. This comes from saying that justification is not isolated or distinct from “sanctification”. This comes from saying that no link is yet complete.

    p 104 Being raised with Christ took place in a representative fashion in Christ’s historical resurrection. BUT it is realized in the believer at regeneration, which is marked sacramentally by baptism.

    Mark: And so we are back to the Augustinian process, and to the efficacy of the grace of water baptism. Instead of being raised by legal imputation into Christ’s representative death, raised is thought of as regeneration. And this justification by representative death and regeneration are again confused, with the legal representative tending to drop out of the picture. Because Ferguson thinks “union” covers it all, and that regeneration cannot be an isolated link distinct from the rest of the Christian life.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Justification by works is still works righteousness even if the works supposedly come after “regeneration by the Holy Spirit”

    no faith in the true gospel, no sign or evidence of regeneration—faith in the true gospel is not a condition but a result of the new birth

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