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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5 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


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