Regeneration, Conversion, Justification & Adoption

I. Regeneration: Why is it needed? God’s word says, that “there is none righteous, no not one”, “there is none that seek after God”, “there is none that do good”. It says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. The Bible describes sinners, as ‘blind’, and ‘deaf’, and ‘dead’. So apart from something happening. That is the way we will stay. What is broken cannot fix itself. What is dead cannot makes itself come alive. We need something out side of ourselves. We need a divine intervention. What is it? And how does it happen? The word of the gospel is a word that comes to the rebel heart and says, "I am a rebel against God. I may be indifferent to Him. I may be antagonistic to Him, but I am actually rebelling against Him.” He then comes by the Bible and says, "I am commanding you to do an about turn, to repent of your sins and to believe in me.” And the individual says, "there is no way that is going to happen …" It will take a miracle for that to happen. Yes, it will. That is the miracle of regeneration. (Allister Begg’s Interlude, from Shai Linnes song Regeneration) Regeneration is a supernatural work of God. Regeneration is probably the greatest miracle of all. It is where God does what is impossible for man to do. The Old Testament talks about God taking out a heart of stone, and putting in a heart of flesh. In the New Testament, it talks about being born again, or being brought from death to life. It speaks of being given eyes to see and ears to hear, of being transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, and there many other ways to speak about regeneration.

Regeneration is the act of God whereby he takes one who used to hate God, one who was dead in their trespasses and sins, one who was indifferent to God, and imparts new spiritual life, thereby changing them, and makes them new. Regeneration is a fundamental change in our nature, wrought by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Before we are regenerated, or made alive by God we cant see our peril that we are in because of sin, and we most definitely cannot see our hope of salvation from it in Jesus Christ. John Calvin said, “All true knowing start with knowing yourself, and knowing God.” Apart from regeneration we cannot know either. Mostly because we don't want to. Our desires are all messed up. In our natural state, we love sin, we love darkness, we love the things of this world, and hate the things of God. We are unwilling to come to Him. But in the new birth we are made willing, not because we are forced to do something we don’t want to do, but because we are fundamentally changed at the core of who we are. In some senses, if you thought of zombies, coursing about, following the prince of the powers of this world. That’s what we were like. Children of wrath, following the course of this world, but then what happened…. the Bible says, “But God,” God interposed. The Bible says, "for except a man be born again, be can not see the kingdom of God.” Therefore God gives us the ability to see and understand: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to Him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned….. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Cor. 2:14,12) And so we begin to desire, and see, and hear and understand the things of God. And how do we know this has happened. Well, the Bible says we can’t really see this happen. Much like the wind it compares the work of the Spirit to. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) You can’t see the wind, you can’t see the Spirit, but we can see the effects. You can see the effects of the wind as blow through areas, and you can hear it. So what are the effects of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sovereign. He is God. We do not control Him. He does as He wishes. But we can see His effects. I submit, that the first affect we see, is when people believe. The effects of the Holy Spirit upon a person in the new birth (regeneration), the very first outworking of our newness in nature, with our new spiritual eyes, and our new spiritual ears, and our new spiritual mind, and heart is a turning from our sin (because now we see the horror of it) and a reaching out and trusting in Christ (because we now see his beauty and worth). When a person is born naturally, one of the very first things a baby does when it comes out of their mothers womb is breath. It has to be able to breath on its own. One of the things a born again person does is when they read or hear the word of God preached, is they appropriate it and believe it. A born again person has faith. Faith to a born again person is like breathing to a new born babe. It’s the natural outgrowth of regeneration. Faith is proof that one is born again. Faith doesn’t cause us to be born again. Just like being born, we don’t make that happen, so it is with being born again. We don't make ourselves be born again. Faith doesn’t cause us to be born again. Being born again causes us to have faith. Being conceived gives us life. Being born applies that life to us. Election gives us spiritual life. It ensures it, and secures it. But in regeneration that spiritual life is actually applied to us. Without regeneration, redemption is just a thought in Gods mind that hasn't actually happened yet. It is the first step of our spiritual life in real time. There is not a single person in this world, who will go to heaven and be with Jesus forever, who is not a believer. God is in the miracle working business of taking out hearts of stone and putting in hearts of flesh. This is what regeneration is. If you told a person, that all they had to do in order to go to heaven, was love God. How is that possible? Can a person just all of sudden love what they naturally hate? No! But what is impossible with man, is possible with God. Regeneration makes us lovers of God more than anything. Regeneration sets our affections on things above (Col. 3:1) It is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8) Seriously, who else would forsake all to follow him. I mean if I gave you a choice, between two things, over here is a pile of money, billions of dollars, and then over here is God, but the things is, you can’t see God. So basically, you have a pile of money and nothing. I mean, to the natural mind thats what it look like. A pile of money and nothing. If you were given that choice, what would you choose? Of course people are going to choose the pile of money. It would take a miracle for us not to. Choosing God doesn’t come naturally. It doesn’t make sense. The natural mind does not accept him. We know this. Regeneration makes us love what we once hated and hate what we once loved. Regeneration is a bigger miracle than when God first created the world. In the creation of the world, he created everything out of nothing. In regeneration, he takes what once was corrupted and makes it new. He takes a person who once loved sin, and causes him to hate it. He takes a person who previously had no disposition to think of God above all things, to now all of a sudden thinking of God as his highest treasure and most supreme desire. Regeneration would cause a person to give up all and give it to the poor. Because to the regenerate there is nothing more valuable than having Christ. Regeneration takes us, and set us on a new path, with a pep in our step, and a kick for heaven, mostly because it makes us new. "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17) As the old song writers have said, the things of earth will grow strangely dim, and you will say with the saints of old, I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

II. Conversion: Conversion is the appropriation of Christ, by one who has been given a renewed nature by the power of the Holy Spirit, through responding to the gospel call by sincerely repenting of sin, and trusting in Christ Jesus for salvation. Faith and repentance together are often called conversion. Faith and repentance are gifts of God, but they are nevertheless also something we do. We choose to believe, or not to believe, to repent or not to repent. (John Frame, Systematic pg. 951) “The word conversion itself means “turning” — here it represents a spiritual turn, a turning from sin to Christ. The turning from sin is called repentance, and the turning to Christ is called faith.” (Grudem, Systematic pg. 709) Faith and repentance are, in all reality, two sides to the same coin. Faith is one side of the coin, and repentance is the other. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t turn to Christ, without turning from sin, and you cant turn from sin, without turning to Christ.

Saving Faith: (Theologians have traditionally analyzed faith according to three elements: knowledge, belief, and trust.) Knowledge in this context is simply a knowledge of God’s revelation, either special or general (Rom. 1:32; 10:14). It is a knowledge about God, not a personal knowledge, or friendship, with God. Nor is it a knowledge that the revelation is true. Rather, it’s simply a knowledge of what the revelation says.

The second element of faith in the traditional analysis is belief (John 3:2; Acts 26:27). That is, faith is not only knowing what God’s revelation says. It is also believing that that revelation is true. This is sometimes called assent. Theologians have been known to say that assent is not important; in other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe in your head, as long as you love God in your heart. That idea is not biblical. Scripturally, assent is necessary for true faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” But is assent sufficient for true faith? James 2:19 says that the devils believe that God is one, and they tremble. It is possible to assent to some of the truths of the Bible and not be saved. But is it possible to assent to all the truths of the Bible and to be lost? Hard question to answer. I suspect that Satan believes in all the truths of the Bible in some sense, yet he is not saved.

Trust includes knowledge and assent. But it is a richer concept. Satan believes quite a lot of God’s revelation, maybe all of it. But he doesn’t allow his knowledge of God’s Word to govern his thoughts, actions, and behavior. If he did, he would plead for God’s mercy and ask forgiveness. But he doesn’t do that. In other words, he doesn’t trust in God.

Trust, is trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. We trust him as Savior to save us from sin and to give us eternal life (John 3:16). Many Scripture verses present this trust in other terms, such as receiving Christ (John 1:12), coming to him (Matt. 11:28–30; John 6:37; 7:37), drawing near to God through him (Heb. 7:25). Notice that the primary meaning of this is not believing that I am saved, but believing in Jesus, trusting him for salvation. Not only believing that, but believing in.

“This is what the devils can never do. They can believe abstractly that Jesus is the Savior of his people, but they cannot trust him for salvation. The second element of trust is subjection to Christ as Lord, a willingness to obey. As James 2:14–26 says, faith must be living faith, obedient faith, faith that works, or else it is dead. “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11; cf. John 20:28) is, as we’ve seen, the most fundamental confession of the NT people of God. And it is to be not only a confession of the mouth, but a commitment that directs all of life. So true saving faith involves knowledge, belief, and trust in Christ.” (John Frame, pg. 952-953) Repentance: Wayne Grudem defines repentance as “a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.” Sorrow (Knowledge): As with faith, this definition has three elements. First, as faith is based on knowledge, so repentance is based on an understanding that we have sinned and our sins are hateful to God. So the first element of repentance is sorrow. In Scripture, there is a difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:9–10; Heb. 12:17). Worldly sorrow is like the sorrow of Judas, who had no hope. Godly sorrow recognizes how terrible I must look to God and confesses that honestly. But it is hopeful. It recognizes sin in its true light, because it knows that God is able and ready to forgive. Renunciation (Assent): Then, just as faith involves assent, belief, so repentance involves renunciation. In assent, I say that I believe, I agree with what God says. So renunciation goes beyond sorrow. It is agreeing with God’s evaluation of my sin. Agreeing with God (Trust): And finally, repentance is actually turning away from sin, just as faith is turning to Christ. As faith makes a personal commitment to Christ, repentance makes a personal commitment against sin. You can see, then, that repentance and faith are inseparable. They are two sides of a coin. You cannot turn from sin without turning to Christ, or vice versa. Turning from sin points you in the direction of Christ. You don’t need to turn twice, only once. So faith and repentance are the same thing, viewed positively and negatively. Neither exists before the other, and neither exists without the other. The two are simultaneous and perspectival. This means, in turn, that you cannot accept Christ as Savior without accepting him as Lord. Jesus says that if we love him, we must keep his commandments (John 14:15; many other texts cited earlier). To receive Jesus as Lord is to make a commitment to keeping his commandments. This is to say that to trust Jesus for forgiveness is to repent of sin. So it is unbiblical to say as some people do that you can accept Christ as Savior without accepting him as Lord. The Bible teaches what is called lordship salvation. To be saved, we call upon the Lord (Rom. 10:13); Paul has said in verse 9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” So our salvation begins with the confession “Jesus is Lord.” Some have said that lordship salvation means that you must be sinlessly perfect, obedient to the Lord, from the first moment of your Christian life. That is not the case. It does mean that from the beginning of our life with God, we must be committed to Jesus’ lordship (Rom. 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11) John Frame, pg. 958-959

III. Justification: A simple way to think of justification is “just as if I have never sinned”. That’s how God looks at us, and relates to us when we are justified in his sight. We are no longer viewed on the basis of our merits or demerits, but rather on the basis of Christ. What happens in justification is that we are changed positionally. The way that he looks at us changes. And this is significant. We could change our outlook to God. We could go from looking at him with indifference or even contempt, but at the end of the day, what matters more, is what he thinks of us, not what we think of him. The biggest problem is not so much our wrong attitude or wrong thinking towards God, but his towards us. We have been declared guilty by the sovereign creator judge of all the universe. His justice has to be satisfied, not ours. We can’t declare ourselves not guilty. The gavel has to pound from heaven. Only he can do that. Justification can be defined, as the moment when God goes from looking at us with disgust as a vile offender to looking at us with favor, because of Christ. It is legal term, and it happened instantaneously. Justification is not something that occurs in man, nor is it a process. It refers to the legal, judicial and forensic declaration of God. “It is to declare forensically that the demands of the law as a condition of life are fully satisfied with regard to a person, Acts 13:39; Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:30-33; I Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16; 3:11.” The ground of justification is Christ’s sacrificial death and perfect obedience to the law (i.e., “the righteousness of God,” Rom. 3:21) There is not, nor ever will be, a point in the Christian’s life where we can be more righteous than we have been than the first moment we are justified. Someone might object that a mere declaration is not enough. Obviously, if a judge were to declare a defendant not guilty, when he was really guilty, that would not be just. We saw earlier the admonition to judges in Deuteronomy 25:1: a judge is to justify those who are really righteous and condemn those who are really wicked. Some have objected that the Protestant doctrine of justification violates this principle: God looks at wicked people and falsely declares them to be righteous. But this is to forget the work of Christ. Because Christ died in our place, God’s declaration is true. It is not a legal fiction or a false judgment. Jesus really did pay the complete penalty for sin. So in him we really are innocent and righteous, because he is innocent and righteous. (Frame, pg. 967)

It is on the basis of Christ work we are justified. And it on this basis that we are looked upon ‘just as if we had never sinned’. God is both the just and the justifier. It is “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Justification occurs the moment we first believe (believe equalling genuinely repentance of sin and trusting in the finished work of Christ and Christ alone) “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16) I have said that although justification is “by faith alone,” faith is not the ground of justification; only Christ is that. What role, then, is played by faith? Faith is what receives the grace of God in Christ. “So theologians have described its role as instrumental. Faith claims no merit for itself; it makes no claim to deserve the gift of God’s righteousness. It confesses that only Christ can save, and only his righteousness can justify.” (Frame, pg. 969) Faith is always the catcher, never the pitcher. Faith is always a receiving of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. This was made all to aware to me as we read the story of the 10 Lepers that Jesus healed in Luke 17. And the one returned to thank Him and not only was he physically healed but spiritually healed. Something happened in that leper that was different than the other 9. Something different began to take place.

Jesus did tell him, your faith has made you well after he returned and thanked him but I believe he was saved the moment that God began to work in him in the turning and the expressing of that work was just a natural result of that which was working in him.

If we want to know why the other lepers didn't turn to thank him, we just need to read John 6:63-65 or John 10:25-27.

Faith is never the activator of Gods grace, it is the fruit of saving grace, which is the work of and wooing of the Holy Spirit - like a spiritual surgery and the natural outpouring, the result of this sovereign super natural work in a once spiritually dead sinner is saving faith. A conduit by which to cling on or cleave to the object of which are spiritual eyes where just opened to - that is Christ.

It is why we can say, I was blind but now I see. We don't unblind ourselves. The Holy Spirit does that. And we don’t save ourselves once we are un-blinded by our clinging onto Christ. No, what actually saves us, is the object of what our eyes have been opened to, and the object of what we are clinging onto or receiving. And that object is Christ. It is Christ whom saves.

Christ saves. Faith is the conduit, or instrument by which we receive him.

So like when a blind person is healed from blindness, their first act as a result of their healing is to see. Or when a crippled is given the ability to walk, their first act is to walk.

Faith to one who is born again is like crying is to a new born babe or breathing is to one who has been made alive. Faith is the result of the new birth, not the cause of the new birth. Faith than is not the cause of or the grounds of justification but rather faith is what unites us to the cause. It is why it says, we are saved by grace, through faith….. faith is the conduit. The conduit doesn’t save, but it is what links us. The water pipe doesn’t quench our thirst but it is what links us to the water. The bowl doesn’t fulfill our hunger but it receives and holds the food. It is not the leper turning that made the leper whole. It is Christ that made him whole. It is the act of turning that resulted in the receiving. IV. Adoption: Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow heirs with Christ in glory. (Westminster Confession of Faith Question 74) The highest privilege that can be bestowed on a person is to be adopted into God’s family. To be able to call God 'Father' is the apex of salvation and the crown of the Christian life.

J. I. Packer writes: “Some textbooks on Christian doctrine – treat adoption as a mere sub-section of justification, but this is inadequate. The two ideas are distinct, and adoption is the more exalted. Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law and viewing God as judge.

In justification, God declares of penitent believers that they are not, and never will be, liable to the death that their sins deserve, because Jesus Christ, their substitute and sacrifice, tasted death in their place on the cross. This free gift of acquittal and peace, won for us at the cost of calvary, is wonderful enough, in all conscience – but justification does not of itself imply any intimate or deep relationship with God the judge. In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God resulting.

But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is greater” (J.I Packer, Knowing God, pg. 187-188) Justification is like being not only being declared not guilty by the sovereign all powerful judge of the universe, but then also being declared totally righteous. And then adoption is like icing on the cake, because then that same sovereign all powerful judge takes you home with him to be your loving, caring, protective and nurturing Father. It just doesn't get any better. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

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