Justification, Regeneration, and Adoption


As with the past two Articles of Faith, our ninth Article of Faith is currently undergoing some revision and is in the process of being ratified with new language. This new language does not change the meaning of the old, but rather updates outdated language. As before, items in brackets are words being deleted, and words that are in italics are words that are being added. Our ninth Article of Faith covers the subjects of Justification, Regeneration, and Adoption, and states:
We believe that justification is the gracious and judicial act of God by which He grants full pardon of all guilt and complete release from the penalty of sins committed, and acceptance as righteous, to all who believe on Jesus Christ and receive Him as Lord and Savior. 
We believe that regeneration, or the new birth, is that gracious work of God whereby the moral nature of the repentant believer is spiritually quickened and given a distinctively spiritual life, capable of faith, love, and obedience. 
We believe that adoption is that gracious act of God by which the justified and regenerated believer is constituted a [son] child of God. 
We believe that justification, regeneration, and adoption are simultaneous in the experience of seekers after God and are [obtained upon the condition of] received by faith, preceded by repentance; and that to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.
Justification

Our ninth Article of Faith defines Justification as a judicial act of God. Indeed, Willard Taylor states, "Viewed negatively, justification is the forgiving of the sins of the penitent believer, an act of the sovereign grace of God; viewed positively, it is the acceptance of the believer as righteous, a judicial act of remitting the penalty due the sinner." [1]. In short, God declares the guilty party to be innocent because he or she has repented and placed his or her trust in Christ. In addition, the individual is received as righteous, no longer guilty.

Something important to point out here is that only those who repent and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are justified. There is no justification for the one who does not turn to Christ and place his or her trust in Him. It is only through Christ and by God's grace that we are justified.

Regeneration

Regeneration is a term used to describe the new birth. Harold Kuhn writes, "Regeneration is the inward quickening of the repentant and believing sinner from spiritual death to spiritual life which occurs in Christian conversion" [2]. M. R. Gordon notes of regeneration that the Greek παλιγγενεσια appears only in Matthew and Titus. Of the Matthew passage, he notes, "In the Matthew passage it is used eschatologically to refer to the restoration of all things, reminding us that the renewal of the individual is part of a wider and cosmic renewal" [3]. God renews human beings who repent and trust in Christ, but He will also renew all of creation someday. In Titus 3:5, παλιγγενεσια appears in the context of conversion. Although παλιγγενεσια is the Greek noun that translates "regeneration," several other words are used with an equivalent meaning.

The importance of regeneration is seen most clearly in Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Kuhn notes of this passage that, "Clearly Nicodemus was being led to see that moral goodness, zeal for religious observance, and the performance of exact legal duties were insufficient to qualify him for the Kingdom." [4]. In short, Jesus showed Nicodemus that works would never suffice. Only if a person is regenerated can he or she see the Kingdom of God.

Adoption

A person who has been justified and regenerated is adopted into the family of God. J. Kenneth Grider writes, "This is one of the concomitants of the first work of grace. It refers to God's welcome of the converted person into His family as one of His children" [5]. As with regeneration and justification, adoption is for those who have repented and put their trust in Christ. Those who have not repented and placed their trust in Christ have not been adopted into God's family. Thus, statements such as "We are all children of God" are misleading. We are all God's creation. All humankind is made in the image of God. But only those who have repented and placed their trust in Christ can truly say that they are children of God.

Conclusion

While Justification, Regeneration, and Adoption each come in order logically, they are temporally simultaneous with each other and with initial sanctification. That is, when a person is justified, he or she is also regenerated, adopted, and initially sanctified at the same time. It is also important to remember that these things are received by faith, not earned by good works.


Recommended Resource: Articles of Faith
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[1] Willard Taylor, "Justification". Cited in Beacon Dictionary of Theology.
[2] Harold Kuhn, "Regeneration". Cited in Beacon Dictionary of Theology.
[3] M.R. Gordon, "Regeneration". Cited in The New Bible Dictionary.
[4] Harold Kuhn, "Regeneration". Cited in Beacon Dictionary of Theology
[5] J. Kenneth Grider, "Adoption". Cited in Beacon Dictionary of Theology.

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