Conversion, Regeneration, and Justification
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Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
This is the 27th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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What is it with conversion and being saved? What are agreements and points of disagreements? Conversion, regeneration and justification all happen at the same time. The basic idea of conversion is coming from a point of sin to a point of salvation and a relationship with God. Two elements of conversion are repentance and faith. These two elements are central aspects which represents a voluntary change in the response to God’s grace. One turns from sin (repentance) toward Christ. When we come to Christ, we embrace him as Savior and Father. It is a change of heart from living in sin to loving God and following him. So conversion is a moment in which I respond to the call to salvation. For many, it is a dramatic experience happening at a point in time, but for other not so. For some people, they can never remember a time when they made a decision for Christ. They have always believed in Christ. Of course, it varies for some people as it is a miraculous event where a person just cries out to God for help and they change from being a very sinful person to walking with Jesus immediately. Some people who have been raised in a God fearing home and God loving home can’t put a time on their salvation. For my son, it was at the age of two years that he said that Jesus lives in his heart while helping his mom preparing heart-shaped valentine cookies. Faith in Jesus is ever changing and growing, even from the smallest child who confesses Jesus as their Savor to the oldest Christian who sees God work in their lives. Sometimes childhood faith can be a repetition of following parents but even so, this can grow into self-salvation and commitment to Jesus. Any faith to be real must grow and deepen.
So what is repentance? It is more than a change of behavior. In Luke 3, John the Baptist is preaching and in verse 8 he says to produce fruits in keeping with repentance. There are behavioral fruits where you share and help others; do what is right with others. In Acts 26:18 we see that we are to open people’s eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. Paul explains to Agrippa that this was what happened to him on the road to Damascus and now he is proclaiming the Word of God there and in Jerusalem, and Judea to the Jews and to the Gentiles. He tells Agrippa that he preaches repentance and a turning to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. So, repentance has to do with turning to God from darkness to light, from Satan to God. Again, the fundamental idea of repentance is a change of thinking in reference to who is God of your life. It is changing a person’s values now that they are connected to God. It is refocusing your life from yourself to Jesus.
Faith then is taking God at his word and trusting him to do what he says. It means a loyalty and a commitment and a trust that changes your life. There is knowledge of ascending to and trusting in Christ and God’s promises and forgiveness based on Jesus’ atonement. We see the nature of faith in Genesis 15 with God’s covenant with Abraham. Abraham was questioning God over not having a son, but God took him outside at night and showed him the stars and said that this was the nature of the promise. God told him that this was the nature of his coming offspring. That was how many they would be. So here, Abraham believed God and God counted that belief as righteousness. So belief is trusting God that somehow he is going to keep his promise. Faith is not working up enough power inside you and in return God becomes obligated to respond to you. It is not something without any doubt, even Abraham doubted God. Faith is trust in allegiance; you may not understand but it is trusting in the promises even though you haven’t seen those promises as of yet. Faith is not, necessarily, believing that God will do what you want him to do, it is trusting in his promises that he will do what he has promised to do.
So are we saved by faith? We are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves us is never alone. So what is the result of faith? Faith comes in context of two other things; all come at the same time; conversion comes in the context of regeneration and justification. Let’s look at Titus 3:3, ‘For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing over days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. He saved us by rebirth and renewal.
IV. New Birth or Regeneration
So what is this regeneration or new birth? The basic idea of regeneration is the act of God implanting a new heart and a new spiritual life. The outcome is a governing disposition of the person is made holy. So fundamentally what happens in regeneration is that our basic values and our basic longings are transformed. Let’s look in Ezekiel 36:25 where it says that I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put out my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. This is what was begun in Acts 2; this is what baptism in Romans 6 is talking about, the work of the Holy Spirit. The two aspects of regeneration are a new heart and the indwelling Holy Spirit. And what happens to every believer, regeneration is there with a new heart and our fundamental deepest desires are changed and we have the empowering of the Holy Spirit. So we have conversion, repentance, faith and regeneration and the Holy Spirit. These come at the time of conversion.
Now, we look at justification. We saw this in the Titus passage where he saved us through the washing and renewing by the Holy Spirit, we are justified by his grace so that we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. So justification is God’s declaration that we have been accepted as his children and forgiven of our sins and that we are pardoned from condemnation. This is the basic idea of justification. We are accused of sin and Titus says that we have been forgiven, becoming heirs of the hope of eternal life. There is a friendship and family side of this. God declares that I’ve been accepted. It is not that we have been made righteous somehow which is regeneration. Justification is the declaration that all our sins have been forgiven and that we have been accepted into his family. All of this is based on the work of Jesus Christ. Now, God knows full well that there is still sin in our lives and he sees us for who we are. God see me as his child. We are not actually righteous, God sees our sin, but God has accepted us and forgiven us of those sins. Our membership in the family of God is not dependent in any way on our character and behavior. So, the basic idea of justification, all our sins have been forgiven and I’m accepted into the family of God. This justification is a free gift from God. We see in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. There is a righteousness of God because of our faith in Jesus Christ. This is for all who believe. Justification is by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone. Justification is past tense for all believers, it is not future tense.
So conversion happens at repentance and faith which is taking God at his word. Out of that comes the context of regeneration and justification. And regeneration consists of two elements: new birth and the Holy Spirit. All of this represents a change of character, a transformation. Two elements of justification is acceptance, full forgiveness of sin. I’m accepted into God family and all of my sins are forgiven.
How would you explain conversion to an unbeliever?
What’s the difference between repentance and faith?
How does regeneration occur?
What are the results of being justified by God?