The Heart of It All: Salvation
November 13, 2012
by Peter Amsterdam
The Heart of It All: Salvation
Results—Justification, Adoption, and Regeneration
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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)
In the previous articles about salvation, we have looked at four concepts that illustrate how God’s plan of redemption works—how it reconciles us with God and saves us from the punishment for our sins. God’s love for us is the motivation behind His plan of salvation, and that love was manifested in the death of His Son, Jesus, as a propitiation for our sins. The sacrificial death of Jesus resulted in a changed relationship between God and us. The price Jesus paid for our salvation was the supreme price; the sacrifice was immeasurable. Our redemption is due to the boundless love of God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Three significant results of Jesus’ death and resurrection are justification, adoption, and regeneration. These results bring about massive change in the lives of those who become reconciled to God through Jesus. Justification refers to our “legal” status before God, adoption speaks to our personal familial relationship with Him, and regeneration to a change in our spiritual nature.
Through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, God forgives our sins. They have been imputed to Christ, meaning they became His and are no longer ours. At the same time, Jesus’ righteousness has been imputed to those who receive Him and accept His gift of salvation, so God no longer sees us as sinners worthy of punishment, but rather as righteous in His sight. Our “legal” guilt and condemnation are removed, and the separation between God and us is no longer there.
The word justify used in the New Testament is the Greek word dikaioo. One of its definitions is to declare or pronounce someone to be righteous. Our justification means that God declares us righteous, or declares us no longer guilty and condemned. This doesn’t mean that we who have received His gift of salvation are now sinless, as we are all still sinners, but it means that “legally” we are seen by God as righteous. As our sins were imputed to Jesus, and thus are seen as His, so is His righteousness imputed to us, and His righteousness is seen by God as ours.
All of this is God’s work, not our own. There is nothing we could do or achieve to deserve this forgiveness and righteousness. It’s a gift from God. In His love He made the way for us to be righteous in His sight—not by our works or good deeds, but by His grace, mercy, and love. It’s a gift of love, costly on God’s side, free on ours.
By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Scripture makes it clear that people are not saved by being good or doing good works or keeping the laws of Moses—or anything we do ourselves. Salvation, which results in justification, depends solely on God and His plan. All we have to do is believe that God has made it available through Jesus, and accept it by faith.
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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
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.
A beautiful feature of justification is that, as Christians, we no longer need to feel anxiety regarding our standing with God. Though we still sin, our status of having the righteousness of Christ does not change. We no longer need to question whether we’ve done enough or are close enough to God to merit salvation. God has done it all, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are and will always be seen as righteous by God.
When we sin, we need to repent and ask God to forgive us, as well as actively strive to become stronger in resisting temptation. However, the key point of justification is that if we are in Christ, our sins are forgiven, and through Jesus, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes. This doesn’t mean that there will not be consequences for sin. Scripture teaches that God disciplines His children, and sin can result in God’s discipline in our lives. Unrepented sin can bring about disruption in our relationship with God and loss of blessings. The Bible also teaches that we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ in the afterlife. However, sin doesn’t cause us to lose salvation or justification, and “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The love and sacrifice of God, through Jesus’ death on the cross, has resulted in our justification before God. It has removed our separation and has reconciled us with Him. What a precious and valuable gift has been offered by the God of love to humanity!
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Besides the “legal” change we experience in justification, whereby we are seen by God as righteous due to Jesus’ sacrifice, we experience another significant change in our position and relationship with God through salvation. With sin no longer separating us from God, our relationship with God changes, as we become part of God’s family—we become His children.
As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
This change of relationship, this entry into God’s family as His children, is called adoption. We are not the sons and daughters of God in the same sense as Jesus, who is the only begotten Son, but we are adopted into His family. In one sense this change is a legal one, since as God’s children we become heirs of God with all the rights of heirs. But more than that, we now have a relationship based on being members of God’s family. God is our Father.
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.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
While God was seen as Father in the Old Testament, the emphasis was more on God’s holiness, and that holiness largely defined the relationship between humans and God. The general portrayal of God is that He is mighty, holy, pure, and separate, and sinful humans need to be humble before Him, obey Him, and venerate Him.
When speaking of the Old Testament relationship with God, J. I. Packer wrote:
Religion was “the fear of the Lord”—a matter of knowing your own littleness, of confessing your faults and abasing yourself in God’s presence, of sheltering thankfully under His promise of mercy, and of taking care above all things to avoid presumptuous sins. Again and again it was stressed that we must keep our place, and our distance, in the presence of a holy God. This emphasis overshadowed everything else.
Redemption through Jesus changed this relationship to a much more personal one. We can now relate to God as a child relates to his or her loving father. It is a much more intimate relationship than what existed in Old Testament times. This closeness to God as Father, and His love for us, is seen in things that Jesus said about His Father:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
All the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father.
Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.
The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.
We see God’s deep love in our adoption. He didn’t have to invite us into His family, He didn’t have to adopt us, but He did. Adoption is an act of love by someone who is not obligated to take in, care for, and love a child—it is by choice. God doesn’t adopt us because of how great or wonderful we are, or because we do good things for Him. He adopts us because He loves us—He loves humanity. He made it possible—at great personal cost to Himself—for sinners, separated from Him, to be redeemed, to be forgiven, and to enter His family. This is the love, mercy, and kindness of our God, who is love.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
J. I. Packer expresses God’s love in adoption like this:
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—He 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 a greater.
As His children, His heirs, we can be sure of our inheritance of eternal life. Scripture states that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. Adoption brings us into God’s family and gives us rights as heirs. This means that the blessings of salvation both in this life and the next are ours. The apostle Paul makes reference to the blessings received after the suffering of this life.
If children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Another result of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the lives of believers is a spiritual change which is referred to in the following ways: being born again, rebirth, regeneration, being born of the Spirit, and becoming a new creation.
All of these concepts generally refer to a spiritual change which occurs in the heart of one who is redeemed by Christ. While justification brings a change in our “legal” standing with God, regeneration, or new birth, brings a change in our spiritual nature. The Holy Spirit transforms the redeemed person’s sinful nature in a way that renews them and brings a spiritual change in the person. This new birth is the clean slate or fresh foundation on which the new Christian begins his or her spiritual life, and from that point forward can grow in it.
Being born again, or born of the Spirit, is a key element in salvation. Jesus told Nicodemus that without it one can’t see or enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.”
This rebirth is a result of belief in and acceptance of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us. When someone believes in and accepts God’s plan of salvation, when they acknowledge that Jesus is their Savior, they are reborn. The person may or may not feel the change, but the change has occurred. They are born of God because they have believed in Him.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.
To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Throughout church history there have been differing views in regard to when the new birth or regeneration occurs. Some see it as happening in some form upon infant baptism. Others consider it to occur just prior to actual salvation, as in one is first reborn and is then able to make the decision to believe and receive Jesus. Others believe that rebirth happens when you accept Jesus as your Savior. The latter, rebirth upon acceptance of Jesus, is the most widely embraced interpretation.
Becoming a new creation doesn’t mean that the original created nature of the individual no longer exists and is replaced, but rather signifies his or her sinful nature being changed or re-created. It’s a spiritual or moral renewal of the redeemed individual’s nature. It’s a new self that is in alignment with the likeness of God.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The spiritual rebirth of a Christian is also seen as being brought to life from spiritual death through belief in the risen Jesus.
God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Regeneration is generally referred to in the Bible as a work of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus spoke of being born of the Spirit. The apostle Paul made reference to this being the work of the Holy Spirit as well.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
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…
There are other verses which also speak of the Father’s role in the new birth.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead …
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.
Both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have a role in the new birth and regeneration, which was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
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 My Spirit within you …
Upon receiving Jesus as our Savior we are given new life, a rebirth, a regeneration as well as everlasting life.
God’s loving plan of salvation has justified us so that we are seen by Him as righteous. We have become His children by adoption. We are members of His family and no longer separated from Him. We are heirs of eternal salvation and of God’s other promises. We also become a new creation, as we are born again. These precious gifts are the fruits of God’s costly love, of Jesus laying down His life for us. We have been reconciled to God, and nothing will change that.
I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May we truly understand and appreciate the deep love God has for humanity through all He has done for us. May we also be ever aware of and concerned for the people around us who don’t know or understand that they can become justified and adopted by God, that they can become His children. And may we have the love and conviction to share this good news with them, to invite them to become God’s children.
 Ephesians 2:8–9.
 Romans 10:9–10.
 Galatians 2:16.
 Romans 5:1.
 John 1:12 NKJV.
 Galatians 4:4–7.
 Romans 8:14–17.
 Galatians 3:26.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 203.
 Matthew 6:26.
 Matthew 7:11.
 Luke 12:30–31.
 John 10:29.
 John 12:26.
 John 14:21.
 John 16:23.
 John 16:27.
 1 John 3:1.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 207.
 Romans 8:17.
 Romans 8:17–18.
 John 3:3–8.
 Titus 3:5 NIV.
 Titus 3:5.
 John 3:6–8.
 2 Corinthians 5:17.
 John 3:3–8.
 1 John 5:1.
 John 1:12–13 NIV.
 James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology, Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, Vol. 2 (N. Richland Hills: BIBAL Press, 2000), 309.
 2 Corinthians 5:17–18.
 Ephesians 4:22–24.
 Ephesians 2:10.
 Ephesians 2:4–6.
 Colossians 2:13–14.
 John 3:8.
 Titus 3:4–6.
 1 Peter 1:3.
 James 1:17–18 NIV.
 Ezekiel 36:26–27.
 Romans 8:38–39.