Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Distinguishing The New Birth, Justification & Adoption

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Yesterday we looked at three pieces of Goodnews that the Gospel states becomes realities in the life of a person upon saving faith: regeneration, justification and adoption.  If you will recall, all three simultaneously solve the sinner's spiritual death, legal guilt and alienation.  I wanted to look at these three again and consider how they relate to one another and are to be distinguished, since we often either lump them together or neglect one or more of them. 

The New Birth - The Forgotten Doctrine of the Baptist Church
In Baptist circles particularly, no one hardly ever hears any discussion of this doctrine of the New Birth.  I have a good Pastor friend who once term the doctrine of regeneration as the "forgotten doctrine of the Baptist church".  We have grown accustom (at least in Baptist churches) to asking people: "have you made a decision for Jesus Christ?"  or "have you ever accepted Christ as your Savior?"  These phrases have some biblical backing, however they fall short of the starting point the scripture urges us to begin in our Gospel presentations: "have you been born again"?.

The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (2000 BFM) says this about salvation:
"Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord."

As you go into its next paragraph of the BFM 2000, the first topic discussed is the doctrine of regeneration: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."  This move by the current edition of the SBC doctrinal statement retains what I believe is the Biblical pattern for presenting the Gospel - placing the New Birth first on the table.

Justification - the article by which the church rises or falls
Regeneration must and should always be at the head waters of any discussion of how a man, woman or child is to gain access into God's salvation in Jesus Christ.  However we must also give people the hope that is the Gospel.  As we saw yesterday, man's spiritual deadness is not the only issue, but also his guilt.  The 16th century witnessed a movement that came to recapture a doctrine that had been at the heart of the biblical Gospel - Justification by Faith alone.

At issue was whether faith by itself was deemed sufficient by God to declare the sinner righteous in God's sight.  Martin Luther and others like him taught that faith alone is not only necessary, but sufficient for being deemed innocent by Holy God.  The righteousness being credited in saving faith was the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  The church of Rome strongly disagreed, stating that in order for a person to be deemed right with God, he would have to become right by participating in baptism and the rest of the Church's rites and ordinances.  To this day Roman Catholicism still advocates justification as still being attained by faith plus participation in its system (i.e a faith plus works system of salvation). 

The 2000 BFM defines justification in this fashion: "Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God." 

Adoption - A sinner is made into a son
Regeneration, justification and adoption are three different ways of looking at the same moment of saving faith.  Logically speaking we mention regeneration first - since the dead sinner is suddenly seen with the life of God and saving faith pulsating through their heart.  Justification is viewing the same event from a legal point  of view, since at saving faith we are seeing God declare a guilty sinner to be an innocent saint in His sight.  In adoption, we are viewing the same moment of saving faith through relational eyes.  Passages such as Romans 8:16-17 and Galatians 4:1-7 both spell out the believer's adoption as a son.  According to numerous other passages in Paul's letters, the little phrase "in Christ" reveals my being united to Christ in His death and resurrection.  Hebrews 2:11-15 unfolds the fact that Christ is my older brother in the flesh by faith.  The language of "rights and privilege" is used when describing our places as God's adopted sons and daughters.

Though there is not a formal place in the 2000 BFM on the topic of adoption, there is one area where the subject is indriectly referred to.  Under Article IX entitled "The Kingdom", we read this thought:  "Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ."

In having considered these three headings of regeneration, justification and adoption, my prayer is that you and I dear reader have gotten into our minds and hearts a richer view and appreciation of the gospel. 


No comments:

Post a Comment