A Question I Was Asked:

Are Justification and Regeneration the Same Thing?

The Question:

Are Justification (full acquittal before God) and Regeneration (being 'born again'), the same thing? A Roman Catholic recently insisted to me that the two things are one, but are they? Please try to keep your answer simple, if possible.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Justification indeed refers to a believer's full acquittal before God, and Regeneration refers to our being 'born again,' so, are they the same thing? Actually no, not exactly.

Justification and Regeneration appear to happen pretty much at once, but they are distinct from each other. They have to be distinguished clearly in order for us to get the full understanding. Justification, that is, when we are forgiven by God, changes our outward relation to God, so instead of being enemies we become God's own children; Our souls are changed, so instead of being sinners we become saints. This restores us to the favour of God, regeneration then facilitates the process of sanctification, leading to us increasingly reflecting God Himself in character, standards and behaviour. However, we never fully attain that, of course; but the direction we are travelling should become increasingly evident.

A justified sinner is forgiven, but his essential character has not yet been changed by this act of justification alone (which God does for him through His Son). Regeneration (being re-born for above), now occurs; this leads to Sanctification (that is, us becoming more and more Christlike). This starts soon but it is a lifelong process. So regeneration (being 'reborn from above,' or being 'born again') might be said to be the catalyst which kick-starts our very long process of sanctification. Some of these things certainly happen at once, or very close together, but it is helpful to grasp them separately.

Justification, then, is the forgiveness and imputing of righteousness to the believer, and regeneration is the implanting of righteousness into that same believer, establishing a meaningful relationship with God. Both happen at once, but they are different things. However they certainly belong together as the concerted actions of the Triune God, who "implants righteousness in every one to whom he has imputed it." (That, I think, is a John Wesley quote). They belong together as the concerted action of God the Father, who takes action for us through his Son, and Holy Spirit.

A three-part graph might help us here:



Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:24-28; 4:2; 5:11; 8:30; Galatians 2:16-17; 3:11, 24; 5:4; 1 Corinthians 6:11 etc. These are just a few of numerous Scriptures which could be quoted.

We are forgiven for our previously unrighteous, unjustified and 'fallen' state. No longer guilty, the slate wiped clean, God's own standard of righteousness is now imputed to us.


(Born Again)

John 1:12; 3:3-7; Romans 5:8; 6:6; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:3,23 etc.

Reborn from above (or, 'born again'), by the action of the Holy Spirit Himself. Suddenly we truly start to see things differently.
We can get on God's 'wavelength' itself. We start to perceive the real problem with this world and its many problems, namely sin. We suddenly have 'spiritual eyes' since we are actually granted a tiny bit of the mind of Christ!


(Becoming Christ-like)

John 17:19; Acts 20:32; 26:18; Romans 12:1; 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2;6:11; 7:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Timothy 4:5; 2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 2:11; 10:10,14,29; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 1:1; Revelation 22:11 etc.

Whereas justification and regeneration occur at once, or very close together, sanctification is a lifelong process. Yes, it too happens very soon but it stretches on into the future; that doesn't matter because we have already been acquitted at the very court of Heaven! We are now covered by the grace of God and, as time moves on, Christ living within us should be reflected, and increasingly clear to others.

This should not be confused with 'perfectionism,' often the approach of the cults and sects which often teach that their own adherents (but not mainstream Christians in general) are alone and exclusively God's 'true people' and can attain real perfection, usually through meticulous law-keeping and/or meticulous faithfulness to their own teachings.

Much of the above will be explained differently by the Roman Catholic; I don't blame them too much for that, it is simply the way they have been taught over several centuries. Nevertheless, I don't doubt that many Catholics are truly under grace and will be saved. Don't forget: we are saved by Christ - not by theological knowledge!

Robin A. Brace. October 25th, 2012.