Viewed in its most precise sense, regeneration by the Spirit can be distinguished from effectual calling. In this sense, regeneration refers to an ineffable act of the Spirit whereby spiritually dead sinners are granted the ability to hear the Word, to know and understand what it proclaims, and to become willing to embrace what is promises. However, since the Spirit ordinarily works with the Word, effectual calling and regeneration, though distinct, should not be separated. The Spirit ordinarily grants the new birth through the means of the gospel Word, which is called the “seed of regeneration” in 1 Peter 1:23. Through the Spirit’s use of the Word of Truth, lost sinners are brought forth by God as a kind of “firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). When regeneration is linked with the Spirit’s work through the ministry of the Word, it is virtually synonymous with effectual calling. In its broadest meaning, regeneration can even be understood to include conversion and all the fruits of the Spirit’s ministry in the state of grace. These fruits include faith and repentance, renewal in the image of Christ, sanctification, and glorification.
When lost sinners are effectually called and converted through the ministry of the Spirit and Word, they respond to the gospel call in the way of faith and repentance. Faith and repentance are distinct, yet inseparable, evangelical graces that the Spirit grants to us lost sinners through the ministry of the gospel (Acts 11:18; 13:48). True and saving faith consists in the knowledge, conviction, and trust that the testimony of God’s Word is true, especially the promise that Christ is able to save “to the uttermost” all those who come to Him in faith (Heb. 7:25). Repentance is simultaneously a heartful sorrow for sin and a heartful joy in God through Christ. When believers repent, they turn from sin to God, mortifying their sinful flesh and experiencing life in their new selves in Christ. Rather than continuing in the way of sin and disobedience, they begin to do good works from true faith, unto God’s glory, and in accordance with the standard of His holy law. Like faith, repentance is not simply an act that occurs at the commencement of the Christian’s life in the state of grace. The whole of the Christian life, from its commencement to its conclusion, is a continual or daily turning from sin unto Christ. Throughout the course of the Christian’s pilgrimage, faith needs to be nurtured and cultivated through the ordinary means of grace (the Word, the sacraments, and prayer). Likewise, the life of the Christian requires a daily turning from sin and to God in new obedience.
Justification and Adoption: A New Status
When believers are drawn into union with Christ through faith, they enjoy two gracious benefits that reflect their new status before God. In the state of nature, fallen sinners are liable to God’s righteous sentence of condemnation and death. In the state of grace, believers are no longer under the condemnation of the law or obliged to find favor with God by doing what the law requires. Rather, they enjoy the grace of free justification. Justification is God’s gracious verdict in which He declares that those who are in Christ through faith are right with Him and entitled to eternal life. God declares believers to be righteous in Christ, granting and imputing to them His obedience, righteousness, and satisfaction of divine justice. When believers receive Christ’s righteousness through faith alone, they enjoy the grace of free acceptance with God. Furthermore, by virtue of God’s gracious act of adoption in Christ, they also enjoy all the rights and privileges that belong to those who are His children. They receive the “Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5–6). The graces of free justification and adoption enable believers to live in the joy, peace, and confidence that they are accepted into God’s favor and have all the rights of adopted children.