The preaching of the justification of the sinner by God’s grace alone through the gifted instrumentality of faith alone because of the total work and representation of Jesus Christ alone is the core of the Holy Gospel. This was the light of the Reformation that shown into the darkness of works-based Medieval Catholicism. But this gospel core is like a chemical compound — there is more than one element to it. There is also regeneration which is a constituent element of our salvation. To be sure, those elements distinguish and constitute different doctrines with regeneration as the result, theologically speaking, upon justification. While arranged in this fashion for clarity and consistency in proclaiming the Biblical teaching on salvation as God’s work alone through Christ, these doctrines of justification and regeneration are no more divorced from each other than hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atom in a single molecule of water.
Preached along with forensic justification is the ontological regeneration of the sinner. God’s justifying word recreates the sinner in Christ, not just in terms of reckoning the sinner as one with Christ for justification, but now actually having union with Christ who is the source and substance of “eternal life.” Consequently, eternal life is not just a quantity of time (i.e. everlasting life) but a quality of existence (the divine life). Christ is the eternal life (John 11:25) and that life is now in the justified or, put graphically, in the baptized. Justification and regeneration are, therefore, necessarily connected and have profound implications upon the craft of preaching.
Preaching justification by faith should not exclude the truth of regeneration, as if justification were an altogether separate phenomenon that took place sometime before and regeneration taking place later. Equally erroneous is the idea that regeneration establishes the basis for justification, as if there were something about or of the sinner meriting or warranting justification. Not so. Christ is always and only the basis of our justification. He alone is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30). There is no righteousness to be declared, reckoned, or had apart from Christ Jesus our Lord — both in justification and sanctification. But our being declared righteous for the sake of Christ carries the implication that we have now, by the power of God, been regenerated or born again or born of the Spirit: our life being, “hid in Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). This “double declaration” infuses preaching with a vitality, urging the pursuit of holy living and eschewing antinomianism (that is, “live-as-you-please-ism,” as if the Law of God were entirely defunct).
The most immediate implication of this gospel “double proclamation” pertains to Christian living that some preachers skittishly avoid (fearing sounding legalistic) or wrongfully omit (slipping into the error of gospel-reductionism). Christ expects Christian living of and from Christians, or else He would not have made us anew. Being reckoned in Christ and having Christ in us (Galatians 2:20-22), our sanctification is affective and suffused. The Spirit of Christ acts in us to do works of righteousness (Ephesians 2:10; 4:24; Titus 2:14), none of which we can boast of as our own (Galatians 6:14), as well as transform our hearts (Romans 8:29; 12:2). Preachers need not fear to articulate the ethic of Christ’s Kingdom from the pulpit. Not as the gospel double proclamation, but as the expectation of our King, whose Spirit indwells the baptized to be, “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). The Preacher need not fear to articulate consequent good works by Christians or the value of good works for the Church and our neighbors. These things follow the miraculous work God does to us (regeneration) when He declares something about us (justification). Indeed, a life of piety, a pursuit of holiness, a love for the brethren, devotion to the Holy Trinity, truth speaking, struggling against the desires of the flesh and good works in our various vocations follow regeneration and are a consequence of justification.
The people of God need to hear the truth, the comfort, and the joy of regeneration, so they do not lapse into thinking there are no expectations on the justified person. Quite the opposite. Regeneration says you are a new creation (rejoice!), with a new King (take note!), within a new kingdom (the Church!), that has a new standard for authentic human living (the Kingdom ethic!), which is resourced by the Spirit of Christ, “who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Let, then, the whole people of God hear from the pulpit the whole counsel of God — the Law exposing our treason and sin, the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and the regenerated life in the Church (what sixteenth century preachers called “improvements” or “applications” from the doctrines of the Biblical text). The dual themes of justification and regeneration allow the preacher to proclaim the good news of the Gospel and articulate the reality of life as resurrection people already living in the here and now.