What is The Difference Between Justification and Regeneration?

What is The Difference Between Justification and Regeneration?

by Michael J. Penfold


Of the many biblical terms used in Scripture in connection with personal salvation, two in particular need to be carefully distinguished in order to be understood properly: justification and regeneration.

These doctrines are set forth in the Bible in numerous places, such as: Eze 36:25-27, John 1:12-13, 3:1-16, Acts 13:38-39, Rom 3:19-41, 4:1-25, 5:1-21, 6:1-23, 1 Cor 6:11, Titus 3:4-7, Jas 1:18, Heb 10:19-22, 1 Pet 1:3, 22-25 and 1 John 3:9-10.

There are a number of similarities between justification and regeneration. For example:

  • Both are by grace through faith, without human merit
  • Both are actions of God to which sinners contribute nothing
  • They happen simultaneously and instantaneously upon believing in Christ
  • Both are “once for all” actions that never need to be, nor can they be, repeated.

However, the following differences between justification and regeneration must be noted:

JustificationRegeneration
An action whereby God clears a sinner’s guilt and declares him/her to be righteous. To justify is to “rightify”.An inward spiritual cleansing, combined with the impartation of new life, thus being born into God’s family.
An external objective action by GodAn internal action by God
Deals with what I have doneDeals with what I am
Deals with my "sentence", freeing me from the guilt of sinDeals with my "self", freeing me from the grip and dominion of sin
Changes me positionally by declaring me legally righteousChanges me personally from being "dead in sins" to "alive unto God".
Righteousness is imputed to the believing sinnerEternal life is imparted to the believing sinner

A picture of the difference between these two soteriological doctrines can be seen in the altar and the laver in the Tabernacle of Moses. The altar signifies justification by blood (Rom 5:9) whereas the laver signifies regeneration and cleansing by water (Eph 5:25-26). The altar, with its sin offering, signifies the judicial removal of the penalty and guilt of my sin. The laver, used in the once-far-all bathing of the priest in his inauguration into the priestly office, signifies the removal of the moral defilement of sin.

These two aspects of salvation are seen side by side in the New Testament:

  1. Hebrews 10:22 “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled [by blood] from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
  2. Titus 3:4-7 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

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