Today I will be writing about how redemption is applied to the lives of believers. An obvious prerequisite to this article would be one about how redemption was accomplished. I will not be writing about that at this time, so we will have to consider it sufficient to say that redemption was accomplished through the death of Christ. Without Christ’s atoning and substitutionary death, there could be no redemption.
This article will be brief, for like most theology, an entire volume would scarcely be sufficient to speak of such things. This is meant to serve merely as an outline.
In speaking about how redemption is accomplished we must consider a specific order, for God has seen fit to accomplish redemption in a certain way. The Bible is very clear that certain steps come before others. For example, John 1:12 says “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” We can infer from this passage that faith (which was necessary to receive Him) preceded adoption. Romans 8:30 is similar in that in lays out the order of several of the steps. “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Predestination preceded the call; the call preceded justification, which in turn preceded glorification.
Before Creation, and indeed before time began, God chose some who would be His elect. Knowing these people would be sinners and no more deserving of His favor than the rest of humanity, He, from the good pleasure of His own will, through grace alone, chose some to be redeemed.
The effectual call is an act of God whereby He uses the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Spirit to bring His elect into union with Christ. This call is given as an act of God’s grace, is His act alone and in no way involves the person being called. The word “effectual” is used to show that this is more than simply a calling which may either be heeded or ignored. This calling can only be effectual – man can not ignore or avoid it. The effectual call is the first manifestation of inward, saving grace in the life of the elect. The call effectually unites the elect with Christ so that they might become partakers in Him.
A call necessarily requires a response on the part of the person who is called. Can a person whose will is wholly corrupt answer the call of God to faith and a life of holiness? This is not possible. Therefore, God must first change the person’s will so he is capable of responding to God’s call.
Regeneration follows the effectual call and is the act of the Spirit in which the sinful nature of the elect is changed so that the person is capable of responding to God in faith. It is an act that originates entirely with God and in which man plays no part. J.I. Packer says “It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.” Regeneration prepares a person to respond to God’s call. God then does not just provide a call, but also makes a provision of grace so we are enabled to answer that call. In regeneration God makes us a new creation.
Prior to regeneration it is impossible for a person to believe in Christ. Once a person is regenerated it is impossible for a person not to believe in Christ. When the heart and mind have been renewed through regeneration they must act in accordance with their new nature.
Faith is an effect of regeneration, was provided for us by Christ and is wrought in us by the Spirit. Faith is an act of man, for God cannot believe in Christ on my behalf. It is an ability we have only through the grace of God, but still must be our act. Faith is a necessary effect of regeneration, for it is impossible that one who has been regenerated should have no faith. Similarly, it is impossible that one who is unregenerate should have saving faith.
We do not know if repentance precedes faith or if faith precedes repentance. It does not matter, for they are inexorably linked. To echo the Shorter Catechism, repentance is a saving grace in which a sinner, out of a true sense of sin and understanding of the mercy of God in Christ, with grief and hatred of sin, turns from sin to God and endeavors to live in obedience to Him. Faith and repentance are interdependent because faith is faith in Christ for salvation from sin. We cannot untangle faith and repentance.
Justification is not an act of making a person holy, right or just. This is one of the great differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, for the Catholic Church holds that justification is an infusion of grace. Rather than being an act of making the elect right or holy, justification is a declaration by God that the elect are righteous in His eyes. He declares that the requirements of the law have been satisfied on behalf of that person. Justification is given to the elect on the sole basis of God’s grace. We are given undeserved, unmerited, free favor.
Adoption is the act in which the redeemed are adopted by God to become His sons and daughters. As with justification, adoption is not an act as much as it is a declaration. God declares that we have been legally adopted into His family and given full status as His children.
Sanctification is the process whereby the Spirit enters the redeemed and begins to work change in their hearts. The Spirit begins to put to death the old, sinful nature which loves sin and worldliness, giving instead a desire for God and holiness. J.C. Ryle says about the redeemed that “his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace….”
Sanctification is a lifelong work that will never reach perfection in this world. We are to continually strive to be perfectly holy in God’s eyes, yet we will continually fall short.
Those who are redeemed in Christ will persevere to the end, for they can never lose their salvation. God will never allow their nature to become unregenerate, will never allow them to become unjustified and will never cast them out of His family. All saints will persevere to the end, and all who persevere to the end are saints.
As I said at the outset, this has been only a very brief explanation of how redemption is applied to the lives of believers. For further study I recommend Monergism.com which has thousands of documents to guide your studies. Also, there is an excellent book by John Murray entitled “Redemption Accomplished And Applied” which I highly recommend.