I part one we examined legal justification: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1)
As amazing as legal justification is, however, there is still more. Being placed into God’s family at conversion is so miraculous, that no single theological term can describe all that is involved. For example, believers in Christ are spiritually:
- Made alive (regeneration),
- Set apart for God (sanctification)
- Sealed by the Holy Spirit,
- Born again,
- Baptized into the Body of Christ,
- Transferred from the Kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son,
and the list goes on (Eph 2:1; Heb 10:10; Eph. 1:13; John 3:3; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 1:13).
God not only IMPUTES His righteousness legally, He also IMPARTS His righteousness SPIRITUALLY.
Although theological textbooks usually use the term “justification” only for legal justification, this study includes two other aspects that the New Testament teaches about the impartation of righteousness.
“Spiritual justification” describes what is usually considered as “regeneration,” yet emphasizing the righteous quality of this new birth. Theologian L. Berkhof defined regeneration as “that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy” I believe that, to be more precise, the soul contains the human spirit, which now has this essential disposition of holiness and righteousness (Heb 4:12).
The legal and spiritual aspects of justification both occur at conversion. The spiritual aspect of justification is that the believer’s new spirit has a RIGHTEOUS NATURE: “the new man … was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24)
This does not mean that the believer already has sinless conduct. The soul (mind, will, and emotions) still needs to grow in godliness (the topic of part 3 in this series). However, note this: When God declared you righteous, He also made you a new creation in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). This creative work was not in the body (that will take place at Christ’s return), or in the soul, but in the human spirit (1 Thess. 5:23).
Through the seed of the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23) and the life-giving ministry of God’s Spirit (Titus 3:5), our spirit was created a “new man.” So, the “old man” (the unregenerate human spirit) was “put off” through identification with Christ’s death on the cross (Rom 6:6; Col. 3:9; Gal 2:20).
Because of this radical change in our essential nature, we are to “put on [behavior appropriate to] the new man which was created according to God, in TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Notice that this “new man” was created (at conversion) in true righteousness! Paul testified that the believer’s recreated spirit now has a righteous nature: “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22).
Although the flesh is still present to hinder the manifestation of righteousness in the believer’s character and conduct (Gal 5:16), the flesh is not considered the believer’s essential nature any longer. Paul put it this way: “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7:20). While this does not exempt the child of God from responsibility in personal behavior, it is liberating to notice that the believer’s essential nature is fully on God’s side! No wonder Scripture speaks of God’s people as being partakers of His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Part 2 of 3
 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Eerdmans, 1939), p.469.
 This article’s description of “spiritual justification” is not the same as the traditional Roman Catholic view. Rome teaches:
1) inner justification is instead of (not complimentary to) legal justification;
2) it is not localized in the spirit (as distinct from the soul) of a redeemed person;
3) it is imparted initially through the Roman Catholic sacrament of baptism,
4) faith is not considered sufficient as a means of justification,
5) there are varying degrees of infused righteousness, and
6) people cannot be certain that they are in a state of grace.
– Ludwig Orr, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma , p.251-262 (quoted by Grudem).
More more documentation on the soul/spirit distinction in man, please visit the author’s blog at www.BiblicalPsychology.net
Copyright 2002 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Please credit GraceNotebook.com. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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