The sinner receives the initial grace of regeneration on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Consequently, the merits of Christ must have been imputed to him before his regeneration. But while this consideration leads to the conclusion that justification logically precedes regeneration, it does not prove the priority of justification in a temporal sense.
I noticed this in Berkhof back when I read him in (or before?) seminary and I’ll just state it again since I’m reminded of the quotation.
Berkhof must either:
1. Deny justification by faith
2. Deny the depravity of man.
Either is is possible for an unregenerate person to believe and thereby be justified or a person is justified without and apart from faith.
I realized, Berkhof claims no temporal priority but I don’t think that solves the problem.
And, to say that one is regenerated on the basis of the imputed merits of Christ doesn’t seem any more cogent than claiming that God only sent Jesus to die for sinners because he had first imputed Christ’s righteousness to them. We don’t need to “deserve” regeneration any more than we need to “deserve” for God to send his son for us.
God can be merciful.
This is Reformed soteriology as embodied in the Westminster Confession and catechisms:
1. God effectually calls us/regenerates us
2. Faith is both a gift of that union and the means by which it takes place.
3. The legal manifestation of union with Christ is justification before God.
See also The Belgic Confession