The Order of Salvation
The logical steps in the application of the saving work Christ to individuals, also known by the Latin, Ordo Salutis.
Ephesians 2:1–5 tells us that we were dead in our sin. For these helpless and hopeless people in need of salvation, God graciously gives himself in his son, Jesus, who bore and paid the penalty of our sin. When this is realized and recognized in the life of a believer, the application of this already-accomplished salvation begins to take place. The process of this application refers to the order of salvation, also known by the Latin, Ordo Salutis. In this essay, the goal is to understand the nature and the progression of the logical steps of the order of salvation.
The order of salvation refers to the logical acts and steps that take place when the already-accomplished work of salvation by Jesus Christ is subjectively applied to an individual’s life. Paul provides a succinct summary of this concept in Romans 8:29-30: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Here, Paul lays out the foundational stones of the order of salvation. All these steps, along with others that are not explicitly mentioned in this specific verse but are supplied and supported by other parts of Scripture (see below), represent different aspects of the one reality of our union with Christ. In other words, these are the series of events we can expect to witness and experience according to God’s design of salvation for someone who has heard and put his or her faith in Jesus Christ. We will now turn to each event in this logical order of salvation to further examine its role and function within the one overarching reality of our union with Christ.
Election refers to God’s selection of his children even before creation (Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; 2Thess. 2:13-14; 2Tim. 1:9-10). Scripture tells us that God’s selective choosing is an act of grace that goes beyond our comprehension. In this sense, there is an element of mystery involved because we do not know why God would choose to show mercy to some and not others. According to Scripture, what each and every individual deserves from God is condemnation because of the reality of the fall (Gen. 3). God is not under any obligation to show mercy to even a few. However, as we see from Jesus’ mission on earth, he is set out to come into this world specifically to save those who have been chosen to come into God’s fold even before creation (John 6:37-40; 10:14-26, 26-29; 15:16; 17:6-26). This means that this gift of election stems directly from God himself and is fully independent of our response to him. In other words, election is not based on God’s foreknowledge of our future acceptance. God’s decree of election is the origin of this order of salvation that moves the rest of the steps forward.
God calls these elect to belong to him in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:6; 8:28, 30; 9:24; Gal. 1:15; Eph. 4:1,4; 2Thess. 2:14). The same God who initiates the gift of election is the one who extends the invitation to respond to realize this gift of election. This calling that comes from God is understood to be fully effective, hence the name, “effectual” calling. Scripture contrasts this type of specific/effectual calling with general/universal calling. General calling simply refers to the basic proclamation of the gospel. As seen in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 and Mark 4, Luke 8, the sower sows seeds (the proclamation of the gospel) generously and wastefully. This is a picture of the general call that is given to all who come in contact with the gospel. Out of many recipients of general calling are some recipients of effectual calling. This is why Jesus declares time and time again, “let anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23; 11:15; Matt. 11:15). The elect will receive and embrace the message as a call of salvation on their lives (John 6:44, 65). They are those who are convinced of their sin and misery, who have their minds enlightened, hearts persuaded, ready to embrace Christ with renewed will.
What is then required of the elect to respond to God’s effectual calling of salvation in their lives? Or, as John Murray asks: “How can a person who is dead in trespasses and sins, whose mind is enmity against God, and who cannot do that which is well-pleasing to God answer a call to the fellowship of Christ?”1 The story of Jesus and Nicodemus tells us that one needs a regenerate heart, to be “born again” (John 3:1-8). A renovated heart is the idea and this harkens back to the future promise of God to the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…” (Ezekiel 36:26). When the effectual calling is active, it necessarily leads to a regenerate heart that is open to receiving God for who he is and what he has to say. Regeneration is a sign of new creation breaking through in our midst and it marks a new beginning to those who receive God’s effectual calling, as the Holy Spirit of God quickens their hearts to respond in faith.
Faith and Repentance
John Murray also states: “Without regeneration it is morally and spiritually impossible for a person to believe in Christ, but when a person is regenerated, it is morally and spiritually impossible for that person not to believe.”2 This means that the necessary result of a regenerate heart, a heart that is born again, must be faith – faith to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. Faith, as is the case with all the steps of salvation so far, is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). This God-given faith leads to a turning away from sin and walking towards Jesus. Faith and repentance are opposite sides of the same coin. As J.I. Packer summarizes: “repentance is a fruit of faith, which is itself a fruit of regeneration.”3 Note that these steps are logical, not necessarily temporal, which means that there is a multi-layered response that happen simultaneously in response to God’s effectual calling. It is through this God-given faith that necessarily leads one to grieve, hate one’s own sins, and turn to God to walk in a manner that is worthy of the gospel.
It is through this God-given faith in Christ that one is justified before God. This assumes the reality of the fall that we have addressed so far – there is enmity between God and mankind because of sin. In justification, we realize the core of the good news of salvation. In justification, God’s gift of righteousness that rightly belongs to Jesus is bestowed upon the believers (2Cor. 5:21). This act of God is a sheer act of grace that pardons our sins and treats us as righteous in his sight (Rom. 3:21-5:21; Gal. 2:15-16; 3:24). Faith is the necessary instrument for receiving God’s righteousness that Jesus achieved on our behalf (Rom. 1:17). Paul gives us Abraham as an example: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). This is more than mere forgiveness. God in Christ does not simply forgive us; he imputes the righteousness of Christ to us (Rom. 5:16-17; 2Cor 5:21).
With this gift of justification, the once-and-for-all declaration of righteousness, we are given the status of sonship by adoption. This adoption, which refers to the gift of intimacy and relationship with God as a heavenly father, is made available to all who put their faith in Jesus (John 1:12). This adoption carries the same weight of judicial reality as does justification. This is an extension of God’s sheer free grace that allows us to see and experience our new identity in the spirit of sonship, not slavery (Gal. 4:6-7; Rom. 8:15-16). The good news of adoption is that the magnitude of God’s love of us is that of his love towards his only begotten Son, Jesus, allowing us to be “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). We should note in this connection that according to Romans 8:23 the full realization of our sonship is associated with our bodily resurrection at the return of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:5).
Chosen and called by God, given new life and coming to faith in Christ for justification and adoption, we are also set apart unto God in sanctification (1Cor. 1:2; 6:11). That is, we are given a new status (religious, not forensic): we are saints, made holy in Christ Jesus. This is the usual way the word “sanctified” is used in the New Testament and corresponds to what theologians generally refer to as positional or definitive sanctification. Yet this new status inevitably entails transformation, becoming in experience what we are in Christ. God works in us by his Spirit to make us more like Christ (Rom. 8:13; 12:1-2; 1Cor. 6:11, 19-20; 2Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:22-24; 1Thess. 5:23; 2Thess. 2:13; Heb. 13:20-21). Though justified, we are not yet in experience what we should be, and God in grace brings us increasingly to grow in godliness. This growth in godliness involves effort on our part, but it is a “God-dependent effort,”4 a working out of what God has done and continues to do in us (2Cor. 7:1; Phil. 3:10-14; Heb. 12:14).
This God-dependent effort that is enabled by grace is also sustained by that same grace. This work of continual belief and on-going transformation in a believer’s life is commonly referred to as God’s gift of perseverance. We are able to persevere through various trials of faith because of our God who holds onto us, who promises to deliver us from the beginning to the end without quitting on us. As Philippians 1:6 indicates: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The application of God’s salvation begins with grace, sustained through grace, and will be completed by grace. We can be hopeful in the certainty of God’s promise that he will complete his good work (1Cor. 1:8-9; 1Thess. 5:23-24; 2Thess. 3:3; 2Tim. 1:12; 4:18). Scripture also reveals that it is by this sustained faith that one is saved (Heb. 3:6; 6:11; 10:35-39). Perseverance is the outworking of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
Once again we should clarify that this “order” of salvation should not be understood in temporal but logical terms. For example, we are not justified and then sanctified – these are gifts given together to all who are in union with Christ. The connections outlined above reflect logical relations.
The final state of the application of the already-accomplished work of salvation is glorification. This is the final chapter, the grand finale, to the work that began with God even in effectual calling. Glorification means the “complete and final redemption of the whole person when in the integrity of body and spirit the people of God will be conformed to the image of the risen, exalted, and glorified Redeemer, when the very body of their humiliation will be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory (Phil. 3:21).”5 This is not simply referring to our experience in the intermediary state (2Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23) but to the fulness of salvation, body and soul, realized in the resurrection when Jesus comes back to restore all things to himself and inaugurates the new heavens and new earth (1Thess 4:16,17). The entire cosmos, now in a fallen condition because of human sin, will itself participate in the final completion of Christ’s redemptive work. The curse will be removed, and all the cosmos will be restored (Rom. 8:21; Rev. 21:27).
What we can take away from understanding these logical steps of salvation is that God will not quit before completing his saving work in us. Salvation begins and ends with God, and this ought to give us confidence and assurance of our salvation. In times of doubts, struggles, and hardships when we are tempted to doubt God’s presence and faithfulness in our lives, we are called to remember who God is and all that he’s done. Remembering this is not simply a mental exercise but the experience of the Holy Spirit at work within us carrying us through the highs and lows of our spiritual journeys.
This confidence and assurance of salvation must also lead to worship and adoration of our God. If it is indeed by God’s grace that every logical step of the order of salvation is applied to a believer, then we must rightly acknowledge God for who he is and the generous gift that he gives to us at the cost of his own son. Who are we that he would be mindful of us, even to bear suffering and pain in himself to offer us what we could never achieve on our own? When we are faced with this reality, we are then moved to give God the credit he deserves for the work of saving us. All credit belongs to God who begins and ends the application of the already-accomplished work of salvation in Jesus Christ.
- Basics of the Reformed Faith: The Order of Salvation – Kim Riddlebarger
- The Order of Salvation – Devotional from Ligonier
- The Order of Salvation – Part 1 – Sam Storms
- The Order of Salvation – Part 2 – Sam Storms
- Two Major Streams of Reformed Theology – Justin Holcomb
- Visual Theology – The Order of Salvation – Tim Challies
- “Salvation” – M.J. Harris in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
- By Faith Not By Sight – Richard Gaffin
- Chosen by God – R.C. Sproul
- Redemption Accomplished and Applied – John Murray
- Saved By Grace – Anthony Hoekema
- The Christian Life – Sinclair Ferguson
- The Holy Spirit – Sinclair Ferguson
Systematic Theology Books
- Reformed Dogmatics – Hermann Bavinck
- Systematic Theology – Louis Berkhof
- Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
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