In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus enunciated an astronomical principle which revolutionized the study of science. Copernicus discovered that this earth was not the center of the universe, nor did the sun revolve around the earth. It would be hard to overestimate the revolutionary impact of this single discovery, which completely reversed the order of scientific thinking.
About the same time of Copernicus, there lived a monk who enunciated a biblical principle, which swept the consciousness of Western man with a fury and changed the course of history. The monk was Martin Luther, and his theological principle was "the Copernicus revolution in theology." For in the thinking of the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, not only was the earth the center of the universe, but man was the center, the starting point of theology.
While it was Copernicus who changed the scientific order and put the sun at the center, it was Luther and other reformers who revolutionized the whole order of salvation by putting God at the center and by making God the starting point. This ordo salutis (order of salvation), as it was called, was the supreme and vital heartthrob of the Reformation.
The "Ordo Salutis" has to do with which step in salvation came first, and, more importantly, it has to do with who made the first move in our salvation. The wide spectrum of modern Christianity insists that any and every saved person had to make that first move: He needed to reach out in faith to God. Reformed theology, by contrast, maintains that the first move is God's (Eph. 1:5, 11; John 1:13; 15:5; 1 John 4:19). This issue of "Ordo Salutis" is not a mere tedious technicality like the riddle "Which came first: the chicken or the egg?" It actually answers the question: "To whom do we give the glory for our salvation: God or ourselves?" And this, my friend, is a very important question.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31 (NASB) But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
Notice carefully what this verse says, "It is by His doing that we are in Christ Jesus." Therefore, any boast we have is not in ourselves, but in the Lord.
The Bible contains a unified system of truth. When an error is made in one area of our theological understanding of the Word of God, that error does not remain in isolation for long. The error cascades throughout our theology and, if not halted at some point, produces greater and greater falsehood. Theological error is not just an intellectual issue; theological error can result in condemnation. At the very least, it quickly spills over into the way we live our Christian lives. B. B. Warfield said that a mutilated gospel produces mutilated lives. Bad theology is a cruel taskmaster. This principle is especially important in understanding the doctrine of salvation. A proper understanding of the logical order of salvation is vital to a right understanding of the gospel.
What does the Bible teach about the "Ordo Salutis"? Where would you go in the Bible to defend the "Ordo Salutis"? Romans 8:29-30 serves as a good starting point for discerning the Scriptural basis for the logical sequence of the doctrines of salvation:
Romans 8:29-30 (NASB) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
These verses contain a broad outline of the order of salvation. The sequential order that is given is: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. The acts of salvation presented in this passage, however, are not exhaustive. Scripture speaks of other acts in the order of salvation. Romans 8:29-30 gives us a basic framework into which the other acts of salvation may be placed.
Using Romans 8:29-30 as a framework, I'd like to give you what I see as the "Ordo Salutis" or the "order of salvation", which I see in the scripture.
Notice that it is not WHAT he foreknew but WHOM he foreknew. The word "foreknew" is from the Greek word proginosko, which means: "to love before, or for-loved." In Amos 3 :2 God says to Israel: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." Does that mean that God didn't know the other nations? NO! It meant that He had a special love relationship with Israel. Israel was His chosen nation. The term "foreknew" must have a limited meaning, for if it simply means: "to know ahead of time," then in the context of Romans 8, everyone will be glorified, because all whom God foreknew He glorified; the chain is unbroken. The term "foreknew" has the idea of loved, to love before hand.
In this unbroken chain of salvation, all who God "loved before hand" [foreknew] He justified and glorified. Now, we know that everybody is not going to be justified, so this must mean that God does not love everybody, which is a truth taught in the Scriptures:
Romans 9:13 (NASB) Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."
God hated Esau! But He loved Jacob. God is sovereign in the exercise of His love. What I mean is that He loves whom He chooses to, God does not love everybody. Now I know that when I say that, people get upset, but it is clearly what the Word of God teaches. He didn't love Esau, that is very clear. Now how will you argue, will you say that He loves everyone but Esau?
One of the most popular beliefs of our day is that God loves everybody. But the idea that God loves everybody is a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers or the Puritans, will be searched in vain for any such concept. The fact is that the love of God is a truth for the saints only. With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus Christ telling sinners that God loved them. In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labors and messages of the apostles, God's love is never referred to at all. Does that seem odd to you? But when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of the truth.
Hebrews 12:6 (NASB) FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES."
God's love is restricted to the members of His own family. If He loves all men, then the distinction and limitation here mentioned is quite meaningless. God only chastens whom He loves, which is a reference to believers, the elect.
So the "Ordo Salutis" begins in eternity past with God choosing to love certain individuals. Then we see that all whom God loved He:
The Greek word translated predestine is proorizo; it is the word from which we get our English word horizon. This Greek word could be literally translated pre-horizon. The horizon is the great boundary between the earth and the sky, and the Greek word horizo means to establish boundaries. And to set the boundaries, to draw the lines, to establish the limits, is to determine what will be. And to do that ahead of time, in eternity past, is predestination.
The predestination in Romans 8:29 means that in eternity past, God drew some lines. He established a horizon around each person He had foreknown - a set boundary marking him off, a circle of destiny. What predestined means in its most elementary form is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God, not only before we get there, but before we are born.
The Scriptures also call this Election. It is the idea of God choosing whom He loves. Choosing them for eternal life. The gospel is the good news, not of man's act of choosing Christ, but of God's act of choosing man. Election is an idea seen throughout Scripture:
2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NASB) But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
They were "beloved by the Lord" and "chosen...for salvation"
Ephesians 1:4-5 (NASB) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
Notice again when this choosing took place: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world."
2 Timothy 1:9 (NASB) who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,
Why did God choose certain people? Because of "His own purpose". We also see in this verse that God's foreknowing and election took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world.
According to Romans 8:29, what did God predestine us for?
Romans 8:29 (NASB) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren;
The word "conformed" is the Greek word summorphos, which comes from morphe, meaning: "the essential character of something, the essential form which never alters." The word Paul uses here is not morphe, but summorphos, which means: "jointly formed." The prefix "sun" (soon) denotes: "union; with or together." This "sun"prefix tells us that this is a positional association. God predestined those He loved to share Christ's righteousness.
So far in the "Ordo Salutis" we have seen foreknowledge and predestination. Please understand that both of these happened before time. It was in eternity past that God loved and chose. Then in time we were born into the world. And when we were born, we were born into a:
All men are born separated from God, so that they are spiritually dead. Every unbeliever is in a state of death.
Romans 5:12 (NASB) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
Because of Adam's sin, spiritual death spread to all men. Adam was the federal head of the human race; when he sinned, we sinned. His sin is imputed to us.
In historical theology, man's condition in sin has been called "total depravity." This does not mean that every human being is as bad as they could possibly be; that would be "utter depravity." The phrase "total depravity" is attempting to communicate that sin affects every aspect of man's being. Sin dominates every aspect of a person's thoughts, actions, attitudes, and desires.
Ephesians strongly sets forth the degree of man's total depravity in sin:
Ephesians 2:1 (NASB) And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
This verse states that fallen man is "dead in sin," that he has no spiritual life whatsoever. It is important to note that the Apostle Paul did not say that man is sick in sin or simply influenced by sin; he declared that fallen man has no spiritual life.
I've often heard the illustration given concerning man's condition in sin that he is sick in sin like a man deathly ill in a hospital bed. The man is near death, struggling for every breath, but he is still alive. A nurse comes in with a bottle of medicine that will cure him and restore him to perfect health. The medicine represents the gospel, which is offered to the sinner who is sick in sin. She pours the dose of medicine into a spoon and holds it to the man's mouth. Here is the offer of the gospel in evangelism. Now it is up to him to take the medicine and live, or refuse it and die. In other words, it is up to the man to receive Jesus and live or refuse Him and die.
The main problem with this illustration is that the man is still alive. He is affected by sin; he is sick in sin, but he is not dead in sin. In order to make this illustration fit Ephesians 2:1, it would be necessary to put the man in the hospital morgue. He is in one of the little refrigeration units with a toe tag. The nurse comes in with medicine (the gospel) and stands by the dead man all day, but he doesn't take the medicine, because he is not alive. What he needs is a spiritual resurrection. He must move from a condition of being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive before he will be able to receive the medicine.
This is exactly the pattern set forth in Ephesians 2:1-5. After stating that man is spiritually dead and exhibits that lack of spiritual life in his sinful disposition and actions, verses 4 and 5 proclaim:
Ephesians 2:4-5 (NASB) But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Scripture declares that we were dead in sin, and God acts first to bring about a spiritual resurrection - making us alive in Christ. This represents the next step in the "Ordo Salutis" which is:
Romans 8:30 (NASB) and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
This calling is effectual calling, God calling dead men to life. This is regeneration, or a spiritual resurrection:
Ephesians 2:5 (NASB) even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Fallen man, in his natural state, lacks all power to commune with God, because man is spiritually dead. Apart from God giving life, man cannot even understand God. This little-understood truth is also taught in:
John 12:37-39 (NASB) But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" 39 For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again,
They did not believe, because they could not believe. Paul teaches this same thing in:
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NASB) But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Notice carefully what this verse says. Natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God - the gospel. Who is the natural man? The word "natural" comes from the Greek word psuchikos. Jude uses this same Greek word:
Jude 1:19 (NASB) These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded [psuchikos], devoid of the Spirit.
Jude says, "worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit." So, the natural man is the man without the spirit of God. God's effectual calling - regeneration, is absolutely necessary, because apart from it, man has no ability to understand or desire the things of God.
John 3:3 (NASB) Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
The third chapter of John is very familiar to everyone who has spent time in the
Word of God. The term "born again" is familiar to believers and unbelievers alike. We are familiar with the term, but do we understand what it means? We know that people must be born again, but there are many different opinions on how a person is born again.
The term "born again" is synonymous with effectual calling - "regeneration." Being born again is the same as "receiving a new heart" (Ezekiel 36:26), or what Ephesians 2 calls being "made alive." 1 Peter calls it "being called out of darkness into his marvelous light." All of these terms refer to what theologians call "regeneration."
Hodge says that regeneration is "the instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life. Regeneration, therefore, is a spiritual resurrection, the beginning of a new life." Thiesseen says, "Regeneration may be defined as the communication of divine life to the soul, as the impartation of a new nature, or heart and the production of a new creation."
There are many different views of regeneration within the Church. The Pelagian view says that regeneration is a moral transformation, a work of man. Most liberals today hold this view. It was condemned by the Church in 431 at the Counsel of Ephesus. Practically, the Pelagian says, "I can save myself by my works." Adam was the first Pelagian; he tried to cover his sin with fig leaves. God killed animals and clothed Adam and Eve with the skins to picture Christ's righteousness.
The Catholic view says that regeneration is accomplished by baptism, so it is a work of man through a divine ordinance. The Church of Christ also holds the view of baptismal regeneration. The Arminian view is called "semi-pelagianism": Regeneration is not exclusively God's or man's work - it is the fruit of man's choice to cooperate with the divine influences. They teach that the work of man, a decision to trust Christ, is prior to the work of God. This view is held by most evangelicals. They believe it was necessary for them, in an act of their own will, to cooperate with the grace found in the preaching of the Word.
Then there is the position that we hold here at Berean Bible Church, called the "Reformed view," which teaches that "regeneration is of the Lord"; God made us alive who were dead; God made us willing who were unwilling. Salvation from beginning to end is a work of God, according to the Reformed view.
In the "Ordo Salutis" we were physically born spiritually dead. Born in a state of death. Then at some point in our life God called us. This is an effectual call, it is a call from death to life. This effectual call - regeneration, is by grace without means. In a supernatural act, God gives a person a new heart, and he is spiritually alive.
Man is passive in the new birth; he does no more to produce his own birth than Lazarus did to produce his resurrection:
John 11:43 (NASB) And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth."
Did Lazarus have the ability in himself to obey that command? No, he was dead! He had no ability at all. Unsaved man, natural man, does not have the ability to believe the gospel. Regeneration is solely a work of God whereby we are made alive.
You may be thinking, "It didn't happen to me that way. I believed, and then I received new life." You are looking at it from your experience and not from the standard of God's Word. Before you could ever believe, you had to be made alive.
This calling of God, this spiritual birth, is effected without means. Most people think that the means of regeneration is the Word of God, or faith. But regeneration is a direct act of God upon the spirit of a man. Truth cannot be the means of regeneration, because before a man is regenerated, he is blind and cannot see the truth, deaf and cannot hear the truth, dead and cannot respond to the truth. Truth cannot be the means of the new birth when the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit as 1 Corinthians 2:14 teaches. The increase of light will not enable a blind man to see; the disease of the eye must first be cured. So must a man be regenerated by the Spirit before he can receive the truth. It is solely a work of the Spirit, and that's why we pray for the lost.
When God calls, we come! The call of God is irresistible:
John 6:44 (NASB) "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
We see here again the idea that no one can come to Christ unless God first calls that person to spiritual life. The Greek word for "draw" is helkuo. Strong says it means: "to drag." Kittle says it means: "to compel by irresistible superiority." Its force can be seen in its use in:
James 2:6 (NASB) But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag [helkuo] you into court?
Acts 16:19 (NASB) But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged [helkuo] them into the market place before the authorities,
God draws the elect by an irresistible superiority.
John 6:37 (NASB) "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
All those that the Father gives to Christ, come to Christ.
Scripture is clear and consistent on this point: Because of man's radical falleness, God is the divine initiator of salvation (John 3:1-10; Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 2:13). If it is taught that man has the moral ability to come to Christ on his own and he takes the first step, then, not only is the Scriptural teaching concerning man's sin denied, but the grace of God in salvation is diminished, and a false view of salvation is held. This ultimately leads to a concept of salvation in which man's merit becomes the necessary condition for salvation to be present; therefore, a person believes in Christ, because he is somehow intrinsically more righteous than someone else.
As the church becomes more biblically illiterate and the influence of the culture more dominate in the politics of the church, the gospel has a lessening affect upon society. Paul writes that the cross of the gospel is an offense. However, I suspect that the doctrine of salvation, as most people understand it, has been stripped of its offense.
Too many think of salvation as that which begins with man's quest for God. They have no conception of a sovereign God giving life to a spiritually dead soul. In a word, they exhibit little or no grasp of a biblical order of salvation (Ordo Salutis). The emphasis in Scripture is not on what man does to appropriate the grace of God, but on what God does in applying it.
So far in the "Ordo Salutis" we have foreknowledge, predestination, state of death, effectual calling. What is next?
Acts 16:14 (NASB) And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
God opened her heart - this is the effectual calling - regeneration, and she responded in faith. She could not have responded if she was dead.
Based on the "Ordo Salutis," faith is the evidence of regeneration.
1 John 5:1 (NASB) Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.
The Greek text reads, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been [perfect tense] born of God." Wuest translates it, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, out from God has been born and as a result is his child." Law said, "The Divine begetting is the antecedent (go before) not the consequent of the believing." Jesus stated this concept in:
John 5:24 (NASB) "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
The one who believes does so because he has been given eternal life. Notice who it is that believes:
Acts 13:48 (NASB) And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
It is those who had been "appointed to eternal life" who believed. This is referring to predestination - election. They believed, because God gave them life.
So far in the "Ordo Salutis" we have foreknowledge, predestination, state of death, effectual calling, faith. What is next?
Acts 16:31 (NASB) And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household."
When we believe in Christ, we are saved - justified. The Scriptures are clear that faith in Jesus Christ is the instrumental precondition of justification. For example:
Romans 5:1 (NASB) Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Galatians 2:16 strongly states the same idea:
Galatians 2:16 (NASB) nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.
It would surely seem impossible to avoid the conclusion that salvation and justification are upon the event of faith or through the instrumentality of faith. God justifies the ungodly who believe in Jesus, in a word, believers.
The logical sequence is that faith precedes justification. Many Scriptures state that faith is the response of our heart and mind to the divine call to believe in Christ (Acts 16:31; 1 Cor. 1:9). Therefore, faith should be positioned in the broad outline between calling and justification. Therefore, in the application of salvation, this gives us the logical sequence of: foreknowledge, election, state of death, calling, faith, justification.
The place of adoption in the order of salvation may be discerned from an exegesis of:
John 1:12-13 (NASB) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John states that as many as received Him are given the right to become children of God. The Greek word translated as "right" (exousian) has the meaning of the legal word "authority"; it is referring to the legal act of God's grace in adoption. Therefore, John is teaching that faith is the necessary logical precondition to adoption. Since being adopted into God's family would presuppose that a person's sins are forgiven, and he is accepted by God as righteous, it is logical to assume that adoption follows justification.
The New Testament also speaks of positional sanctification as synonymous with justification.
1 Corinthians 6:11 (NASB) And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.
This passage speaks of sanctification in the same definitive terms as justification. Positional sanctification is an act that follows faith:
Acts 26:18 (NASB) to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'
Therefore, it should be positioned in the order of salvation as a concomitant act with justification and adoption.
We now have this order: foreknowledge, election, state of death, calling, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, and finally:
Colossians 3:4 (NASB) When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
Believers, Christ has been revealed, and we have been glorified! Glorification is nothing more than dwelling in God's presence. Believers, Christ is our life. He is in the presence of God, and, therefore, we are in the presence of God - in glory.
What are the practical applications of understanding the order of salvation? A person's beliefs about salvation will have practical effects in all of his Christian activity. When he understands that salvation is God's work, he will not be so caught up in methods or programs for witnessing, because he knows that only the Holy Spirit can create new life.
Secondly, our understanding of the "Ordo Salutis" should give us a newfound commitment to pray for the lost. Since God is the One who saves, we need to pray that He would save the lost. God has decreed the means of salvation as well as the end, and among the means is prayer. God has elected certain people to be saved, but He has also decreed that they will be saved through the preaching of the Gospel, therefore, the Gospel is one of the appointed means for working out the eternal counsel of the Lord; according to the Bible, prayer is another means:
1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NASB) First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Romans 10:1 (NASB) Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
Paul prayed for Israel's salvation. The same man who wrote Romans 9, which teaches the sovereignty of God in salvation, also wrote Romans 10:1 where he speaks of his prayers for the lost. If God wasn't sovereign, there wouldn't be much sense in praying to Him. Paul asked God to do for people what they could not do for themselves.
Thirdly, an understanding of the "Ordo Salutis" should cause a deep attitude of gratefulness to God. We didn't deserve to be justified, because we deserve hell, but God in His love reached out to us and made us alive. This is the gospel. The gospel is: "God saves sinners."
Apart from His work of giving spiritual life, no one would have ever sought Him, and everyone would die in his sins. A true understanding of the "Ordo Salutis" will humble us as nothing else can, and bring the heart into lowly submission and profound gratitude before God.