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Theology > Salvation > Sovereignty in Salvation > Ordo Salutis


The ordo salutis literally means the “order of salvation”; if the concept is accepted, it must be carefully explained as to what is included and what is excluded. In a general sense it speaks of the benefits that come to the believer in the experience of salvation, and the order in which they are realized.

Principally the entire matter of salvation was determined for the believer before time, both its accomplishment and its application. Scripture support is found in Rom. 8:29-30, and while the passage does suggest some sequential occurrence, it does not explicitly teach an order of salvation. Paul writes:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Although in principle all things belong to the believer, in practice the realization of all things, that is, the development and growth in Christ is gradual. When the individual comes to be “in Christ” all of the blessings of salvation come to the believer, blessings determined before time but applied in time. To be in Christ is to have it all, but the realization is by degrees.

It is obvious that while, one the one hand, all things are secured by Christ in keeping with the eternal determination by God, on the other hand, some blessings come to the experience of the believer not only logically but temporally. Regeneration marks the beginning of the believer’s experience in time, while glorification marks the beginning of the believer’s experience of eternity. Though the believer in a principle sense possesses all things according to his election, experientially he comes to the fullness of his possessions in a progressive manner (see: A Process). Generally speaking Paul, in the above passage from Romans, states the following order: Foreknowledge – Predestination – Calling – Justification – Glorification. While other concepts, or events in salvation, are not rejected by their lack of inclusion in this list, still an order is depicted by these verses.

While the proper reflection on salvation is more logical than temporal, the mind must reflect on the experience of salvation; and in doing so, some blessings appear to be instantaneous, while others are progressive. To think such sequential thoughts does not detract from the fullness of salvation or the completeness of salvation. It merely assists in understanding salvation, and grasping something of the comprehensiveness of salvation and its complexity.

But it should be pointed out that the Scriptures themselves do not reflect great interest in such a listing, perhaps because it is impossible or because it is improper. The purchase of salvation and the application of salvation contain numerous facets with all of them interconnected, and they cannot be neatly separated into some chronological order. Even in Paul’s list in Romans all the events in traditional listings of the ordo are not listed. Was Paul creating a list, or was he simply making a point that all of salvation is the doing of God and that His doing will be completed? In this sense the list becomes pedagogical.

Significant differences among believers surface when the blessings of salvation are listed in order as to their realization by the believer. For instance does regeneration precede faith (Reformed), or does faith precede regeneration (Arminian)? Some writers merge the objective work of Christ with the subjective work in the believer, such as joining justification and regeneration, while some combine justification and sanctification, making both of them a process. The point is that an order of events is itself debatable, with numerous theological implications for whatever order is proffered.

The question of the order of salvation was unknown prior to the Reformation; in none of the Scholastics is it mentioned. In fact, the entire topic of Soteriology scarcely had a place among the topics of Theology. Usually the discussion went from Christ to the Church, with the current topics of Soteriology discussed under other headings.

All of the attempts to formulate some sort of order is an endeavor to understand the ways of God, that is, to comprehend the manner in which God administers the blessings of salvation to the sinner; it not about the sinner but about the God of the sinner. “The emphasis in not on what man does in appropriating the grace of God, but on what God does in applying it” (L. Berkhof, ST, 416).

Without displaying any dogmatism and with the realization that any order is human, logical, and perhaps erroneous, the following suggestion will be proffered:

God’s Election (salvation and the individuals who are to be saved have been eternally in the mind of God; included are God’s foreknowledge and predestination);

The Call of God (the initiative in the work of salvation is with God; it begins with Him, not with man; God approaches man in grace—man does not approach God on his own);

Union with Christ (all of the benefits that come to the sinner come through and because of the Person and Work of Christ; the believer is identified with Christ);

Regeneration (because of Christ and because of God’s determination, the sinner, who is dead spiritually, is given spiritual life; he is made alive to God);

Conversion (with God’s grace providing ability the sinner, who now has life, turns from his sin—repentance—and turns to God—faith);

Justification (through the instrument of faith the sinner is declared just, receiving the forgiveness of God, the righteousness of Christ, reconciliation to God, and adoption into the family of God);

Sanctification (the justified sinner begins a life-long process of dealing with the power of sin in the life and the responsibility to pursue holiness);

Preservation and Perseverance (through life God keeps His own and enables His own to continue until the end a life of repentance and faith);

Glorification (the end of salvation is the fact that all things will be made new).

Aspects of salvation cannot be neatly separated, for their connection to each other and penetration into each other is so profound that it is impossible to separate them anymore than the Persons of the Trinity can be separated and made autonomous. Some of the blessings of salvation are purchased by Christ on the cross, while others are applied to the believer by the Holy Spirit, and the application is always predicated on the purchase. But while the various facets of salvation cannot be separated they can be distinguished, especially for the sake of discussion, comprehension, and teaching.

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