Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Biblical Ordo Salutis for Biblical Calvinists

Calvinists are well known for their desire to order things. They are characterized by a love of explaining the sequence in which events occur. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, much is right with it, and perhaps this is part of the reason so many of us love history (besides the fact that history serves as one of the great confirmations for our Scripture-saturated doctrine--where better to provide examples of Total Depravity, for example?). Some Reformed theologians have even attempted to reach back into the pre-historic depths of eternity to logically "order" the divine decrees hidden in the heart and mind of a timeless and incomprehensible God. That doesn't seem wise or even possible.

The folly of attempting to chronologically arrange events that took place in eternity should be obvious (notice that even this way of attempting to say it is paradoxical--can we accurately say that "events" take place in eternity without thereby viewing eternity as just another form of time as we know it?). Nevertheless, the general ordering of events related to the conversion of souls (that is, an ordo salutis or "order of salvation")  is both wise and useful. 

Why is an ordo salutis wise and a sequence of decrees impossible? Simply because conversion occurs in the lives of human beings and in time, while the divine decrees are relegated to pre-creation and hidden in the secret and eternal counsels of God.

With all of that said, the following is an attempt to articulate a Biblical ordo salutis. May the contemplation of these truths lead to greater joy, delight and exaltation of our great and gracious and glorious God in the hearts of His saints! This is no mere theological exercise, but a call to worship God alone.


1. Election (before Creation)
Election is God's PLAN from before time to accomplish Justification, Redemption, Reconciliation, Adoption, Sonship, Sanctification, Forgiveness and Mercy in Christ for the benefit of His chosen ones. God hasn't revealed much about what He did before the world began, but He has made it abundantly clear that He elected His chosen ones to salvation at that "time."

2. Atonement (AD 33)
The Gospel is God's ACCOMPLISHMENT and OFFER of Justification, Reconciliation, Redemption, Adoption, Sonship, Sanctification, Forgiveness and Mercy in Christ. At this point the plan has been accomplished in Christ, and an infinite provision has been made, but it is not yet fulfilled in or applied to the unconverted elect. The atoning work of Christ is sufficient ground for all of the benefits of the Gospel to be sincerely offered to all people, and it is the basis of the believer's salvation.

3. Regeneration & Conversion (when the Gospel is heard and received by faith)
Regeneration is God's ACT of uniting the elect to Christ through the gift of Repentance and Faith, bringing forensic Justification, applied Redemption, positional Reconciliation, legal Adoption & Sonship, definitive Sanctification, confirmed Forgiveness and saving Mercy to the elect. At this point all the benefits of Christ's sacrifice are received by the believer objectively, by faith, but they are not yet subjectively experienced in their fullness.

4. Discipleship (earthly life following conversion)
The Christian life is the believer's ongoing EXPERIENCE of received Justification, celebrated Redemption, enjoyed Reconciliation, recognized Adoption & Sonship, progressive Sanctification, accepted Forgiveness and received Mercy in Christ. At this point the believer actively and outwardly responds to God's Word and work within, living as God's instrument of righteousness and grace in this world.
5. Glorification (upon seeing the Lord face to face, i.e. at death or the Lord's return)
Glorification is the CONSUMMATION and completion of the believer's experience of Justification, Redemption, Reconciliation, Adoption, Sonship, Sanctification, Forgiveness and Mercy in Christ. At some point in future, all of the pieces will come together in the believer's experience of a glorified resurrection body. Thus we shall delight in and serve the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and body forever.


Several important theological values drive this ordo salutis:
  • From start to finish, salvation is God's sole work
  • Beginning with conversion, each step involves the believer in a deeper experience of God's work
  • Beginning with discipleship, each step involves the believer in a greater participation in God's work
  • Christ's finished work is the sole basis of conversion, discipleship and glorification
  • The Holy Spirit monergistically grants faith to the elect at the point of conversion
  • Faith brings the believer into union with Christ
  • All of the benefits of salvation are received in Christ Himself, by faith alone, and through the Spirit
  • In the objective sense, the various aspects of salvation (justification, reconciliation, definitive sanctification, etc.) are all received concurrently
  • Forensic aspects of conversion (e.g. legal Justification) and experiential aspects of discipleship (e.g. progressive Sanctification) are necessarily distinct from one another (this is usually expressed as a strict separation between "justification" and "sanctification")
  • In salvation, the forensic is the ground of the experiential, the unconditional is the guarantee of the conditional, divine action is the source of human activity, the instantaneous leads to the progressive, and the objective is the basis of the subjective

Some Calvinists insist that regeneration precedes conversion. It should be noted that this does not necessarily imply chronological precedence, but a precedence in the logical ordering of events. They ask: "Logically, how can a radically depraved sinner believe the Gospel without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit?" However, there is no Biblical or logical need to assume that regeneration takes place either before or after conversion. Why shouldn't regeneration take place at the precise moment of conversion (chronologically) and in conjunction with conversion (logically)? Faith does not arise from man's "free will" (rather, it frees his bound will!); it is graciously given by the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion. Faith need not precede union with Christ, and union with Christ need not precede faith, but conversion and regeneration happen simultaneously as the Holy Spirit gives both Christ and faith (or faith IN Christ) to a sinner via Effectual Calling. Right along with faith comes the believer's union with Christ, and vice versa. Our faith is quite literally "in Him." In this union with Christ the believer objectively possesses all of the benefits of salvation. As the believer abides in Christ, he subjectively and progressively experiences those benefits. This is discipleship. At the moment of glorification, the believer's subjective and progressive experience of salvation becomes immutable, eternal and complete. In the resurrection body, glorification is comprehensive.


Think of that wondrous, manifold gift which God planned to give you from eternity past, provided for you in the sacrifice of His Son, imparted to you by irresistible grace, continues to work in you by sanctifying grace, and promises to complete through your ultimate glorification in Christ! We are a blessed people indeed! We have been brought from death to life!

If you have a theological mind and Reformed convictions, please evaluate this ordo salutis and feel free to offer any thoughtful critique. If there are important points I have missed here, feel free to address them.

More importantly, preach the Gospel to yourself and others today. Live the Gospel by the grace He gives. And thank Him for it.
Grateful acknowledgement is made to David Ponter for numerous suggestions which contributed to the improvement of this essay.

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