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The Order of the Application of Salvation


I remember watching a program a few years ago in which a huge maze of dominos was assembled. Lines of stacked dominos ran every direction in a large warehouse. The dominos went up little ramps and crossed each other. It took over a month to construct the intricate rows of dominos. At a signal, carefully positioned cameras began to film and the first domino was pushed over into the second one in the row. A massive chain reaction took place as the rows of dominos began to fall. Some rows split into three and four rows that fell simultaneously. The room was filled with the loud clatter of falling domino tiles. In just a few minutes, every domino had fallen. The stunt was dramatic and illustrated how closely related objects affect each other.

The domino stunt is a reminder that the Bible contains a unified system of truth. Scripture interprets Scripture and the Bible does not present truth in terms of contradiction. Consequently, 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 the loss of one’s soul. 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 application of Christ’s work of salvation to the elect of God. A proper understanding of the logical order of the application of salvation is vital to a right understanding of the gospel.

This little book is a study of the various doctrines of salvation and their relationship with each other. Christ’s work on the cross met all the needs associated with our salvation. His accomplished work stands before us. The question is how is the sinner made a partaker of the work of atonement that Christ accomplished? This question addresses the issue of the application of Christ’s work and leads us to a study of the doctrines of salvation. In speaking of our salvation, the New Testament teaches that behind a sinner’s faith in Christ and every other spiritual grace he possesses is the sovereign saving activity of the Triune God. The New Testament also teaches that the application of salvation is not one act. John Murray writes: “When we think of the application of redemption we must not think of it as one simple and indivisible act. It comprises a series of acts and processes. To mention some, we have calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification. These are all distinct, and not one of these can be defined in terms of the other. Each has its own distinct meaning, function, and purpose in the action and grace of God.”1 These “series of acts and processes” follow an order in their application to the sinner. Historically, Reformed theologians have spoken of this as the “order of salvation” or ordo salutis. It is important to note that this order of salvation is a logical order and not a chronological one.

SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR THE LOGICAL SEQUENCE OF THE DOCTRINES OF SALVATION

For our purposes now, we are simply examining the Scriptural basis for the logical sequence of the act of salvation. The meaning of the terms will be considered later. Romans 8:28-30 serves as a good starting point for discerning the Scriptural basis for the logical sequence of the doctrines of salvation:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 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; 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 chain of unbreakable links that begin with foreknowledge and end with glorification. We have in this passage three acts in the application of salvation: calling, justification, and glorification. This passage also contains evidence that the order in which these acts are presented is intended to be a divine order of sequence. The first implication of a logical sequence is found in verse 28 in the expression “called according to His purpose.” This phrase indicates that a divine purpose is behind the order given in verses 29 and 30. This purpose is expressed in verse 29 as foreknowledge and predestination. Therefore, this purpose is an eternal purpose. This progression of thought is from foreknowledge to predestination. According to the construction of the passage, foreknowledge and predestination are prior to calling, justification, and glorification. The final three acts of salvation (calling, justification, and glorification) are obviously meant to be understood as sequential in order. Glorification is the final goal of the Christian’s salvation; it could not be logically prior to calling and justification. Since the passage gives clear indication that at least some of these acts are presented in a sequential order, it is proper to conclude that the order in which calling and justification are presented is an intended order of logical progression. Therefore, Romans 8:28-30 provides 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, but Romans 8:28-30 gives us a basic framework into which the other acts of salvation may be placed.

The next issue in discerning the order of salvation is the position of faith in the broad outline we have considered. The Scriptures are clear that faith in Jesus Christ is the instrumental precondition of justification. For example, Romans 5:1 states: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .” Galatians 2:16 strongly states the same idea: “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.” John Murray writes:

. . . the Scripture undoubtedly states that we are justified by faith, from faith, through faith, and upon faith (see Rom. 1:17; 3:22, 26, 28, 30; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:24; Phil. 3:9). It would surely seem impossible to avoid the conclusion that justification is upon the event of faith or through the instrumentality of faith. God justifies the ungodly who believe in Jesus, in a word, believers. And that is simply to say that faith is presupposed in justification, is the precondition of justification, not because we are justified on the ground of faith or for the reason that we are justified because of faith but only for the reason that faith is God’s appointed instrument through which he dispenses this grace.2

Therefore, faith is the antecedent to being justified and justification is dependent on the presence of faith. 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: calling, faith, justification, and glorification.

Closely related to faith is repentance; there is a coordination between repentance and faith. In Acts 20:21, Paul told the Ephesian elders at Miletus that he had taught them publicly and from house to house: “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith and repentance are interdependent graces. John Murray writes: “Repentance is the twin sister of faith – we cannot think of the one without the other, and so repentance would be cojoined with faith.”3 Therefore, repentance and faith are joined together as coordinate acts in the logical sequence of salvation. This gives us the order: calling, faith and repentance, justification, and glorification.

The place of adoption in the order of salvation may be discerned from an exegesis of John 1:12,13: “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, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” First, it is important to note that in this passage the act of “receiving” Christ (aorist tense in the Greek) and the continuous “believing in his name” (a present participle) both refer to faith in Jesus Christ. The first idea of receiving Christ refers to initial faith in Christ and the later idea of continually believing in his name refers to the instrumentality whereby the Christian continues to appropriate Christ’s benefits throughout his life.4 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 refering 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. John Murray writes: “Adoption would obviously come after justification – we could not think of one being adopted into the family of God without first being accepted by God and made an heir of eternal life.”5 This gives us the logical order: calling, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, and glorification.

A crucial question in the order of the application of salvation is the position of regeneration in the ordo salutis. John 1:13 indicates that those who receive and continually believe in Christ are those who have first been born of God. Robert Reymond writes,

Why do some people repent and respond by faith in Christ to the divine summons to faith while others do not? Concerning those who believe in Christ’s name John immediately says in John 1:13: “[These are they] who have been begotten [egennethesan], not by blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of a husband, but by God.” By this particular reference to God’s ‘begetting’ activity John refers to regeneration, and clearly suggests by his statement that, while faith is the instrumental precondition to justification and adoption, regeneration is the necessary precondition and efficient cause of faith in Jesus Christ. In short, regeneration causally precedes faith.6

This is a crucial point in the debates between Arminian and Reformed theology. The idea that regeneration precedes faith relates closely to the biblical teaching concerning the nature of sin and its effect on man. The Bible teaches emphatically that sin corrupts the totality of man’s heart; a person’s will and desires are under the slavery of sin (Titus 3:3-5), he is dead in sin without spiritual life or any inclination toward Christ (Eph. 2:1-3), he does not have the moral ability to choose Christ apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (John 1:12,13; 6:44,45, 63-65), and the things of God are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14). For saving faith and repentance to be present, a prior work of regeneration must take place. Scripture is clear and consistent on the point that, because of man’s radical falleness, God is the divine initiator of salvation (John 3:1-10; Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 2:13). This relationship between regeneration and faith and repentance is crucial for a proper understanding of the grace of God. 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. Consequently, what may seem to be a small theological point concerning the relationship of regeneration and faith and repentance has large ramifications concerning the grace of God and the nature of the gospel itself. In the following chapters, we will examine the key debate points and Scriptures that show the idea that regeneration precedes faith and repentance. In terms of the relationship between calling and regeneration, Roman 8:30 teaches that glorification is the last act in the application of salvation. This implies that calling is the first act in the application of salvation. Therefore, calling either precedes regeneration or regeneration is the work of God that makes calling effectual. This now fleshes out our order of the application of salvation gives us the following order: calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, and glorification.

The concept of sanctification is usually thought of as a progressive work that follows justification and adoption. The New Testament, however, also speaks of a type of sanctification that is a definitive act. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:11 states: “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, and in the Spirit of our God.” (see also: Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2). These passages speak of sanctification in the same definitive terms as justification. Definitive sanctification is an act that follows faith (Acts 26:18: “. . . 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: calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, definitive sanctification, and glorification.

The final aspect of the order of salvation to be considered is progressive sanctification. As its name implies, it is a continuous process rather than a momentary act like calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, definitive sanctification, and glorification. John Murray writes: “Sanctification is a process that begins, we might say, in regeneration, finds its basis in justification, and derives its energizing grace from the union with Christ which is effected in effectual calling.”7 A life-long process of dying more and more to sin and “growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18) begins when the sinner is regenerated. Part of this life-long process is God’s enabling the redeemed to persevere (Philippians 1:6; 3:13,14; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). Therefore, perseverance is placed in the order of salvation as a concomitant of progressive sanctification. This completes our order of the application of salvation and gives us the following order: effectual calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, definitive sanctification, progressive sanctification (perseverance), and glorification.

Robert Reymond gives this explanation and chart of the order of the application of salvation:

From all this, the following order of application has emerged. Concomitant aspects of the order are highlighted by arranging them in vertical columns under five headings indicating which aspects are entirely divine acts and which aspects entail human activity working both in response to and in conjunction with accompanying divinely initiated activity. It should be noted that the first three columns to do not reflect chronological occurrences, since the moment the sinner is regenerated, in that moment he repents and places his confidence in Christ’s saving work, and in that same moment God justifies, definitively sanctifies, and adopts and seals him. These columns reflect the logical (or causal) connection between the several aspects.8

In the chapters that follow, we will examine the biblical teaching concerning each of these doctrines as well as further examine the biblical warrant for this order of the application of salvation.

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Works Cited

1 John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982 reprint of 1955 edition), 79, 80.
2 Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 85.
3 Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 87.
4 Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 708.
5 Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 87.
6 Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 708.
7 Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 87.
8 Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 711.

 

Next article in this series: Man’s Radical Corruption

 

About the author

Dr. Van Lees

Dr. Van Lees is the pastor/teacher of Covenant of Grace Church. He has been the pastor of the church since 1985 when it started. Dr. Lees has a M. Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary, a D. Min. from Reformed Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Whitefield Theological Seminary.