What steps take place in the salvation of a Christian? Today, Barry Cooper provides an encouraging reminder that God’s redemption of His people is an unstoppable process.
I’d like to talk about the ordo salutis. As well as being a brilliant name for a character in Star Wars, ordo salutis is also a Latin phrase which means “order of salvation.”
The ordo salutis answers the question, What steps take place in the salvation of a Christian?
If we were being very minimal, we might say that the necessary steps in salvation are simply “repent and believe in Jesus.” But is there anything that happens before a person can repent? And is there anything that must happen after a person believes? The ordo salutis shows that salvation is a beautifully sprawling process that spans not only the whole of a person’s life but extends outward even beyond history, and beyond time itself.
We get a compressed glimpse of the ordo salutis in Romans chapter 8 verses 28 to 30. It’s almost like watching a time-lapse video of a Christian’s entire spiritual life from beginning to end.
And we know [says the Apostle Paul] that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 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.
Do you hear the ordo salutis there? God foreknows, then predestines, then calls, then justifies, and then ultimately glorifies the believer. There is a logical process at work.
The pacing of the ordo salutis isn’t uniform. There’s no neat three-year gap between each thing happening. Some of these things occur—to all intents and purposes—simultaneously. For example, is it really possible for us to separate in time the moment when God regenerates a person and gives that person faith, from the moment He justifies that person? But that’s not the point of the ordo salutis. The intent is to show that God sovereignly ordains each part of the process in a person’s salvation, and that the process, once begun by God, is inexorable, unstoppable.
And that is a source of enormous strength and comfort for the believer. The inevitability of the ordo salutis shows that our Heavenly Father never gets halfway through saving a person and says: “You know what? This one’s blown it yet again. I’m out.”
Paul’s saying, those whom God predestines to be saved will ultimately be glorified. The chain can’t be broken or interrupted. It’s a countdown that can’t be aborted.
In fact, that thought seems to be behind Paul using the word “glorified” in the past tense. You’re expecting “those whom he justified he will also glorify.” Instead, Paul says, “those whom he justified he also glorified.” He’s saying, if a believer has been justified, then it’s as if he has already been glorified—even though, temporally speaking, that moment is yet to come.
That’s why Paul can say at the end of the chapter that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Once He sets His saving love on a person, He loves them to eternity.
When I first became a Christian, I found myself troubled by the fact that while some sins in my life seemed to suffer an immediate and lasting death, others were more tenacious. I was being told by my pastor—quite rightly—that everything had been accomplished by Christ on my behalf, that Christ had overthrown the power of Satan, sin, and death. And yet, from my perspective, it seemed that that unpleasant trio were still very much in operation in my life. Was I really saved, then?
The ordo salutis reminds believers in that situation—which is all believers, surely—that while in one sense our salvation is “already,” in another sense it is “not yet.” We are united with Him, and yet we await him.
Salvation has already happened. We have certainly and irrevocably received eternal life. We cannot fall away finally from Christ. Yet, in another sense, salvation is still to come, because we haven’t yet experienced all of its benefits: we haven’t yet been glorified. We certainly will be. Sin will be entirely removed from us at our deaths or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first. But until that glorification happens in time, however, we are still midway through the ordo salutis.
To pick up on the language Paul uses in Romans chapter 8, yes, I may be called and justified, but I am yet to be glorified. I surely will be glorified, but that has not yet happened in time. And as long as I live in that “already but not yet” state, my salvation—while certain—is not yet, in my everyday experience, fully complete.
That is a reassuring thought for me as I continue to battle sin in my life, and I hope it will be for you too. My ongoing sin—assuming I am repenting of it and not making excuses for it—isn’t proof that my salvation never happened. It is a reminder that I must continue to look to Christ and eagerly await the day when my salvation will inevitably reach its completion.