Tonight, we will be discussing a topic that sounds much scarier than it actually is. The Ordo Salutis, which is Latin for “The Order of Salvation”, describes the process by which salvation is realized in our hearts and lives. When early Christians began thinking about the ramifications of their faith in Christ (“I’m a believer, so now what?”), they realized that there was a pattern to the process and in the teaching of the apostles. So, they scoured the Old Testament and the letters & doctrines of the apostles and assembled what became known as the Ordo Salutis. Now, this sequence is intended to be logical rather than chronological, because some of the steps are sequential, while others occur simultaneously.
While the Bible does not give us an explicit list of all the steps of salvation, it does provide support for each of these concepts. Probably the clearest description that it does give us is found in Romans 8:29-30:
For God knew his people in advance [foreknowledge], and he chose them to become like his Son [election], so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters [adoption]. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him [calling]. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself [justification]. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. [glorification]
So you see that while you don’t get the complete picture, the framework for the ideas that we are talking about emerges with even just a cursory reading of Scripture. As Christians continued to grow in their faith, they built upon this framework and were able to identify additional steps in the process, or flesh out what these concepts mean, until we arrived at the traditional understanding of salvation. Although sometimes different writers and branches of Christianity will use different terms for each of the stages, the vast majority of Christians believe that this progression accurately describes the various stages of a disciple’s journey.
In the teaser that I posted on Facebook, I promised to make soteriologists of you all. That word soteriology simply means “the study of the religious doctrine of salvation.” Well, that’s what we are going to be doing for the next few weeks and I hope that by the end of this study you will at least have an introductory knowledge of what it means when you hear these terms. However, before we can begin walking through the various steps of salvation, there are a couple of ideas that we must grasp first.
The first thing that we must understand is that our individual redemption fits into a much larger narrative, sometimes known as “The Eternal Plan of God/Salvation.” What this means is that God knew and declared, before the world ever began, that it would be necessary for His Son to become human, to suffer & die for the sins of our race, to be resurrected from the dead, to intercede on our behalf before the Father, and to return to claim His own in the world. Now, I know that’s a mouthful, but what I am trying to communicate is that God was not surprised by our fall from grace, and He put into motion a plan that would repair the brokenness of His people and the world. How do we know this? Well, because Old Testament is full of verses and prophecies that foretell who Jesus will be and what He will do. And in the New Testament, if you look at the teaching of the apostles, it clearly states it! Here are some examples:
Acts 2:23 — “But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.”
Acts 3:18 — “But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things.”
Acts 4:27-28 — “In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will.”
1 Peter 1:19-20 — “It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake.”
So we are not just presuming to know what God was thinking/doing. The Bible clearly proclaims that God’s plan for redemption was laid out before the world began, and therefore your salvation was arranged before the world began. That’s a pretty amazing thought!
And that leads us to our second consideration, which is the idea of Foreknowledge and the Omniscience of God. While our knowledge is (extremely!) limited, God’s is infinite. If we think about how limited our perspective is, even when it comes to things that we can experience through our five senses (standing on a river bank, for example), it’s not hard to imagine how God, who inhabits a realm where time, change and sensory perception are completely irrelevant, might have a much different perspective of the sweep of history. Now, we could spend a lot of time talking about how foreknowledge and the freedom of human will are compatible, and indeed, much ink has been spilled on the subject, but ultimately we have to accept on faith that God knew what He was doing when He created the world knowing that we were going to mess things up. That’s what makes God’s eternal plan of salvation so cool. God has revealed the big picture of his plan, and although we don’t know how everything is going to work out, we can trust that God has it all under control! So, with that having been said, the idea of Foreknowledge leads directly into the first step of the Ordo Salutis, Election.
Election, which is sometimes called Predestination, refers to the free, sovereign act of God’s grace where He chose for Himself everyone that He knew would respond positively to His expressions of love and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. What this means is that before God created anything, He knew who would accept His invitation, and He set you apart as belonging to His people. We see an example of this with the prophet Jeremiah (1:5):
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
Like Jeremiah, God has a plan and a purpose for you in His kingdom, so you could say that you are destined to be a Christian! Paul also talks about Election in Ephesians 1:4-5:
“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”
This tells us several things about Election:
We are chosen because of God’s great love for humanity, and for you personally.
We are chosen in and through Christ, meaning that it is not something we earned. Christ earned it for us.
The result of being chosen is that we are adopted into the family of God.
We are chosen because God wanted to do it. Nothing forced Him to do so.
The purpose of being chosen is to display God’s glory in the gift of His grace.
I don’t know how you feel about it, but I am always amazed to think that God has this huge, over-arching plan that stretches from eternity past, through thousands of years of human history into the future, and that in some small way, I have a part to play in that process. It is a thought that is both humbling and inspiring at the same time!
Finally, we come to the idea of Calling. Effectual Calling (or Vocation) refers to God’s summoning of people to Himself through the gospel so they respond in saving faith. God’s call goes forth in many different forms (sermons, songs, literature, art, conversations, providential dealings, etc.), but the message is always the same. God, in love, seeks to reconcile sinners to Himself, to repair their broken hearts, minds & souls, and give them new, everlasting life. Salvation is freely offered to everyone — the Bible says “whosoever will” may come. God’s offer is universal in range, for He desires to save everyone, even though some will choose to refuse the offer.
In closing, I wanted to point out that this topic relates directly to the name of our student ministry: CHOSEN. When I selected the name, I picked it because it carries a double meaning relating to the interaction between God’s will and our own. In one sense of the word, we are CHOSEN because God graciously elected us as His own, to be adopted into His family, in the eternity past. And in another sense, we have CHOSEN, of our own free will, to respond to God’s call, to become His disciples and to live our lives in a relationship with Him.
Next Week: Regeneration & Conversion