by Derek Thomas
A good starting point in considering the order of salvation, or the application of redemption, is the following definition by Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology: “The ordo salutis describes the process by which the work of salvation, wrought in Christ, is subjectively realized in the hearts and lives of sinners. It aims at describing in their logical order, and also in their interrelations, the various movements of the Holy Spirit in the application of the work of redemption.”
As Calvin says at the start of Book 3 of his Institutes, all that Christ has done for us is “useless and of no value” unless it is applied to us. This the Spirit does by his personal representative agent, the Holy Spirit, who, by turns, enlightens us (Eph. 1:17-18), regenerates us (Jn. 3:5-8), leads us into holiness (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:16-18), transforms us (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23), gives assurance (Rom. 8:16) and brings us home (Phil. 1:6). In addition, something of an order is seen in Romans 8:29-30 – what William Perkins famously called “The Golden Chain” – when Paul alludes to the (seemingly) logical order or foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification (despite no mention of sanctification).
No aspect of the finished work of Christ or its application may be considered apart from “union with Christ,” which functions as an architectonic principle (much like the spokes of a wheel relate to the hub). In that sense, the order functions not as a chronological order but a conceptual one: “union with Christ” is the framework of how all the various elements of salvation (regeneration, justification, sanctification, adoption etc.) become true of the individual believer. In that sense, all the various conceptual parts form one whole – a single act.
There are no “stages” to salvation in this regard. Salvation is being incorporated “in Christ” (Eph. 1); when we come into Christ, all of these elements of salvation occur simultaneously (what’s true of Christ becomes true of us). Still, some chronological issues prove necessary – in a reformed ordo salutis, for example, faith and repentance cannot occur before regeneration, glorification (at least as a completed reality) cannot occur before justification.
A suggested order, therefore is as follows: (union with Christ), calling, regeneration, repentance/faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification. Some nuances are necessary: Paul seems to distinguish both a legal and transformative aspect to sanctification (Christians are both “sanctified” (called “holy,” or “saints” 1 Cor. 1:1-2) and in need of being sanctified (hence the imperative “be holy” (1 Pet. 1:15)). Thus, it is increasingly common to see two distinct aspects of sanctification referred to – definitive and progressive sanctification. Thus a more nuanced ordo might be: (union with Christ), calling, regeneration, repentance/faith, justification, definitive sanctification, adoption, progressive sanctification, glorification.