If you've read the "This I Believe" page on this site, it shouldn't be a surprise that I hold a reformed view in my soteriology (the study of salvation). While I don't believe a Christian is required to hold this view and the church I pastor doesn’t require that one hold this view of the order of salvation or the mechanics of how God does such a thing, I thought it might be helpful if I share my view. It does tend to come out from time to time in my writing, teaching, and preaching ministries. I also don't spend much time thinking or arguing about this because that is really unhelpful in the advancement of the Kingdom.
To start, what is “order of salvation”?
Looking at the order of salvation helps us understand our view of the mechanics of salvation. Much of the debate (but not all) has to do with how we order these mechanics, that is, how we think it happens. It’s important to remember that how ever we think it happens, the most important thing is that it does indeed happen. In addition, this view does not remove man's responsibility to repent and turn to God nor does it say God has no control in the matter. God is totally sovereign. The Bible shows us that all of these parts are involved in the process in some way or another, but the differences re found in the order they happen. Here’s the reformed view of the order of salvation as Wayne Grudem orders it in his book, Systematic Theology:
- Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)
- The gospel call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)
- Regeneration (being born again)
- Conversion (faith and repentance)
- Justification (right legal standing)
- Adoption (membership into God’s family)
- Sanctification (the process of growing into right living)
- Perseverance (Remaining a Christian)
- Death (leaving this stage of life and being with the Lord)
- Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)
A couple things probably need to be said about this list. First, this list is probably an oversimplification. Second, many of these things happen simultaneously. Third, perseverance does not suggest that you can lose your salvation (because that’s not biblical) but that being a Christian all the way to the end proves your were indeed a true Christian. And finally, the in the big picture, the order is a man-made list to try to understand what is happening from the biblical information. This is God’s business to sort out.
What does this mean in light of how other religions look at salvation. Well, this question has to do with what we must do to be saved. Is it that we must do all the right stuff and then God will determine we are good enough for salvation? No. God’s Word says we can’t earn our salvation. In fact, if left on our own, we would all reject God. But God ‘elects’ or intercedes to save some in order to show his glory, and he determined who they would before he created the world. . . which was way before any of us existed. The bottom line: you can’t do good works to save yourself any more than you can sit cross-legged on a folding chair and then lift yourself and the chair off the ground.
But does this mean the he selected others to be damned? No. Man's sin nature and our personal sin is why we are damned. God selected to save some. Yet many will say that's unfair, and they'd be right. The fair thing to do would let each and every person face the consequences of sin, which is death. But God send his son, Jesus Christ, so that all who would believe would have salvation. That's not far, but it's amazing grace--an undeserved gift. On the other hand, some think God should save everybody, but that would be inconsistent with his justice.
What is our role and what is God’s role in evangelism and making disciples? Why bother sharing the gospel if God already determined who would be given a regenerate heart and turn to him?
Here’s how that works.
A proclamation is made to the entire world to turn to God. Nobody is exempt from responding. As ambassadors of God, our job is to present that universal proclamation to the entire world. God's Word says that people need to hear the gospel in order to be able to respond to it. Now, some will answer “yes” to that call if God has changed them. After God has regenerated them, giving them a new heart, they will be able to convert (but not before). But that part is not up to us. Our part is to proclaim the universal call to the entire world. We also have a part in walking with our brothers and sisters in the process of sanctification and perseverance. That’s a solid part of discipleship. God does these parts through his people, which was made possible through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as well as the Holy Spirit. It's very cool that we get to be a part in the process through evangelism, which it is why evangelism grows us and brings us joy. Joy? Yes! It is exciting to see people into into the new life of Jesus Christ.
So while I believe it is up to God who will turn to him and be born again, it is up to me to continually make the call to repent and believe. That’s what God asks us to do. Some will be saved and some won’t, but that’s not my role. In addition, part of that universal call is that there is no work that man can do to save himself. It is only by God’s design, will, and power that man can be saved, by faith and grace alone, because of Jesus Christ.