The doctrine of salvation is not a simple doctrine, but rather a complex doctrine. The doctrine of salvation is easy to understand, but it is connected with many other doctrines found in Scripture. The Bible says “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:32). The Bible also reveals a logical order of the causes and effects which produce salvation. Theologians often use the Latin terminology ordo salutis (order of salvation) to describe the biblical doctrine of salvation, which includes election, calling, regeneration, conversion (repentance and faith), justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. The order of salvation refers to the logical order of the causes and effects which explain the fullness of the doctrine of salvation.
Effectual calling is used to describe that part of the order of salvation that is first in the logical order. Our limited understanding of the application of God’s grace must not keep us from our inquiry into and belief of this important doctrine. It is a calling that brings about the desired effect. Those who are effectually called actually come to faith.
Regeneration refers to the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit of God so that the children of God are given new life in Jesus Christ and enabled to understand and embrace the gospel. The Holy Spirit operates by divine initiative to give those who are dead in sin a new life in Christ which is called regeneration. Regeneration is necessary before faith. The regenerated mind and will are able to believe the call of God. The work of regeneration is strictly passive. The inspired apostle said it is the “power of God who has saved us and called us with a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:8-9). Theologians freely admit the ordinary way of salvation is by grace through faith and usually by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). God usually works by means or instruments; however He may work without the use of second causes. It is not out of God’s character to act directly upon the souls of those who cannot hear the Word of God or understand the Word of God. It may be mysterious and miraculous to the human mind, but consistent with the character of God. The doctrine of regeneration changes the condition of the soul, but regeneration does not remove the guilt of Adam’s sin. The guilt must be removed by an act of God which will be explained in greater detail.
Saving faith has historically been understood to consist of three constituent parts. Notitia, which is the grasping of the concepts inherent in saving faith, assensus, which is the affirmation that these concepts are true, and fiducia which means to trust based on what is known and affirmed as true. Fiducia, meaning to trust God for eternal salvation is critical because the devil himself understands the gospel, knows that it is true, and yet hates it. Likewise, the children of Satan may understand and know the truth of God’s saving grace, but hating it they refuse to trust (John 8:42-47). Biblical faith is not a leap in the dark, or something to be contrasted with knowledge, but a conscious trust in the truth that can be demonstrated by the Word of God. God’s saving grace is all a gift from God. Christians often say they “exercised their faith” for the saving of the soul. Every aspect of salvation is from God, even faith itself. The inspired apostle Paul says we are “saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Apart from the grammatical criticisms against “that” being a reference to faith, the logic of the language seems very clear. When the Holy Spirit of God renews or regenerates the heart, the Holy Spirit also produces faith. Man cannot produce his own saving faith. It must come from God. Believing that Christ and His righteousness are sufficient to save your soul is not enough. You must trust Christ to pardon you of your sin and accept you as righteous in the sight of God.
Repentance in the New Testament refers to the change of one’s mind. The sinner has a change of mind then God calls the sinner to turn from his or her sin to God with the purpose of obeying God’s commandments. The Greek word translated “repentance” as it is used in the Bible refers to a complete change of mind accompanied by a new design for living a godly life. The context is extremely important for understanding the meaning of a word. For instance, in Acts 11:18 the Bible speaks of a repentance that leads to life. In that context the word translated “repentance” encompasses the entire conversion experience. Repentance is intellectual and has an effect on the will so that a change of mind should be reflected by a change of behavior.
Justification is an act of God so that God declares the believer righteous. God judges the believer to be innocent based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Justification is found in the Old Testament (See Genesis 15:6) and the New Testament (See Romans 5:1). The Protestant Church originally taught that faith was the alone instrument by which Christians were justified. Deviation from that doctrine occurred as the church denominated.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that baptism and penance are the instruments of justification. According to the Roman Catholic Church, baptism is a one time sacrament whereby justifying grace is infused into the soul. However, that grace can be lost by committing a mortal sin. The Sacrament of penance is the instrument by which justifying grace may be obtained again which is called the second plank of justification.
The salvation of the soul is the central aspect of the doctrine of justification. The word justification used in relation to the doctrine of salvation in Scripture is always used in a forensic (legal) sense. It is a divine act whereby God declares the elect of God, who are sinners and deserve condemnation, to be acceptable in His sight. The forensic (legal) language in the Bible explains our standing before God. For instance, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). Paul’s view is that justification stands in opposition to condemnation. Paul’s judicial language describes and explains this important doctrine. The only way a sinner can be declared in a favorable relation with God is by the satisfaction of God’s justice. Too often it is said the sinner’s justification is free. It should be correctly stated that justification is a free gift. However the gift required payment and Christ freely gave Himself for that payment. The gift is free, or to put it another way, the grace is free to the recipient, but it was not free to the divine Son of God. It was Christ and His obedience and death that paid the debt thus satisfying God’s justice. Although justification is more kairotic (point of time), than it is chronological (sequence of time), justification does have a lasting effect. In fact, if a sinner is justified, the result is eternal. Christians are not justified one day and unjustified the next day. Martin Luther believed that the doctrine of justification was the article by which the church stands or falls. He is right in the sense that there is no salvation if there is no justification.
Adoption is the grace of God for the heirs of everlasting salvation. The Westminster Larger Catechism describes adoption as “an act of the free grace of God.” It should be understood that adoption is a legal act of God in the sense that it is something that God does apart from any merit on the part of the Christian.
The theological concept of adoption is explicitly present in the New Testament in the writings of the apostle Paul (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). Words like sonship, heir, and begotten are relative to the doctrine of adoption. The apostle Paul used the word adoption to describe the relationship a converted sinner has in the family of God. Justification describes a judge declaring a convicted felon not guilty. Adoption describes the loving relationship a father has toward his son.
The benefits of adoption include a particular marking by God. Those adopted in and for the sake of Christ will have the name of God written on them (Revelation 3:12). They will be marked as God’s children. They are freed from the slavery of sin and taken under the care of a loving Father. Adoption as sons of God will issue an eternal inheritance in glory with Christ. All these and more are the privileges of the sons of God because they are predestined to adoption (Ephesians 1:5).
Sanctification is the process of being made righteous. I emphasize the on-going process in the doctrine of sanctification. The doctrine of the evangelical church holds that Christians are declared righteous by God the moment they trust in the atoning work of Christ. The atoning work of Christ is the basis for believers to be justified by faith alone. Then believers begin growing in the likeness of Christ according to the biblical doctrine of sanctification. They become progressively more like what God judges them to be in justification. Sanctification is synergistic, a cooperative work between the individual and the Holy Spirit, who works both to will and to do His good pleasure. The process can proceed at different rates with different believers, but with all believers it does indeed proceed. The process is complete when the child of God is glorified. It does not mean Christians must be pure sometime before they die, but that at their death the process is brought to its end and then they are glorified. The biblical doctrine of sanctification teaches that a regenerate heart justified by faith alone breaks the dominion of sin, but there remains the presence of sin. This leads many professing Christians into a state of confusion. The result is often a life of uncertainty and residual dualism. The constant struggle to overcome the evil that remains in the whole man often leads one to believe that one may not be a saved sinner. The struggle is not a Gnostic form of dualism, but rather a struggle of the new nature against the old nature. The war will continue until death when the old man will finally be defeated. Christians struggle against sin. Unbelievers do not struggle against sin. Fighting against sin is a sign of new life in Jesus Christ. More will be said in Chapter 19 relative to the doctrine of sanctification.
Glorification is the final estate of the Christian’s salvation experience. It will involve the full redemption of body and soul. The mortal body will take on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53). Glorification will reveal the power of God over death, the final enemy of Christian believers (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Jesus Christ is the necessary axiom for any understanding of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life. The apostle Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, asserts that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). It is the duty of every Christian to reflect on the nature of Jesus Christ. Reflect on the Prophet preeminent who reveals to His people by His Spirit and the Word the whole will of God. Reflect on the High Priest whose sacrifice is without blemish and is continually making intercession for Christians. Reflect on the King of the universe who rules over and protects His people. Reflect on the need for a Savior that promises eternal life.
*Taken from The Essence of Christian Doctrine, by Martin Murphy