The ordo salutis (order of salvation) is a Reformation doctrine that describes the way God ordinarly applies salvation to his people. Typically, the ordo goes something like this: election, calling, regeneration, faith/repentance, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. Though the ordo is somewhat temporal, it is primarily a logical way to summarize the Bible’s teaching on the topic. Unfortunately, a few Reformed theologians have rejected the ordo (i.e. Herman Ridderbos). Other theologians – not necessarily Reformed theologians – say that the Bible does not teach a coherent ordo salutis and therefore they accuse Reformed theology for imposing this “system” upon the Bible. However, the Reformed teaching of the ordo is based explicity upon Scripture. For example, John 3:3, Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 2:1-10, and 1 John 3:14 quite clearly show that someone who is dead in sin can neither believe in Christ, do truly good works, or expect to enjoy eternal life. The ordo is not just a fashionable Latin word we use to show off knowledge. Rather, it is a great way to highlight the comforting truths of the doctrines of grace.
I appreciate John Fesko’s comments on the ordo salutis. He explains that the biblical terms used for the ordo (i.e. calling, regeneration, etc.) are not just metaphors. Fesko also says that the Bible does teach a relationship among the different truths of the gospel (it does not contradict itself).
“This leaves us with the task of relating the various elements of our redemption. This is of the utmost importance. In fact, one can say that without the ordo salutis the gospel is lost.”
“Reformed theologians have long observed the dangers in confounding the constituent elements of justification. Turretin observed that his opponents converted justification, which was a forensic act, into a physical or moral process, or that which takes place before God and that which takes place in us. Likewise, John Murray observes that ‘if justification is confused with regeneration or sanctification, then the door is opened for the perversion of the gospel at its center.'”
“In other words, if it does not matter where the believer’s good works enter the process of salvation, then what difference does it make whether the believer’s good works come before his faith and are in some way preparatory for the grace of justification? Such confusion over the proper place of works, however, negates the grace of God in justification and the necessity of Christ’s work. Without an ordo salutis chaos ensues and the gospel is lost. Hence, the concept of the ordo salutis is necessary for the preservation of the gospel but also because one finds a basic ordo in Paul.”
Fesko goes on to explain the ordo from Scripture (which we don’t have the space to discuss here, though it is a helpful section). To be sure, I agree with Fesko. Have you ever heard a preacher who doesn’t know the ordo or mixes it all up? It is a mess; unfortunately this confusion is not a rarity in American pulpits. At minimum ignoring or mixing up the ordo clouds the gospel. Even worse, it strips the gospel of its inherent “good news” (which, as Fesko rightly notes, makes it no gospel at all). Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 2:1-10 are surely worth memorizing as we strive to teach and preach (and believe in!) the gospel in a way that is truly good news.
The above quote is found in Fesko’s Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, page 86.