The order of salvation is a list of certain events that are involved or part of the salvation process. In the list I’m providing I’m including things that lead up to and follow what I would consider salvation proper. Strictly speaking I think that salvation begins the moment someone puts their faith in Christ (justification), continues throughout their life as they follow him and the Holy Spirit works on them (sanctification), and is completed when Christ returns and we receive new bodies (glorification).
What follows is my view of the order of salvation. There are many different views depending on your theological leanings, I’m a moderate Calvanist so my order of salvation reflects that.
Order of salvation outline
- Preservation and Perseverance
I talked about the doctrine of election in a previous post which you can find here. I hold to an individual and pretemporal view of election. Which means that God chose, in eterneity past before time began, those individuals who would come to a saving faith in His Son.
This is the first personal step on the road of salvation. Election is something that happened before any of us came along. And we aren’t aware of it apart from divine revelation of scripture. But conviction is the first step we are aware of.
What I’m referring to here when I speak of conviction is when you realize that there is something deeply wrong with you. When we realize that we’ve done wrong and deep down there is something that is very wrong with us that has always been there. We live in a sense of dread, I think it’s a subconscious acknowledgement of an impending judgment of our sins.
This is a call to come to faith in Christ. There is a sense of which everyone is called to believe (Matt. 22:14) and this is known as the general call. But there is also a sense in which God calls the elect to believe (Rom. 8:30) and this is known as the effective call.
I think everyone is convicted of their sins and this conviction springs from our consciousness. Our consciousness is our moral compass and while I do believe it doesn’t work perfectly well in anyone, even morally upright saints, it does let us know that we’ve done wrong. But there is also a time when we are convicted by the Holy Spirit and this usually comes when the gospel is preached.
This supernatural conviction then leads to a supernatural calling. It is a call to put our faith in Christ as a remedy for our sin, the very thing we were convicted of.
One of the arguments that comes from discussing the order of salvation is the place of regeneration. Does it come before or after faith? I’m putting it logically before faith but I think that it occurs at the same time as faith.
Regeneration means to be born again. A lot of people use born again as a synonym for salvation and faith. I would say that it’s basically the same but that it emphasizes a different nuance of the salvation experience.
What regeneration means in the order of salvation is that the believer receives new life from the Holy Spirit. The reason that I put it before faith is because I believe that logically you would have to have new life in order to put your faith in Christ. Though I could see how someone could argue that you have to believe in Christ before you can receive new life. Another reason I think that faith and regeneration occur at the same time.
Faith means putting your trust in Christ, that he is Lord and that everything that he accomplished on the cross is effective to save you. If you are looking for a specific point of salvation this would be it. Everything that came before is a precursor and everything afterwards is a working out of your salvation until it is completed at your glorification.
I would also like to add that faith does not mean “accepting Jesus into your heart.” I’m not really sure where this worn out phrase came from. Perhaps Revelation 3:20 but this verse is not talking about salvation. The church in Laodicea already believes they just haven’t maintained a relationship with Christ. Of course Jesus does come into your heart and dwells there but that is a result of faith.
One more thing, I don’t like the “accepting Jesus into your heart” phrase. It makes him seem like some kind of metaphysical pet that thinks your heart will be a nice place to live. Remember Jesus is Lord and this is true whether you believe him to be or not. Putting our faith in him is a recognition of this truth.
Once we’re saved we are also justified in the eyes of God. We are forgiven of our sins (our debts have been paid) but we also receive justification (our account is filled with Christ’s righteousness). Without justification we would not be good enough to get into heaven. It must be emphasized that our justification does not come from our good deeds but from Christ’s. And we receive it by putting our faith in him.
The step of repentance could come earlier I suppose but I put it here because I don’t think that it is necessary that it occurs earlier. It’s not necessary that you repent of your sins to be saved (John 3:16). But I do think that you should question your salvation if you don’t soon repent of your sins.
Repentance is an event, an action that should never cease to occur in the life of a believer. As often as you feel convicted of sins you should repent. Repentance is an acknowledgment of your sin, asking God for forgiveness, and then a turn away from them.
God does not reveal to us all of our sins right off the bat. It is a gradual revelation. The Holy Spirit will continue to reveal and convict you of your sin for the rest of your life.
The process where the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts you of your sin is known as sanctification. Sanctification is the idea of being made holy. In English we have two word groups for this idea: holy (holiness) and sacred (saint, sanctify, and sanctification). In Greek there is only one word group. For instance the word for holy and saint (which literally means a holy person) is the same word. The context determines whether it’s an adjective or if it’s referring to a person.
So when we are saved we are saints because we’re declared holy on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. But we aren’t instantly made holy. Sanctification is the process where we are made holy. It’s not a magical process, God uses the circumstances in our lives and the power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins and to persuade us to repent. It’s a pretty painful process but it’s integral to the salvation experience.
Remember, if you’re a Christian then you are part of the elect and you are a saint. Saying that you’re not a saint is false humility and a failure to recognize all that Christ has done for you. Remember you did not accomplish your sainthood, Jesus did.
Preservation and Perseverance
This section deals with the security of believers. This is the idea that once you’ve been saved you cannot lose your salvation (Rom. 8:35-39). Since we were chosen, on the basis of His will, by God for salvation, once we believe we can never lose our salvation.
Remember we can and often do backslide in our Christian walk. But since the basis of our salvation is Christ’s work nothing we can do can change our saved/not saved status with God. Some use Hebrews 6:4-6 to say that we can lose our salvation. But if that is what the passage is talking about then we would also be unable to get it back. For it says that Christ would have to be crucified all over again so that we could be saved again.
Lastly it could be argued that even if we can’t lose our salvation because of sin we could lose it if we stopped believing. I agree with those who say that if someone says they stopped believing then they never truly believed in the first place.
I gotta be honest, I don’t know what we’ll be like when we get to heaven. I guess we’ll be sparkly glowy spirits like Yoda and Obi Wan in Return of the Jedi. However, despite what the theology of 19th century hymns would have you believe this is not what we’re waiting for. Our hope is not that when we die we’ll go to be with Jesus and our loved ones, even though this will happen. Our hope, our expectation, what we’re waiting for as Christians is that Jesus will return.
Our salvation is completed at our glorification, which occurs when we behold the resurrected Christ at the second advent and we are transformed into his likeness, completely sinless, and with a new body.
That’s it for the order of salvation. This post was a lot longer than I intended it to be. But as usual I write enough to cover the topic. I would love to hear what you’re thoughts on this subject are. Do you have a different order or a different view of some of the items listed here? Let me know in the comments section below.