Today we have a guest posting by Scott Jones - a friend of mine from Jacob's Well. Scott did his undergraduate studies at Cornell University and then a ThM from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
Enjoy - RSM
Have you ever asked a doctor or dentist what they are about to do to you? I do this constantly. I don't like to be pricked, prodded, or generally be in pain without knowing why. Asking these sorts of questions allows me to anticipate and understand the pain I am currently experiencing. I imagine others feel the same way and like to generally know what is being done to their bodies before they lay prostrate on the surgeon's table or the dentist's chair. I wonder if you've ever had similar questions about the process of Christian conversion. What exactly happens when we are converted, saved, born again, come to faith, accept Christ, welcome Jesus into our hearts or whatever other term you'd use for becoming a Christian? You may be surprised to learn that Scripture actually suggests that there is a discernible and universal process to becoming a Christian. While the way in which we arrive at conversion varies widely in terms of circumstances and timing, the spiritual process of conversion - so Scripture suggests - is the same in each case. Read, for instance, Romans 8:29-30:
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
These verses outline, in part, the process of salvation. However, the elements mentioned in these verses, so the rest of the New Testament suggests, are a partial list at best. As such, theologians have discussed for centuries about how exactly to order all the elements we'll discuss below. The largest disagreements concern the proper causal relationships between the various parts of salvation. The fancy Latin phrase that describes this classic teaching of the Church is ordo salutis (literally: order of salvation).
There are two prominent schools of thought on the ordo salutis, the Reformed view and the Arminian view. The classic Reformed order is (we'll outline each of these elements, in detail, below): election / predestination, followed by effectual call, regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The Arminian view is as follows: evangelistic call, followed by conversion, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The crucial difference in these systems is primarily the ordering of conversion and regeneration. In the Reformed view, faith and repentance are solely possible if the unbeliever is first acted upon by God. God gives a person the spiritual ability to confess their sin and put their trust in Christ. In the Arminian view the initiative is taken by the individual, rather than by God. In this view, fallen humanity retains the ability to receive or reject the gospel within ourselves. In the Reformed view God, so to speak, flicks on the spiritual lights, while to the Arminian, we have the power to decide to flick the switch or not. Given that the New Testament seems to emphasize God's role in salvation and his initiative in calling us to himself (see below), I prefer the Reformed view. Let's look at each of the elements in the Reformed ordo salutis.1
The term itself - and related terms like predestination, unconditional election, and foreknowledge - refers to God's sovereign choice of believers. Those whom God has elected, he calls and his calling is always effective in bringing about repentance (thus, effectual call). Paul emphasizes the calling of believers to repentance throughout his letters, for example in 1 Corinthians 1:9, "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." So also, Eph 1:4-5, "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." Salvation is wholly the work of a sovereign God who chooses us solely out of grace and adopts us as his children not due to any merit we ourselves possess. God chooses and God calls.
Once God has called an individual to himself, God also provides the spiritual capacity to respond to that call. Here we are directed to such texts as John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" and Acts 16:14 in which God opens the heart of Lydia to hear the message of Paul. The concept of "new birth" or being "born again" is related to the doctrine of regeneration. As Murray puts it, "Faith is a whole-souled act of loving trust and self-commitment. Of that we are incapable until renewed by the Holy Spirit."2
The call and new birth of the individual then leads to the act of conversion, normally spoken of in terms of faith and repentance. One scholar defines conversion as, "our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation."3 Acts 16:31 puts it simply, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Far from merely a mental assent to a set of facts, this belief is a complete reorientation of one's life. In James 2 we have the fullest explanation of what is meant by "faith" in the Scriptures. To summarize the argument of that chapter: saving faith is a faith that is evident in how one lives.
Because of our faith, the most radical of things happens: God proclaims that we are righteous before him. Exactly how and when this happens is a matter of heated debate in current Biblical scholarship. Some prefer to define justification as the reality that because of our faith, we are joined with Christ and given his righteousness as the basis of our acceptance before God. In short, when God looks at us, he sees Jesus and thus, we are acceptable before him.4 This view is most nearly expressed in 2 Cor 5:21, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Others prefer to see justification as something that follows our union with Christ. Acts of faith that result from our initial conversion provide evidence of our membership in the people of God.5 Such texts as James 2:21, in which Abraham is said to have been "justified" when he offered Isaac on the altar, are given to support this view. Whichever view is held, the reality that Christ's work on the cross provides the means for our being acceptable before God is an undeniable Biblical concept and a breathtaking reality. There are many other things that happen as a result of our union with Christ and Scripture uses myriad images to describe them including: adoption, redemption, propitiation, expiation, and reconciliation, among others.6
One of the great benefits of our salvation is the gift of the Holy Spirit. At our conversion, the third person of the Trinity comes to dwell in us and empowers us to begin living out the implications of our reconciled relationship with God. As a result of the Holy Spirit's presence, the believer now increasingly experiences the reformation of both her outward behavior and inward desires. The believer is encouraged to increasingly take advantage of this new way of life (Eph 5:18). The old patterns of sin and the enslavement to past desires are progressively replaced by new patterns of righteous living and a renewed passion for God's way of life (Galatians 5). As one of my seminary professors liked to say, the Christian is not guaranteed perfection overnight but progression over a lifetime.
This is the final stage of our salvation in which we once and for all eternity are resurrected to new life in the new heavens and the new earth (Rom 8:23; 1 Peter 1:3-5). Aspects of this final stage include full, uninhibited communion with the Triune God (1 John 3:2), the perfection of our bodies (1 Cor 15:35-49), ultimate, lasting and unmistakable vindication (Rom 5:9-10) and our spiritual, moral, and intellectual perfection (Col 1:22; 1 Cor 13:12).7 This glorious truth is once again best framed by Murray who says of glorification:
God is not the God of the dead but of the living and therefore nothing short of resurrection to the full enjoyment of God can constitute the glory to which the living God will lead his redeemed.8
This is what has happened, is happening, and will happen to those who put their trust in Christ for salvation. No matter what circumstance brings us into his family, the reality of God's initiative and the remarkable benefits of the salvation he accomplished for us deserve nothing short of our utmost worship. If you are a member of the people of God, these are his benefits to you and we should live joyously and with great hope in light of them. There is nothing better than being called, regenerated, converted, justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified by God. This is what it means to be the Church, this is who we are because of what Christ has done, what the Holy Spirit is doing and what God will do on the last day. Praise God for his grace to me, to you, to Jacob's Well and to all the people of God!
Praying that you share in the riches of God's salvation,
Scott C. Jones
1 The classic reference on this system is John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1955)
2 Ibid., 86.
3 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1994), 709.
4 For this view see John Piper, The Future of Justification (Crossway: Wheaton, 2007), in which Piper defends a more orthodox view of justification, largely against Wright's view (see below).
5 For this view see N.T. Wright, Justification (SPCK Publishing: London , 2009), which is a response to Piper's book above.
6 For a description of each of these (and several others) see Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Death by Love (Crossway: Wheaton, 2008)
7 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd Ed. (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 1998), 1010-1011.
8 Murray, Redemption, 175.