The Ordo Salutis: Introduction

Today Theology for Everyone begins a new series. It is a familiar topic.  However, it is one that needs to be set within a context.  We are going to explore the ordo salutis or the order of salvation.  For those not familiar with the expression it primarily deals with the application of the gospel to individuals. That sentence might raise a question and I hope that it did.  Perhaps you are wondering about the distinction. What do I mean the application of the gospel?  Can the gospel exist apart from its application? Well, let’s stop for a minute and define some terms.

When we talk about the gospel we are speaking about the good news. And more to the point, we are speaking about the good news of Jesus Christ.  Now, the preposition “of” is a genitive which shows possession.  In other words, this is Jesus’ good news. It is good news that belongs to Him.  Therefore, to possess the good news is to possess something that belongs to Jesus. 

But we can and do talk about the good news in another way. We speak of the good news about Jesus Christ.  Here the preposition “about” refers to the subject matter of the good news.  It is that subject matter that Paul defines as Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in I Corinthians 15:1-8.  Theologians call the subject matter of the good news the historia salutis or the history of salvation.  In other words, this is Jesus’ history as the incarnate One who came to seek and save that which was lost. It is this history that is properly referred to as the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is His history to which we refer.

Having that situated in our thinking we turn to the application of this good news. How is it applied to individuals?  First, God effectually summons dead sinners to awake or be regenerated. This latter act is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. After waking from their dead slumber these roused sinners begin to respond in faith and repentance. What is more, they are justified, adopted, sanctified and persevering until their glorification.  All of these topics will be addressed in the articles to come as we think through the application of the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Perhaps we should mention one further distinction.  There is also the ordo docendi or the order of teaching.  Now, some will say, “What decisions need to be made about the order of the ordo salutis?”  In large measure that question carries weight.  However, all one has to do is ask a simple question to throw things off balance.  That question being, “Where does one deal with union with Christ?”  For some this is an easy question to answer.  All of the benefits mentioned above are received in our union with Christ and so it is central or foundational to the order of application.  Yes, but even those who agree with those sentiments have a different ordo docendi.  Can anyone say, “John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied?  Enjoy the ordo salutis…and the ordo docendi!

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is Professor-elect of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.