Ordo Salutis and Union with Christ

Derek Ouellette —  November 17, 2009

Ordo Salutis is that doctrine which seeks to articulate the order or process of salvation. Ordo Salutis is post-reformation meaning none of the Reformers or anyone before them made any effort to say “this is first, this is second, this is third” and so on. Though Calvin had little or nothing to say on this, his followers developed Ordo Salutis and even placed it center stage of importance. The order of salvation usually looks something like this:

1. Effective Calling; 2. Regeneration; 3. Faith; 4. Justification; 5. Sanctification; and 6. Adoption
Though among Calvin’s followers this order has been widely accepted, many even within that tradition have raised serious concern regarding Faith. Their concern is rightly noted but not often enough: If a person’s faith is simply a cause of a calling that cannot be denied and simply an instrument to bring about justification, then the significance of faith is lost. Faith, which the scriptures place such high emphasis on, becomes nothing more than a causal step in the Ordo Salutis.

It must be remembered that while some have tried, appealing to passages like Romans 8:28-30, to find a clear articulation of Ordo Salutis in the scriptures, none may be found. Ordo Salutis must be inferred.

Other scholars such as Thomas Torrance and Richard Gaffin have suggested an alternative method to “Ordo Salutis”, namely “Union with Christ“. The Union with Christ method says that the various elements of Salvation (Regeneration, Justification, Sanctification, Adoption etc) are all to be found “In Christ”, and are therefore all a single act. There are no “stages” to salvation in this regard. Salvation is being incorporated “in Christ” (Eph 1); when we come into Christ, all of these elements of salvation occur simultaneously (what’s true of Christ becomes true of us).

There is a second reason why “Union with Christ” should be favored over Ordo Salutis: the latter leaves no room for consideration of the “eschatological” reality of the New Testament. Just to give two examples: Sanctification is an ongoing process and not just another step in some fixed order of salvation and Justification is both a present reality declared freely upon faith (Rom 3:28, Gal 2:16), but this is in anticipation of its future declaration based on works (Rom 2:13, Rom 3:31).

I suggest that throughout the History of the Church, up to and including the Reformation, any doctrine of an order of salvation has been rightly avoided. I think there has been an over analyzing of these matters causing men to go mad in trying to rationalize and split that which the scriptures do not.

What I find powerful about the doctrine of “In Christ” is the amazing grace of God in his working and plan of salvation. If we accept Gods gracious calling, the invitation to enter into his covenant of love, what we enter is not simply a “concept”, but a person: Jesus Christ. When that happens then what is true of Him becomes true of us: the declaration of Justification, the New Birth, Adoption, Seating in Heavenly Places, the Resurrection and so on. This is Gods amazing grace that saved a wretch like me: that Christ performed the work and paid the price, and in Him we may enter God’s gracious rest.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.