One of the areas I significantly trimmed from the message this morning was a discussion on the ordo salutis—fancy theological Latin jargon for “the order of salvation.” You might think: “That’s easy! I have faith, then I’m saved!”
Well, that’s true. You go from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive. Something within you changes. But the question is: in what order does the change occur?
Some would put it like this (those of a more Calvinistic bent):
Regeneration => Faith => Justification
Those who see the ordo salutis in this way argue that a special work of God must happen in the heart of an individual in order to get them to respond (voluntarily) in faith. How can a person dead in their sins have faith? A dead person cannot do anything! So God must work in their heart in order to cause them to have faith.
People who hold to this understanding typically point to the following passages (to name a few):
James 1:18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Notice the theme in these passages. God brings us forth (“gives us birth”; James 1:18). Believers are born again not of their own flesh’s will but by the will of God (John 1:12-13). God puts a new heart and spirit within a person in order to cause them to be obedient (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The emphasis is on God’s work within a person that brings them to salvation or obedience.
The term that’s typically used to describe the kind of grace that God imparts upon a person to regenerate their heart, causing them to respond in faith, is called “irresistible grace.” It is effective in that once God imparts such a grace upon someone, they will respond in faith.
On the other side of the coin, others (of a more Arminian bent) argue in this way:
Faith => Regeneration => Justification
Faith precedes regeneration. A person must first have faith in order for their heart to be changed. This side argues that God has given enough general grace to all people that anyone can respond to the Gospel. They call such a grace “Prevenient” or “Enabling Grace,” since it enables people to overcome their deadness in sin enough so that they have the free choice to believe.
They typically point to the following verses (among others):
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
John 12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Romans 11:32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Notice how each of these passages points to God’s grace upon all people, not just a select some. His salvation is brought for all people (Titus 2:11); Jesus draws all people to Himself (John 12:32); God has mercy on all (Romans 11:32).
Now, this is an oversimplification of both sides of the debate. There are countless nuances each side brings to the table on their position. But the point is, the “order of salvation” isn’t as easy as we might think. (By the way, this doesn’t even address other elements to that salvation, like the “call” of God, and election/predestination, adoption, and so on.)
Ultimately, the point of the passage wasn’t to determine whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith. From the human perspective, both occur at the same time. But the debate is worthy of careful exploration and discussion. Neither side can be readily dismissed so simply as claiming it is “unbiblical” or “illogical.” Careful study of Scripture should determine one’s viewpoint, and the answer will never become fully devoid of mystery on this side of eternity.