Posted by: stpowen | August 15, 2010

New Birth (7) The Order of the New Birth

John 3:5.  ‘Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”‘

The next question which might be asked concerning the New Birth is whether there is some process through which every Christian goes, regardless of his or her experience.   This brings us to the Ordo Salutis or ‘Order of Salvation,’ which has exercised the minds of theologians for many centuries.   We have seen that every new Christian experiences repentance and faith, but what about justification and sanctification?   In what order do they occur, and do they come before or after regeneration or new birth?    Almost every writer on this subject has had his own idea of what this order should be, and so with great diffidence, I offer my own below.  Our Lord did not speak of this matter to Nicodemus.   Our starting point, therefore is Romans 8vs29-30:-


‘For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son………Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called;  whom He called, these He also justified;  and whom He justified, these He also glorified’.


 Now Paul’s purpose in this passage is not really to give us an order of salvation, but rather to tell us that God’s plan of salvation stretches from eternity past to eternity future and therefore cannot possibly fail.   However, it is possible to take these five words, Foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification and glorification and try to fit in the other words around them in the right order.   The word,  foreknowledge means a lot more than that God was aware of us before we were born;  rather it is that wonderful biblical use of the word know, meaning to know with love, as in Gen. 4:1 and Amos 3:2.   Foreknowledge and predestination, then, belong to the time before the creation of the world, when God, foreseeing that mankind would fall into sin, set His love upon certain men and women, whom He gave to Christ who has  redeemed them with His own blood (cf. John 17:2,6,9; 1Peter 1:18-19).

Everyone who is predestined is effectually called by God at some time in their lives.   A large congregation may listen to a gospel sermon, but perhaps just one or two are affected by it;  or someone may hear a portion of scripture, or perhaps just look at the beauty of nature  and it sets him on a train of thought which will eventually lead him to Christ.   This is the effectual call (1). It is the first movement of God upon the unconverted Spirit and as such it is entirely sovereign and monergistic.  The subject, the unconverted person has no part in it.  It may be thought of as the moment of conception of the New Birth, the implantation of spiritual life. 

This call leads to awakening or quickening, when men and women begin to think seriously about the things of God for the first time.  Conviction is a further step along the road, when awakened souls come to see themselves as sinners under the just condemnation of God.   Now conviction is not just having a bad conscience or a sense of shame- many unsaved people have that.   Those who are truly convicted by the Holy Spirit see their sin as God sees it- in all its vileness and wickedness in rebellion against the Creator, and they come to understand the justice of God in sending sinners to hell.

 Then, finally, they come to understand from the word of God (whether preached or read) that Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to reconcile them to God and is standing ready to receive them.   They repent and believe, whereupon God justifies them (that is, He judicially declares them righteous since Christ has paid the penalty for their sin upon the cross) and glorifies them by seating them with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:9; Col. 3:3).   [This may seem mind-boggling, but that is where God sees Christians as being, even while they are still on Earth.   See the next chapter for a fuller explanation]

 Does repentance always come before faith?   Not necessarily;  as we have seen, people’s conversion experiences differ widely.   In days gone by, when preachers used to preach on hell and judgement much more often that they do today, men and women would become conscious of their sin before they found peace with God through Christ.   Today, however, the doctrine of sin and repentance is preached less and less frequently, and many people ‘accept’ Christ but only later (if at all) come to see themselves as sinners.   What is certain is that no one is truly born again unless both faith and repentance have taken place.   You cannot have Christ for your Saviour if you will not also have Him also for your Lord (Luke 6:46ff).  It is better to see faith and repentance as two sides of the same coin.  Our faith in Christ must be a repentant faith, and our repentance a turning from sin to follow Christ.  Although repentance and faith are human actions, they have a Divine origin (Acts 11:18; Eph 2:8).  Salvation is all of God.

 So we now have a list which reads, Foreknowledge, predestination, calling, awakening, conviction, repentance/faith, justification and glorification.   So just where does regeneration fit in to this scheme?   Some theologians, most notably John Murray (2) have placed it right after calling, on the grounds that, if the call is effectual, regeneration must have taken place.   This view, however, leads to difficulty.   There are several scriptures which speak of people who have gone some way along the road of salvation and then turned back (eg. Matt. 13:20f;  Heb. 6:4ff).    Nicodemus himself might be described as ‘awakened’ since he took the trouble to seek out Jesus;  but his conversation with the Lord (John 3:4, 9) shows that he was a long way from ‘seeing’ the Kingdom of God.   A natural birth begins at conception and nine months or so must pass before it is completed.   If the infant dies in the womb, its birthday cannot be celebrated and it is regarded as never having been born at all.   In the same way, it appears that someone can become interested in Christianity, be concerned about his sin and even be quite intrigued with the Gospel, but later lose interest and fall away completely.   Such people cannot have been born again since true conversion is a work of God and as such cannot be lost (John 10: 28-29), and yet there seems to have been some work upon their hearts.   Moreover, if we think of regeneration as an instantaneous event, then preaching the Gospel becomes superfluous;  either people are regenerate, in which case they are saved already, or else they are spiritually dead and cannot respond to the Gospel call.   A better way of viewing regeneration is to see it as a process which commences with God’s call and ends with His pronouncement of justification, up to which point it is possible for someone to fall away, but after which they are saved forever (3).

  So we now have an Ordo Salutis which looks like this:-



Effectual Calling___________________________________     


Conviction                                       REGENERATION (NEW  BIRTH)

Repentance & Faith






 With this understanding of regeneration, a preacher can preach the Gospel trusting that some in his congregation will be those whom the Holy Spirit has awakened to the things of God, so that the gospel sermon, by His grace, can bring them to conviction, repentance and faith.

 The reader will notice that I have sneaked Sealing, Adoption and Sanctification into the list.   Strictly speaking, they need not concern us at this point because they are results of the New Birth rather than ingredients of it, but we will deal with them briefly so as to tidy up the Ordo Salutis.   The most important thing is to remember that each and every operation here is a sovereign act of God.   As we saw in Chapter Three, unregenerate sinners have no power or inclination in themselves to turn towards God in any way at all.   It is God the Holy Spirit who must awaken us to the things of eternity;  it is He who must set our sinfulness in front of us and open our eyes to see how loathsome and repellent it is to a holy and righteous God, and it is He who must open our eyes to see that Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to reconcile us to Him.    

 We may regard justification as the pivotal point in the Ordo Salutis.   The biblical term justify ( Hebrew tsadaq;  Gk. dikaioo) has a judicial connotation, meaning to declare righteous.   When His people come to Him in true repentance and faith, God declares them to be righteous, since Christ has paid the penalty for their sins;  even more wonderful, God actually sees no sin in His redeemed folk, judicially speaking (Psalm 103:10-13;  Isaiah 43:25, Jer. 31:34, Rom. 8:33f).   The Lord Jesus has taken it all away.   As Father, of course, God lovingly corrects and chastens His people (Heb. 12:5ff), but as Judge He says,  “….. I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more”.

 Sealing, adoption and sanctification all flow immediately from justification.   In ancient times, when a king placed his seal on a document or decree, it meant that whatever was written therein was law and could not be revoked (Esther 8v8).   Even today, in Great Britain a law is not considered finally passed until it has received the Royal Assent, and the Queen places her seal upon it.   In the same way, God places His seal upon us when we believe, as a mark to show that we are His.   We are sealed by ‘the Holy Spirit…..for the day of redemption’ (Eph. 4:30), but in Eph. 1:13 we learn that the Holy Spirit actually is the seal which God sets upon us (2).   God’s seal upon us means three things:  firstly, we are His property, and no one can ever steal us from Him (John 10:29).   Secondly, ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).   In Rev. 7:1ff, we see four angels preparing to bring judgement upon the earth;  but before they can do so, another angel appears, ‘having the seal of the living God ………saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads”’ (cf. also, Ezek. 9:4ff).   The world is heading for judgement, but the true Christian, whatever hardships he may have to face in these present evil days, is assured of salvation (1Thes. 5:9;  Rev. 7:13ff).   Thirdly, since it is the Holy Spirit who is the seal, we will gain great assurance if we can see and feel the Spirit working and witnessing in our lives (Rom. 8:16).

 Adoption is a wonderful doctrine that flows directly from Justification.  It is as if a judge, having pronounced a prisoner, Not Guilty, removes his wig and gown, goes into the dock and embraces the defendant, declaring, “This is my son.  I want the world to know that today I am adopting him into my family and granting him full inheritance rights along with my natural Son.”  No wonder John exclaims, ‘Behold what manner of love the father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!’ (1John 3:1). We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17) and our heavenly father will withhold from us nothing that is for our good (Matt 7:11).  Even the most severe suffering and chastisement can be endured if we know that it comes from the hand of a loving Father (Heb 12:3-11) and will work ultimately for our good (Rom 8:28).

 Finally, we come to Sanctification.   The Greek word  hagiasmos has the meaning, set apart for holy purposes.   In the Old Testament, we read of all sorts of different items-   places, days, pots and pans as well as people- being sanctified, signifying that they had been consecrated for God’s service (cf. Gen. 2:3;  Exod. 40:10-13).   In the same way, those whom God has ‘appointed to eternal life’ (Acts 13:48), He has also sanctified.   In other words, He has set them apart for His service (Eph. 2:10).   This has already happened to everyone who has been born again.   Thus Paul can write ‘To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who are [i.e.‘have been’- Perfect Tense] sanctified in Christ Jesus (ICor. 1:2; cf. Jude 3, AV or NKJV), and again in 1Cor. 6v11, he writes, ‘But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God’.   So sanctification occurs, like sealing and adoption, flows immediately from our Justification at the moment of rebirth.   Perhaps the distinctions between these terms can be illustrated by looking at the parable of the lost son in Luke 15.   In verse 20, the father hugs the lost son and kisses him;  this might represent justification when God pronounces us righteous and restores us to His favour.   In verse 22, the father calls out, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand”.   The robe reminds us of Isaiah 61:10;  ‘For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness’ (cf.  Zech. 3:4), and signifies sanctification whereby we are made fit for God’s service.   The ring, which signified that the son was indeed accepted by the Father as a member of His family, speaks of the sealing of believers by the Holy Spirit and their adoption by the father.   All three of these things, hug, robe and ring, happened at the time of reconciliation and tell us of the completeness of the salvation we have in Christ when we are born again.     

The  sanctification that we have been considering is called by theologians positional sanctification and is the possession of everyone who is ‘in Christ’, no matter how young or how weak the Christian may be.   The word is used, however, in another way, which is called experimental sanctification, which means quite simply that Christians need to grow in grace throughout their lives.  Heb 10:14 speaks of those who ‘are being sanctified’ (4).   When the Lord Jesus prayed for believers that God would, “Sanctify them through Your truth” (John 17:17), He was asking God to make His people more holy and pure, fit indeed for Heaven.   Although the believer’s sanctification is genuine, it nevertheless has to be worked out in practice and, as we shall see in the next chapter, the Christian still has his old nature to battle against.   The life of new believers is not an easy one;  they find themselves at once attacked by the world, the flesh and the devil.   Some churches teach that Christians can attain to a completely sinless life, but the Bible (1John 1:8ff) and experience teach otherwise.   James 3:2 tells us that, ‘we all stumble in many things’.   The Christian has to work out his sanctification progressively.   But as we deny the remnant of our old sinful natures, take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23), we can be sure that, ‘He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6).   Pause now, before reading the next chapter, and read the first twelve verses of 1Thess. 4.


(1) Many theologians call this, Regeneration.  There is no problem with this is so long as regeneration is treated as being the first part of the New Birth and not synonymous with it.

(2) John Murray,  Regeneration, Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth, 1961. ISBN 0-85151-040-X).

(3) Peter Masters argues for a similar position to this in his book Physicians of Souls (Wakeman Books, 2002. ISBN 1-870855-34-5).  He claims that it was the position of the Puritans and produces considerable evidence to support him.

(4) Unfortunately the A.V. mistranslates, ‘…are sanctified’ which suggests the Perfect tense and a completed happening in the past.  The tense in the Greek is Present, signifying continuing action.



  1. Dear Martin,
    Your series on the New Birth is excellent and must be published as a complete work. I have pointed out one area that I would suggest be revised in your passing the buck of ‘presumed regenerate’ to Non-Baptists, whereas this view is very common in Baptist churches also. Another suggestion for more precise thought is the Roman Catholic/Lutheran idea of an Ordo Salutis. You rightly caution a wrong understanding of this term but nevertheless strive to find some ordo in our salutis. Actually, the term is not Biblical and points to no Biblical truths. Indeed, the mere use of this unbiblical term has led to a splitting of the pre-Synod of Dort Reformed churches, creating at least four post-Dortian pseudo-Reformed parties who bicker about the order of salvation, as they see it through time-bound eyes. Actually, the fourteen or so major pre-Dortian confessions of faith united the Reformed churches whereas Dort and the subsequent development of the idea of a special time-motivated order in salvation divided them. Clearly, Romans 8:29-30 does not refer to a time-bound order at all but to what God has done in Christ in eternity.

    The words:
    ‘For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son………Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified’
    refer to a once and for all eternity decree of God. The ‘alsos’ do not mean ‘then’, or ‘afterwards’ but what happens in God’s eternal decree of election in Christ.

    Thus we are not surprised to find that there is no ordo salutis in New Testament preaching. If we examine the passages referring to Justification, Adoption, Forgiveness, Repentence etc., they are each given priority when that is the main theme of the preaching. The examples you give also make this plain. So why order salvation into an Aristotelian form of logic? We are not Roman Catholics who invented the systematic cutting up of doctrines so that their single, comprehensive teaching is lost.

    Many later Puritans, in their zeal to systematise the order of salvation reverted to the logic of either Aristotle or Ramus and placed election and predestination chronologically before the sinner’s redemptive union with Christ in eternity. This has given rise to the error of Supralapsarianism which strives to force God’s acts in eternity into some logical time structure, seeing a supposed ‘order’ in salvation beginning first with election, then with the fall and then with redemption. This view divorces election from Christ’s redemptive work on which it depends and places it prior to that work and is thus efficacious irrespective of it. Taken this way, one may ask why Christ bothered to die for those already elected. This is pagan fatalism and not Christianity. The Bible teaches clearly that it is through union with Christ in His redemptive work and for His sake only that we are elected and this occurs in eternity and not time. Ephesians 1:37 proclaims

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted to the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

    John Gill is very clear and helpful on this matter. Even he, however, leaned on the Aristotelian analysis of the Ultra Puritans at times such as his work on imputation where he takes a half-way stand between the Bible and the systematicians. Most modern Reformed scholars, in an effort to appear learned and Biblical, treat justification, sanctification and even the atonement in this way.
    As an educator, I was amazed to find that the idea of teaching children and not subjects held by the more independent members of Cromwell’s educational advisors was rejected by the majority of Puritans for the teaching ‘subjects’ idea. This view still strangles our schools. Imagine my surprise when I found out that at the same time, Roman Catholic educators were dropping their cutting-up of knowledge theories for a more universal, personal application of knowledge after the pattern of Durie, Hartlib, Nye, Goodwin, Borroughs, Pell, Milton and, to a slightly lesser extent, Comenius.

    Sadly, our preachers deal with salvation in the same way as the Aristotelian teachers. They present salvation as a butcher presents his lifeless, bloodless and boneless joints which give us no idea of the original animal full of life and beauty.

    This may help. If not, please excuse the thoughts of an old man who has spent fifty-three years pondering and praying on this subject and may not be any wiser for that.

    Yours in Christ,


  2. Dear Martin,

    I strive to give you an article well-laid-out with spaces between the arguments and paragraphs but when I click the subscribe button, all is lost. Could you help me give you a better layout?


  3. Hello George,
    To answer your second post first, I don’t think there is anything you can do about spacing. I alone as Lord High Blogmaster hold the power of editing posts. I will see if I can adjust the spacing for you.

  4. George,
    Thank you for your kind words. They are an encouragement. As and when I finish the series, I will consider whether it might be worthy of publication.

    With regard to the Ordo, your points are taken. Certainly we should not dice and dress our salvation so that we lose the sense of its wonderful majesty and unity.

    However, there were two points that I was eager to stress. The first is that regeneration and the New Birth should not be considered as synonymous. that leads IMO to fatalism and potentially to hyper-Calvinism.

    The second is that although our justification existed in the mind of God from eternity past, it actually comes to us in time. I think Isaiah 12:1 proves that. There was a time when we were all under God’s judicial wrath and we were not justified until Christ shed His blood for us upon the cross, and we repented and trusted in Him. Paul and Silas did not tell the jailor (Acts 16:31), ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ because you have already been saved.’

  5. Dear Martin,
    Thank you for your ultra prompt remarks. I was afraid that when my paragraphing disapeared in the respose boy, my message might fly with it. I am more than delighted to be re-disected by my much esteemed Lord High Blogmaster. It may even save me from becoming a Lord High Faluter. You may correct my Germlish while you are at it.
    Concerning your Ordo remarks, we are one. Concerning the differences in meanings between regeneration and the New Birth, this was also mine and the Fathers point of view. However, with the modern understanding of ‘baptismal regeneration’ based on a misunderstanding of ‘regeneration’ as taught by the Early Church as seen by the ‘presumed saved’ debate, it is important that we clearly define what we mean by the terms. This is difficult. Even Gill got rather tongue-tied (but still good) when he tried to separate them.
    I do not understand the term IMO. I presume I should know but I was educated before the use of initialisations. I only remember RAF, though this is a risky bit of memory as in English it recalls brave defenders of the country, whereas in German it refers to a modern terrorist movement.
    I could not follow you on your last paragraph as you seem to view eternity in principles of time. Surely, there can be no such thing as eternity past. Eternity has nothing to do with time and the finished past has nothing to do with eternity. God always acts directly from where He is, that is in eternity. When God saves you, eternity impinges on the fullness of time. As far as your faith is concerned, time is rolled up and put in the refuse bin as its aim in God’s purpose has been reached. You are not saved in time but in eternity and for eternity.. Whatever the time aspect is according to us, it is direct intervention from eternity according to God. After all, our inheritance is in Heaven not on earth. The idea that God’s wrath preceeds faith is un-Biblical. I am sure you chastise your children when they do wrong and do not turn a blind eye, but they are still your children and the apple of your eye. Gill is very good on this and also Smeaten from whom Gill gets his ideas. Buchanan is terribly waffly and never earns the laurels given him.
    Concerning your stretching and speculating on Paul’s Aramaic or Greek to make it fit in with a presumed grammatical rendering impossible to it, I do not know what to say. Faith, justification and salvation cannot be separated and are the instant gift of God by grace, from eternity, delivered directly into time. By God’s grace I command sinners to repent and believe on the spot because this is God’s direct way of saving sinners. I throw in the net at his command and He fills it according to his gracious plan.

    God bless,


  6. Dear Martin,

    Further to my contribution concerning the supposed ordo salutis, I have been re-reading David Silversides strange mixture of Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism in his The Free Offer: Biblical and Reformed.
    Building throughout on the Westminster Confession rather than Scripture, yet misinterpreting it gravely, Silversides sees the objection to his own novel ideas on salvation in the doctrine of justification from eternity as held by Hoeksma and Engelsma. Why he chooses to pick on these two Dutch-Americans rather than deal with his numerous better qualified British brethren who believe this doctrine, I do not know. It is clear that Silversides has a completely different view of salvation to theirs and also our Reformers.

    The elect, the Dutch-Americans believe, are placed in Christ before the foundation of the world which guarantees their salvation and warrants them being given faith to appropriate it. One cannot be more secure than when one is placed in Christ. Silverside disagrees, using Romans 8:30 quite out of context, maintaining that in the order of salvation, there is first a calling, then a believing, then a justification on the grounds of the sinner’s belief. This general call is common grace which also shows God’s common love to all men. However, where Engelsma is arguing from God’s electing decrees in eternity before the foundation of the world according to Ephesians 1:4-11. Silversides is arguing for God’s actions in time according to a set chronology where faith precedes justification. This view contradicts the teaching of Romans on the justification of God’s ungodly enemies and that of the English and Swiss Reformers. Romans 8.30 in context points clearly to what has already happened on behalf of the elect whose calling and predestination are referred to first in verses 28 and 29 in terms of eternity. The whole context points to the elect being the objects of justification. Ephesians 1:3-4; 2 Thesalonians 2:13-14; I Peter 1:2, Acts 13;48 and Romans 8:30 all cause us to rejoice in the justification that God has given us, outside of time, in Christ. Are not our names written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in eternity where our inheritance awaits us? Romans 8:28-30; 2 Peter 1:10 and 2 Timothy 1:9 show clearly that there is no particular time order in relation to God’s decrees as they are from eternity. At times Paul speaks of calling before he speaks of predestination and at other times predestination is chosen first. In his Timothy epistle Paul places everything in eternity. Peter puts calling even before election in his letter, showing that the Apostles were not thinking in terms of time but in terms of what Christ had accomplished. On dealing with Witsius, Silversides argues that election gives the elect a right to justifying benefits but not those benefits. This would also contradict the Scriptures given above besides Witsius.

    Hope this helps,


    (Just off to Britain to do some research at the Bodleian and British Library so I shall not be around for a while.)

  7. Hello George,
    The initials IMO stand for ‘In my Opinion.’ If I have an all too rare occurrence of humilty, I might write IMHO.

    You are quite right that the term ‘from eternity past’ is a tortology and a sloppy piece of writing by me. ‘From eternity’ is quite sufficient. However, I believe theat there is an eternity looking back and also an eternity looking forward. I hope that makes sense to you. Christians have been saved FOR eternity: there will never be a time looking forward when a Christian will forfeit eternal life (otherwise it wouldn’t be eternal). However, I do not believe that Christians were saved IN eternity (looking back). Paul tells us in Eph 2 that we were dead in trespases and sins, and that we were by nature children of wrath. ‘But God…..even when we were dead in trespases, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph 2:4-5). This is something that God did, not in eternity, but in time, when we had been born physically, but were dead spiritually.

    With regard to your second post, I have not read Silversides and so cannot comment. That Christians were elected in eternity I quite agree, and that is what I have written. That we are justified in eternity I cannot believe for reasons I have already given.

    You write:

    The elect, the Dutch-Americans believe, are placed in Christ before the foundation of the world which guarantees their salvation and warrants them being given faith to appropriate it. One cannot be more secure than when one is placed in Christ.

    I am not sure I agree. The elect were given to Christ in eternity for Him to redeem, But He is their security and they are not redeemed untill He has secured their salvation on the cross and they have appropriated it by faith. Their salvation does not occur until they have been justified by God and their justification does not occur until they have trusted in Christ. I may have a rich uncle in Australia who has left me a fortune, but the money will not be mine until I claim it and prove my identity.

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