What is the ordo salutis?

Question
My pastor used the funny sounding phrase ordo salutis in a sermon. What is he talking about?
Answer
Ordo salutis is Latin for "the order of salvation," which deals with the logical sequence of stages involved in the salvation of a believer - election, effectual calling, regeneration, conversion (faith and repentance), justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification (see Romans 8:29-30). Some of the benefits are applied at the same time and cannot be separated, and yet one is the logical cause of the other. There is disagreement in different groups within Christianity as to the exact ordo salutis. John Frame in an article entitled, "Salvation and Theological Pedagogy," states:
Of the various descriptions of salvation in Reformed theology, ordo salutis, order of salvation, is the earliest. The purpose of the ordo is to list the events in the life of every saved person that join him to Christ. Typically, the list of events looks like this: effectual calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification. In effectual calling, God summons the elect person out of sin and into union with Christ. This gives him a new spiritual birth, a new heart, or regeneration. That regenerate heart enables the redeemed person to believe or trust in Christ (faith) and to repent of sin. Repentance is the opposite side of the coin from faith. Faith is turning to Christ, repentance turning away from sin, and you cannot do the one without doing the other. Justification, God's imputation to us of Christ's righteousness, is by faith, so it follows faith and repentance in the ordo. Those whom God justifies, he adopts into his family. Then there is sanctification, which means both that we are separated from the sphere of the world into the sphere of God's kingdom ("definitive sanctification"), and also that we become progressively more and more holy by the work of the Spirit within us ("progressive sanctification"). This new life within enables us to persevere in faith and love, until the consummation of all things when our glorification is complete.
It is interesting to me that the Westminster Confession of Faith does not follow this pattern. Instead, the WCF begins with election and then moves to historia salutis (history of salvation), describing how God accomplished our redemption in history, especially through the work of Jesus Christ. The WCF is concerned to ground the logical order of salvation in the history of salvation, or as John Murray has put it, the application of redemption is grounded in the accomplishment of redemption.

Other related phrases are historia salutis, communicatio salutis, and applicatio salutis. For more on these, read Dr. John Frame's Salvation and Theological Pedagogy. Also, a good book to read on this is Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).