Why Not All at Once?

There are some benefits that precede others in the order of the application of the redemption accomplished by Christ.

Reformed theologians have commonly insisted that regeneration precedes faith and faith precedes justification, adoption and sanctification. An unregenerate man or woman cannot and therefore will not believe in Christ. John Murray explained the rationale for insisting on a priority of calling to faith and of faith to justification.

 

Christ, by his perfect life, atoning death and resurrection from the dead, secures the believers calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. Older Protestant theologians frequently referred to the order of the application of the benefits of redemption (i.e. the ordo salutis)–as set out in Romans 8:29-30— as “the golden chain.” Though it has been a matter of no small debate in recent decades, it is right for us to say that all the saving benefits of what Christ has accomplished for us by his death and resurrection become ours “distinctly, inseparably and simultaneously” when we are united to Jesus by faith. Nevertheless, there is still a logical order by which the benefits of redemption are applied to believers.

There are some benefits that precede others in the order of the application of the redemption accomplished by Christ. For instance, Reformed theologians have commonly insisted that regeneration precedes faith and faith precedes justification, adoption and sanctification. An unregenerate man or woman cannot and therefore will not believe in Christ. John Murray explained the rationale for insisting on a priority of calling to faith and of faith to justification, when he wrote,

“God justifies the ungodly who believe in Jesus, in a word, believers. And that is simply to say that faith is presupposed in justification, is the precondition of justification, not because we are justified on the ground of faith or for the reason that we are justified because of faith but only for the reason that faith is God’s appointed instrument through which he dispenses this grace…Calling is prior to justification. And faith is connected with calling. It does not constitute calling. But it is the inevitable response of our heart and mind and will to the divine call. In this matter call and response coincide. For that reason we should expect that since calling is prior to justification so is faith. This inference is confirmed by the express statement that we are justified by faith.”1

As hotly debated as the ordo salutis has been over the past several decades in American Reformed Churches, we are still left with other important questions about the ordo salutis. While God confers all the benefits of Christ’s redeeming work on us “distinctly, inseparably and simultaneously” the moment we are united to him by faith, they do not all come to us in the full experiential measure of those blessings. For instance, our sanctification is, in this life, an ongoing and progressive work of God; whereas, our justification is a once-for-all, declarative act of God. So, why doesn’t God sanctify His people fully and immediately at the moment when he regenerates them or when he fully and immediately justifies them at the beginning of their Christian experience? Why doesn’t God simply redeem and take an individual straight to glory upon his or her conversion? These are important questions to which we may supply important answers.

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