The Order of Salvation in Romans

Our Augustinian tradition, evident in both the Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, has it that since we are all born in sin, only rebirth by the Spirit can rectify the situation (*1 See N.R.Needham, The Triumph of Grace, London, 2000, pp.59,251,286,293.). Regeneration must therefore take priority in the order of salvation (ordo salutis). It is this view that undergirds infant baptism (*2 See the second of the Anti-Pelagian Canons of the Council of Carthage, 418 AD, quoted by Needham, p.293, cf. pp.32-34.). Apart from major difficulties arising from a variety of sources that many feel with both original sin and infant baptism, the explicit teaching of Romans would appear to add to them. What is this teaching?

First, in Romans 1:17 (cf. Gal. 3:11) Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 as follows: “The righteous shall live by faith” (ESV). If for a moment we omit the words “by faith”, we shall see immediately that it is the righteous who will live. This was of course implicit in Genesis 2:17 (cf. Lev. 18:5; Prov. 4:4; 7:1; 10:2; Luke 10:28; 11:28, etc.). While Paul tells us plainly in Romans 4:5 (cf. 5:6,8) that God, in apparent contradiction of Ex. 23:7 and Proverbs 17:15, justifies the ungodly, he certainly does not regenerate them (cf. Gen. 3:22-24). That righteousness is the indispensable prerequisite or precondition of regeneration is implied in Romans 2:7,10 not to mention numerous earlier texts like Psalms 15 and 24.

This is also implicit in what Paul says in 3:21-31 where the God’s righteous justification of sinners in Christ is so strongly stressed. In chapter 4, however, even though he deals with Abraham who lived long before the coming of Christ, Paul is emphatic that Abraham’s faith is not merely justifying faith but in essence resurrection faith as verse 17 (cf. vv. 23-25) intimates. Not without reason is Abraham known elsewhere as the friend of God (Isa. 41:8; James 2:23).

In Romans 5:1f. Paul’s logic is manifest: no salvation without justification. The grace of our alien righteousness gives us ground for boasting in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Paul would then have us believe that the validity of our hope is demonstrated by the gift of the Spirit (v.5). In verses 6-11 he traces a path which begins with our unrighteousness, extends to the love of God, our justification by the blood of Christ, our reconciliation with God and ends with our salvation by the life of Christ (v.10, cf. 6:4).

In Romans 5:17 Paul tells us that grace and the free gift of righteousness lead to our reigning in life. The unavoidable inference we draw from this is that righteousness precedes life (Lev. 18:5; Dt. 6:24f.; Ezek. 18:5-9; 1 John 2:29, etc.). And since we are righteous by faith, we are therefore forced to conclude that faith precedes righteousness (cf. e.g. Rom. 3:22; Phil. 3:9). To argue then that regeneration, as opposed to the more general work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 1:9; 15:3; 16:8-11; Acts 2:37-41; Rom. 10:17; Jas. 1:18), is the mother of faith is false. Furthermore, it implicitly denies justification by faith alone.

Next, in verse 18, Paul says that one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life. Here we infer that the order involves (a) the imputation of Jesus’ own righteousness to us by faith; (b) our consequent justification and (c) eternal life, the gift of the Spirit (Gal. 3:2,5) or regeneration (cf. Gal. 4:26).

Fourth, Romans 5:21 would seem to support this to the hilt, for Paul says here that grace reigns through righteousness, which leads to eternal life (3* Almost the same language is used in 2 Cor. 7:10 which also subverts the traditional Reformed order of salvation where regeneration is placed before repentance.).

Again, we learn in 6:5-11 that before we can be alive to God in Christ Jesus we must through faith die to or be freed (or justified, v.7, Gk) from sin. This can only mean that our justification precedes our regeneration and sanctification.

In 6:16 we are further taught that obedience leads to righteousness (cf. Rom. 2:13; 1 John 3:7). Since we are all disobedient (Rom. 3:9,23), it is manifest in contrast that the obedience of Jesus himself under the law led to his righteousness. This latter is then imputed to us by faith. Again we necessarily infer that the righteousness of Jesus (cf. Acts 3:14, etc.) was the precondition of his acceptance by the Father (Lev. 18:5). Proof of this was provided, first, at his baptism by the descent of the Spirit and open acknowledgement of his sonship (Mark 1:9-11) and, later, by his death, resurrection, ascension and exaltation (Acts 2:33,36). And, needless to add, these also provide the foundation of life for us (cf. Rom. 3:21ff.).

Seventh, Paul informs us in Romans 6:19 that righteousness (or justification) leads to sanctification (cf. Tit. 3:5; Eph. 5:26; Rom. 12:1f.).

Eighth, in explicit support of this we learn in 6:22 that the end or goal of sanctification, that is, service in the new life of the Spirit (7:6, cf. Mt. 3:15), is eternal life.

Ninth, in 8:10 (cf. v.13) Paul tells us that though the body of flesh is doomed to die because of sin, nonetheless because of righteousness (in Christ) our spirits are alive (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6). This proves we are true, though adopted, children and heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ along with whom we are glorified (8:14-17).

Tenth, in 10:5-13 Paul makes it clear beyond reasonable dispute that while righteousness by law for us is out of the question, justification by faith in Christ leads to salvation for both Jew and Greek.

My conclusion is then that according to Paul’s letter to the Romans the order of salvation is: faith and repentance (conversion), justification, reconciliation, regeneration and/or adoption, sanctification, glorification (4* This order deliberately counteracts John Murray’s claim in his commentary on Romans, London, 1967, that regeneration is causally prior to faith, p.27 n.21.). The same is implied by Romans 8:29-30 where those who were foreknown and predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son were first called to faith, then justified, and finally glorified (cf. Eph. 1:4).