Confusion has arisen in the church over the process of one’s salvation, thus splitting the church into two different views: the Armenians and the Calvinists. Arminians believe that salvation follows faith. While they do accept that God is still the one who does the action of saving, they believe that man has a role to play in choosing whether or not to believe. The Calvinists on the other hand believe that faith is a result of salvation; meaning a person is saved prior to their action of belief.
The steps leading to salvation in the Arminian doctrine begins with the hearing of he gospel, then prevenient grace (which enables a person to believe), faith, repentance, regeneration, justification, sanctification, then lastly glorification. First, before even comparing the Arminian and Calvinist teachings they both must be doctrinally sound. The hearing of the gospel is necessary for salvation and is clearly stated in Mark 13:10 when Christ speaks about the end times to his disciples. This, however, is not the cause for argument between the Calvinists and the Arminians. Following this is the work of prevenient grace in one’s life.
As fallen men we are sinners and do not have the capacity to do anything else but sin, therefore there is no way for us to choose God. Prevenient grace, however, is the belief that man is temporarily put in a neutral state of mind in which we are no longer in bondage to sin and we have the ability to choose Christ. Unfortunately, is no scriptural backing for prevenient grace found in the Bible. Never once is the phrase “prevenient grace” or anything similar used, and furthermore the little scriptural backing Arminians have stretched to cover prevenient race can be more logically explained using Calvinist teachings.
A popular passage Arminians use to cover prevenient grace in scripture is the story of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:25-40. In the passage, the night the Philippian jailer brings Paul and Silas into prison he beats them, puts them in stocks and is ordered to watch over them. Paul and Silas pray all night, however, and that night there is an earthquake that destroys the prison walls giving Paul and Silas an opportunity to escape. The jailer frantic, comes to Paul and Silas and asks them “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30, ESV).
Arminians claim that there is no way the Philippian jailer, who the night before was so hostile to Paul and Silas, could now so suddenly have the desire to come to Christ. Thus, Arminians invented the idea of prevenient grace to explain this phenomenon. They claim that overnight the Philippian jailer underwent the process of prevenient grace and was put in a neutral state in which he could now clearly see past his sinful nature and choose Christ. While this is plausible, it is based solely on fallen human logic and not scripture, thus we must disregard it.
Calvinists on the other hand explain the story of the Philippian jailer by claiming that before time he was elected to come to Christ and the work of regeneration is responsible for the change of heart of the jailer. Following the unbiblical work of prevenient grace comes faith in the Arminian ordo salutis. Faith is an individual’s trust in the work of Christ on the cross, and passages like John 3:16 easily explain the scriptural validity of faith stating, “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).
Next comes repentance, which is the turning away from sin, egeneration, which is the change or transformation of a person made by God, justification, which involves Christ standing before us in front of the Father declaring us as righteous, sanctification, which is the continual work of God in an individual’s life to make him more like Christ, and lastly glorification, which is the final stage of the Arminian ordo bringing about resurrection to glory with God.
The ordo salutis for the Calvinist doctrine starts with election, predestination, the believer’s hearing of the gospel, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, sanctification, and astly glorification. The Calvinists use much of the same terminology, however, in a different order. Election can be defined as God’s choice of people to save before time began. This chosing act of God can be found in Ephesians 1:4-5, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4-5, NIV). This passage in Ephesians is perfectly in tandem with our previous definition for election. Furthermore, passages like Romans 9:11 lection to describe the process explained above. The only other topic of controversy between Arminians and Calvinists is the doctrine of predestination. Predestination is the work of God to ually use the word save those who have been elected.
Predestination and election are very closely related, however, predestination is the act that follows election and in a way completes the act of salvation before time. The verse above in Ephesians 1:4-5 neatly sums up the two and explains predestination as well. Just as the definition for predestination states, we are chosen before time or “adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ”. The rest of the ordo is still required for salvation, however, the controversial and ordained part of salvation on God’s part is now complete.
The remainder of the Calvinist ordo salutis has already been proved to be scripturally sound (above in the Arminian ordo salutis), the only difference left is in the order of regeneration, faith and repentance. Regeneration is the changing of a person made by God and repentance is the action of man’s turning from sin. The Calvinist ordo salutis places regeneration first, faith, then repentance. The Arminian ordo salutis on the other hand places faith first, then repentance, then regeneration.
The problem with the Arminian ordo here is that trusting in Christ’s work on the cross and turning away from sin cannot possibly come before man has been changed out of his sinful nature by God. The Arminians claim that something good (faith and the desire to repent) can come out of our sinful nature. In Romans 7:18-19 Paul states, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want o do, but the evil I do not want to do-this I keep doing” (Romans 7:18-19, NIV).
Paul clearly describes the struggle, no matter what man cannot do anything but sin even if he desires to. Therefore, faith and repentance cannot come before regeneration. Man first must be changed by God before he can have the desire to come to Christ or repent of his sins. Lastly, to put to rest a big complaint about Calvinism, Arminianism often say, “What if there is a person who wants to come to Christ, but is not elected? ” Just like described in Romans 7:18-19, sinful men have no desire and will have no desire to come to Christ hatsoever unless they are predestined to come to him.
Therefore, this is an implausible situation that would never really happen. In conclusion, the Calvinist ordo seems to be the true teaching of salvation between the two not only because it is logically sound, but because it is also scripturally sound as well. Arminianism is attractive to many because it provides a logical alternative that doesn’t offend too many people. The goal, however, should not be to please people, but rather to present the truth. This is why I believe the Calvinist ordo to be the correct teaching between the two.