Monday, November 17, 2008

The Ordo Salutis ("the order of salvation") and life beyond judgment

The fact that God has passed judgment upon us once and for all in Christ profoundly changes the character of the moral life. At creation, God gave his law to Adam and commanded him to obey it. If he obeyed, he would live and if he disobeyed, he would die. In short, Adam had to carry out his moral obligations and then God would judge him on the basis of how he did. This is precisely what happened, as Genesis 3 records. After the Fall, God's law still comes to all people. Some people hear the law as proclaimed in the Scriptures, but all people at least know the basics of God's moral requirements through the natural law and the testimony of the conscience (Rom. 2:12-15). That law continues to inform people that God requires (perfect!) obedience and that he will judge them on the basis of their works (e.g., see Luke 10:25-28; Rom. 2:12-15; Gal. 3:10; 5:3). Thus, people who are without Christ continue to have moral obligations and to know that God will either justify or condemn them depending upon their performance.

But this entire reality has been radically transformed for those with faith in Christ. Christians are not called to do good works and then to be judged, but have been judged (that is, justified) in Christ and then called to do good works. The work of Christ has reversed the order. Instead of judgment following the moral life, now the moral life follows judgment. Instead of working so that we may be justified, we are justified so that we may work. To put it somewhat crassly, instead of striving for holiness so that we may get on God's good side, God has graciously placed us on his good side so that we may strive for holiness. The fact that Christians enjoy a judgment-already-rendered rather than face a judgment-yet-to-be-rendered changes the whole character of the moral life. Roman Catholics have often claimed that the Protestant doctrine of justification leads to apathy about leading a holy life, because it kills incentive. Why strive after holiness if God has already justified you? But Protestants should reply by claiming, with Scripture, that we love much because we have been forgiven much (Luke 7:47), that we serve in the newness of the Spirit because we have been released from the law (Rom. 7:6), that we serve one another in love because we have been set free (Gal. 5:13). A person really cannot understand the sanctified Christian moral life, therefore, without the ordo salutis. God judges us and then, in response, we live the Christian life. Justification is prior to sanctification.

David VanDrunen, Life Beyond Judgment (Modern Reformation October/November 2008)

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