I am in the midst of writing a new book on the “ordo salutis,” or order of salvation. Please enjoy this excerpt as I discuss how calling and regeneration are related.

The order of salvation is a way to discern and teach various aspects of God’s saving work, but it is one work. We enumerate and separate these facets only as a didactic exercise, but all of these aspects equally apply to every elect person. The same individuals who were chosen by God before the foundation of the world are the same people who are ultimately glorified in the end. One work, one people.

But it is helpful (or else, why this book?) to consider each of these concepts separately for the sake of our understanding. And yet, we must recognize that we cannot completely separate one from another like a surgeon might remove an intact organ from the body. There is a symbiotic relationship in these concepts that do not allow such isolation.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the link between calling and regeneration.

In a sense, the relationship of all of these aspects of the ordo salutis is logical rather than temporal. Calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, and adoption happen concurrently in the experience of a believer. But more than simply occurring at the same time, calling and regeneration have a stronger link – namely, the calling creates new life (regeneration).

The best way that I can think to illustrate this is to give you a word picture, one that is supplied for us in John 11 with the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, were close friends of Jesus. Eventually Lazarus falls sick, and the sisters send for Jesus. But Jesus bides his time, and Lazarus then succumbs to his illness and dies. When Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Both Martha and Mary say at different times to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus assures them that he is the resurrection and the life – one of the great deity claims in the Gospels – and asks to be led to the tomb. Moved with great emotion, Jesus asks them to remove the stone. When they protest because of the smell, he says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (11:40). After praying to his Father, he calls out to the dead man, “Lazarus, come out.” Lazarus, now returned to life, comes out, and Jesus instructs the people to unbind him from his grave clothes. What a miracle, causing some to believe and others to plot his death.

There is, in this story, both a calling and a regeneration. Jesus calls out to a dead man (this is instructive), “Come out!” Now, a dead person is incapable of not only coming out but of even hearing such a call. Therefore, there must be a regeneration, a new life. When did this happen? It happened when Jesus called, for the call created new life. Jesus’ command, in the words of a prayer by Augustine, granted what he commanded. When Jesus calls a person, his summons creates what it commands.

So then, the concepts of calling and regeneration are inseparably linked. We can only isolate them (partially) in our minds, and even then, we are not able to completely disentangle these two aspects of God’s redeeming work.

Love’s Redeeming Work: Treasuring our Savior and His Great Salvation (The “ordo salutis” for everyone) is currently being researched and written. I am working toward a summer 2022 release. Stay tuned for more excerpts and details…Mark

6 thoughts on “The relationship between calling and regeneration in the ordo salutis

  1. Hi Graham. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and inviting comments.
    I would respectfully question the wisdom of using the John 11 Lazarus story in that way. Scripture does not do so.
    One of the idiosyncrasies of Calvinism is that it holds that unbelievers are totally unable to hear God’s voice unless they are first regenerated. But even murderous Cain, when “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), was able to hear God’s voice (Genesis 4:6-7, 9-14).
    Calvinism insists on reversing the logic of the Biblical order. It seems pretty plain in the Bible that responding to God in faith leads to God’s gift of new life:
    Luke 8:12 believing > being saved
    John 1:12 receiving him and believing in his name > becoming children of God
    John 3:15 believing > having eternal life
    John 3:16 believing in him > having eternal life
    John 6:40 looking to the Son and believing in him > having eternal life
    John 12:36 believing > becoming children of light
    John 20:31 believing in him > having life in his name
    Acts 10:43 believing in him > receiving forgiveness of sins
    Acts 13:39 believing > being set free from/justified from every sin
    Acts 16:31 believing in the Lord Jesus > being saved
    Romans 1:16 believing > receiving salvation
    Romans 3:22 believing > receiving gift of righteousness
    Romans 10:10a believing in the heart > being justified
    Romans 10:10b professing faith > being saved
    Romans 10:13 calling on the name of the Lord > being saved
    1 Corinthians 1:21 believing > being saved
    Galatians 2:16 putting faith in Christ > being justified
    Galatians 3:2 hearing with faith > receiving the Spirit
    Ephesians 1:13 hearing and believing > being marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit
    1 Timothy 1:16 believing > receiving eternal life
    Of course, from the start, God is at work by his Spirit, calling people through the gospel, working in them to convict and convince (for example, John 6:44; 12:32; 15:26; 16:8-11; Acts 16:14; Romans 1:16), but that does not mean that new life logically precedes faith. God enabling and facilitating belief is not the same thing as God regenerating so as to create belief.
    If the apostle John had held to the Calvinist ordo salutis, he should have written in John 1:12: “Yet to all who became children of God, he gave the ability to receive him, to believe in his name.”
    And he should have written in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever receives eternal life shall not perish but believe in him.”
    In John 20:31, he should have written: “But these are written … that by having life in his name you may believe.”

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  2. Andrew, thanks again for your comments. I’m well aware that in the end, we’re not going to agree, but it’s great that we can comment and be civil.

    The over-arching thing I will say about all those Scripture references you’ve cited (besides affirming my agreement with Scripture) is that by and large, you are conflating “being saved/justification/adoption/etc.” with regeneration. Of course, belief in Christ precedes justification. Receiving Christ (by faith) precedes becoming a child of God (adoption). These are not regeneration as the Reformed ordo salutis regards it. Regeneration is that monergistic work of God in raising a dead sinner to life so that he or she willingly responds in repentance and faith.

    This is made clear in John 1:12-13 (verse 13 is seldom quoted): “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” “Were born” is in the passive voice, and the idea is that they were given birth not by their own will, but by God. This is the heart of monergistic regeneration.
    Many Christians use “born again” terminology in a much more general sense, pretty much as an equivalent to “being saved.” “I became a born-again Christian” equates to “I got saved.” This is not the thrust of Jesus’ teaching on being born again or regenerated. When Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” he was not giving a moral imperative. Instead, he was declaring a necessary condition. For illustration, my old basketball coach might have said, “Unless you box out, you won’t get many rebounds.” This was an imperative, urging me to box out. This is not what Jesus is doing; he is not telling Nicodemus to do something, to be born again. Rather, he is telling Nicodemus that something has to happen to him – he has to be birthed again. It would be more akin to my basketball coach telling me, “Unless you sprout wings and fly, you won’t ever dunk a basketball.” A necessary condition, because my height and lack of vertical leap made it impossible!

    In the Reformed ordo salutis (the subject of the book I’m currently working on, and from which this post was made), regeneration precedes faith because a sinner dead in trespasses and sins requires spiritual life before faith can be exercised (Eph. 2:1-10). This is the heart of sola gratia (grace alone) and the heart of the Reformers’ teaching, even more so than sola fide (see Packer and Johnston’s introduction to Luther’s “Bondage of the Will”).

    As to your assertion that in Calvinist thought that “unbelievers are totally unable to hear God’s voice unless they are first regenerated,” well, there’s hearing and then there’s hearing. Jesus spoke of those hearing who did not hear. Is an unregenerate person able to hear the message of the gospel? Certainly, for God has ordained to save the elect through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:17). But God must effectually call in order for the message to be “truly heard.” He must open the mind. Why didn’t the ancient Israelites believe? “But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deut. 29:4). But for the elect, a supernatural work is done upon the preaching of the gospel. “As she [Lydia] listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying” (Acts 16:14).

    Again, I appreciate the comments. Iron sharpens iron. While we may disagree, it is my hope that we both will remain strong in the faith, lovingly serving our precious Savior Jesus Christ.

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  3. Mark, thank you for your responses. I am so grateful to you for the opportunity to interact because it seems most Calvinist sites don’t allow comments and discussion, which makes it hard to progress in one’s understanding.
    I wonder if you could explain why you see John 1:13 as providing support for your position on the ordo salutis, as I genuinely don’t understand this. It is common ground that the new birth is God’s work; that is not the question at issue. What is at issue is the relationship between initial faith and regeneration. John 1:12-13 does not say that those who received Christ were reborn before they believed. Nor does it say that they believed after they were reborn or because they were reborn. Even staunch Calvinist Don Carson concedes that these verses do not provide positive support for the Calvinist ordo salutis (The Gospel According to John, p126. His position is: “these verses refrain from spelling out the connection between faith and new birth”).
    I also don’t understand your distinction between the new birth and becoming a child of God or having new life in Christ. I hadn’t heard this before. In the metaphor of new birth, what is born, if not a child? Does a person who has been born again thereby have new life in Christ or not? Colossians 2:12-13 teaches that those who are dead in trespasses are raised to new life “through faith”, not that they are given new life so that they can exercise faith.
    Ephesians 2:1-10 does not actually say anything on the lines of “a sinner dead in trespasses and sins requires spiritual life before faith can be exercised” (your words). That proposition is only inferred from the distinctive Calvinist interpretation of those verses, and it is in conflict with Colossians 2:12-13. (Calvinists understand the metaphor “dead in trespasses and sins” in Eph 2:2 to imply a total inability to hear God’s call. But in context, it seems more natural to understand the death metaphor as meaning “under a death sentence because of sins”, which is indicated in different words in the next verse “children of wrath”.)
    Even the Belgic Confession (1561) acknowledges the Scriptural order that faith (which is enabled and facilitated by God) is instrumental in leading to regeneration (Art 22: “We believe that … the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ. … Art 24: We believe that this true faith, produced in us by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates us and makes us new creatures …”). This idea of regeneration through faith upon hearing God’s Word, as the Spirit works, reflects Gal 3:2 and combines 1 Peter 1:23 and Titus 3:5. Compare John 20:31.
    HERE IS MY CENTRAL QUESTION: is there any text of Scripture, anywhere in the Bible, which teaches the ordo salutis in the conventional Calvinist order?

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  4. Hi Mark, since you mention ON THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL by Martin Luther, I hope it is in order for me to offer a comment on it.
    I read it not long ago. After Jim Packer’s praise of it, I was expecting something superlative, but was disappointed.
    It is right to say that there are some serious arguments in there which deal with Scripture responsibly in context and which merit fuller consideration, but I found it hard work to locate them among the invective, shallow proof-texting, illogical reasoning, and quibbles. The quibbles are particularly frustrating, where Luther points out imperfections in the words used by Erasmus in regard to particular passages of Scripture but then fails to say how the passages can be interpreted as supporting Luther’s own position.
    Reading that work has been part of my journey of understanding. It was what alerted me to the fact that Luther’s theology (like Calvin’s) rests on the ancient Greek philosophical conception of God’s immutability, which makes it impossible for God to genuinely respond to human actions and requires that everything is predetermined.
    As Luther sees it, God is immutable, and it follows that his will is necessarily always immutable: “God … does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, ‘Free-will’ is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces … His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.”
    My reaction is that, on this view, it is God’s own free-will that is curtailed, because it rules out God’s freedom of action and response.
    This ancient Greek philosophical outlook is starkly different from the way God’s relationship to human beings is presented in Scripture, where some of what God wills is immutable and other things he changes when humans respond to him, because he relates in a personal way to those he has created in his own image as persons.
    2 Kings 20:1-11 / 2 Chronicles 32:24-26 / Isaiah 38:1-18 is a vivid example (threefold repetition of this story, so that we can’t miss it).
    There are many such passages. Luther’s answer to them is that they are “no more than grammatical particulars, and certain figures of speech, with which even schoolboys are acquainted”. To my mind, that is a rhetorical evasion which does not engage with the issues which such passages raise.
    When the Lord said through Isaiah that Hezekiah would die from his illness, was that a sincere statement of God’s intent or a false prophecy? On Luther’s view, presumably the latter. (Some people say there was an implied condition that God would or might relent if Hezekiah repented. That makes sense to me, but it doesn’t support Luther’s view. On his view there could be nothing conditional about the outcome, since God had immutably decreed that Hezekiah would not die from his illness.)
    When the Lord said that he had heard Hezekiah’s prayer and added 15 years to his life, was that true or false? On Luther’s view, presumably it was false, since God did not add any years; instead, the length of Hezekiah’s life had been immutably decreed from eternity past.
    When 2 Chron 32:26 teaches that the averting of God’s wrath resulted from Hezekiah’s repentance, is that teaching true or false? If God’s will was immutably set in eternity past, Hezekiah’s repentance was merely the occasion, not the cause.
    I don’t pretend that these kinds of questions are easy, for they are not. But THE BIGGEST QUESTION IS: if God’s will is necessarily always immutable, why does Scripture teach us to think about and relate to God in the way that we see in passages such as these, where genuine personal interactions between God and mankind are depicted as taking place in real time?

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  5. Andrew, thanks again for your comments. Time does not permit me to touch on every aspect of your dialog. But allow me to speak to a few.

    The John 1:13 verse is cited as evidence of monergistic regeneration – “who were born (passive voice), not of blood (not a physical birth) nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man (not on the basis of a human action or choice), but of God (God being the sole active agent).” This is the thrust of Jesus’ words in John 3 when he speaks of this work of the Spirit being as the blowing wind, not knowing where it comes from or where it goes. It is the sovereign working of God.

    In Ephesians 2:1, we are indicated as being dead in trespasses and sins. Rather than this simply being a description of our just end in death, Paul is indicating our true state of inability, which he speaks of elsewhere (Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14). Thus, into this state, God “made us alive” (Eph. 2:4-5) together with Christ. I believe this too speaks of a monergistic regeneration. Later in the passage, Paul does mention faith (v. 8-9), but here he has expanded the discussion to the whole of salvation (“by grace you are saved through faith”) where our faith is the means through which we are connected to salvation.

    While I think that the monergistic nature of rebirth is proof enough that it is the sole work of God, enabling our faith and not responding to it, there is a clear passage that puts faith after rebirth, 1 John 5:1 – “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” (ESV) I believe the ESV has the tenses of this verse correctly rendered. “Has been born” rightly conveys the perfect tense that signals a completed action. Here is John Stott on this, “Neither ‘is born of God’ (NIV), nor ‘is a child of God’ (RSV, NEB) is a very satisfactory translation of ek ton theou gegennētai, whose perfect tense means literally ‘has been born [begotten, RV] of God’. The combination of present tense (ho pisteuōn, believes) and perfect is important. It shows clearly that believing is the consequence, not the cause, of the new birth. Our present, continuing activity of believing is the result, and therefore the evidence, of our past experience of new birth by which we became and remain God’s children.” [John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 172.]

    If you wish to pursue this idea of monergistic regeneration further, I steer you to Steven Lawson’s excellent article at Ligonier.org – https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/regeneration-monergistic.

    To your central question, is there any text of Scripture, anywhere in the Bible, which teaches the ordo salutis in the conventional Calvinist order?, I would say yes and no. Romans 8:29-30 explicitly teaches a kind of ordo salutis. Foreknowledge (akin to fore-loving and choosing), predestination, calling, justification, glorification are laid out in perfect logical order. 2 Thess. 2:13-15 follows an order – election, belief, calling, glorification. In v. 15, Paul calls for perseverance as we await glorification. Eph. 1:3-14 enumerates election and predestination, faith (“hope in Christ”), union with Christ, sealing by the Spirit, and glorification (“final redemption”). These and other Scriptures speak to the various elements of salvation; we then can discuss them in a logical and sometimes chronological order to deepen our understanding. I would commend to you two excellent works with numerous Scriptural citations – Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, p. 36-44 and the classis by Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 81-90. Murray has a particularly good section on why regeneration precedes faith.

    Now, as to the traditional, full Reformed ordo salutis (which may differ slightly from writer to writer) – Election/predestination, calling, regeneration, conversion [faith and repentance], justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification – no, there is no single passage to point to to enumerate this scheme. However, by analogy of faith (Scripture with Scripture), we bring various teaching to bear to place the various elements in their proper place. Now, what makes the Reformed ordo salutis differ from the Arminian one is largely twofold – one, by affirming conditional election (election based on foreseen faith), Arminians would place election logically after faith, even though in time election occurs before). Two, this very controversy regarding monergistic regeneration verses synergistic regeneration is at the crux of the Reformed ordo salutis. Therefore the Scriptures that speak of regeneration as being the sovereign work of God, not of the flesh nor of the will of man, are all-important.

    I’m not going to speak to your analysis of Luther’s Bondage of the Will, since I was only alluding to Packer and Johnston’s introduction. I will again say that I affirm his understanding of the immutability of God. Do you really think that by telling Hezekiah that “he shall die and not recover” that God did not know what would happen and what he would do, and by knowing thus place it in the realm of ordaining it? God’s warning was in the vein of common prophetic declarations of doom, designed to evoke a response of repentance, which it did. This is written with the appearance of God changing his plan only from our human perspective. But God’s immutability goes hand in hand with his eternality – “I AM THAT I AM.” To the eternal God, there is no past, present, or future. Only an eternal present. To speak in terms of “God’s will being curtailed” is to come dangerously close to claiming that he is not eternal, that he made a plan in which he’s not sure how it will turn out, or even that he made a plan that he “now” looks at as not altogether good. Again, I will deny such things in as strong a way as possible.

    Andrew, I enjoy these dialogs. I will continue them as long as I know you are expressing honest questions, which to this point is my sense. I’ve got to figure out a way to shorten my responses, though. This is keeping me from finishing my book. Heck, maybe my book comes from these letters

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