Ministry Theology

Why Ordo Salutis Matters for Preaching

Ordo who? Ordo Salutis is the Latin phrase for “order of salvation,” which refers to the logical (not chronological!) order of events in a Christian’s salvation. It’s an important thing, and not just a theoretical thing. For me, past Sunday, it was a sanctifying thing.

Typically, Ordo Salutis goes something like this: election, calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification. God is sovereign in all of this–from point A to Z. He does it all in a Christian’s life. He gets all the glory. (Check out this graphic on the order of salvation via Tim Challies and this one–much more detailed–from John Bunyan).

Now, when a pastor is in the middle of a sermon, unless he is preaching about this topic, he typically is not thinking about these things (at least I’m not!). But it makes all the difference when the sermon is over. Ordo Salutis can particularly be an immense comfort after what the preacher believes to be an average sermon.

This past Sunday was such a moment for me. I finished preaching and simply, I felt downcast and uneasy. I thought I sounded like a babbling, incoherent fool during the message. I thought the congregation had a deer-in-the-headlight look on their faces.

But then God gave me a gift. One of the older men in our congregation (whom I consider a mentor), is a former pastor and now trains pastors. I told him how I felt, and he did not say that I was an incoherent, babbling fool. He said the sermon was “spot on” and helpful. I shrugged my shoulders. I still wasn’t encouraged. But what he said next was encouraging as well as illuminating. He said, “Ordo Salutis. Remember that the verbal call of the gospel comes first, followed by the effectual call. You don’t know what is happening in people’s hearts based on their faces. Preach and move on.”

I nodded my head and said, “Yes. Thank you.”

I was downcast when I was focused on me–my style, my delivery, my ability to say what I thought needed to be said. But when this dear friend directed my eyes to the sovereign God who draws people to himself, my fears were lifted. You see, in that moment, I was worshiping the idols of achievement and ministry success. I was not worshiping Jesus and trusting his Spirit to work in the hearts of people. I was putting in all on my shoulders. By God’s grace, Ordo Salutis brought comfort and kept me from a self-absorbed Sunday afternoon.

Theology is not solely for the seminaries or “famous” pastors. It is for normal pastors like me, who need my idols exposed and my spiritual eyes redirected on God and his gospel of grace.

Later in the day, as I reflected on what happened, I tweeted:

I’ve heard it many times before: a less-than-great sermon can still proclaim the great gospel. But Sunday it became real. God is sovereign in salvation, and the gospel, not my sermon, is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. I may preach an average sermon, but I will never preach an average gospel. That’s one lesson this young preacher was delighted to learn.