What is the order of salvation? Is faith the cause of the new birth or is the new birth the cause of my faith? Does faith precede regeneration or does regeneration precede faith? Which comes first? In this chapter, that question will be answered.
Salvation began with God. There is no hope of Salvation; there is no means of deliverance, and there is no Being who is able to save us other than God Himself. In chapter one Paul looked through the lens of eternity and revealed that our great salvation began in the heart of God. Before time began God chose and purposed according to His will and good pleasure to save many. In chapter two He continues by placing God at the head of His message: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sin.” He looks to God first as the sole cause of our salvation.
But then Paul dives into our sea of sin. Eph 2:2-4 is a dreadful reminder. We weren’t just sick, blind, or lost; we were dead. The evidence of our spiritual death is our godless past. We “once walked following the course of this world … [and] lived in the passions of the flesh … and carried out the desires of the body.” It is evident that God was absent from our life. We didn’t think of God; we did not talk of God, nor show any concern for the things of God. We were spiritually dead.
According to Paul’s train of thought, the “you”, “us”, and “we” in chapter two are those whom God predestined in chapter one. Though we were just as dead as the rest of the world, He distinguishes us from them. That since we were chosen by God, Christ rescued us. God gets all the glory.
So, in a remarkable shift of thought, Paul opens the floodgate of grace. He says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ –by grace you have been saved” (Eph.2:4-5). Grace pours over the previous verses like a waterfall. When we thought that the raging current of our iniquity would plunge us into death we were plunged into grace!
He refers to God’s Being. In His being, God is gracious, merciful, and loving. These moral attributes of God compelled Him to save us -His covenant people. From the overflow of God’s love, His grace and mercy flooded the canyon of our sin. This grace is freely offered in Jesus Christ. The solution to our sin and death was not primarily a decision to turn to Christ; it was God’s decision to turn to us in Christ. Thus, after first looking to God as the source of salvation, a bolt of life strikes the passage: He “made us alive together with Christ” (V.5). Before mentioning faith, He mentions regeneration.
Romans 8:29 reveals God’s eternal decree of salvation: God foreknew the sinner, predestined them for salvation, called them effectually to the savior, Justified them by faith in His Son, and will glorify the sinner in heaven. Pauls intentions are also clear. He precisely orders his salvific points in these first two chapters. Chapter one begins with Sovereign Unconditional Election: God’s free choice, before the foundation of the world, to save those whom He wills; and this choice is not conditioned on His foreknowledge that certain ones will believe in Christ. God’s Sovereignty in Salvation reigns over chapter two.
Charles H. Spurgeon described God’s Sovereignty in Salvation like this… “First, then, DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY AS EXEMPLIFIED IN SALVATION. If any man be saved, he is saved by divine grace and by divine grace alone; the reason of his salvation is not to be found in him but in God. We are not saved as the result of anything that we do or that we will, but we will and do as the result of God’s good pleasure and the work of His grace in our hearts. No sinner can prevent God; that is, he cannot go before Him, cannot anticipate Him. God is always first in the matter of salvation. He is before our convictions, before our desires, before our fears, and before our hopes. All that is good or ever will be good in us is preceded by the grace of God and is the effect of a divine cause within.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 4 (a message preached on August 1, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, cited by Warren Wiersbe, Classic Sermons on the Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1994).
The regeneration of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner precedes faith. Before one can believe in Jesus, they must first be regenerated. It is the vital element for salvation. God utilizes the gospel message through the gospel messenger and pulses spiritual life into a spiritually dead man. The immediate effect is repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord. Faith is necessary for salvation but regeneration is essential. In reference to timing, we cannot tell the difference. But the Word of God shows us which occurred first.
Pauls order of salvation collides with modern gospel evangelism. Most Christians have been taught that by their faith in Jesus Christ they were born again. Paul, along with His contemporaries, teaches that by our new-birth we believed on Jesus Christ. Faith is emphasized often only because that is our responsibility, for we have not believed in Christ for our salvation (John 16:9). Through the gospel, God commands us to repent and believe. We are responsible for coming whether He enables us or not. But thanks be to God that He did. For apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
“And raised us with him and seated us with him in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph.2:6). According to the eternal plan of God, Christ saved us and reconciled us to God. Christ is in us and we are in Him. He is one with God and God is one with Him. As we are in Christ and as Christ is one with God, we are now with God too. Since we are in Christ, we are as close to God as Christ Himself, who is seated at the Fathers right hand. This is why we can come freely and confidently to God in prayer. Through the spirit of Christ that lives in us we have access to God. And we are united with Christ who is in heaven.
This has all been done for His own glory. “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards toward us in Christ Jesus” (V.7). God satisfied His justice and advertised His love by sending His Son as an Atonement for our sin. He punished His only begotten Son so that He could save us. For all eternity, God will display His immeasurable goodness toward us -His objects of mercy. We will forever glorify Him in the wonder of His love. There will be one question that is never fully satisfied: why me? Why did God choose and save me? The simplicity of God’s answer will leave us in awe: Because I Am Love.
Now, Paul mentions faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (V.8a). Sola Fide: Salvation by faith is Jesus alone. There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). But are you trusting in your faith or are you trusting in Jesus. For as regeneration precedes faith, grace precedes faith. Salvation is the free gift of God. God offers us the gift, we unwrap it. For we cannot receive something that isn’t first offered. The ball stays in God’s court. Sola Gratia: salvation by grace alone. Christ alone saves us by His grace, nothing but net. Swoosh…
“And that not of yourselves it is a gift of God” (V.8b). What is the that? The that is the faith. The faith that saves us is a faith that is given by God. “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rom.12:3b). Our faith in Jesus was a gift deposited in our heart by Him.
Where is boasting then? Am I better than my neighbor who has rejected the offer of salvation? No. Because In the final analysis, if my salvation was based on my willing acceptance of Christ then I would be better than my neighbor. For I exercised my will to believe and they did not. I did a good thing and they did a bad thing. My righteous act of believing saved me; and their unrighteous rejection condemned them.
No. Salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (V.9). My faith in Jesus Christ is not a super-work of expiation whereby I am saved; the vicarious death of Christ on the cross for my sin is the super-work of expiation whereby I am saved. Through faith in Jesus Christ, a real transaction occurs. My sin is imputed to Christ. And by sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in me, His righteousness is imputed to me. I am set free from the penalty and power of Sin. This is God’s plan of salvation. In it, He receives all the glory. In shorthand, Solus Christus: Salvation is in Christ alone.
Our works are God’s workmanship (v.10). His plan of salvation would be incomplete if it did not transform our lives. He called us out darkness into light; out of sleep into watchfulness; and out of death into life. This new life is to obey God and serve Him. As His Spirit effectually brought us to faith and repentance, His Spirit effectually leads us into paths of righteousness. The same grace that saved us is the same grace that sanctifies us. His grace has been imprinted upon our heart, teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust; to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age (Tit.2:12). God’s plan to get His name glory included our good works. We are the trophy, but He is the one who won the trophy!