Which Came First? by Pastor John Samson
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Musings about this difficult and perplexing question has gone on for centuries. Thankfully though, the consequences for an incorrect answer are not particularly severe. Life goes on regardless.
But there's an area of study in Christian theology called soteriology (the study of what the Bible teaches regarding salvation), and within that context, how we answer the question as to "which came first?" has far more significant impact. I am speaking here of the order of salvation; namely does a person have faith and then is born again, or are they born again and then have faith? Is Divine election based upon God foreseeing us putting our faith in Christ or do we have faith in Christ because God first elected us?
As I have written elsewhere, I believe Scripture emphatically teaches that man is spiritually dead like a corpse (nekros) in sin and trespasses and without Sovereign election, evangelism would be the most futile activity imaginable. It would be much like a salesman trying to sell his products in a graveyard. The dead need to be raised to life before a salesman can make a sale! The dead have no interest in skin cream products, double glazed windows, hair loss prevention treatments, air purifiers or the latest and greatest vacuum cleaner. They are not moved by even the greatest of sales pitches! Why? Well that's pretty obvious, isn't it? Its because the dead are, in a word.... dead!
The same is true regarding a person coming to Christ. We need to be born again, or born from above, before we can even see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3). We need to be brought to life before we can actually do anything spiritually. There's a logical order involved. Theologians refer to this as the ordo salutis, which is Latin for "the order of salvation." Though being born again and exercising faith may be instantaneous in terms of our awareness in time, logically, one thing has to come before the other. It is a logical rather than a temporal distinction. When someone is dead, resurrection needs to take place before a person can even think about moving a muscle, or walking in a certain direction. It is not the walking that takes place before the resurrection. No, it is the other way around. Dead people don't walk, living people do. In the same way, spiritually speaking, regeneration (being made alive, or born again) must precede faith. A person needs to be raised from the dead before they can take any steps towards Him.
Remember Lazarus, as a lifeless corpse in the tomb? He did not cooperate with Christ with regard to his own resurrection. He did not because he could not. Jesus simply called out "Lazarus come forth!" and this call was an effectual call because it was sufficient in and of itself to bring dead Lazarus back to life. No other help was necessary. The call was powerful enough to do the job all by itself!
Christ did not interview the dead man Lazarus and ask if he would like to be resurrected - then once having got the "all clear" from Lazarus went ahead with His plan. Christ did not need any kind of assistance from Lazarus to raise him from death. Certainly, Lazarus' will was not a factor in the miracle. Nor did Lazarus, once brought back to life, immediately escort Jesus to the local court in an attempt to sue Him for violating his free will - his libertarian rights as a dead man to stay dead! No, for the rest of his earthly life, Lazarus was deeply grateful for the unspeakable mercy he had received from the Master.
Lazarus' resurrection from physical death provides a beautiful picture of what God does in our regeneration from spiritual death. Once receiving this grace of resurrection, Lazarus was able to walk out of the tomb. Once the elect receive the grace of regeneration, once given a new heart, they repent, they believe and they come to Christ.
From the monergism section on this theme, John Hendryx writes:
"Historically in the Church there has been disagreement about the order of salvation, especially between those in the Reformed and Arminian camps. The following two perspectives of God's order in carrying out His redemptive work reveals the stark contrast between these two main historic views. Keep in mind that both viewpoints are based on the redemptive work which Christ accomplished for His people in history:
In the Reformed camp, the ordo salutis is
3) gospel call
4) inward call
6) conversion (faith & repentance)
9) glorification (Rom 8:29-30)
In the Arminian camp, the ordo salutis is
1) outward call
Notice the crucial difference in the orders of regeneration and faith. While the Reformed position believes spiritual life is a prerequisite for the existence of the other aspects of salvation, the Arminians believe that fallen, natural man retains the moral capacity to receive or reject the gospel of his own power. Even with the help of grace he still must find it within himself to believe or reject Christ. This has broad implications and raises questions like why does one man believe and not another? You might also notice that, according to Arminians, election is dependent on faith, not the other way around. This is no small matter ... understanding the biblical order, while keeping in mind its unitary process, is crucial and has a profound impact on how one views God, the gospel, and the Bible as a whole."
I would urge you, if you have not done so already, to seriously study this issue, and I would like to recommend the articles concerning the order of salvation found at the monergism site here.