Dead or Alive? The Ordo Salutis

Learning from Lazarus

Whenever one speaks of order, it is both automatic and reasonable to assume a temporal aspect; that is, one element occurs earlier (or later) in time compared to another element. The grand topic of Salvation resists something that simplistic, however.

The “order” in the Ordo Salutis is logical, an ordering of cause and effect rather than merely a chronological sequence. For any saved sinner, that sequence may appear to be instantaneous; in others it may be drawn out in time (hours, days, weeks, etc.). But, the events viewed as a sequence of cause and effect is always the same.

But, before getting too deeply into the details, we need to learn the biblical answer to one, vitally important question:

Is the sinner alive or dead?

The “right” answer to that question leads to the truth while the “wrong” answer leads to error.

To my readers who may never have heard of the Ordo Salutis, the question above likely produces this response:

That’s one of the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard! Of course the sinner is “alive”!

Allow me to re-ask the question to get closer to my point:

Can the lost sinner, in and of himself/herself respond to the invitation of the gospel message?

There is only a single, unequivocal, biblical answer to that question: NO!

You see, this is the crux of the issue. But, don’t merely take my word for it; let’s open the Scripture and read what it actually teaches instead of trying to answer the question from the vast majority of what calls itself conservative, evangelical Christianity—that which has been infected with the virus of humanism and systemic disdain for the true Word of God from ancient times.

Spend some time with the verses below; the picture they paint of the lost sinner is one of rebellion, hopelessness, powerlessness and death. These detail the state of the “natural man”, that is, the person who is lost in sin:

Jer 17.9
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?

In a few other verses in the OT the verb translated here as “desperately sick” is translated as “incurable”. There is nothing the lost sinner can do or say which changes that dreadful state. So, what is the nature of that lost person, the physical and spiritual descendant of Adam?

In a concise phrase: he/she is “spiritually dead”.

Eph 2.1,5
And you [lit. “being”] dead in your trespasses and sins …  even when we [lit. “being”] dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Twice in this short passage (highlighted), the Greek present active participle “being” (ὄντας) is used (vv 1, 5): literally, “you, being dead and “even when we being dead.

It is universally true: a dead man doesn’t respond to external stimuli.

The only way that a dead man can respond to anything is if, and only if, he first is made alive. His spirit is dead; if his spirit is dead he is incapable of any spiritual reaction.

The same declaration is made here in the parallel passage:

Col 2.13
When you [lit. “being”] dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

Any attempt to sidestep, ignore, disregard, mitigate, etc. the deadness of man’s spirit is futile. And just as futile is any attempt to proceed with a spiritual activity (namely, evangelism!) in such a way as to assume that man, once given the information that is designed to save him—that is, the gospel—can and will (somehow!) respond “naturally” to actually be saved.

It can’t happen—it can’t happen, that is, without Divine intervention.

So, we must start as just shown: a person, the direct physical and spiritual descendant of Adam, is in the continual state (present active participle) of “being dead”. If churches, in their published Statement of Faith, really believed this, they’d hang their heads in shame and fix their error as quickly as possible when they state that the sinner initiates his/her own salvation.

Eph 2.1,5 and Col 2.13, though, are only the beginning; there is much more to consider.

Most churches I’ve reviewed fall into the error of seeing only with their eyes instead of trusting the truth of Scripture. Long ago, the Lord Christ established this principle:

Joh 7.24
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.

The (humanistic) reasoning is: the lost sinner gives every indication of being “alive” physically, ergo, he/she can respond to the spiritual component of the gospel invitation if you ask them “well enough”. In short, he appears to be anything but dead or unresponsive or without understanding! But this is exactly how the Lord knows man to be.

This text is critical:

1 Cor 2.14
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

If the modern “church” is ever to become a lighthouse of the truth it must accept that the person to whom you speak cannot naturally, intrinsically or spiritually understand the things of the Spirit of God—he is completely, utterly devoid of anything that would “naturally” respond to the gospel. And you must accept the fact that while you (the Christian) are commanded to share that gospel with the lost, you are nowhere commanded to ensure that the lost actually responds. That responsibility and work is the LORD’s alone!

The NT is very clear about the nature of the lost; in some places that nature is presented as being “in the flesh” in contrast to being “in the Spirit.” Here the Apostle Paul presents the deadness of the natural man in slightly different terms:

Rom 8.5-8
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

To be “in Adam” is to be the “natural man”, the “man in the flesh”—the lost sinner! And anyone in this state “is death”, “is hostile toward God”, “does not subject itself to the law of God” and “cannot please God.”

It is irrelevant that it appears that man is alive and able to reason with and through the message of the gospel. The Bible declare the lost sinner to be dead!

Jude likewise describes the lost (in this context, the false teachers who infested the assembly of the saints):

Jud 1.17-19
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Who are they? They are people who are absorbed in their “own ungodly lusts”. There is no such thing as an open-minded, unbiased lost person. As the Bible declared, they are “devoid of the Spirit”.

 

The Lord Christ put it this way, using the frequent NT metaphor of the “heart”:

Mat 15.18-20a
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

What is this “heart”? In this context, it is the center and foundation of the true nature of the lost. It is always, essentially and completely evil, that element which “defiles” a person. The lost person with whom you share the gospel may be a “nice person in real life”, but you are seriously deluded if you don’t reckon with their true nature, a nature that you are completely helpless to change without the Lord’s direct intervention with and in the message of the gospel (the topic of the next chapter in this series).

The lost is in the continual state of being under the wrath of God:

Joh 3.36
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

The lost is presented as that one whose only thoughts, words and actions are utterly reprehensible to God and deserving of wrath:

Col 2.12-13
having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, said this of the Jews who were about to murder him:

Act 7.51
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.

The Apostle Paul reminded the Gentile converts of that state in which they lived prior to meeting the Lord Christ:

Eph 4.17-18
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;

2 Cor 4.3-6
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Before their conversion, the Gentiles Paul spoke of demonstrated only their spiritual blindness, a darkened understanding, filled with ignorance and spiritual hardness, and were, in fact, excluded from the life of God!

Last, but not least, is the scathing declaration by the Lord of the natural man through the Apostle Paul:

Rom 3.9-19
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
“Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;

In every conceivable way, the lost is hopeless and helpless in himself, utterly unable to save himself, unable to seek God, the active enemy of God and unafraid of God, unable even to understand the only truth that will save him.

[This is the sobering truth which is too frequently glossed over by the Statements of Faith sampled in chapter 3.]

At this point we come to what may be the single most important object lesson of this truth: the account of the Lord Christ’s raising of Lazarus!

The account of Lazarus (John chapter 11) is as extraordinary as it is well known. My purpose here is not to recount the details but to concentrate on exactly what happened—and what didn’t happen.

Imagine for a moment if you or I walked up to that tomb; the cover stone has already been rolled out of the way. We stand where the Lord Christ stood and cry out as the Lord did:

“Lazarus, come forth!”

Nothing happens. We move inside the tomb and cry out louder:

“Lazarus, come forth!”

Still nothing. We prod the corpse, push it, shake it, yell at it, shock it. Still nothing!

Why? LAZARUS IS DEAD!

And what was it that didn’t happen? Lazarus didn’t rise up and exit the tomb! He was dead, unable to respond in any way.

This silly and contrived scenario is designed to illustrate the overwhelmingly simply point that a corpse doesn’t respond to external stimuli. Now do you now see why

Eph 2.1
And you [lit. “being”] dead in your trespasses and sins …  even when we [lit. “being”] dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

is a Bible truth that you can’t “step around” or ignore? The lost sinner is dead: “dead” as is “all, completely, utterly, stone-cold dead”not mostly dead but still able to hear the gospel message as most so-called evangelical churches today actively teach!

Dead is dead.

And what about this:

1 Cor 2.14
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

The lost sinner is utterly incapable of initiating anything that would put him/her on the path to salvation!

Here is the error:

A large majority of so-called evangelical churches in this country still believe that the lost sinner is responsible for initiating his/her salvation! Once that sinner “believes”, then, and only then, can the LORD begin to do His work to save the sinner. But until that first critical step—life—is taken by the corpse of the lost sinner (as these disobedient churches ignorantly and rebelliously teach) the LORD is essentially powerless to save!

This is not just wrong and Bible error, it is heresy, spawned from the mind of Apollyon.

It makes man the author of his salvation, whatever the flowery language they decide to use to detail this mythical action. Chapter 3 provides many samples of just how common this error is in the American church—and not just the “outliers”, but those which consider themselves solid, evangelical, conservative churches!

[This verse comes to mind:

2 Cor10.12
For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.

The churches of which I speak don't bother with the Scripture; they think that they have "this theology thing" figured out...]

But, back to the point: when the Lord Christ approached the tomb and cried out:

“Lazarus, come forth.”

Lazarus came forth!

What was different? The Lord Christ first granted life to Lazarus. Once alive, Lazarus was more than willing and able to exit the tomb at the Lord’s command.

The very dead (4 days!) Lazarus didn’t “somehow” hear the command of the Lord Christ and then say to himself,

“Well, I hear the Lord calling! Time to rise up and leave the tomb!”

NO!

He did hear the Lord Christ, but not until the Lord had first returned his life to him. Prior to that moment, Lazarus was a cold, dead, decaying mass of tissue incapable of any response.

The point is this: it would have been easier for Lazarus to have raised himself from the dead than for the lost sinner to initiate his/her own salvation. Yet this is essentially what the “churches” listed in chapter 3 teach—to the considerable risk and potential, eternal doom of its “members”.

A biblical understanding of the Ordo Salutis is truly a matter of life and death.

 

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