- Regeneration. This is the instantaneous, resurrection or quickening of our spiritually dead hearts. This is the first step, and I believe there is nothing that a person can do to initiate it, given that prior to regeneration you are, in fact completely dead and in a state where you can do nothing pleasing to God.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1)
- Faith. This is the ability to believe in Christ. Is it also a gift or is it your “own” faith? Well, I think that is a distinction without a difference. Given that faith and all the other steps in salvation require regeneration, and regeneration is absolutely a gift, then the whole chain of salvation must be viewed as a gift.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
- Justification. This is where we are made acceptable to a Holy God. Not by anything we have done, our self-righteousness is but filthy rags, but by the imputation of Christ’s abundant and perfect righteousness. This necessary step rests entirely on the finished work of Christ. Faith precedes Justification and this faith is the only thing we have (except our sins) to contribute. Thus we say Justification by faith alone and not by works. The “alone” refers to us; Christ has contributed mightily to our justification. What hasn’t contributed are any “counterfeit” works.
because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:20)
- Sanctification. Throughout our post-justified earthy life we will, to differing degrees, become better and better imitators of Christ. This sanctification is the working of the Holy Spirit now indwelling us. We will begin to do good works for which there is associated merit, but not merit that is applied to our salvation—which by this point is already assured.
according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:2)
- Glorification. This is our final destination, but we don’t get there as soon as we die. This step is complete with Christ’s second coming when we receive imperishable glorified bodies. (It will be especially interesting for physicists to see a place where there is no 2nd law of thermodynamics.)
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:53)
Notice the beauty in that each person of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Spirit, plays a necessary role in our salvation.
Regeneration is just the first step but, once it happens, the rest of the process is inexorable. There is no thwarting God’s perfect will. If you are regenerate, you will make it through the other steps to complete your salvation. The steps may be rapid (as they must have been for the thief on the cross) or they may take a lifetime, but you will definitely arrive at your (pre)destination.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)