Salvation in Three Verbs: Past, Present, and Future
What does salvation mean to you? Understanding salvation is of utmost importance, and yet it can be terribly confusing, because every religion means something different by the term, and even different denominations within Christianity can mean slightly different ideas. The question we need to ask is not what does salvation mean to Protestants, or Catholics, or Southern Baptists. The question is, “What does the Bible say about salvation?”
The term salvation has several different meanings, even in the Bible, which can be confusing. It can be used to mean a physical deliverance from an oppressor.
Here I'm talking only about the spiritual saving of a soul from an eternity in Hell. When does salvation happen? The Bible uses this important concept in three verb tenses. God has saved us in the past (justification); God is saving us in the present (sanctification); and God will save us in the future (glorification).
When a Catholic hears the word salvation, the concept is entirely different from that of a Protestant or a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon. We need to carefully define our “church terms” even for the churched.
But it’s especially important when witnessing to an unbeliever; using salvation as only a one-time event and then done is only part of the story. It can lead the unbeliever to make the incorrect assumption that salvation is just Hell Insurance; once they’ve paid for the policy, it’s always theirs and there is nothing else they need to do.
Salvation is so much more than that; it’s the beginning of a lifelong relationship and is evidenced by a lifelong process of becoming holier and holier, until one day when the ultimate salvation is finally reached in eternal joy and glory.
Because of justification, sanctification, and glorification, God has given us blessings with each. With justification comes the gift of eternal security; with sanctification comes the gift of joy in personal holiness; and with glorification comes the gift of hope in endurance.
1. Justification: a personal salvation
Eternal Security. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of whether we can lose our salvation or not and whether we can be sure of it or not. That would require several books to even come close to exhausting the idea.
But I will say that I believe we are supposed to take the Helmet of Salvation as a defense against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:12-18). If it wasn’t something we could be sure of, we wouldn’t be able to rely on it as a defense against our Enemy.
This is a personal salvation. A person cannot be ultimately saved by any other's faith. Each person has to make the choice on their own to accept Jesus deliberately as their Savior and Lord.
We need to be careful that we’re trusting in Jesus Christ’s ability to forgive us of our sins and clothe us with His righteousness, in order to be accepted into Heaven. It’s easy to put our trust in the words of the prayer we prayed, or in the memory of a particular day when we said the Sinner’s Prayer, or in drumming up enough faith that we can claim that we are 100% certain that Jesus lives in our heart.
Those are things that are usually meant when talking about a “salvation experience.”
That’s what happened to me. Here is my salvation testimony.
2. Sanctification: a continual salvation
Joy in personal holiness. This might be the hardest aspect of salvation to adequately define, because there are so many different views of sanctification.
Just to be clear, this does not mean that we aren't completely saved or that we can lose our salvation if we don't reach a certain level of holiness. Once the justification is complete, it is finished and cannot be undone. You are birthed into a spiritual family. You can't be unbirthed. You can't go back to being spiritually dead.
Romans 8:29 says that God predestined us who are in Him “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (NIV) This process of conforming is sanctification, a continual changing of our sinful and selfish inner selves more and more into spiritual servants of God, loving with agape love and becoming more and more like the perfect Jesus.
Now, to be clear, none of us will ever attain perfection here on this earth. Even Paul, the great Christian hero and writer of the majority of the New Testament, said that he hadn't attained perfection, either (Philippians 3:12). But our goal is to let the Holy Spirit shape and mold us more and more into reflections of the Son, to become “little Christs,” which is what the term Christian meant at first.
Our very identity as a Christian ought to include a desire to be like John the Baptist and continually say, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:3, ESV).
This is not simply reformation of outward behaviors, although that is a part of it. Repentance is the hallmark of a true believer: recognizing a sinful behavior or attitude, confessing it as sin (not just a mistake or the way I am) to the Lord, and turning from it in desire and action.
Because this is an ongoing process that will never stop on this side of death, it can be said that Jesus is constantly saving us, saving us from the power of sin in our everyday lives, saving us from our own sinful natures, ourselves, and saving us to live a life of freedom from sin and freedom to the peace that comes from a clear, holy conscience.
This gives us a deep-rooted joy to become like Christ, our Master, our Model.
3. Glorification: a final salvation
Hope in the Bible is not merely a wish, a desire that you will get something but not knowing if you actually will. Biblical hope is absolutely certain. It goes hand-in-hand with faith, because we have to believe in what we don't have yet (Romans 5:5).
The believers' hope is ultimately a home in Heaven, an eternity forever with God the Father, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit now, and He is our down payment, our “earnest” in the KJV, the Promise for the future fulfillment of our final salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14).
This will be the end of our salvation. We will finally be saved from the presence of sin forever! Hallelujah! Oh, I can't wait!
We will then be glorified along with Jesus, thus our salvation will culminate in our glorification in a “glorified body.”
“We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2, ESV)!
Conclusion: This week as we talk about Jesus' death, it's good to be reminded of why He came to Earth in the first place. He came to die. He came to save us, to save us from an eternity in Hell by a one-time justification. He came to save us from our sinful natures, from ourselves, by an ongoing process of sanctification. And He came to save us from the presence of sin eventually and finally when we reach our glorification.
Now that we know this, what do we do with it? Why does it matter?
When we can be sure of our eternal security because of our justification, we can confidently follow the Lord. We have experienced His faithfulness in wooing us and bringing us to Himself. Now we can trust Him with the rest of our lives.
When our sanctification brings us closer and closer to the Lord, we are more aligned with the Spirit's job of making us more holy. We don't grieve Him as much and instead invite Him to fill us (Ephesians 4:30, 5:18). We are more joyful and experience the “abundant life,” those green pastures Jesus promised as our Good Shepherd (John 10:10-11; Psalm 23).
When we have hope in our glorification, we can endure steadfastly. It's not fun or always noticeable. We don't endure for praise or honor by men. But we endure because it's what our Model did, what He wants us to do, and is the ultimate test of our real belief—what we're really trusting in. If it's a Who, and that Who is Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, then we will never turn out back on Him. Those who endure to the end will never fall away (Hebrews 6:6; 2 Peter 2:21). And that will not only encourage younger believers but also be beacon of light to unbelievers that there is hope in this world.
There is so much more I could delve into. Do you have any questions about salvation? Comment below!