March 20, 2017

The Verbs of Our Salvation

Often times, in our Christian vernacular, we use the word ‘saved’ in the past tense – ‘I was saved on such and such a date.’ Or we might say, ‘I date my salvation to such and such a time.’ This is how we often speak of the concept of salvation – in the past tense – such that that the words ‘save’ or ‘salvation’ refer to the point in time, in the past, at which we were brought to repentance and faith in Christ, and were forgiven and declared righteous in God’s sight. We were ‘saved’ (past tense) at that point in time. And that is a right use of the term.

It’s also right to speak of salvation in the present perfect tense. We have been saved – meaning that we were forgiven and justified at some point in the past, and that those statuses (forgiven and justified) are ongoing. If we were ever forgiven, well then we are still forgiven, right? And, in the same way, God’s declaration that we are righteous in Christ happened once, at a moment in time … and such that our standing in this blessings continues! We remain forgiven and justified. And so it’s right to speak of having been saved.

But, though we often use the words ‘saved’ and ‘salvation’ as shorthand for forgiveness and justification (which happened at a past moment in time, with continuing effect) … these words (‘saved’ and ‘salvation’) can be used to describe even more than that. Our complete salvation from sin, in other words, includes more than just our initial coming to faith, and being once-and-for-all-time delivered from sin’s penalty, at some wonderful point in our past. We can also use the word ‘salvation’ to refer to the process of progressive sanctification, whereby God is presently, gradually molding us into the image of His Son. In sanctification, we are being saved (in the present) from sin’s power! And, further, the words ‘salvation’ or ‘saved’ can also be used in reference to our glorification – that future moment in time when, at death or at Christ’s return, we will be completely made like Him; when will be saved, finally, from sin’s presence in our lives!

To distill all that down, here is how theologians and Bible teachers have put into words this multi-tense unfolding of our salvation:

• In justification, we have been saved from sin’s penalty.
• In progressive sanctification, we are being saved from sin’s power.
• In glorification, we will be saved from sin’s presence.

And so, yes, it is right to say ‘I have been saved,’ or to refer back to the date of your ‘salvation.’ But it is also right to realize that, while we were forever saved, at a point and time, from sin’s penalty … God is not finished with us. He is still saving us, no longer from the penalty of sin (which has been forever done away, if we are in Christ), but He is still saving us from sin’s power! And, when our lives in this world are complete, He will finally save us, even from sin’s very presence in our lives!

We have been saved in justification. We are being saved in sanctification. And some day, marvelously, we will be saved, finally, in glorification!

And, if you like grammar, you’ll notice that those are all passive verbs! It’s not that we have saved, are saving, and will save … but that we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved! These passive verbs refer to things done for us … not by us! “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). And therefore “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3)!

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