Salvation is not limited to any temporal aspect. It is not limited to any specific time and place. Salvation is all encompassing. Salvation is through Jesus Christ and includes the past, present, and future. To help us connect salvation to the past we will refer to it as our justification. Salvation in the present is our sanctification and salvation in the future is our glorification.
Romans 6:22 is a good representation of this theology. “But now that you have been set free from sin (justification) and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification (present) and its end, eternal life (glorification).
This theology is represented well in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Since salvation is union with Christ then we are united with all the tenses of Christ. Christ has always been, always is, and always will be.
To explain this concept further let’s look at Ephesians 1:13-14.
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Paul writes a general letter to Christians to teach them and solidify them in the spiritual truths that their salvation is in Christ, their identity is in Christ, and they are to live for Christ. Salvation is union with Christ and union between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. All have been saved by Christ and their destination will be with Christ in the new heavens and new earth.
God had predestined that his creation would find salvation through Jesus. God so loved the world that he gave his son to the cross. Justification and forgiveness are objective realities at the cross. Salvation is accomplished in the past when Christ was crucified. The crucifixion of Christ means that sin and evil were put to death. What had caused a separation between man and God was now torn in two, likened to the temple curtains, between the sanctuary and the holiest of holies. The curtain was torn from top to bottom when Jesus said, “it is finished” and surrendered his spirit. This is the past reality of salvation to which the Gentiles were included when they heard the message of truth.
The good news of their salvation meant that they were no longer burdened by their sin and shame. They were no longer identified by their prior offenses. They had received a new life. Today, all who were once dead can find a new life in Christ because the truth has set them free. The truth is that your sin doesn’t get the last word. You’re justified and God no longer counts your sins against you. Many of us walk around with an imaginary jury in our heads that recall our past offenses and condemn us for them. In Christ, we have an advocate who stands up for us. He is our representative who stands between us and our sin and he removes the penalty.
When they believed they received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to believers to continue the process of salvation (sanctification). Followers of Jesus Christ are saved by grace through faith and they are sanctified by grace through faith through the Spirit. We are being made holy just like we were justified. God does not save us through grace only to have us fight for continual salvation through our own works. The goal of our faith is not salvation from our sins. The goal of our faith is theosis (likeness to or union with God). We are not escaping hell we are becoming like Christ. The follower of Christ is continually in process.
Jesus Christ in his Sermon on the Mount envisioned his followers bringing heaven to earth. Jesus was the living word and all that he did made the word of God manifest. Jesus spoke what his Father told him and he did what his Father showed him. When Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan and illustrated what it looked like to be a neighbor he told them to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10). When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet he instructed them to love as he had loved them (John 13).
Jesus then told his disciples that it was better for him to depart so that he could send the Spirit. The Spirit would remind them of everything he had taught them. When you are saved from your past you are set free for the present. A person who is justified participates in the sanctified, Spirit filled life. We offer our bodies as living sacrifices. This is our spiritual act of service (Romans 12).
The Holy Spirit not only serves as our power for the present but he is our seal marking our hope for the future. The Holy Spirit is as our deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. He is our security for salvation. Sin does not get the last word in our life and death is not “that’s all folks.” One day Jesus Christ will return and call up to himself all who have fallen asleep in his name. Just as Christ was glorified after his resurrection and ascension, becoming the first fruits of a bodily resurrection, we too will be forever changed. We will receive our glorification we he returns. Our perishable bodies will be changed imperishable. Our sanctification will be complete in the fullness of time when Christ comes to make all things new.
The past, present, and future tenses of salvation give us a holistic view of God’s plan for his creation. Yet, throughout the church’s history we have been tempted to focus on one or two of these tenses at the expense of the other. Focusing only on our future glorification can lead to an escapist view of salvation. An escapist view might encourage someone to not live out their faith here on earth. This may lead them to believe that the goal of their salvation is to be in heaven instead of to be like Christ. They may scoff at the need for social justice and the eradication of poverty, or environmental care. “This world is not my home I’m just passing through.”
Someone who only see salvation for the past may not pursue a life of holiness. Their sins have been forgiven and that’s what’s most important. They do not see a need to meet with the body of believers, wash their brothers’ feet, or be a good neighbor. Transformation is not a part of their belief system. As their sin increases they believe that grace increases all the more which encourages them to habitually sin with no remorse. They made one decision to follow Christ and cease to make daily decisions to follow him. They were baptized but they do not live the baptized life.
Finally, the person who only sees salvation for the present may develop a legalistic view of following Christ. Rules, laws, and traditions are the substance of their faith. Religious practices must be done correctly and correct doctrine is elevated over mercy. Hard work is championed and God’s grace is viewed with skepticism. Belief is replaced with busyness and there is no security for the future. A fear of not being able to do enough for God robs this person from the joy of their salvation.
The unity or wholeness of salvation allows us to live in the fullness of Christ today and tomorrow. When we live in the wholeness of our salvation we can enjoy the promised abundant life that Christ gives. We are not human doers we are human beings. The goal of our faith is to be like Christ. We receive Christ, we live for Christ, and we wait for the return of Christ. The wholeness of salvation is a salvation that is definitive, declarative, and participatory. You are made whole when the whole of your life is immersed in all the tenses of salvation. And the whole world will be better because you will have something of substance, something life changing to believe in and offer to others.
How do the past, present, and future tenses of salvation give you hope?
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