I thought about splitting this between two posts… but decided to just throw the whole thing up here. And please understand… I don’t think this is a sin issue for us to use these terms… but we should always seek to be wise and Biblical in how we speak… not to mention clear.
As we continue to look at the language Christians use as part of our “churchy” vocabulary, let’s look at a very popular phrase. How many testimonies, or retellings of our encounters with Christ start with “I got saved when I was…? How many times have you been asked “When did you get saved?” How many times have you asked in evangelism, “Have you ever been saved?” These questions are not entirely unbiblical, but they may be, at the very least, indicative of an incomplete understanding of the work of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the finished, ongoing, and promised work of salvation. In other words, if we are only looking at salvation as a moment in the past, we may be missing the great benefit of experiencing salvation past, present and future. It is my contention that this can be confusing, frustrating, and ultimately destructive. Let me explain.
THE FINISHED, ONGOING AND PROMISED WORK OF SALVATION: Experienced in the Past, Present and Future
While I don’t want to give a voluminous explanation of the work of salvation (a blog may not be the place for that… and there are tons of great books on the subject), I do think a brief explanation of the finished, ongoing, and promised work of salvation is important.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
Salvation is a work of God that happens TO us at a moment in time… a moment BY grace, THROUGH faith. Romans 8:24 tells us we “were saved.” This is a great hope… that our salvation is FINISHED, completed in Christ Jesus. But the Apostle Paul goes even further in Romans 8 and tells us that the entire work of salvation is secured and completed… finished.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
The fact of the matter is… salvation is a term that includes many different aspects. Being known and loved; predestined to be conformed to Christ; called by the Spirit of God to faith; justified (made right) before a Holy, perfect righteous God; and even glorified, receiving the reward of faith secured in Christ Jesus. Salvation in the Scriptures includes all of these aspects and more. Forgiveness of sins; redemption; freedom from slavery to sin; being called children of God; adoption into His family; salvation from the wrath of God toward sin and sinfulness. And ALL of this is a finished work of Jesus Christ in the past… FINISHED, secured for us. (Romans 5:1, Romans 10:9, Acts 3:19, John 3:36, John 1:12, Ephesians 1:7)
But the reality of salvation is being experienced daily, and the sanctification (making us holy, or transforming us from the inside out) secured for us in Christ is being worked out by the Holy Spirit in our lives each day. 1 Corinthians 6:11 and Hebrews 10:10 tell us that we have already obtained our sanctification… no more sacrifices need to be made… we are holy before God. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that the old has passed away, the new has come for those who are “in Christ Jesus.” But therein lies the present reality of our salvation. God is still at work in us, through our union with Christ Jesus, making us more and more into the image of Christ… causing us to bear more and more fruit from our new life in Christ. Our holiness is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit because of our union with Christ (2 Corinthians 1:22), but the Scriptures also command us to live out our union with Christ, to become more and more sanctified by the Holy Spirit, to continually lay aside our selfishness, pride, worldliness, lust, and more. The work of salvation is continuing to make us into the image of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) and He will complete that work. The work of salvation presently is the work of God to keep us from stumbling… to hold us to Christ and His perfections. (Jude 1:24) Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly(John 10:9-10).” That life is found in Jesus Christ and is meant to be lived out daily. In simple terms… eternal life starts NOW. If we are alive in Christ… then, according to Ephesians 2:5… we are alive WITH Christ… and He is alive TODAY. Don’t shortchange your salvation by only thinking of it as something that happened to you in the past… your salvation is meant to be experienced daily. What good is it to be called a son (child) of God, adopted into His family, if we don’t experience the daily benefits? Your salvation is a present reality and a work of the Holy Spirit, transforming you. (2 Corinthians 3:18) And enduring to the end is the mark that you are saved and being saved (Matthew 24:13)
But there is more… we are awaiting our salvation… the fullness of the promised inheritance that is ours as children of God. Salvation has been secured in Christ, guaranteed by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, and fulfilled in the coming hope of glory. We have BEEN saved by grace through faith, we are BEING saved by the promise-holding, holy-making work of the Holy Spirit through our Union with Christ, and we WILL BE saved as all of the promises of our salvation will be fully experienced with Christ for eternity.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
This passage may most clearly demonstrate the truth of salvation past, present, and future. We are awaiting the final salvation of our souls, but we have already been born again to a living hope to an inheritance that is kept for us in heaven, as we are being guarded by God’s saving power for that ultimate salvation to come. Ultimately faith will have its reward… the salvation we desire in Christ. And that day of salvation is drawing near. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)
WHAT IS THE DANGER?
I see at least two possible dangers to continuing our incomplete explanation of salvation.
CONFUSION: I think one of the chief dangers of speaking of our salvation in incomplete terms is we can easily confuse believers and non-believers alike.
- Believers: If salvation is ONLY something that happens to us in the past, then believers can be confused about the role of Jesus in their lives each day. In John 15, Jesus says that our life in Him is meant to be like a branch connected to and getting life from a vine. The word He uses is to ABIDE. People who only talk of a past salvation experience or a future hope of “going to a better place” can find themselves confused about the PROMISED, FINISHED, and ONGOING work of Christ in their lives today… causing them to bear fruit. So, in other words, their proof that they are a believer is that they “prayed for salvation,” “got baptized,” or “came to Christ.” In essence, their only proof that they are alive in Christ, or at least the proof they lean on, is their birth in Christ? I heard it once said… if I were to ask you to prove that you are alive, would you pull out a copy of your birth certificate? All that proves is that you were born. To prove you ARE alive is to see the EVIDENCE of life in you today… beating heart, breathing lungs, brain activity. The way the Bible speaks of these things is “bearing fruit.” The proof of the work of Christ in your life and the proof that you are alive in Christ, is not just that you “got saved.” It’s that you ARE SAVED and bearing fruit because you are in Christ Jesus.
- Non-Believers. The danger of confusion is just as dangerous, if not more so, for someone who doesn’t know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. With an incomplete view of what salvation is, we can make salvation simply about forgiveness… your sins are forgiven… without a call to discipleship or life in Christ because we are bought with a price and adopted into the family of God. A forgiven person does not necessarily understand that the life we have in Christ is to be experienced by faith in Jesus… today, not just at a moment in the past. But, this unclear version of salvation can also cause a non-believer to see salvation as a way to avoid hell… to avoid judgment. But the hope of our salvation is not to avoid judgment… it is to ENJOY Christ forever. An incomplete explanation of salvation as simply a past event may cause confusion for those we want to share Christ with because they may only understand what we have been saved FROM… not what we have been saved FOR.
FRUSTRATION: A second danger I see for believers who have constantly been indoctrinated with an incomplete view of salvation is frustration in their daily life as a believer in Christ. There is a tension in living between the resurrection and the return of Christ. We know that our salvation is secured by Christ, but we also know that we want to be in heaven… so today becomes the problem. The Bible constantly talks about “enduring” in our walk with Christ. It is not fun to endure. And it is frustrating to endure if we only look at salvation as something that happened to us in the past. Why can’t we experience ALL of the benefits of the cross today… if we are more than conquerors, how come I feel so defeated every day… if sin has been defeated, how come I still sin? These are valid questions for anyone who is in Christ Jesus… but they are troublesome questions for those who only understand their salvation as a past event and now they are just waiting for heaven. In fact, many of those folks stop looking forward to heaven as a place to BE WITH JESUS… heaven simply becomes a place with no more pain, sin or sorrow… all good things… but not our ultimate inheritance. A salvation that is coming is a salvation with a full inheritance as children of God. And that “weight of glory” is what will really help the believer to endure. (Romans 8:18)
A POSSIBLE REMEDY:
I honestly don’t know what the “proper” language should be to replace the phrase “I got saved.” But one remedy may be this. Let’s simply be more Biblical in our speaking. Here are a couple of ideas.
- “I was given a new life in Christ.” This carries with it an event in the past and a present reality. But, more importantly we talk about our real treasure which is Jesus Christ Himself.
- “Jesus made me a Child of God.” Once again, this phrasing is not just Biblical, it speaks to the ongoing reality of our identity in Christ Jesus.
Food for thought… If we live in a world that has a hard time seeing ANYTHING as being right or wrong… and all we do is talk about “I got saved…” what hope are we really giving people for today and for eternity? Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever… and experiencing life in Christ is a past, present and future reality for us.