SORTING OUT SALVATION
A Meditation on Selected Scriptures
The doctrine of salvation is like a brilliant diamond that emanates colorful rays of light from various angles. Salvation has many different angles, and the writers of Scripture can quickly switch from one facet to another without warning. This tends to manifest the beauty of salvation, giving us a full-orbed view. It also tends, how-ever, to multiply confusion in our understanding of salvation.
To begin with, salvation literally means “deliverance.” This deliverance can be either physical or spiritual. After Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt, it was not long before the Israelites found themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place (i.e., between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea). Moses answered the terrified people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance (salvation, NASB) the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again” (Ex. 14:13). God parted the waters, so that the Israelites could walk across on dry ground. The Egyptian army followed them into the sea, but the waters flowed back over them drowning the entire army. In response to what God had done, Moses and the Israelites sang to the LORD: “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Ex. 15:2). The salvation here is physical deliverance from enemies (see many Psalms, including, 3:8; 9:14; 18:2).
Acts 4:12 is a reference to spiritual deliverance: “Salvation is found in no other name (i.e., Jesus Christ of Nazareth, see vs. 10) under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The context usually makes it clear whether the salvation is physical or spiritual.
For a Christian, salvation can also have a past, present or future orientation. The biblical writers mention all three. The past focus of salvation is called justification. This is deliverance from the penalty of sin. “Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 723). Justification takes place the moment we repent of our sin and put our trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. Many passages that talk about salvation have this past act of justification in mind, such as Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Other passages have a present focus of salvation, which is called sanctification. This is deliverance from the power of sin (see Romans 6). “Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin, and like Christ in our actual lives” (Ibid., p. 746). Paul describes salvation in the present progressive sense in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” “Being saved” is not a reference to justification, but to sanctification, which is continuous throughout our lives on earth. “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (sanctification, 1 Pet. 2:2, NASB). “Work out your salvation” (sanctification, Phil. 2:12).
Still, other passages focus on the future of our salvation, called glorification. This is deliverance from the presence of sin, once and for all. This is the final stage of salvation. Glorification takes place at the second coming of Christ when He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20). Paul is thinking of this future view of salvation when he tells the Christians at Rome, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). He can say this since the return of Jesus Christ, which will bring about the consummation of our salvation, is closer than ever before. We are saved…are being saved…and will be saved.
Finally, other passages simultaneously encompass the past, present and future focus of salvation. Paul said, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). Paul suffers so that the elect may be justified, sanctified and ultimately glorified.
Unbelievers “perish because they refused to love the truth and be saved…But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:10, 13-14).
Pastor Wayne Christensen, www.foxlakechurch.org, March 6, 2016