Being a Christian means being saved. But, what does it mean to be saved? How would you answer someone if they asked you, “Saved from what?” There are 3 aspects of salvation we are going to examine today: Salvation from sin’s Penalty, Salvation from Sin’s Power, and Salvation from Sin’s Presence. These refer to how we have been saved in the past, how we are being saved in the present, and how we will be saved in the future.
Our Problem. If someone asked us “What are you saved from?” then as Christians we would start right away to talk about sin because we know that salvation has everything to do with sin. Our sin. Our big problem of sin. The Bible says the whole human race is guilty of sin (Rom. 5:12); We’re all responsible for sin; we are in bondage to sin (John 8: ); we rebel against God because of sin; we are dead because of sin (Eph. 2:1), we are under God’s condemnation because of sin (Romans ), we are separated from God because of our sin (Isa. 59:2). Sin is our problem.
Definition of Salvation. But God has dealt with our sin problem by providing salvation. Salvation is major theme that shows up over 600 times in the Bible. Scriptures “repeatedly teach that salvation is from some object or state to another object or state. This usually involves being saved from physical or spiritual peril to a state of wellbeing or blessedness.” (Rokser, 3). Several different Hebrew and Greek words are used and there are different English words used to translate those words. Words like “deliverance”, “rescue”, “safe”, “preservation”, “release” and “victory”.
Extent of Salvation. But God’s dealing with our sin goes beyond what I suspect we all realize. God has not only saved us from our sin in the past when we were born again, but He is saving us now from sin and He will save us from it in the future. The Bible teaches that salvation has these 3 different time references: Past, Present, and Future.
Hazards of Misunderstanding. If we misunderstand these 3 aspects of salvation, we will get confused and stall our spiritual growth. Many good teachers talk about our need as Christians to move on from what they call “birth truths” and go on into “growth truths”. What they mean is while we need to understand all the truths related to being “born again” we need to move forward and learn truths related to spiritual growth. Skills to deal with our sins need to develop, mature spiritual wisdom needs to form, training ourselves in godly habits, and more.
I think studying the 3 “time zones” of salvation will help us gain a greater assurance of our salvation, open us up to new levels of spiritual growth, and clear up any confusion over questions like:
“If salvation means God has forgiven me all my sins does that mean I can now go and sin all I want since it’s all forgiven?” “Why do we still have the desire to sin and why do we actually commit sins even though we’re Christians?” “After I am saved what does God want me to do?”
#1: Salvation in the Past: Salvation from Sin’s Penalty
When we talk about the fact that we have been saved, that it is something that was done in the past, we are referring to that 1st moment when we became a Christian. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” At that moment we were forgiven all of our sins on the basis of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. This means that all our guilt for all our sins was taken away from us. When God saved us at that moment in the past it was a salvation from the penalty of sin.
This moment is when something happens to us called “justification”. When we first put our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior something happened to us in that moment that will never be changed: we were justified. This is a legal word that refers to the fact that God legally declares us righteous. In other words we get cleared of all the charges against us for our sin and we get officially declared as “righteous” by God. To put it another way, our record in God’s court is wiped clean; we are acquitted of our crimes and God pronounces us to be right in the eyes of the court.
Now hear this clearly: what God declares of us in court is not what is true for us in our conduct. Let me explain. When God justifies us He now sees us as perfectly righteous even though we don’t act perfectly righteous. This will help you better deal with the fact that as a Christian you still struggle with sin. In justifying us He is dealing with our guilt for our sinful behavior; justification does not change our actual behavior. At the moment we are justified, by putting our faith in His Son, He removes all the guilt of our sin. He does not actually remove sin from us. He removes the penalty of sin (death and judgment) but He does not remove our practice of sin. He now sees us as righteous, He doesn’t actually make us righteous in the way we act. Justification is not referring to that, but what we will talk about next does. Right now we need to explain this initial truth relating to the beginning of our first moment of salvation.
You are going to sin. You are going to want to sin. This does not mean you are not justified. Justification brings nothing to bear on how you actually live. It is your brand new standing before God where you are legally pronounced “without sin”, and “righteous” in the eyes of God’s court.
How can this be? You will remember not too long ago we spoke of imputation. To impute something means to charge to someone’s account. All our sin was charged to Jesus Christ’s account and He paid the penalty for it on the cross. He didn’t actually commit sin, but, He was treated as though He had. When we put our trust in Christ the righteousness of God is imputed to us – that is it gets credited to our account. This doesn’t mean we actually are as righteous as God, but, all His righteousness gets credited to us. Just like Jesus wasn’t a sinner but was treated like one, we are treated as righteous by God even though we are not actually so.
#2: Salvation in the Present: Salvation from Sin’s Power
Now we get into how God is saving you from sin in the present. This is referring to what is called sanctification: we are being saved from sin’s power in our daily lives, and, being saved over into greater righteousness in our lives. Consider several passages: Second Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lords’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Or consider Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore I urge you brothers in view of God’smercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God = this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
When you became a Christian you were saved from the penalty of sin, that’s called justification. Now living as a Christian is where God is saving you from the control sin has in your life. I like how one writer says it, “Justification is God getting you out of your sin; sanctification is God getting your sin out of you.” Your guilt was permanently dealt with when you became a Christian but from then on your spiritual growth is the issue. And spiritual growth has to do with living an increasingly righteous life while sin diminishes more and more.
You know that sin has not been eradicated from inside you, because you know the pull it still has on you. No, the sin nature in you was not removed from you when you were saved. Well, what was removed? Your guilt for your sin was removed and eternal death no longer waits for you because Jesus Christ paid for it all with His own blood upon the cross.
But that “thing” in us, that “sin thing” that generates the desire for sin, the urge to sin, the attraction to sin still resides in us. Theologians call it the “sin principle” or the “sin force”, the “sin nature”, and it is still in us. Sin has infected our programming. It is an inexhaustible source of sinful desire that endlessly generates evil urges that when we submit to do nothing but corrupt us.
But, it is now for us who are saved to grow in sanctification – to learn how to live in the power of the Holy Spirit by faith in the Word of God so that we no longer live under the control of our sinful nature. This is the part of the Christian life where we cooperate with what God is doing to deliver us further from sin’s power over our actions, thoughts and attitudes. Second Corinthians 7:1 says, “Therefore, since we have these promises dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” This is the “present” aspect of salvation: being saved from sins rule in our life. Here we learn to come out from underneath the ruling power of sin and come under the ruling power of Jesus Christ.
You must understand this is not instantaneous but incremental. This is not a long jump, but a marathon. This is not a one time super-event where through some quick experience you are now perfectly sanctified. Rather this is a gradual, life-long process where each successful inch is won by intentional self-denial, submission to the Holy Spirit’s leading, knowing and appropriating the Word, and trusting the Lord in each step. Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will continue it until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then in chapter 2 verse 12 and 13, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” It is to our own misery if we make the mistake of thinking sanctification – spiritual growth – happens naturally and without our careful attention to ourselves and the Lord.
In understanding the meaning of salvation you may begin to see with me its relationship to the concept of holiness. Holiness means to be set apart from sin and set apart unto God for His purposes. Salvation inherently involves holiness because we are delivered from sin, death and judgment and now delivered over to God to be used for His purposes. Salvation relates to our deliverance from death and judgment that are the consequences of our sin. Being made holy relates to our purpose as those set apart to God.