The Three Tenses of Salvation

By Harold S. Martin

A Bible Helps Booklet No. 339

According to the message of the Bible, every human being comes into the world with an inborn nature that is inclined to go astray. It is not that a child is born with a thirst for robbing a bank, but we are all predisposed toward doing wrong. Most of us underestimate the sinfulness of the human heart-the extent of pride, the stubbornness of the mind, the lack of genuine love toward others, and the distrust of God when we face hard places in life. All of us need salvation-deliverance from the guilt and power of sin.

The greatest miracle in the Bible is not the parting of the Red Sea, or the raising of Lazarus from the dead-but the conversion of an individual by the power of God so that the person becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus.

Salvation is deliverance from the grip of sin. In the Old Testament, the word salvation sometimes referred to deliverance from danger (Jeremiah 15:20). Sometimes it was used to describe deliverance of the weak from an oppressor (Psalm 35:9-10). At other times it referred to national deliverance from a military threat (Exodus 14:13). But the word "salvation" finds its deepest meaning in the spiritual realm. That every human being has a universal need for salvation is one of the most clear teachings of the Bible.

Within the Scriptures there are other terms associated with the concept of salvation. The "new birth" speaks of being made alive in Christ (John 3:3). "Redemption" speaks more of the means of salvation (the payment of a price to bring one back to God). "Reconciliation" speaks of a change in relationship. "Propitiation" points to the turning away of God's wrath. All of these terms are sometimes used for the broader concept of salvation.

Salvation is the entire process by which God rescues sinful human beings from their bondage to sin, and gives them an overhaul from the inside out. Salvation is accomplished in three tenses-past, present, and future. Those individuals who accept Jesus Christ by faith, and repent of their sins, and take a vow of obedience to Christ in Christian baptism--can say with other believers:

"We have been saved from the penalty of sin (called justification); we are being saved from the power of sin (called sanctification); we shall be saved from the presence of sin (called glorification)."

Justification is our acceptance with God on the basis of Christ's perfect righteousness. Sanctification is the working out of right living in our daily behavior. Glorification is the future perfection to be experienced in the world to come. Justification refers to "the removal of guilt." Sanctification means "a setting apart unto holiness." Glorification speaks of "the final harvest."

1. Justification (The Removal of Guilt)

To "justify" means "to declare righteous" or "to put into a right relationship." Justification is the act of God whereby those who put their faith in Christ are declared righteous in God's eyes, and are set free from guilt and punishment for sin. Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

There are three elements of justification:

  1. The forgiveness of sins. Acts 13:38-39a says, "... Through (Jesus) is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things."
  2. The removal of guilt. Romans 8:1a says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (that is, to those who are justified).
  3. The imputation of righteousness. In Romans 4:6, David describes the blessedness of those unto whom God "imputeth righteousness without (apart from) works." Romans 4:5 makes it clear that he is talking about a person who is justified by faith.

Those who are justified are not only forgiven, but are declared not guilty, and are acquitted. Their past sins are canceled, and they are counted "just as if they had not sinned."

There are several other factors related to justification:

  1. The source of justification is God's free grace. Romans 3:24 says, "Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
  2. The ground of justification is Christ's blood. Romans 5:9 says, "Much more ... being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."
  3. The condition for justification is faith in Christ. Galatians 2:16a says, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ."
  4. The evidence of justification is good works. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

Justification is the result of the grace of God reaching down. Justification is not the result of any works that we do. However, some folks isolate this truth, and press it to the limit, and fail to reconcile it with other truths related to salvation. A. W. Tozer says, "To escape the error of salvation by works, some have fallen into the error of claiming salvation without obedience."

There is a difference between "good works" and "obedience." "Good works" are warm deeds of love that spring from a right attitude toward God. Good works speak of "service." "Obedience" is the act of earnestly carrying out the instructions of another. Obedience speaks of "compliance." Justification is by "grace through faith"-but the Bible does not recognize "faith" as a valid faith, unless that faith leads to obedience. Hebrews 5:9 says, "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." One who thinks he is saved, but does not care about obedience, had better take another look at the New Testament.

Obedience is one of the Bible's leading themes. In John 14:21a Jesus says, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." Saving faith involves more than trust in the merits of Christ's atoning work on the cross. It involves a commitment to order one's daily life in accord with the Scriptures. The Bible becomes our manual for daily living. The practices and attitudes of the world are to have little influence on our daily decisions.

2. Sanctification (Setting Apart Unto Holiness)

To "sanctify" means "to set apart" or "to declare holy for God's service." Sanctification is the process by which the believer is more and more separated from sin, and becomes more and more dedicated to God's standard of righteousness. Titus 2:14 says, "Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people (literally, a people of his own), zealous of good works."

There are three aspects of sanctification:

  1. Instantaneous sanctification-is the standing before God which is assigned to individuals at the time when they accept Jesus Christ by faith. We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:13b that "God hath ... chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit." And from 1 Corinthians 6:11 we learn that "Such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." The Christians at Corinth had lived very ungodly and pagan lives, but now they were new creatures in Christ Jesus.
  2. 2) Progressive sanctification-is the life process of growing in holiness; it is pressing on in the upward way, and more and more being delivered from the power of sin. Thus sanctification speaks of following in the path of righteousness, choosing the more excellent way, and seeking the mind of Christ. We are told in 2 Peter 3:18a to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." That takes place when we are devoted to reading the holy Word of God, using the tools of Bible study, and exercising the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and participation in the ordinances of God's house. There is also an admonition in 2 Corinthians 7:1b which says, "Therefore ... let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The Apostle Paul spoke of pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God (Philippians 3:13-14). The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts to sanctification. It simply encourages us to give ourselves to the old-fashioned and time-honored means of Bible reading, and meditation, and prayer, and worship, and self-discipline.
  3. Ultimate sanctification-is the final state, which will be attained only when we are fully and completely set apart to God in heaven. The wish of the writer in I Thessalonians 5:23 is expressed as follows: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." And in 1 John 3:2b, we read, "It doeth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

Instantaneous sanctification has to do with our standing.

Progressive sanctification has to do with our spiritual growth.

Ultimate sanctification has to do with our eternal state.

Usually when we speak about sanctification, we refer to the progressive work that continues throughout our earthly lives. Sanctification is partly God's work. We are sanctified by God the Father (Jude 1:1). We are sanctified by God the Son (Hebrews 2:9-11). We are sanctified by God the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:2). The Apostle Paul prayed, "And (may) the very God of peace sanctify you wholly" (1 Thessalonians 5:23a). Sanctification is partly the believer's work. Romans 8:13 flatly says, "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." The Apostle Paul acknowledges that it is "by the Spirit" that we are able to mortify the deeds of the body-but he also says that we must do it! There are numerous commands throughout the New Testament indicating that we have a responsibility in sanctification. For example, we are commanded to "be holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16). We are commanded to "be perfect" (Matthew 5:48). We are commanded to present the faculties of our bodies "as servants of righteousness unto holiness" (Romans 6:19b).

It is instructive to take a concordance and note how often words like "strive" and "work" and "run" and "fight" are used in the Bible to describe the believer's spiritual duties. We must run the Christian race with all our might. We must flex our muscles and exercise our will power. It is not a matter of "letting go and letting God," or "trusting instead of trying." It is, instead, a matter of trusting "and" trying! Sanctification involves human resolve, along with Holy Spirit power.

One of the primary means of sanctification is through the study and the intentional practice of God's Word. John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." Ephesians 5:26b says that sanctification and cleansing are associated with "the washing of water by the word." The Word of God sanctifies by revealing sin, by awakening conscience, by showing the example of Christ, and by setting forth spiritual motives and ideals. God's purpose in saving people is not primarily to get us to believe in Christ so that we can escape Hell and go to Heaven. His purpose is to reproduce the life of Jesus in every person. God's desire is that we should be more and more conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), and that requires running and striving and abstaining and guarding.

Sanctification is essential to salvation. The Bible says, "Follow ... holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). The believer must seek to walk worthy of his heavenly calling (Ephesians 4:1). We are to seek to adorn the doctrine of God by good works (Titus 2:10). We must aim to "abound more and more" in good deeds which "please God" (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

3. Glorification (The Final Harvest)

God not only justifies-delivers from the guilt of sin. And He not only sanctifies-delivers more and more from the power of sin. He also glorifies--delivers ultimately from the presence of sin. Glorification is the future perfection which will take place when the believer inherits his home in Heaven, and lives eternally in a new body.

Romans 8:16-18 says, "Children of God" are "joint heirs with Christ-if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Hebrews 1:14 says that we are heirs of salvation. First Peter 1:5a says that we are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." Romans 13:11b reminds us to awake out of sleep, for our "salvation is nearer than when we (first) believed." Christ came the first time to pay the price of our sins; He is coming the second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly looking for Him (Hebrews 9:28).

To understand the word "glorification" we must think about the word "glory." We don't use the word "glory" very much in our everyday conversation, and so it sounds a bit strange to our ears. But the word "glory" has in it the idea of harvest. The farmer has many disappointments. He plants crops, but sometimes the summer is dry, the days are hot, the work is hard, the bugs are plentiful-and yet, harvest time is always a time of rejoicing and gladness. Harvest time is glory time for the farmer. This gives us a small concept of the Bible meaning of "glory."

Jesus spoke about a harvest at the end of the age. In Matthew 13:30b, we read, "I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to bum them, but gather the wheat into my barn." Glorification is the act of God by which He is going to transform the believer's body, and re-invest it with the soul, and transport the individual inside the gates of the City of God. The glorified believer will be delivered from the presence of sin forever (1 John 3:2). At that time there will be joy and peace and gladness and singing. Sufferings and trials are sometimes hard and painful in this life, but the sum total of them all will be nothing when compared with the glory which is still to be revealed (Romans 8:18).

Salvation is God's great gift to human beings. The Greek word "soteria" speaks of deliverance, preservation from danger, wholeness, and soundness. The many facets of salvation cannot be completely comprehended by the human mind, but if we ponder the concepts of God's salvation, we will sense a deeper appreciation, a great love, and a happier praise for the God who has saved us.

Salvation, by way of summary, is the work of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) whereby the sinner who becomes a committed believer in Jesus Christ, is redeemed from the curse of the law (justification), and is increasingly set free from the dominion of sin (sanctification), and will finally be perfected in the image of Jesus Christ (glorification). No wonder the writer of Hebrews asks such a probing question; he says, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3a).

Justification is a gift (it refers to a backward look). Isaiah 53:5-6 says, "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him ... the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."

Sanctification is a process (refers to an inward look). Galatians 2:20 says, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Glorification is a heavenly- experience (it refers to a forward look). Revelation 3:21a says, "To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne." Glorification includes the aspect of reigning with Christ. We do not know all the details, but the Apostle Paul tells about the reign of Christ in general terms in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.

Salvation comes to individual persons "by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is God's hand reaching down. Faith is man's hand reaching up. If you have never reached up to accept God's offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, remember these three truths:

  1. There must be a recognition of the fact of sin (Romans 3:23). Salvation is only for sinners, and all of us fall into that category.
  2. There must be an acknowledgment that God has provided a way out (John 3:16). Jesus accomplished His mission when He died on the cross.
  3. There must be an actual embracing of the finished work of Christ on the cross (John 1:12). The promise of salvation is to those who "receive him." To those who receive Him, Jesus gives the right to be called "sons of God."

If you are not a child of God by simple faith in the work Jesus did for us on the cross, why not step out on His side today?

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