Millions of people around the world believe they are “saved” the moment they accept Christ. But are they? Is there more to salvation than what many people believe?
In our last issue of Discern magazine, we explored the biblical concept of salvation. We discovered:
- We are saved from death (not an eternity of suffering in hell, as many believe).
- We are saved by the resurrected life of Jesus Christ.
- There are essential steps (beyond mere profession of Jesus’ name) that we must take.
But there is still another major question we have to answer: When are we actually saved?
Mainstream Christianity almost exclusively speaks of salvation as a present reality in the life of a Christian. It is viewed as the state of believers at the moment they accept Jesus Christ as Savior (or, for some denominations, at the moment of baptism). In other words, if you have accepted Jesus, you are saved. Your sins are forgiven, and your place in heaven is assured. End of story.
But is that all there is to salvation?
In His famous Olivet Prophecy, Jesus said: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13, emphasis added throughout). “The end” refers to the end of this age and Christ’s second coming.
So, Jesus seems to be saying that salvation will occur in the future. That statement seems to indicate that being saved is a future event that believers have not yet experienced.
But there are other passages that seem to say the opposite. For instance, Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). This seems to imply salvation is a past event.
But in still other places, the Bible speaks of salvation as something that’s ongoing: “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
So which is it? “Shall be saved” (future), “have been saved” (past) or “are being saved” (present)?
The answer is—yes, all three!
Salvation is a process
How can all three be true?
The past, present and future aspects of being saved represent three major steps of the salvation process.To understand this, we have to remember exactly what salvation is—it is being saved from sin and its consequences. Sin (which results in separation from God and ultimately death) is the major obstacle to our achieving God’s purpose for us, which is to become perfect as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48). When a person accepts Christ and is baptized, he or she is only beginning on that path. Salvation is best understood as a process—not an event.
The past, present and future aspects of being saved represent three major steps of the salvation process. Let’s take a closer look at each step.
Step 1: Becoming a Christian (“have been saved”)
The first step is being called by God and coming to Him through Jesus Christ. In order to do that, the primary problem we have to deal with is ourselves. All of us come to God with a lifetime of sins on our record. We need to be saved from having to experience eternal death as a consequence for those sins (Romans 6:23).
When we accept Christ and His shed blood for sin, we must deeply repent of those sins and be baptized (Acts 2:38). When a person rises up out of the watery grave of baptism, those sins are “washed away” and “blotted out”—completely cleansed and expunged from the person’s record (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 22:16).
This is what Paul was referring to when he wrote that “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Immediately after baptism, every truly repentant believer has been saved from all the sins committed before that moment. God accepts Jesus’ death to pay the penalty for those sins on our behalf—we are saved from that penalty.
So, this is the sense in which a true believer is already saved.
Step 2: Living the Christian life (“being saved”)
When true believers come out of the waters of baptism, they are saved from the sins they committed prior to that moment—but there’s still a problem. They will continue to live. Which means they will sin again.
True belief, repentance and baptism wash away past sins, but do not blot out all future sins. In order to be saved from sins committed after baptism, a believer must repent of and seek God’s forgiveness for those sins. Writing primarily to baptized Christians, John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
When those post-baptism sins are repented of and cleansed from our record, we are saved from those sins. This is the sense in which we are being saved through an ongoing process. As we repent of sins after baptism and continue to grow in God’s character, we are saved from the death penalty for those sins by Christ’s sacrifice and are continually reconciled to God.
Step 3: Receiving eternal life at Christ’s return (“shall be saved”)
But there is still another aspect of salvation that is yet future. Remember that the two results of sin we need to be saved from are death and alienation from God. We are not fully saved, in its ultimate sense, until we are composed of spirit and made perfect—no longer in danger of sin or death. This is what Jesus Christ was referring to when He said, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
When Jesus returns, He will bring salvation to His people: “He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28). The process of being saved has only begun in our lives today—but Christ will complete it at His return. Salvation is ultimately given at the end of a physical lifetime of faithfully repenting, growing and developing a life of faith toward God (1 Peter 1:9). This is why the Bible says we are “saved by His life” (Romans 5:10)—because only a living, resurrected Savior can return and give eternal life!
This is “the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It is the future hope that true Christians seek. It is being saved from death and becoming a member of God’s family for all eternity.
To learn how to start the process of salvation in your life, download our free booklet Change Your Life.