The Word-tenses of Salvation

By Wayne Jackson

When many people hear the term “salvation,” they immediately think of something that occurred in their past. Many Protestants believe that salvation was received the instant they expressed a genuine faith in Christ as their personal Savior, and that it never can be forfeited. As we shall notice, these ideas are not accurate.

Let us consider several passages that speak of salvation — from varying “time” vantage points.

Future Salvation

In the Great Commission, according to Mark’s record, Jesus said: “He who believes and is immersed shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16). This passage speaks of the sinner who has never known Christ, but who learns of the Lord, believes his gospel, and, based upon penitent faith, is immersed in water.

What is the result? He “shall be saved.” The verb is a future tense form, the salvation being contingent upon the obedience specified. It is regrettable that so many repudiate this very clear declaration.

First, the text negates the false notion of “universalism,” i.e., the idea that all people will be saved ultimately. Second, it refutes the Calvinistic theory that “election” is “unconditional.” Third, as noted already, it contradicts the erroneous idea that salvation is by “faith alone”; rather, “works” [obedience] also are involved in salvation (see James 2:24). [Note: J.H. Thayer described the “works” in James 2 as having to do with “the conduct of men, measured by the standard of religion and righteousness” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, p. 248).]

Past Salvation

Writing from a different time perspective, Paul reminded Titus that as a result of his kindness and mercy, God “saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

The verb here is a past tense form. It refers back to the salvation received when one submitted to the “washing” (baptism – cf. Acts 22:16) of “regeneration,” (the new birth – John 3:3-5). This was a result of the “renewing” instruction of the Holy Spirit, operating through the gospel message (Ephesians 6:17). At the point of our baptism, all our past sins were pardoned forever.

Present Salvation

Contrary to the belief of many, the salvation process does not end with our conversion to Christ. One’s redemption is not a “done deal” that never can be forfeited. That is the dogma of Calvin, not Christ.

In a letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: “Now I make known unto you, brothers, the gospel which I preached unto you … by which also you are saved” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). The Greek verb rendered “are saved” is a present tense form; literally, “are being saved” (see also 1:18, ASV footnote.). Salvation is a continuous process as we faithfully live the Christian life.

Future Final

Paul once stated that: “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Later, he would tell Timothy, “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). The apostle Peter would speak of Christians “receiving the end [goal] of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9).

I recently found it quite remarkable that an internationally recognized Bible scholar, Peter Davids, wrote the following regarding 1 Peter 1:9.

Salvation, then, is a goal. It is what Christians are moving toward. According to 1 Peter it begins with baptism (1 Pet. 3:21), but it is finally revealed only in “the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). The mark of those who are “being saved” is their remaining firm in the faith under persecution (Hard Sayings of the Bible, W. Kaiser, et al., Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996, p. 710).

That is most refreshing from a denominational scholar. Rejoice, therefore, in your salvation — past, present, and future — if indeed you have embraced the promises of the Lord (cf. Hebrews 5:9).

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.