Study of Important Biblical Distinctions - 5 - THREE TENSES OF SALVATION

A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald


When we first become Christians most of us can think of only one type of salvation, the salvation of our souls.  In our Bible study we automatically try to fit this meaning into every occurrence of the word.  But soon we find that it will not always fit.
    Then we come to realize that salvation is a very general word meaning deliverance, safety, or soundness.  In Philippians 1: 19, for example, Paul uses it concerning his expected release from prison:

    For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

    In Philippians 2:12 salvation means something quite different; it means the solution of a problem that had broken out in the church at Philippi.  A serious case of disunity had arisen (Phil. 2:1-4; 4:2).  Paul reminds the Christians that the answer to the problem was for them all to have the humble, self-sacrificing mind of the Lord Jesus.  Then in verse 12 he says:

    Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

    In other words, "I have told you the way of deliverance from the problem that vexes you.  Now work out the solution with fear and trembling.
    In three passages salvation is used to describe deliverance from drowning:

    And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved (Acts 27:30, 31).

    By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house (Heb. 11:7).

    ...he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight, persons were saved through water (1 Pet. 3:19, 20 RSV).

    But the uses of the words "salvation" or "saved" in which we are principally interested are those which have to do with deliverance from sin.  This is the most common meaning in the New Testament.
    Here we must learn to distinguish the three tenses of salvation-past, present, and future:

    Past-I was saved from the penalty of sin.
    Present-I am being saved from the power of sin.
    Future-I shall be saved from the presence of sin.

Past Tense

    Here are some verses which speak primarily of salvation from the penalty of sin:

    For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8 RSV).

    (God) who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9).

    Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Tit. 3:5).

Note: In these three examples the word "saved" is in the past tense.  However, there are other verses which speak of our deliverance from the penalty of sin where the verb is not in the past tense.

    Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

    That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Rom. 10:9).

    So you must decide by the contents of the verse rather than by the tense of the verb whether the past tense of salvation is meant.  If the subject is the once-for-all deliverance from the condemnation of sin, then you know it is the past tense of salvation.

Present Tense

    Although it is true that I have been saved, it is equally true that I am being saved day by day.  I have been saved from damnation; I am being saved from damage.  I have been saved from the penalty of sin; I am being saved from the power of sin.  I have been saved through the finished work of Christ on the Cross; I am being saved through His life and ministry for me at the right hand of God.  That is what is meant, for example, in Romans 5:10:

    For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life.

    The present tense of salvation is much the same as sanctification-the process of being separated to God from sin and defilement.  It is this salvation as a continuing process that we read about in Hebrews 7:25:

    Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

Future Tense

    Finally, there is the future aspect of salvation.  When we meet the Savior face-to-face we shall be saved from sin's presence.  Our bodies will be redeemed and glorified.  The following verses describe the glorious-future consummation of our salvation.

    For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed (Rom. 13:11).

    But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation.  For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:8,

    Unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Heb. 9:28).

    (You) who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:5).

All Three Tenses

    If you have difficulty fitting a verse into one of these classes, remember that it might be applicable to all three tenses.  Here are a couple of examples:

    Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

    In him you also who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13 RSV).

    So in cases like these you don't have to choose, because they apply with equal force to all three phases of salvation.