One of the most important elements of grammar is verb tense. Tense tells us the time in which the action took place – past, present, or future. When it comes to our salvation, we should think of it in all three tenses.
I was saved from the penalty of the sins of my past. I will be saved from all future sins, and ultimately from the presence of sin when I get to heaven. And I am being saved as the Holy Spirit works to make me more like Jesus with each passing day.
Salvation – Past tense “I was saved”
We most often think of salvation in the past tense. You may remember a specific time in your past when you repented of your sin and turned your trust to Jesus. At that moment the blood of Jesus covered all of the sins you had committed, and you stood forgiven. The Bible teaches us that God shows us grace – undeserved favor – and forgives all of our sin. By grace we have been saved. (Eph. 2:1-9)
Often when you talk to a believer about her or his relationship with Jesus, you might hear, “I was saved when I was ______.” Theologically speaking, we call what happens when an unbeliever turns from their sin and places trust in Jesus “regeneration.” We call it that because the Holy Spirit gives life to our spirit formerly dead because of our sin.
Salvation – Future tense “I will be saved”
But we also understand salvation in the future tense. Not only did Jesus forgive our past sins, He also provided us perseverance until we reach heaven, our final destination. Theologically, we refer to future salvation as “glorification.”
We will finally be able to see Jesus in all of His glory with our eyes (Titus 2:13). And when we see Him as He is, we will be made like Him (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2). We cannot completely make ourselves into Jesus’ image, but we receive this also by grace.
Salvation – Present tense “I am being saved”
Perhaps the most overlooked tense of salvation, however, is the present tense. We can look back at a moment in the past when the transaction of our salvation took place. And we can look forward in hope to when our salvation will find completion when we become like Jesus. But salvation holds so much promise for life between those two moments.
Theologically, we call present tense salvation “sanctification.” The word sanctify means “to be set apart, made special.” God is transforming us beyond a merely normal human into a spiritually perceptive obedient person.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is progressively transforming us into Jesus’ likeness. He is helping us to think like Jesus, love like Jesus, and value what Jesus values. In fact, this present tense process is God’s aim for us (Rom. 8:29).
Present tense salvation is different
One thing, however, is different about present tense salvation. We did nothing to earn, obtain, or achieve our past salvation. We were dead in our sin and the Holy Spirit made us alive so that we could believe. We bore no responsibility in our past tense salvation. We do not affect our future salvation. We do not possess the power on our own to persevere in faith nor glorify ourselves. Our present salvation is also a work of grace and we are not able to complete it on our own. However, God does hold us responsible to respond to His sanctifying grace.
What is our role? Two words: believe and behave. First, we believe what God has said about Himself, His purposes, and His precepts. We believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. We believe that He loves us and has demonstrated His love through Jesus’ death on the cross. We believe His promises are true and His precepts are right.
The second word is “behave” – behave what we believe. We demonstrate our faith by living like we believe what God has said. Such faith involves living what we believe. In fact, I define faith as “an active trust in all that God has said concerning Himself, His promises, and His precepts.”
God reveals Himself and His desire for our lives through His Word. We begin to take confidence in what we learn and start to live by it. The Holy Spirit begins to work to enable us to complete our obedience. (Phil. 2:12-13)
Making it practical
We work out our salvation – believe and behave, and God works in us – enabling us to complete that obedience. We must choose to believe and act on that belief, even when our way seems easier or more pleasurable. Our obedience indicated that we trust God and believe His way is best and transforms us into Jesus’ image.
Step One: make sure your past tense salvation is a reality. Being a Christian does not mean going to church or even being a member of a church. Those are important but do not affect our salvation. Only when we repent of our selfish sinfulness and transfer our trust to Jesus do we experience regeneration. If you’ve never expressed your faith to Jesus, take a moment and do that now. Or visit this website to see it more fully explained.
Step Two: realize this world is not all there is. For those who are His, God is preparing a glorious eternal home and experience. Don’t get too hung up on this life. Live for the next life.
Step Three: Take God at His word and start living it. Trust and obey. Learn what God has said in His Word and start obeying it. You will be amazed at the transformation that takes place.