The Three Tenses of Salvation
Past, Present and Future
Scripture is its own best interpreter. A young pastor paying a visit to one of his elderly parishioners commented to her how he was so greatly helped in his Bible study by the many commentaries shelved in his office -- as he explained a passage of Scripture to her.
The older saint reminded her well-meaning teacher: “Yes, Pastor, the Bible sure does shed a lot o’ light on them commentaries!”
The best way to figure out the meaning of salvation in the Bible is simply to see how the word is used. As we will see, there are three tenses of salvation in Scripture – past, present and future. This, of course, is no new understanding. It has been part of biblical theology for a long time.
Several ways are used to describe the three tenses of salvation. For example, we are saved from the penalty of sin (past), from the power of sin (present) and from the presence of sin (future). Another way to look at these three aspects of salvation is the use of three biblical concepts -- justification, sanctification and glorification. At one point in time we were justified by faith, over time we are sanctified by faith, and at the end of our time we are glorified by faith when we receive glorified bodies.
Many have memorized these marvelous verses which stress the past character of salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Similar texts are found in 2 Timothy 1:8-9 and Titus 3:4-5. There is no doubt about this past salvation emphasis which declares the believer righteous by faith.
1 Corinthians 1:18 states: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Please note also
Philippians 2:12-13 and I Peter 1:8-9. Although God has declared us to be righteous by faith in the past, we still struggle with the power of sin in the present. Daily we are being saved from that awful power as we walk in faith enabled by His grace.
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
(Romans 13:11) Other texts emphasizing the wonderful goal of our salvation – our entrance into the heavenly presence of our Lord and deliverance from this body of sin – are found in 1 Corinthians 3:15, Romans 5:9-10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:9.
Application: Try a simple exercise as you study your Bible. Mark each occurrence of the word salvation with a #1, #2 or #3 corresponding to the three tenses – past, present and future. This will be a help to you in your growing knowledge of the Scriptures.