THE THREE TENSES OF SALVATION
Salvation is a very broad term. C. 1. Scofield, in his comment on Rom. 1:16, says very aptly: "The Hebrew and Greek words for salvation imply the ideas of deliverance, safety, preservation, healing, and soundness. Salvation is the great inclusive word of the Gospel, gathering into itself all the redemptive acts and processes: as justification, redemption, grace, propitiation, imputation, forgiveness, sanctification, and glorification."
Salvation, therefore, in its broad sense, has to do with both the soul and the body, with the present life as well as with future life. It has reference, not only to the remission of sin's penalty an d the removal of its guilt, but also to the conquering of the power of sin and to the final removal of the presence of sin from the body. It is only by recognizing this that one can grasp the full sweep of the Bible doctrine of salvation. And it is only by being able to classify each passage dealing with salvation on the basis of the foregoing facts that one can avoid the confusion that exists in the mind of the average believer. We can best accomplish this end by noting that salvation is spoken of in three tenses, and in carefully considering each tense. All three tenses are roughly summed up in 2 Cor. 1:10: "Who delivered us (past tense) from so great a death, and doth deliver (present tense): in whom we trust that he will (future tense) yet deliver us."
I. THE PAST TENSE OF SALVATION
We have been saved from the PENALTY of sin.
Note the following passages:
"Thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke 7:50). "By grace have ye been saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8) ...... who saved us and called us with a holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9)."...according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5). All of these passages, and many more like them, speak of salvation as a work finished in the past. This tense of salvation is coincident with the believer's past sanctification, as considered in the former chapter. It has to do (1) with the soul; (2) with the remission of sin's penalty, the removal of guilt, and even the removal of sin's presence from the soul.
In this sense the salvation of the believer is complete. As we have said of justification, so we may say of this tense of salvation: it is an act, and not a process. It occurs and is complete the moment the individual believes. It admits of no degrees nor stages.
It is under this tense of salvation that we are to classify the passages that speak of the believer as possessing eternal life now. See John 5:24; John 6:47; 17:2, 3; 1 John 3:13; 5:11, 13. This means simply, as expressed in John 5:24, that the believer has passed from under all danger of condemnation and the power of the second death.
We are being saved from the POWER of sin.
The Greek participle in the above passage is in the present tense, and denotes "those being saved, the act . . . being in progress, not completed' (E. P. Gould).
It is with reference to the present tense of salvation that Phil. 2:12 speaks when it says: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." The meaning of this passage is that the Philippian believers were to make effective in their lives the new life that God had implanted in their hearts.
In the present tense of salvation believers are being saved through the work of the indwelling Spirit from the power of sin to hinder the new life. It is thus equivalent to progressive sanctification. It has to do not with the soul, nor with the body, but with the life.
We shall be saved from the PRESENCE of sin.
Paul tells us in Rom. 8:23 what this future salvation is in the main. It is "the redemption of our body," by which he means the application of redemption to the believer's body. This will take place in the resurrection of those who sleep in Christ (1 Cor. 15:52-56; 1 Thess. 4.16) and in the rapture of those who are alive at Christ's coming in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). It is only then that the regenerated spirit will enter into the full fruition of salvation. Thus we read that the spirit is to be saved "in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). This tense of salvation has to do mainly with the body and the presence of sin in the body.
Thus we have the beautiful harmony that exists between all the passages that touch on the subject of salvation. There is no conflict between these passages, because they refer to different phases of salvation. It is absurd and heretical for any man to take one set out of the three, no matter which set he takes, and seek to deny or nullify one or the other or both of the two remaining sets. The way of truth is to take all of them rightly divided.
Let it be remarked in closing that salvation in all its tenses and phases is of the Lord. Paul gives us God's method of work in salvation from beginning to end in Phil 1:6 and 2:13. He begins the work of salvation and He carries it on to its consummation. All along the line He works in us "both to will and to do His good pleasure." Moreover it is all of grace through faith. "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17).