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QUESTION: When Are We “Saved”?

This question came to me by direct email from a regular reader. There was more in his letter, but the question is exactly as he asked it.

I’m curious about the phrase “being saved.”  I find Paul uses it in 1 Cor.1:18 and 2 Cor. 2:15.  My class has challenged me with that as a point to say that we aren’t truly saved after baptism…we are just in a process of having the ability to be saved, if we remain “faithful”.

The passages read as follows:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. – 2 Corinthians 2:15

My respondent’s class [of young adults in a Church of Christ] questioned whether we are truly saved after baptism since Paul writes of those who are being saved.

It seems to me that those posing the question are looking at salvation as a static state of being. I see it as a dynamic process that brings us completely from being participants in this present evil age into the glory of God, which we will not know fully until the Lord returns.

As a process, salvation has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Beginning

In one sense, our salvation began in the mind of God before the creation of the universe. For example, Paul wrote to praise God:

For He chose us in Him [i.e., Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight…. – Ephesians 1:4

Similarly, Peter wrote of the Christ:

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:20

Also, John in Revelation wrote about Jesus as the Lamb of God:

All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. – Revelation 13:8

When God makes a plan, He sees it as a completed fact. There may be many steps involved before the finished plan is reality for others, but for God it is already real. Thus, even before He formed us in our mother’s wombs, God saw us as being holy in Christ. His plan made before the world was formed involved sending His Son. He already saw Jesus as the Lamb slain for the sins of the world before they cooperated to make man in the image of God.

For us, salvation began with our hearing the good news of a way of deliverance from slavery to sin. Then, as we responded to this message with a penitent faith and trust in the God who promises and His Son who died for us, we moved closer to His side. We entered Christ when we shared in His death, burial and resurrection to new life! God’s Spirit was involved already in this process, and just as there is movement in the womb before the birth of the child, spiritual movements had already begun before you were baptized. When you were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, Peter said on Pentecost you were forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit as a representative of the Deity in your heart.

The Middle

Having been born again of the water and the Spirit, we begin the process of growing up into the fullness of Christ. In Ephesians 4, Paul spoke of the gifts God gave so that God’s people might be equipped for service and the body of Christ be built up:

…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ. – Ephesians 4:13-15

The process that began with your believing, confessing, and being baptized into Christ continues as you grow up into Him. How many times have you heard that we believe unto, confess unto, but are baptized into Christ? This is based on the KVJ of Romans 10:10 & 6:3. However, the same Greek preposition is used for all of these.

This is the same preposition Peter used in Acts 2:38 for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the same word used in Ephesians 4:15 to say that we “grow up into Christ.” In other words, the process continues. Baptism is a point on the road; it is not the destination.

The destination is the fullness of Christ. We are to become like Him. No, we will not become deity, but we are called to become participants in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). As Peter quoted Leviticus,

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16, quoting Leviticus 19:2, et. al.

John also wrote in the same vein: “Anyone who claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Paul also spoke of this as God’s plan from the beginning: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

Is the process inevitable? Can you thwart God’s plan for your life? Yes you can, for you can resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51), grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and even quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). You can so rebel against God that you can no longer repent (see Hebrews 6:4-6).

Falling away from God’s grace, though, does not happen with every slip of the tongue or yielding to temptation through weakness of the flesh, as opposed to deliberate rebellion against God. There was a big difference between Peter, who wept bitterly after denying he knew the Lord, and Judas, who went out and hanged himself. What was the difference? Perhaps it was in their love (or lack thereof) for the Lord. Maybe it was that Peter, though he knew he did not deserve anything from Jesus, still had hope that the Lord would receive him back – while Judas had no such hope and so gave up his life in despair.

“Falling away” does not happen every day, only for us to gain reinstatement when we pray for forgiveness that night! We are not in and out of salvation (as a static state) continuously. Rather, we are continually being shaped dynamically into the likeness of Jesus day by day.

This is how we are still being saved.

The End

We can see the end of the process in 1 John 3:1-3.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that id did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Actually, we can see the entire process here:
  1. God lavished His love on us and called us to be His children.
  2. We are purifying ourselves just as He is pure – though this process is so far incomplete.
  3. When we see Him, we will be like Him because only then will we see Him as He really is.

Peter also speaks of this process and its end:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead [that is the beginning], and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time [at the present time, we are shielded by God’s power – the same power that Paul said saves all who believe. This will continue until the coming of the salvation that will be revealed in the last time.]….These [trials & sufferings, v6] have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have no seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:3-9

God sees the end from the beginning. We do not. Yet, we walk in faith that He is keeping us even as He is working in us to make us into what He wants us to be: holy and pure like His Son, Jesus.

You see, salvation is more than escaping hell to be with God in glory. It is becoming like Jesus, and this we do day by day as we walk with Him in His Spirit. As we become more like Him, we find ever more joy and peace in our walk with Him, and thus are already reaping the fruit of salvation, even now, as a “foretaste” of the glory that will be ours when we are with Him in eternity.


3 Responses

  1. Excellent article!!
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Jerry,
    Thanks for a well written response. This will go either in our bulletin as in insert or on our table on the foyer.

  3. Johnny & Tony,
    I thank both of you for your kind remarks. Tony, we are looking forward to being with you in November!

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