Christ’s Finished Work: Salvation

For most Christians, the word “salvation” means the salvation of the soul from the wrath of God through the death and resurrection of Christ. However, with a careful reading of the Scriptures we find that this word is used for other things as well, such as being saved from physical drowning (Acts 27:31). We also discover that salvation has different shades of meaning depending on the context. Salvation is comprehensive and can be described in three dimensions: past, present and future tenses.

Past tense salvation

This first dimension of salvation is past tense: “I have been saved”. It refers to the moment when a person repents and puts his faith in Jesus Christ. When this happens, the person’s sins are all forgiven and he receives the gift of righteousness from God. The person is declared righteous before God. He is saved, delivered from the penalty of sin, which is a spiritual “death” (Romans 6:23a)– an alienation, distancing and separation from God.

This separation from God can extend beyond this earthly life into eternity unless the sinner repents and receives God’s offer of forgiveness of sins. Our falling short of God’s standard of holiness alienates us from God. It is Christ’s death on the cross that made possible the forgiveness of our sins, and made us righteous before God. We are no longer enemies of God. Our separation from God has been healed and bridged. We have been reconciled with God and find favour with him. We have been justified. This is salvation in the past tense.

We had not deserved it nor earned it. It was Christ’s finished work that saved us. We only need to exercise faith, and even this is a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Present tense salvation

The second dimension of salvation is present tense: “I am being saved”. It can be called sanctification. It refers to the believer’s growth in holiness and becoming more like Christ. While past-tense salvation frees us from the penalty of sin, present-tense salvation frees us from the power of sin in the believer’s day-to-day life in the world. William MacDonald, a bible scholar, puts it this way: “Although it is true 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.”

This second dimension of salvation is a process of transformation by which the Spirit of God gradually frees us from sinful patterns of thought, lusts and behaviours and forms new desires, perspectives, values and behaviours in us. The goal of sanctification is that we are formed in the likeness of Christ. This requires us to yield to the workings of God in our life. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Future tense salvation

Finally, there is a future dimension of salvation that is called glorification: “I will be saved”. The apostle Paul refers to this future dimension when he tells the Christians in Rome: “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). The apostle spoke of the future salvation to be revealed at the end of this age: “To an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power is being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

This salvation refers to a time in the future when the believer will be delivered or saved from the presence of sin altogether. It will happen at the end of this age when a final transformation will occur when we believers will receive our new glorified, resurrection bodies and live eternally in the presence of God free from the presence of all sin. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3,4).

What a great and comprehensive salvation! Behold its breadth, height, length and depth! We were saved from the penalty of sins (past). We are being saved from the power of sin (present). And on Jesus’ return, we will finally be saved from the presence of sin (future). Contemplate the wisdom and plan of God. If salvation is only in the past tense, believers will still be bound in their old sinful patterns of unloving behaviour, a total disgrace to his name, a poor advertisement of God’s beauty and grace, and they will be without a future hope. However, God knows all believers need all three dimensions of salvation to live assured, fruitful, and godly for the kingdom of God.


Dear Father, how vast and deep is your wisdom and plan of salvation! Thank you for sending Jesus to suffer and die for us so that we can experience all three dimensions of salvation. Transform us and do your mighty work in us until the day Christ returns in glory. Amen.

This is part of a planned series of writings on the topic, “The A to Z of Christ’s Finished Work”. I am writing it alphabet by alphabet. Thus far the others that I have written can be found HERE.

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