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Audio Transcript

Welcome back to this new week on the podcast. Well, the Bible says Christians have been saved in the past. And it says we will be saved in the future. And it says we are being saved right now — being saved. We’re going to look at that last one, the present-tense one, today, in a question from a listener named Jessica.

“Hello, Pastor John. Thank you for answering so many questions on this podcast! Here’s mine: I recently read 1 Corinthians 1:18 with new eyes. I noticed that the word ‘saved’ in my KJV is translated as ‘being saved’ in many other versions. I have heard this explained by teachers with the following rationale for ‘being saved.’ (1) We are eternally saved from judgment of our sins, as Jesus paid it all on the cross — past tense. (2) We are presently being saved from behaving sinfully by walking in the Spirit. And (3) we will be saved from a world filled with sin after our life on earth is over, and we are given our glorified bodies. The church mainly addresses the fact that we have been saved — past tense (1). But can you explain to me (2), and 1 Corinthians 1:18, that we are being saved right now?”

Let’s nail down past salvation and future salvation, and then focus on what the Bible means by our “being saved” in between those two acts of salvation. But let’s be clear from the beginning that all three stages of salvation were secured, purchased, by the decisive act of God in Christ on the cross — all three, not just the past.

“Because of the cross, every aspect of salvation will most certainly come to God’s people — past, present, future.”

Here’s the utterly glorious foundation for that statement (maybe my favorite verse in the Bible): “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Now, here’s the meaning: Because of the cross, every aspect of salvation will most certainly come to God’s people — past, present, future. So, whether past, present, or future, we are not talking about three different foundations of salvation, but the different applications of the one achieved foundation: Jesus Christ crucified for sinners.

Past and Future Salvation

So first, past salvation.

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created [that’s past; you’re a new creation] in Christ Jesus for good works [that’s ongoing], which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10)

So, the decisive work is done. The moment we believed, we were united to Christ, were justified in him, were forgiven, adopted; we became new creatures and were once for all saved — “to the uttermost” as Hebrews 7:25 says.

Now, that past salvation, Paul says, is the absolute guarantee of our future salvation. And that future salvation is usually spoken of as a rescue from the future wrath of God. Here’s Romans 5:9–10:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood [that’s past], much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

And there are numerous other texts speaking in that way (Romans 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9–10; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 9:28).

Present Salvation

Now, what about the words “are being saved” in 1 Corinthians 1:18? That’s what Jessica’s asking about. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” We find the same wording in Acts 2:47, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Likewise in 2 Corinthians 2:15: “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved.”

In what sense is God saving us now, between the past salvation of the new birth and redemption and justification and forgiveness of sins and adoption — which are all fixed and firm and unchangeable — and the future salvation of deliverance from the wrath of God in judgment and, as she said, complete eradication of sin and the transformation of our bodies into glorious bodies like Christ’s? What is God doing now that qualifies as part of this salvation?

Sanctified Through the Spirit

I think the key verse that launches us into our right understanding of this question is 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” “Saved through sanctification by the Spirit” — that is what God is doing now: he’s sanctifying us. And that is salvation, a necessary part of salvation, for three reasons.

First, it says right here in this text that we are saved “through sanctification.” Sanctification is the work of God through which we make it to final salvation. Second, Hebrews 12:14 says there’s a holiness, a sanctification, “without which [we will not] see the Lord.” So, God is at work saving us now by seeing to it that we attain the holiness without which we won’t see the Lord. And third, 2 Peter 1:10 says, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities” — that is, if you’re sanctified, as Paul said — “you will never fall.”

So, I conclude that Christians are being saved now by God in that he’s sanctifying us as the necessary confirmation of our election through lives of sanctification.

God is doing that saving work in two senses. First, he’s keeping us back from soul-destroying patterns of sin, as it says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that no test, no temptation will overcome us to destroy us. Or Jude 24: “[He will] keep you from stumbling and . . . present you blameless” to God. And second, the other sense in which God is doing that sanctifying work, that saving work, is by causing us to positively walk in paths of righteousness. As Hebrews 13:21 says, “[He is] working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.”

Living on the Word

Now, if we ask how God is saving us in this sanctifying way, the answer given over and over is this: by the word of God, by the gospel. Jesus prayed, “[Father,] sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). So, God sanctifies by the truth. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:1–2, “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.” In other words, God uses the words of God, the gospel, in an ongoing, present, saving, sanctifying work in believers — he keeps us, holds us, saves us by the gospel. By trusting the promises of the gospel day by day, the power of sin is broken, and we walk in the freedom of holiness.

“Daily welcoming, daily embracing the word of God is the ongoing way that God keeps us from destruction.”

James puts it like this: he says to Christians, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). So, daily welcoming, receiving, daily embracing the word of God is the ongoing way that God keeps us from destruction and saves us. Peter puts it like this in 1 Peter 2:2. After saying that we are born again by “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23), he says to new Christians, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk” — I take that to be the word — “that by it you may grow up into salvation.” We grow into final salvation by living on the Word of God. That’s how the gospel goes on saving.

As Secure as the Past

That leaves us now with one final question: Can we count on God’s present saving work to be as infallible and as sure as our past salvation is? The past seems so firm, so fixed, so finished. It’s wonderful to dwell on the past thought, I am justified. The past can’t be changed. But what about the present, ongoing work of God to save us through sanctification? And here’s Paul’s answer in 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

So yes, it is sure. Present salvation is as sure as the past because the past is in fact what secures it.

Let’s end where we began, with the spectacular logic of heaven in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all [that’s past], how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” So yes, our present and future salvation is as sure as God’s commitment to the worth of his Son’s death, which is infinite.