So far in this doctrinal series, we have looked at who God is. Then his creation and commissioning of humanity as his image-bearer. This was followed by a look at humanity’s fall into sin and estrangement from God. And then the provision God made to restore us into a relationship with himself, sending his Son to be our savior. This article will give an overview of this gift of salvation that God has offered us.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Table of contents
What Is Salvation?
Salvation involves rescue or deliverance. The implication is that a person is rescued from a threat. Being rescued from a burning building, financial disaster, a health crisis, or a personal attack are examples of what we would label as salvation in a physical sense.
And the salvation that we have as believers is much like that. Because of our sin, our outlook was bleak. We were facing the judgment of God and eternal destruction. But our salvation changes that. No longer are we fated to face God’s judgment. We have been rescued from that fate.
But our salvation goes beyond a simple rescue. We are saved from the fate we deserved. And brought into an eternal inheritance God has prepared for his children, those who have experienced his salvation.
The Initial Experience
I understand salvation to be an ongoing process, much like a journey. And the following few sections of this post will describe the three phases of this journey, starting here with its entry point.
The necessary starting point in our look at salvation is with God. God initiates the process. Jesus tells us that no one can come to him unless they are drawn by the Father (John 6:44). While there is some debate as to who the Father draws and the response of those drawn, there is no question about the necessity of his drawing. Apart from that drawing of the Father, no one would ever seek God. And along with that drawing, we are enabled to respond to it.
Conversion could be rightly used to describe all that follows in this section. But it is used here in a narrower sense. It is what a person does in response to God’s call. This call requires a response from the person called. Jesus’ words in Mark 1:15, “repent and believe,” identify the necessary response.
Repentance involves change. It is turning from the direction my life was heading in. And turning toward the life God has called me to. True repentance also includes godly sorrow (1 Cor. 7:10). It is a recognition that I am a sinful and broken individual who needs what only God can give to me.
To believe is to put your faith in something. In this case, the one you put your faith in is Jesus. To place your faith in Jesus means more than just accepting that he is who the Scripture says he is. It involves entrusting your life to his care and keeping. Being who he wants you to be. And doing what he wants you to do.
Together, repentance and belief involve a drastic course correction. You are turning away from your old life to live under the direction of the Lord Jesus.
Regeneration is synonymous with being born again. It is being created anew in the image of Christ. When a person is regenerated, they have become something new. In Titus 3:5, Paul says that God “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Regeneration is a supernatural and instantaneous event. God gives me this new life without any assistance on my part. And it is something that happens at the moment I repent and believe. When I turn my life over to God, he creates a new person within me. The old is gone; the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
Justification is a legal term. It is to be declared not guilty. When we have responded to God’s call in repentance and faith, he declares us to be righteous. I do not instantly become sinless. Instead, God sees in me the righteousness of Jesus. He imputes Jesus’ righteousness to my account.
Justification is listed here as a separate operation. But it occurs simultaneously with regeneration upon conversion. Regeneration and justification, along with adoption, are not three distinct things. Instead, they look at what God does for us from three different perspectives.
A third aspect of what God does to us at our conversion is to adopt us into the family of God. This is not a family as we experience it on earth. But it does describe the relationship that we come into. It is an intimate and personal relationship with God as our Father. And, like a father, he cares for us, protecting us from harm and providing for our needs.
Adoption describes this well. We once were on the outside looking in. But God has brought us into his family. Justification describes this from a legal perspective. Regeneration describes it from the perspective of being made new. Adoption describes it being chosen and loved.
An Ongoing Experience
Many people think of salvation as something that occurs when a person comes to faith in Christ. And that is indeed where it starts. But salvation is also an ongoing process. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul said that the message of the cross is the power of God to us who are being saved. The Greek word translated in the NIV as “are being saved” is a present tense verb. We are being saved now, not just at some time in the past. And in Philippians 2:12, he tells us to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The Greek word translated as “continue to work out” is also a present tense verb. Working out our salvation is something that we are currently doing.
Sanctification: Working Out Your Salvation
Sanctification is a word that is often used to describe this phase of our salvation. It is the action of sanctifying something or making it holy. There is a sense in which, as believers, we are holy. God has set up apart as his people, distinct from the world. But we are also called to practical holiness. And this is an ongoing process. 1 Peter 1:15 tells us to be holy in all we do. And that is what sanctification is all about, being holy in all we do.
While there is an element of moral purity involved in holiness, that is only a side effect of the holiness God wants of us. Holiness involves being set apart for special use, for God’s use. It is to have a heart that seeks after him. To have my will in line with his will. And to make my desires the same as his desires. While I will still live in this world and interact with it, it will be as a foreigner here on assignment, serving God.
This does not happen immediately. And some question if it ever occurs completely while we live in this flesh. But it should be our goal. To please God in all we do (2 Cor. 5:9).
Enduring Until the End
Is it possible for someone who has experienced conversion and been justified, regenerated, and adopted to lose their salvation? There are a variety of positions people take over this issue. At one extreme are those who claim that once a person is born again, they cannot be unborn. At the other end are those who believe that every sin a person commits puts their salvation in jeopardy.
Scripture does indeed tell us that we can have an assurance of our salvation. But it also warns us about the necessity of remaining faithful throughout our life here. This topic will likely be revisited in more detail in a later article in this series. But for now, it is enough to know that for the one who is faithful to the God who saves and draws us to himself, there is no reason to fear a loss of salvation.
The Climatic Experience
Unless the Lord returns first, all of us will experience physical death. But physical death is not the end. Jesus left us with the promise that he would return and take us to be where he is (John 14:1-4). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul tells us about Jesus’s return for us. When he comes, the dead in Christ will rise to meet the Lord, along with those still living. And we will be with him throughout eternity. Paul also tells us, in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54, that when Jesus returns, our bodies will be transformed into bodies that are imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual.
We do not know much about what our eternal future holds for us. But it is the great hope that we have, the culmination of our salvation. The hope that keeps us moving toward sanctification, walking faithfully with our Lord. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.“
Questions To Consider
- What do you think about salvation being described in three phases?
- There are several topics concerning our salvation that divide believers today. What are the most important things to know about your salvation?
- How does sanctification work in your daily life?
- What are you most looking forward to in the life to come?
You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.
This link below connects to all of the significant articles concerning salvation that have been written on A Clay Jar.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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