“Is a believer in Jesus Christ ‘saved’ or ‘being saved’?”
Romans 5:9 (KJV) says, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved (σωθησόμεθα-this verb is in the future tense) from wrath through him.”
If a believer who has received undeserved grace from God through Jesus Christ is “sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30), why, in Philippians 2:12 (KJV) does Paul tell the saints to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? The word for “work” (κατεργάζομαι) is clearly in the present tense, and surely this verse communicates that we ought not to take our salvation for granted (1 John 3:9).
I Thessalonians 5:9-10 (KJV) also communicates the future aspect of salvation: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” If the Thessalonians are already saved, why does Paul tell them that God has appointed (or “destined”) them to obtain salvation?
That there are past** (Ephesians 1:4, 2:8-9), present (2 Corinthians 2:15) and future (Romans 5:9) aspects of salvation in Scripture is undeniable. A child of God was chosen by God in the past, is being saved now, and will be saved in the future.
So, how do we further explain these three tenses of salvation? The answer can be found in Jesus’ own “gate-path” explanation:
Matthew 7:13-14 (KJV): “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, you once entered in at the gate and are now persevering along the narrow path. While you rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross, your salvation is an ongoing process through sanctification that will one day culminate in your completed salvation, eternal life and glorification.
Romans 8:30 (KJV) sums the process up for us: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
A note to readers:
I am using the KJV in this post today because some of my readers are KJV-only. In the context of this post, one of the presuppositions of KJV-only proponents is that “modern translations promote a ‘works-salvation.'”
A helpful response from TGC: Virtually all of today’s cults (except the Jehovah’s Witnesses) prefer the King James version over the rest, including the Mormons, who also preach a “works-salvation.” Of course, this does not negate the worth of the King James version, but we could use this argument if we were to employ the same approach of our KJV-Only friends. In addition, consider Revelation 22:14 (KJV): “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” to the ESV: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (ESV) If we were to use the KJV-only logic, we could assume on the basis of this verse that the King James translators were conspiring to take us back to the chains of Catholicism, while the ESV translators are translating faithfully God’s Word. Of course, this would be a ridiculous assumption, but it is the kind of reasoning that KJV-only advocates employ. Even John R. Rice, the founder the Sword of the Lord admitted in “Our God-Breathed Book – The Bible” that the KJV renders Revelation 22:14 incorrectly and that the ASV is more accurate there.
On a personal side note, I grew up memorizing the KJV, and I love this translation, although I find other versions (NASB and ESV) to be more faithful to the original text of Scripture. While no one today possesses the original autographs of Scripture, we do have many copies, and the work of biblical historians gives us great confidence that the Bible we have is an accurate reflection of the original writers’ work. Consider this analogy from GotQuestions.org: if the original and preserved unit of measure known as a “yard” was lost in a fire in its holding place in Washington, D.C., there is little doubt that that measurement could be replaced with full assurance through all the exact copies of it that exist elsewhere. The same is true of God’s Word: while we don’t have the original autographs, we still have God’s Word in copies of the autographs in both Hebrew and Greek.
**I do not believe that eternal justification is Biblical. That said, God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world”. Election is both a Bible word and Bible concept (Acts 13:48, Acts 16:14, Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 1:9, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 8:29, etc.) and Election does not negate the responsibility humans have in terms of repentance from sin and worshipping Jesus as Savior and Lord.