The Three Tenses of Salvation

by Elisabeth Osborne

In 1997 at age 10, I became a believer and began my walk with the Lord Jesus. It wasn't until 13 years later after countless sermons, Sunday School lessons, and retreats that I first began hearing that saved in the Bible doesn't always mean, "go to heaven when you die." Learning this foundational truth shook my faith in the best way possible, and I am grateful for that. However, I was left wondering why it took so many years for me to hear this!

This growing experience has left me with one major question: why are the three phases of salvation not taught as core knowledge in most churches? Coming to an understanding of justification, sanctification, glorification, and their different uses in the Bible allows for a much clearer grasp of Scripture. The benefits of this knowledge are innumerable.

Let's start with the first phase—justification. Justification is God's declaration that a person is righteous in His sight. It happens when someone simply believes in Jesus as the Son of God, as mentioned in John 5:24. At this point, the Father sees the person through Jesus, and therefore sees them as redeemed and innocent. It is at the point of belief when a person gains eternal salvation and is promised eternity with God. In Rom 5:1-2 Paul writes, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." As if justification couldn't get any greater, believers are not only saved from eternal separation from God, but there is also nothing that can be done to for them to become unsaved (Rom 8:38-39). By understanding justification and that there is no condition to stay justified, believers can be confident in their faith, confident they are saved eternally, and confident that their salvation cannot be lost due to their behavior or shortcomings.

This truth leads many people to the question, "If I'm saved and cannot lose my salvation, what's the point in good works or God-glorifying behavior?" And that leads me to my second point and phase of salvation, sanctification. Sanctification is defined as a believer being set apart by God Almighty for a special purpose or task. The process of sanctification begins the moment we are justified, and lasts until we breathe our last breath. Sanctification comes through our obedience to God and dedication to His Word during our life. Second Timothy 2:21 tells us, "Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy..." Sanctification is why our actions are important and do matter (but not for our eternal security). Our actions during our life will shape our eternity—not the location, but the details of how our time is spent once we're in the kingdom. In addition to the joy and satisfaction that often comes with glorifying God in our life, walking someone through sanctification kicks the door wide open for the teaching of rewards in the kingdom. (Which is a whole other article for a different day!)

The final phase of salvation is glorification. Biblically, glorification looks to our final deliverance from our sinful, mortal bodies (Rom 8:18-30). Every believer, faithful or not, will experience glorification. Paul paints an exciting picture in Philippians 3:20-21, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself." We see in 1 Cor 15:20 that Jesus was the first to experience glorification- "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." What we will do in our glorified states will vary depending on our acts on earth and what occurs during our time with the Lord at the Bema. (See 1 Cor 3:12-15). But we do know from Rev 22:3 that we will spend eternity in service to the King. (For another great verse on glorification, see 1 Thess 4:16-17.)

It is only through the Lord Jesus that we have access to salvation. His blood and sacrifice on the cross allowed for our justification and eternal security. His time on earth showed us the ultimate example of a perfect life, always striving to glorify the Father, while promising us the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), who makes sanctification possible. And He gives us hope for our guaranteed glorification and things to come. I pray our Father will give us many opportunities to discuss this with believers and non-believers alike.