Calvary Road Baptist Church

“SALVATION IN THE ‘PRESENT TENSE’”

Romans 8.28-30

 

Last Sunday morning I strongly discouraged anyone’s notion of focusing on the matter of salvation without at the same time focusing on the person of Christ, since Jesus Christ is not only the only savior of sinful men’s souls, but He is also the salvation of sinful men’s souls. By this, I mean that not only did I point out that Jesus Christ delivers sinners from the penalty of their sins, but it is important to note that when Jesus became sin for us, He was not only the savior, but He was also the salvation. That is why the Apostle Paul so frequently used the phrase “in Christ,” some seventy-four times in his epistles, and the phrase “in Him” eighteen times. Imagine such a savior as this. What power! What love! What excellent majesty!

It strikes me as so sad that so many lost people are given a pass these days simply because they claim to be Christians, professing that they have been saved from the penalty of sins in the “past tense,” while exhibiting no evidence or interest in anything like salvation in the “present tense.” Were historians able to devote themselves to the lives of two prominent 19th century American evangelical leaders, I am convinced they would be able to support my hypothesis of what happened: Though he was not in any way instrumental in bringing about the Second Great Awakening, since by his own testimony his conversion took place when it was waning, Charles G. Finney certainly did leave the impression later in life that he was the evangelist of the Second Great Awakening.[1] Finney was responsible for an innovative and very pragmatic approach to evangelism that swept the nation in the last half of the 19th century, producing both a great deal of fanfare and a great many false professions of faith.[2] A generation later C. I. Scofield came on the scene, leaving both St. Louis, Missouri and his Roman Catholic wife behind when she refused to convert to relocate in Dallas, Texas where he reinvented himself by entering the pastorate, remarrying, and issuing the very popular Scofield Study Bible. Though it has many good features, the Scofield Bible has one poisonous deficiency that was likely an attempt to explain the many “Finney conversions” throughout the country who claimed to be born again, but who bore no fruit in their lives, attended church only inconsistently, and generally lived lives that mirrored the lifestyles of the lost around them. Scofield introduced the view, until that time embraced by neither Calvinists nor Arminians, that Christianity was comprised of a very few spiritual believers who were growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, while most who were saved were living lives of utter defeat and knowing no victory in the experiences of life.

If Finney made it acceptable to profess being a Christian without having anything approaching a credible conversion experience, and actually embracing the unscriptural notion that a sinner can make himself a new heart, Scofield popularized a notion that has held evangelical Christianity in a grip that paralyzes even genuine Christians, the belief that there is no close connection between the “past tense” of salvation and the “present tense of salvation.”[3]

Turn in your Bible to First Corinthians 2.14-3.4, where Scofield’s deviant comments about the Christian life can most easily be seen:

 

14     But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

15     But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

16     For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

1      And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

2      I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

3      For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

4      For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

 

No child of God would deny that sin is an ever-present problem to deal with.[4] However, Scofield went so far in the other direction that his note explaining First Corinthians 2.14 actually divides humanity into three classes, the natural man, the spiritual man, and the carnal or fleshly Christian he claims remains a spiritually immature babe.[5] There can be no doubt, from both God’s Word and our own experiences as Christians, that believers can be carnal and behave in many respects like the lost conduct themselves. However, not in this passage that we have just read, or anywhere else in God’s Word, is the notion of perpetual carnality advanced. Neither does the Bible ever divide humanity into such groups as lost, spiritual saved people, and carnal saved people. When the Bible does categorize people, and such division is found only once in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul lists the categories as Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God, First Corinthians 10.32.

That said, Finney’s decisionism and Scofield’s erroneous view of the Christian life combined to create a tragic situation in which the whole of Christianity was adversely affected.[6] Large numbers of professing Christians are now convinced they are saved from the penalty of their sins, meaning they have confidence they are the recipients of the “past tense” of salvation, without giving any thought at all to salvation in the “present tense.” To bring it home in a way that is indisputable, turn with me to Second Corinthians 5.17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Though you would think this verse would settle the matter once and for all, I know people who are serial adulterers who claim they are, nevertheless, genuine Christians because they misinterpret this verse as having no application to their present Christian experience. Turn, now, to First Corinthians 6.9-11, where Paul was even more pointed and specific in his comments:

 

9      Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

10     Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

11     And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

 

Though the Apostle Paul nowhere makes the claim that the Christian life is a life of sinless perfection, he everywhere in his writings, along with other inspired writers, shows that the Christian life is a different life than the life of an unsaved person. In other words, there is a connection between salvation in the “past tense” and salvation in the “present tense.”

This brings me to our text for this morning. Turn to Romans 8.28-30. When you find that passage, please stand for the reading of God’s Word:

 

28     And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29     For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30     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.

 

This is the text that I will use to explain the crucial and necessary connection between the “present tense” of salvation and the “past tense” of salvation, and between the “present tense” of salvation and Jesus Christ.

 

First, THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE “PRESENT TENSE” OF SALVATION AND THE “PAST TENSE” OF SALVATION

 

Romans 8.28 is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, used by Christians in times of affliction and suffering, and referred to to reinforce the truth that God is still on the throne and has reasons for the things He allows to transpire in the lives of His children. However, Romans 8.28, which is embraced by all professing Christians, speaks to the present experiences of every Christian. In other words, Romans 8.28 refers to the experiences that are related to the “present tense” of the believer’s salvation. What is too frequently overlooked is the basis upon which the claim of Romans 8.28 is made, which is found in Romans 8.29-30.

Look at verses 29-30 carefully and you will see that five decrees of God are referred to with reference to a Christian’s salvation. The two decrees that are fulfilled in eternity past are God’s foreknowledge and predestination of the Christian. The two decrees that are fulfilled in the span of the Christian’s life here on earth are God’s calling and justification. The final decree is the believer’s future glorification, which is the Christian’s final preparation for the eternal state. Do you see what we have here? Written down here for our edification, for our information and understanding, is the connection in the mind of God between our salvation in the “past tense,” our salvation in the “present tense,” and our salvation in the “future tense.” So you see, in the mind of God, at least, there is no disconnection of the “present tense” of our salvation from the “past tense” of our salvation.

Pray tell, what are the implications of this interconnectedness of our past, present, and future tenses of salvation? They are these: If you have any sense that you are forgiven the penalty of sins in the past, and that you will in the future enjoy the bliss of salvation from the presence of sins in heaven, though there is no present evidence that you are now being saved from the power of sins in your life, you are at odds with our text and all things do not work together for good in your life. Allow me to state the matter another way: The Bible shows that salvation from the penalty of sins, salvation from the power of sins in your present life, and salvation from the presence of sins in the future are all connected and inseparable. Therefore, if there is no present evidence that you are being saved from the presence of sins in your life, as evidenced by your attitude, by your conduct, by your ministry and service, then you have no valid claim that your sins were forgiven in the past or that you will go to heaven when you die in the future. Listen to what Jesus said in His sermon on the mount:

 

21     Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22     Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23     And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

 

Thus, it is clear that what happened in the past (supposing you were saved from your sins) is connected to your conduct at present (supposing you are being saved from your sins). If not, you are lost, because the “past tense” of salvation and the “present tense” of salvation are connected. They are actually essential parts of the same thing, and are the real keys to whether there will be any “future tense” of salvation for you.

 

Finally, THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE “PRESENT TENSE” OF SALVATION AND JESUS CHRIST

 

Consider a few things related to your salvation that are found in the Bible:

First, your union with Christ. You remember me mentioning that the Apostle Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” seventy-four times in his writings. My friend, that phrase alone testifies loudly of the union with Christ each and every believer has as a direct result of his faith in Christ. Second Peter 1.4 shows us that those whose relationship with Jesus Christ is established by faith have become “partakers of the divine nature.” Think of actually sharing God’s nature with Him as a result of your union with Jesus Christ. Yet there are those who claim to be Christians by virtue of some decision made decades ago who have no ongoing evidence of union with Christ? I don’t buy it, and neither should you.

Next, your communion with Christ. How can you separate union with Christ from communion with Christ? Excuse me, but the Great Commission is Jesus Christ’s charge that we make disciples of Jesus Christ, which is to say followers of Jesus Christ. Sixteen times in the four gospels the Lord Jesus Christ said these words to His disciples: “Follow me.” Yet there are people living today who think they are Christians without following Jesus? Nonsense. When the sinner comes to Christ and is joined with Christ by faith, a life begun by union with Christ begins that is characterized by communion with Christ. Do not pretend to be a Christian who is not a follower of the Master, since the word disciple means devoted follower.[7]

Third, your predestination related to Christ. Go back to our text and you will see that Christians are predestined “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” That is, in eternity past God determined that the elect would be conformed to the image of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought of the practical considerations associated with becoming Christ-like in this way? Hebrews 12.2-3 figures prominently in this process:

 

2      Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3      For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

 

My friends, your personality gradually conforms to the person your attention and affections are most constantly fixed upon. Since God’s plan is for you to become more Christ-like, it is also His plan for your mind to be filled with the contemplation of His glorious Son, Jesus Christ.

Fourth, your advocacy by Christ. First John 2.1 identifies the Lord Jesus Christ as our Advocate with the Father, which is a wonderful thing seeing that we have a grand accuser in Satan. As our Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ does continually go to bat for us, interceding for us and representing us in the courtroom in heaven whenever any matter related to accusing us or related to our sins comes up. What proves to be most useful to our Advocate when it comes to the “present tense” of our salvation, saving us from our sins? His own blood, First John 1.7: “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

Finally, your indwelling by the Spirit for Christ. There was a time in early Christianity, as the gospel was taken from an almost exclusively Jewish audience to a Gentile audience, that a person could be a believer in Jesus without being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, however, that was no longer true. Romans 8.9-10:

 

9      But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

10     And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

 

This is a very rich passage, though we have time to observe just a few things: First, Romans 8.9 shows us that anyone who is not presently indwelt by the Spirit of God is lost, plain and simple. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit. As well, if you are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ you are not in the flesh (that is, you no longer live in the domain of the unsaved), and Christ is presumed to be in you. Be careful here. There are more than twenty five verses in the New Testament showing Jesus to be at the right hand of God in heaven at present. However, the Holy Spirit so perfectly represents Jesus, who sent Him to us, that the notion any believer is in any sense and for any length of time disconnected from Jesus is nonsense.

 

So, you tell me about that so-called Christian who was saved when she was sixteen years old, but who has never read her Bible consistently, has never had anything more than a hit or miss prayer life, has never been a committed and serving member of a gospel preaching church, and has slept with a half dozen boyfriends over the last ten years. She claims she has been saved from the penalty of sins, and seems very confident she will go to heaven someday. However, there is nothing of the Christian life going on at present. She has disconnected the “present tense” of salvation from the “past tense” and the “future tense.” Any chance she is saved? None.

I could just as easily have described a boy supposedly saved when he was sixteen, joined the Navy just out of high school when he was seventeen, who spent all his pay on prostitutes while serving in the military. Then, when he was discharged and went back home and started attending church, he rededicated his life, served in his church, and is now a pastor. Six years of drunken whoremongering? I am sorry, but that kind of behavior is just what the Apostle Paul indicated a Christian could not and would not engage in, First Corinthians 6.9.

In short, and in conclusion, we can discuss the “past tense” of salvation, when a sinner was justified by faith in Christ and saved from the penalty of his sins. We can also discuss the “present tense” of salvation, in which a Christian is being saved from the power of sins in his present life. However, we cannot disconnect the two, since they are aspects of one and the same salvation from sins.

On a personal level. We have reflected a bit on union with Christ, communion with Christ, conformity to the image of Christ, advocacy by Christ, and indwelling by the Spirit of Christ as it related to this “present tense” salvation. Yet there are people who claim they are Christians who have no intimacy with Christ for years? That is simply not possible for one who is truly saved.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of everything. As well, He is the middle of everything. Therefore, it is not only foreign to the Bible, it is also impossible in reality, for Jesus Christ not to figure prominently in the life of anyone who is truly saved.



[1] Asahel Nettleton played the most prominent role in the Second Great Awakening, a fact few today realize because he did not write and because his opposition to Charles G. Finney was muted by typhus that weakened him and prematurely ended his life.

[2] I would recommend reading Iain H. Murray’s Revival & Revivalism, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994) and R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan’s, Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism Is Destroying Our Churches, (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 1999).

[3] Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), pages 74-100.

[4] 1 John 1.10

[5] See note on 1 Corinthians 2.14 in The Scofield Study Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), pages 1213-1214.

[6]  Decisionism is the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved.

  Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit which draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration, and changes the sinner’s standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.

[7] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 609-610.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org