Calvary Road Baptist Church

“SALVATION IN THE ‘PRESENT TENSE’”

Romans 8.28-30 

I recently discouraged, in the strongest manner possible, any notion of focusing on the topic of salvation without at the same time focusing on the Lord Jesus Christ, since He 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 my Lord Jesus Christ delivers sinners from the penalty of their sins, but it is important to note that when Jesus Christ became sin for us[1], He was not only the savior, but He was also the salvation. That is why the Apostle Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” some seventy-three times in his epistles[2], and the phrase “in Him” sixteen times.[3] 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 their research would support my hypothesis of what happened almost two hundred years ago in the United States of America:

  1. Though he was not instrumental in bringing about the Second Great Awakening, since by his 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.[4]
  2. However, Finney was responsible for an innovative and tragically 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.[5]
  3. A generation later, but still in the 19th century, C. I. Scofield came on the scene, leaving both St. Louis, Missouri and his Roman Catholic wife behind when she refused to convert and relocate with him to Dallas, Texas where he reinvented himself by entering the pastorate, remarrying, and issuing the very popular Scofield Study Bible.
  4. 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 their lost neighbors.
  5. 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 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 to be a Christian without having anything approaching a credible conversion experience and subsequent credible lifestyle, and actually embracing the notion that a sinner can make himself a new heart[6], 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.”

Turn in your Bible to First Corinthians 2.14-3.4, where Scofield’s wildly unscriptural view of 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.[7] However, Scofield went so far in the other direction that the note explaining First Corinthians 2.14 in his study Bible divides humanity into three classes, the natural man, the spiritual man, and the carnal or fleshly Christian that Scofield claimed remains a spiritually immature babe.[8]

Granted, there can be no doubt, from both God’s Word and our own experiences as Christians, that believers can display carnality and behave in many respects like the lost conduct themselves. No one disputes that. However, not in this passage that we have just read, or anywhere else in God’s Word, is the notion of perpetual Christian carnality advanced. There is no such thing as perpetual Christian carnality. It is a nineteenth-century invention that was believed by no Christian at any time in Christian history for more than eighteen hundred years.

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 has created a tragic situation in which the whole of Christianity is adversely affected, particular in North America.[9] Large numbers of professing Christians are 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.” They never think about it. They never consider it. They never deal with it.

To bring it home in a way that is indisputable, turn 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 serial adulterers who claim they are, nevertheless, genuine Christians because they misinterpret this verse as having no application to their present Christian experience. Astonishing. Some of the largest Churches in the state of California are pastored by guys who believe Second Corinthians 5.17 does not claim how they should live their life.

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. 

Now you know why I am opposed to Alcoholics Anonymous, in which every testimony begins, “My name is John, and I am an alcoholic.” But there is no such thing as the disease of alcoholism. Rather, there is the sin of drunkenness. When a sinner comes to Christ the operative word changes from “are” to “were.” Though the Apostle Paul nowhere claims 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” according to the Word of God.

With that understood, I would like for us to revisit 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 also between the “present tense” of salvation and the Lord 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, profoundly encouraging to 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 challenges He takes His children through in their Christian lives. However, Romans 8.28, which is embraced by all professing Christians, speaks to the present experiences of every believer in Jesus Christ. 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 the five decrees of God referred to concerning every 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 preparation for the eternal state.

Have you noticed what we have here in verses 29 and 30? Written down 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.” It’s all right here. 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. There is no disconnect.

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 someday enjoy the bliss of salvation from the presence of sins in the future, though there is no present evidence that you are being saved from the power of sins in your life, you are at odds with the 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 past 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. What was future five minutes ago is not in the past, and I had to go through the present to get here. 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, and 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. If there isn’t a present, there wasn’t a past, and there will be no future, so far is salvation concerned.

Listen to what the Lord 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, distinguishable without being divisible. You can distinguish things that you cannot divide. 

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

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

First, the “present tense” of your salvation and your union with Christ. You may remember me mentioning that the Apostle Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” some seventy-three times in his writings. That phrase alone testifies emphatically of the union every believer has as a direct result of his faith in Jesus 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 in some way sharing the benefits of God’s nature with Him as a result of your union with Jesus Christ. There are those who claim to be Christians by virtue of some decision supposedly made in the past who have no ongoing evidence of any union with Christ. I don’t buy it, and neither should you.

Next, the “present tense” of your salvation and your communion with Christ. If the union has to do with you being joined to the Lord Jesus Christ in a spiritual and permanent fashion (and how could eternal life not be permanent if eternal means eternal?), communion has, even more, to do with your experiences of that relationship with Christ. How is your communion with Christ seen in Scripture? By your love as shown by obedient service: Acts 2.46 records the conduct of believers who are experiencing their relationship with Jesus Christ with others who are doing the same: 

“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” 

Similarly First Thessalonians 1.2-4 shows believers’ communion with Christ as it relates to faith in Christ, love for Christ, and hope in Christ: 

2  We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;

3  Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

4  Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 

Philippians 3.10 is Paul’s ringing testimony of his communion with Christ: 

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” 

Hebrews 10.30 touches on the Christian’s experience of communion with Christ as it relates to the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom: 

“For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.” 

First John 2.3 shows the connection between the believer’s assurance in communion with Christ and his obedient service: 

“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” 

First John 2.4 shows the impossibility of union existing if there is no communion with Him: 

“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 

Third, the “present tense” of your salvation and your predestination as related to Christ. The Greek word pro-orizoo, translated “predestinate,” is used six times in four passages in the New Testament. Of course, God predestined in eternity past. So, how does predestination relate to the “present tense” of a believer’s salvation? Consider these examples: In Acts 4.28, after Peter and John had been challenged by the religious leaders of Jerusalem to stop speaking of Christ, they responded. In their response is the following statement: 

“For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” 

The words “determined before” is our Greek word, referring to God’s decision beforehand that Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, would together oppose the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. Thus, predestination affected the present experiences of those Christian men, and they recognized it. In First Corinthians 2.7 our Greek word for predestining is translated “ordained,” relating God’s wisdom from eternity past to our glory, an obvious reference to being in Christ’s presence in heaven: 

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” 

But notice that Paul refers here to the Christian’s current conduct between God’s past predestinating purpose and our future glory. Thus, predestination is related to “present tense” salvation. There is a connection. Of course, the word is used twice in our text, in verses 29 and 30, Paul applying the truth of predestination to other truths to encourage Christians as they live for Christ through suffering. The fourth passage where the word is twice used is Ephesians chapter one. Turn there, and we will read the lengthy passage in verses 4-12: 

4  According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

5  Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

6  To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

7  In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

8  Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;

9  Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 

We see from this passage that it is impossible to rightly consider the Christian’s relationship with the Son of God apart from the reality of God’s predestination. You have to savage this passage to disconnect predestination from your present Christian life.

Fourth, the “present tense” of your salvation and your advocacy by Christ. First John 2.1 identifies the Lord Jesus Christ as our Advocate, representing us and speaking on our behalf to our heavenly Father, from His throne at the Father’s right hand on high.[10] Interestingly, the word translated “advocate” is the same Greek word found in John’s Gospel where the word is translated “comforter” and refers to the Holy Spirit, twice in chapter fourteen, once in chapter fifteen, and once in chapter sixteen.[11] Thus, the Christian’s present experience includes the Savior’s ongoing advocacy on our behalf.

Fifth, the “present tense” of your salvation and your indwelling by the Spirit for Christ. If you are not indwelt by the Spirit of Christ you are an unbeliever, Romans 8.9. The indwelling Spirit of God is the earnest of the Christian’s inheritance, Ephesians 1.14. The Spirit of God also illuminates the believer’s understanding of spiritual realities, First Corinthians 2.10-16. But the Spirit is also the Lord Jesus Christ’s ascension gift to us to assist us in our present experience as Christians[12] so that we can make it through each day. And this same Spirit works to alter the Christian’s personality by producing in us the fruit of the Spirit.[13] 

The first portion of this message from God’s Word focused on the necessity of the believer’s “past tense” salvation, the believer’s “present tense” salvation, and the believer’s “future tense” salvation being connected. You can distinguish salvation from the penalty of sins, salvation from the power of sins, and salvation from the presence of sins, but you cannot separate them since they are but aspects of an integral and unified whole.

How does one explain those who claim they have been saved from the penalty of sins and insist they will someday be saved from the presence of sins, but who display no such thing as any discernible deliverance from the power of sins in their present experiences of life? Their present lifestyle shows their past forgiveness and their future deliverance are but fictions designed to delude themselves.

We then turned to a consideration of one’s “present tense” salvation and the Lord Jesus Christ. We claim, as Christians, that the Gospel is true and that we have embraced it. That is, our Savior rose from the dead, ascended to the Father’s right hand on high, and presently advocates on our behalf. We claim that we have a real relationship with our living Savior! That’s the claim.

What are some of the issues related to a Christian’s supposed ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ? There is his union with Christ. There is his communion with Christ. There is his predestination to be conformed to Christ. There is his advocacy by Christ. And there is his indwelling gift from Christ, the precious Holy Spirit, whose presence is made known by the alteration in the personality of the born-again Christian, from what it used to be, to what it is, to what it will someday be.

Beloved, these are five, direct, interconnected realities. Take away one of them and the others are just as surely not present. But taken together, they demonstrate the present reality in the Christian’s life, a real relationship with a living Savior. Have I shown the Biblical description of your Christian life in these two parts of my message? If so, glory to God. If not, you need to be saved, and I urge you to trust Christ immediately.

__________

[1] 2 Corinthians 5.21

[2] Romans 3.24; 8.1, 2, 39; 9.1; 12.5; 16.3, 7, 9, 10; 1 Corinthians 1.2, 10; 3.1; 4.10, 15, 17; 15.18, 19, 22, 31; 16.24; 2 Corinthians 1.21; 2.14, 17; 3.14; 5.17, 19, 20; 11.3; 12.2, 19; Galatians 1.22; 2.4; 3.17, 26, 28; 6.15; Ephesians 1.1, 3, 10, 12, 20; 2.6, 10, 13; 3.6, 11; Philippians 1.1, 13; 2.1, 5; 3.3, 14; 4.21; Colossians 1.4, 28; 2.5; 1 Thessalonians 2.14; 4.16; 5.18; 1 Timothy 1.14; 2.7; 3.13; 2 Timothy 1.1, 9, 13; 2.1, 10; 3.12, 15; Philemon 6, 8, 23

[3] Romans 10.14; 15.12; 1 Corinthians 2.11; 8.6; 2 Corinthians 1.19; 5.21; 13.4; Ephesians 1.4, 10; Philippians 3.9; Colossians 1.19; 2.6, 7, 9, 10; 2 Thessalonians 1.12

[4] 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.

[5] 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).

[6] See Finney’s most frequently delivered sermon, “Sinners Bound To Change Their Own Hearts,” https://www.gospeltruth.net/1835SOVS/1835sovs_sermonI.htm in which sinners are informed that they, rather than God, must change their heart.

[7] 1 John 1.10

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

[9] 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.

[10] Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 13.1; 14.2-4; Acts 1.9-11; 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; 6.9; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11

[11] John 14.16, 26; 15.26; 16.7

[12] John 16.7

[13] Galatians 5.22-23

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