As I grew up, the preachers I heard and read referred to “the MOMENT of salvation.” They viewed the inauguration of salvation as an instantaneous event. Much like birth: you can write down the date and time on a birth certificate. It is like crossing a threshold, either you’re in or out. There’s not much gray area.
Maybe that’s why Amazing Grace was so popular: I once was lost, but now I’m found/was blind, but now I see. There’s a BEFORE/AFTER sense to salvation.
Maybe that’s also why Christians can ask, “Are you saved?” There’s a dividing line, a delineating moment. A crisis experience.
I believe that salvation has a moment. That moment is distinguished by faith, or as John Newton put it, “how precious did that grace appear/the hour I first believed.”
This is not to say…
- that all Christians remember that moment. I don’t. I have only vague memories of it because I was so young.
- that the moment itself isn’t long in coming. For some, the move to faith is sudden and decisive, like flipping on a light switch. For others, it is gradual, like the coming of dawn. In either case, the light has come. But salvation doesn’t occur until that moment we claim by faith, and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
- that there’s no linear aspect after salvation’s inauguration. Our emerging church friends rightly point out that an emphasis on the moment of salvation so often means a de-emphasis on the rest of the Christian life. We must be concerned with both. BUT… initial salvation RESCUES A SOUL FROM CONDEMNATION, so that’s why I believe in the priority of evangelism (getting people saved).
Let’s look at a Scripture or two:
- “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,” Col 2:6. Notice the two phases in this verse. “As you have received…” There’s the MOMENT of salvation, expressed beautifully in an aorist indicative verb (for you James). A past tense verb, which in this case what’s called a “punctiliar aktionsart”, a “point of time” quality. There’s a point in time when you received Jesus. After that, the verb, “walk” is in the present indicative, referring to the ongoing lifestyle of our post-salvation Christian experience.
- “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:” Joh 1:12. Again, the moment of salvation is captured in the aorist (timeless) verb, “received.” It is proper to ask whether or not a person has received Jesus. In this case, John explains what he means by receiving Jesus: Believing on his name. Faith alone in the person and work of Christ. You receive him by believing in him, trusting in him, and relying upon him. When the word believe is coupled with the preposition “in” or “on” you have one of the strongest expressions for trust.
- ““I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Ga 2:20. When was Paul crucified with Christ? At the moment of his salvation. Here, the verb is in the perfect, passive, indicative. The perfect tense indicates an action that was completed in the past, once for all, with abiding results. After that, he can say, “Christ lives in me, and the life which i now live…”
- “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” Eph 2:8. I much prefer the old KJV translation here; modern English has gone away from the conventions on translating perfect tense verbs. The old KJV reads, “for by grace are ye saved.” The main verb, “saved” is put in an English past tense, and the helping verb, “are” is put in the present. Why? To differentiate a perfect (completed) action from past action. English doesn’t do this very well. “Saved” is in the perfect tense… an action completed in the past, with abiding results into the present. “Are saved” expresses both perfectly, don’t you think? We could translate… “for by grace you were saved in the past with the result that you are saved now and will always be saved…”
Salvation is more than inviting people to be active in the church. It is more than welcoming lost people into community with Christians. It is not something we grow into, though we grow toward it. Still, at the end of the process, there must come a crisis. There must come a full dawn. That moment of we first believed. That moment we crossed the line, whether we remember it or not.
That’s why, in one sense. all Christians have the same testimony, like the father said of his prodigal son: “‘It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”” Lu 15:32.