Perhaps you have been asked, "Are you saved?" Or perhaps you have wondered, "Am I saved?" or "How can I be saved?" To help answer these questions, let's start with John 3:16,17:
Two outcomes, two possibilities exist for each of us: we will either perish - be dead forever - or we will receive eternal life and never die. To be "saved" means to be spared from perishing, by receiving the gift of eternal life.
It is obvious that believers in Christ, throughout history, have subsequently died. Would they have died if they had actually received eternal life? Of course not. So, am I saying no one has been saved yet? No: Jesus is the exception. Jesus was resurrected to eternal life and is the only man ever to have been resurrected to eternal life. At this time only Jesus has immortality. The apostle Paul testified to this when he described Jesus as
When did Jesus receive eternal life? When He was resurrected from the grave. No one else has been resurrected to eternal life yet and no one else is immortal yet. The apostle Peter confirmed this when he said even David - "a man after God's own heart" - was still in the grave:
The apostle Paul described when the faithful would receive immortality: it will be at their resurrection, just as Jesus received immortality at His resurrection. Paul begins by describing our present mortal physical bodies, and the immortal spiritual bodies the faithful will receive at their resurrection:
Paul continued, saying we must have an immortal, spiritual body - like Jesus had after His resurrection - in order to enter the Kingdom of God:
At resurrection, the faithful who have died and are "asleep" in death will be raised from their graves with immortal spiritual bodies. At the same time those faithful who happen to be physically alive will also - in the "twinkling of an eye" - receive immortal spiritual bodies.
This, then, is when we are saved: saved from death, saved from perishing. This is when the faithful receive the ultimate grace from God: eternal life. Revelation 20:6 reflects this truth:
All those in the first resurrection receive eternal life at that time. Having received eternal life, they are no longer subject to death of any kind. They will have been saved permanently from perishing in the second death - death from which there is no further hope of life or resurrection or existence. Now that is the real eternal security. As John 3:16 showed, we either perish, or, we receive eternal life and are thus saved from perishing.
So, when does the first resurrection occur? Paul said it would be at the "last trump" or last trumpet sounding. The book of Revelation shows this last trumpet (the last of seven symbolic trumpets) announces the return of Christ. The resurrection occurs at the return of Christ to Earth. At His return the faithful will be raised with immortal spiritual bodies like Jesus had upon His resurrection. Paul wrote of the timing of the resurrection of the faithful:
In another letter, to the Thessalonians, Paul gave this description of the resurrection of the faithful:
This would be a good time to mention Jesus' statement to Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must be "born of the spirit." Just as Paul said, we must have an immortal, spiritual body to inherit the Kingdom of God.
Before moving on there is something to clarify about resurrections: there are two types of resurrection. One is a resurrection to eternal life with an immortal, spiritual body. The other is a resurrection back to physical mortal life. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave (see John chapter 11), Lazarus was resurrected to physical life. Lazarus was not raised immortal: he later died another normal, physical death.
As we have seen, the faithful who are "asleep" in the grave will be in the first resurrection, which occurs when Jesus returns. Having received eternal life, from then on they will never die and will never need to be resurrected again. There will be another general resurrection many years later, after the "thousand years" mentioned in Revelation 20:6, quoted earlier. This later resurrection is often called the second resurrection. Revelation 20:5 describes it:
The Bible does not state whether those in the second resurrection are raised to physical life or to immortal life. From context, though, it appears they are raised for a time of testing and judgment as described in subsequent verses. That being the case, it would make sense that they are raised to mortal, physical life. However we have no reason to exclude the possibility that some in the second resurrection are raised to immortal life, like those in the first resurrection.
Two Definitions for "Saved" and for "Salvation"
Many professing Christians will tell you they have been saved. But as we've seen, no one except Jesus has been resurrected to eternal life. No one else will be resurrected to eternal life until Jesus returns... that is when they will receive immortal, spiritual bodies and that is when they will be saved from perishing.
So, why would anyone think they're already saved in this mortal life? It's because we're working with two definitions of the word saved... "saved" has taken on two different meanings. The resulting confusion has led many to misunderstand their calling and their Christian life. Believing they have been saved, many go on to assume they have what they call "eternal security": they believe that because they have been saved there is no possible way they can fail their calling. This is seductively easy to believe and it is completely incorrect. It misleads many into a false sense of security... a false comfort zone. Shortly I will provide you with numerous scriptures to prove it.
First, though, let's look at this other definition of saved, so that we understand what is going on. The other use of saved is in reference to our redemption to God, when we first repent and turn to God. At that time we're saved - saved from being hopelessly condemned to die - by Jesus' death on our behalf. Why are we hopelessly condemned? Because we have all sinned against God. Our sins have alienated and separated us from God. In addition our sins have earned us the proscribed penalty for sin: death:
We are hopelessly bound to be separated from God and to permanently die - to perish - unless we repent and unless the death penalty is paid. If we pay the penalty ourselves, well, that's the end of us. God, however, has offered His Son Jesus to pay the death penalty on our behalf. If we'll repent, we'll find the death penalty has been paid for us. There is now hope for us: we are no longer hopelessly condemned to perish in death. No longer hopeless cases, God can and will work with us: we have been reconciled, or justified, or redeemed to God. As we remain repentant and are willing to obey, He will dwell in us and lead us to continued repentance and overcoming; we have entered a life-long growth process called sanctification.
If we are faithful to the process and endure to the end, we are promised the gift of eternal life, to be received at our resurrection at His return.
We have been saved - saved from hopelessness - by Jesus' death on our behalf, if we have repented and turned to God.
We shall be saved - saved from perishing - when we actually receive immortal spirit bodies at our resurrection at His return, if we remain repentant and faithful.
So we have two definitions for saved. The first saved - redemption to God - occurs before and makes possible the second saved - the actual receipt of eternal life. In essence, Jesus' death on our behalf opened the door for our redemption to God. Our redemption to God makes possible a life-long process of sanctification. Sanctification - if we persist in it - makes possible the second saved, where we are saved from perishing by the receipt of eternal life at our resurrection when He returns.
As you can see, a process has been outlined here. First we hear the word of God, then we have faith and believe, then we repent and are redeemed to God, then He dwells in us and sanctifies us, then we are saved from perishing when we receive immortal, spiritual bodies at our resurrection at His return. The process as a whole is often called salvation. Earlier we saw that salvation is also used in another way, referring specifically and only to the receipt of eternal life at His return. We could say that salvation - the process - leads to salvation: the receipt of eternal life. Just as using saved two different ways leads to confusion, using salvation two different ways adds to the confusion. Knowing and understanding the different uses of saved and salvation will help clarify the meaning of the verses I'll quote shortly.
Verses for Clarification and Understanding
Unfortunately many have been taught that the first saved - our justification or reconciliation or redemption - is the same as, or somehow guarantees - the second saved: our receipt of eternal life at our resurrection when He returns. That is simply not true. We can by our own choice or neglect drop out of the salvation process after starting it. We can abandon our sanctification. If we abort our salvation process we will not receive our salvation - the promised gift of eternal life. In a few New Testament verses "saved" is used in reference to our redemption, and this use can mislead you into thinking your salvation is complete when you are redeemed. As I promised earlier, here are some verses proving that redemption does not guarantee we will receive eternal life. Included are some verses illustrating the uses and meanings of saved and salvation. Other verses show a clear order of events: redeemed or justified or reconciled first; saved later.
Note that Jesus said we shall be saved - if we endure to the end. Jesus did not say they were already saved. No one Jesus was speaking to had endured to the end yet. Nor has anyone alive today endured to the end. If we endure, we shall - in the future - be saved from perishing at our resurrection at His return.
Just as we've seen, the faithful are "now justified... reconciled to God by the death of his Son." But Paul did not tell the Romans they were saved; rather, he told them they "shall be saved," in the future. Paul clearly separated redemption from being saved; they are different, and happen at different times! This is what the early church believed and it is distinctly different from what many churches teach today! As we've seen, to be saved is to be saved from perishing; we'll be saved from perishing when we receive immortal spiritual bodies at the resurrection at His return.
The faithful have "the hope of salvation." Paul did not say they already possessed salvation. Rather, they were "appointed... to obtain salvation" in the future. The salvation to be obtained is to be saved from perishing, by the receipt of eternal life, at the first resurrection.
The apostle Peter reminded them to hope, to endure to the end so that they could receive "the grace" to be brought to them at "the revelation" - the return - of Jesus. The ultimate grace - gift - from God is the gift of eternal life which we'll receive at His return.
Peter was addressing a gathering of apostles and other leaders in the early church. Clearly he did not tell them they were saved, as many today teach and believe. He told them they shall be saved - clearly a reference to salvation from perishing via the receipt of eternal life at Jesus' return. "Even as they" was a reference to Gentile believers.
Did Paul tell them they were saved, or that they already had salvation? No. He urged them to strive, to continue to repent and overcome and grow, to pursue their sanctification passionately.
Did Peter say our calling and election were already "sure", that they had "eternal security"? No, he urged them to be diligent. The reward: to enter into the Kingdom of God. As we saw earlier, from both Paul and Jesus, we will be able to enter the Kingdom at His return.
Redeemed, our names are written in the "book of life," but the ink isn't dry. Jesus wasn't bluffing: He can blot our names out of the book of life. If our names are not found "written in the Lamb's book of life" we "shall in no wise enter into" the New Jerusalem - the Kingdom of God (from Revelation 21:27).
Clearly Paul recognized that we can "fall away" after we have been redeemed and entered sanctification. Common sense says Paul would not have warned about falling away if it were impossible to fall away. We don't have "eternal security" just because we have been redeemed! We can "fall away" after we've been redeemed.
Jesus' analogy illustrates our sanctification. When we are redeemed we become a branch: we are connected to the vine, Jesus, our source of spiritual life. During our life-long sanctification, we must continue to abide in Him our spiritual source; we are to stay connected and stay responsive as He leads us and shows us the ways we need to grow: repent, overcome and change. As Jesus showed, it is possible for a branch to fail to abide in Him, by choice or neglect. If we "abide not" we wither and die, spiritually speaking. Dead branches are gathered and "burned": they perish, they do not receive eternal life. Dead branches have aborted the process of salvation, and will not receive eternal life.
Was Paul kidding when he warned about failing of the grace of God? No. We can choose to turn back or walk away from or ignore the redemption and sanctification that has been provided by God's grace. We can choose to separate from Him, to separate ourselves from the vine.
In the parable of the sower (Mark chapter 4), many of the seeds that sprouted failed due to shallow soil or because they were overwhelmed by "thorns," by "the deceitfulness of riches" and "the cares of this world." Perhaps those who teach "eternal security" would like to rewrite the parable, and say that all the seeds that sprouted made it, none failing.
Was Jesus wrong? Again, many of the seeds that sprout do not make it.
Grace and Works, and What We Must Do
There is nothing we can do to earn redemption, sanctification and eternal life. No amount of works or good deeds can ever earn these: they are given to us free, by the grace - the goodness and love - of God. While there is nothing we can do to earn His grace, that does not mean there is nothing we must do. Unfortunately many are misled or confused on this point, having been taught that Jesus "did it all" for us. But Jesus said there is something we must do:
Yes, we must repent and continue to be repentant. Our redemption, our sanctification - and ultimately our salvation - depend on it.
In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus advised and made promises to the faithful. Two words of advice are repeated over and over: repent, and overcome. Yes, we are called to make tough choices, to repent and to overcome as He leads us. As we do this we will grow to become more and more like Jesus; we will become the "new creature" the apostle Paul wrote about. As we abide in Him, and He in us, we show the "fruit of the Spirit":
Doing good works is not the purpose of a Christian life. The essence and purpose of a Christian life is to become a changed person, a person that has a right relationship with God, first, and with his neighbor and self, second. Jesus summarized as follows:
As we grow, as we are sanctified, we are changed. As we are changed, we do good naturally and automatically, out of love for God and man. We are called not to just act differently, but to be different.
So, why does God want us to become changed people? Is there a purpose for this?
God has a Plan
God has a plan; He has declared "the end from the beginning":
Creation is part of God's plan. We learn from John 1:1-3,14, Colossians 1:16, Ephesians 3:9 and Hebrews 1:1-3 that all things were created through Jesus, the Word, who was with the Father "before the world was":
Today, the salvation process is a continuation of the creation: God through Jesus is creating sons and daughters fit for eternal life. He is creating His family right now. Our redemption, our sanctification and our future entry into His Kingdom with eternal life are all part of His plan to create sons and daughters. Our redemption - if we'll repent - was planned from the beginning: John described Jesus as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Revelation 13:8 describes Jesus as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world"; Jesus' death to provide redemption was planned from the beginning. Hosea, an Old Testament prophet, spoke of the plan to "ransom" and "redeem" us from death:
God was determined to provide a ransom for us, to redeem us if we'll repent. So He said "repentance" - a change of His own mind and heart about ransoming and redeeming us - "shall be hid from mine eyes." He would not even consider changing His mind about His plan to provide a ransom and redemption for us.
Our spiritual growth - our sanctification - is a continuation of the creation process. Through sanctification He helps us develop a right relationship with Him and our fellow man, and instills in us the virtues desired for us to be part of His eternal family.
Our salvation - our entry into His Kingdom with eternal life - was planned "from the foundation of the world." The setting of the following verse is at judgment:
The final three chapters of the Revelation - the last book of the Bible - show that after Jesus returns He and the resurrected faithful will rule right here on Earth for a thousand years, teaching all nations to "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). Following the thousand years there will be a short time of judgment, followed by the removal and destruction of all who have chosen evil and cannot be part of God's plan. After the evil have been destroyed, and all His children are immortal, God will create a new universe - a "new heaven and a new earth" as described in Revelation 21:1,2. God will then live with his sons and daughters forever:
The gospel - the good news from God - is that He has a plan in place to destroy evil, to establish His everlasting Kingdom, and to create family - sons and daughters - to live with Him forever. What lies beyond that? The apostle Paul wrote:
We can be part of His plan, if we are willing. You can be part of His plan, if you are willing. Jesus has opened the door to salvation for all, equally, "For there is no respect of persons with God." (Romans 2:11)
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