In Charles Dickens’ classic tale “A Christmas Story,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited one fateful night by three spirits: the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future. These ghouls remind Scrooge of his history, reveal the impact of his life today, and show him the legacy he will leave if he does not change. Together, these three encounters drive a deep change in Ebenezer’s life that ultimately all will see.
In the Bible, as God explains to us the notion of our salvation, He also visits us with three important concepts: salvation past, present, and future. The one term of “salvation” could refer to any part of this process … or refer to the summary of the entire thing. Here are the names of the “spirit” of salvation past, present, and future:
“Justification” – Salvation Past. All believers in Jesus Christ can look back on their lives and relish in the fact that they have been justified in Christ. To justify means to “bring in line with” or to “make righteous.” If you “left justify” a block of text you are formatting in a word processor, you bring that text in line with the left “standard” of your document. In a similar way, when someone believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, they are “justified” by God and brought in line positionally with the righteous life of Jesus. When God looks at us, He no longer identifies us by our sin (that is forgiven in Christ), but He identifies us by our connection to His Son Jesus who has justified us into His perfection. This is a past action that we continue to be blessed by. (see Romans 4:5)
“Sanctification” – Salvation Present. All believers in Jesus Christ are not just “saved in the past” but are being “saved in the present.” By this, we mean that there is an ongoing aspect to our relationship with Christ where we are shaped more and more by our Savior into daily practice of His way of life, character, and mindset. When my son was born, he had all the DNA of a Robinson, but as he grows up, he is learning how to practice that identity more and more in this world. He is maturing in his application and understanding of his identity. In a similar way, our Heavenly Father continues to parent us throughout our lives as we grow toward maturity in Him. (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23)
“Glorification” – Salvation Future. All believers in Jesus Christ do not just have a hope for this life, but we have a hope for all time. Jesus has given us eternal life, and this life will include a time when we will shed this earthly tent of a sin-stained body for an incorruptible form that we will reside within forever. This process is called “glorification” and it commences at the time of our death or rapture, and culminates in the Kingdom, New Heaven and New Earth, when we will reign with Christ and then reside with Him with a glorified body. (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
For the believer in Jesus Christ, salvation past, present, and future combines to encourage us that God will indeed “bring to completion” (Philippians 1:6) the work He has begun in us. Our salvation is not just a past event, and then nothing else ever happens. This should encourage us greatly. Sometimes we look back on that moment when we were “saved” and then we wonder why we still struggle with sin, or why every promise in the Scripture is not already being experienced by us now that we are a child of God. The reality is that our salvation, though secured in history by Jesus’ death and resurrection and appropriated in our past (at the moment of our belief), is still being developed in the practice of our present, and carries with it an amazing future hope!
When we remember salvation past, present, and future, it should renew our spirits in a way that ultimately all will see. One of the primary ways our present salvation (or sanctification) plays out is demonstrated in the way we interact with one another. This Sunday at Wildwood, in part 2 of our “Attitude of a Servant” series, we will look at Philippians 2:12-13. In these verses we will see how the unifying and humble Spirit Christ has worked IN to our hearts and minds must be worked OUT in our interactions with one another. God has both given us the power to enable this action AND gives us a desire to see it happen. We will look at this aspect of our sanctification this Sunday at Wildwood Community Church in our 9:00, 10:15, 11:30 worship services (inside and with children, student, college, and adult classes running), 8:00 (outdoor chapel service), or 10:15 online (wildwoodchurch.org/live). See you Sunday!