The Three Temporal Aspects of Salvation

For Christians, salvation can refer to something that has already occurred, something that is occurring, or something that will occur in the future.

The Greek word translated “salvation:”

1.  SŌTĒRIA (σωτηρία) denotes deliverance, preservation, salvation.  Salvation as used in the N.T. (a) of material and temporal deliverance from danger and apprehension, . . . (b) of the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept His conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is to be obtained, Acts 4:12, and upon confession of Him as Lord, Rom. 10:10; for this purpose the gospel is the saving instrument, Rom. 1:16; Eph. 1:13 (see further under SAVE); (c) of the present experience of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin, e.g., Phil.2:12, where the special, though not the entire, reference is to the maintenance of peace and harmony, 1 Pet. 1:9; this present experience on the part of believers is virtually equivalent to sanctification; for this purpose, God is able to make them wise, 2 Tim. 3:15; they are not to neglect it, Heb. 2:3; (d) of the future deliverance of believers at the Parousia of Christ for His saints, a salvation which is the object of their confident hope, e.g., Rom 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:8, and ver. 9, where salvation is assured to them, as being deliverance from the wrath of God destined to be executed upon the ungodly at the end of this age (see 1 Thess. 1:10); 2 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:5; 2 Pet. 3:15; . . . .[i]

The Greek word translated “save:”

1. SŌZŌ (σώζω), to save, is used (as with the noun sōtēria, salvation) (a) of material and temporal deliverance from danger, suffering, etc., eg.g., Matt. 8:25; Mark 13:20; Luke 23:35; John 12:27; 1 Tim. 2:15; 2 Tim. 4:18 (A.V., “preserve”); Jude 5; from sickness, Matt. 9:22, “made . . . whole” (R.V. marg., “saved”); so Mark 5:34; Luke 8:48; Jas. 5:15; (b) of the spiritual and eternal salvation granted immediately by God to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, e.g, Acts 2:47, R.V. “(those that) were being saved;” 16:31; Rom. 8:24, R.V. “were we saved;” Eph. 2:5,8; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5; of human agency in this, Rom. 11:14; 1 Cor. 7:16; 9:22; (c) of the present experiences of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin, e.g., Matt. 1:21; Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 15:2; Heb. 7:25; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 3:21; of human agency in this, 1 Tim 4:16; (d) of the future deliverance of believers at the Second Coming of Christ for His saints being deliverance from the wrath of God to be executed upon the ungodly at the close of this age and from eternal doom, e.g., Rom. 5:9; . . . .[ii]

Something that has already occurred–

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.  (Ephesians 1:13)

“[H]aving believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”  This is referring to an event that has already occurred.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith.”  Again, “you have been saved” is referring to something that has already happened.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4-7)

“He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” is again referring to something that has happened.  We have been “justified by His grace.”

Something that is occurring–

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence, only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

Here, we are told to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  The Greek verb translated “work out” is in the present imperative active tense.  “In the active voice, it may indicate a command to do something in the future which involves continuous or repeated action or, when it is negated, a command to stop doing something.[iii]  The next verse indicates how we work out our salvation.  “[F]or it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”  God “works” in you.  The Greek word translated “works” is a present active participle which “expresses continuous or repeated action.”[iv]

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.  Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.  (1 Peter 1:6-9)

This passage states we are “receiving the end of your faith–the salvation of your souls.”  The Greek word translated “receiving” is in the present passive/middle participle tense.  “The present participle expresses continuous or repeated action.”[v]  The middle voice “represents the subject as acting in some way upon himself or concerning himself.”[vi]  The passive voice “represents the subject as receiving the action of the verb.”[vii]  The subject in the sentence is “you,” the people to whom the epistle is directed.  An example of the present passive/middle participle tense is “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).  The people are receiving, not have received or will receive, something in a continuous or repeated action.  What they are receiving is “the end [or outcome or goal] of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. . . . For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it.  For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.  Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance.  For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.  For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:1, 8-10)

This passage states, “For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation.”  The repentance and salvation mentioned do not refer to when we initially turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21), in Whom we have eternal life (Romans 6:23).  This epistle was written to those who were already Christians.  It was written to “the church of God which is at Corinth” (2 Corinthians 1:1), who were previously described as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2).  They were already saved.

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul rebuked them because there was fornication among them, even a man who was sexually involved with his stepmother, and that they were puffed up (proud) rather than mourning or lamenting the situation.  (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)  They were apparently proud of their tolerance of the sexual immorality among them.  He then instructed them not to keep company with unrepentant, sexually immoral believers and to “put away from yourselves that wicked person.”  (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)  They apparently did as Paul instructed, the man repented, and they then received him back into the congregation.  (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

Something that will occur in the future–

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1 Peter 1:3-5)

This passage speaks of a “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  It has not yet been revealed.  In context, it is connected to the “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.

Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  (Romans 13:11)

This passage states that “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”  It is obviously referring to something in the future, something that is nearer but not yet here.

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.  (Hebrews 9:27-28)

This passage states that Jesus “will appear a second time . . . for salvation.”  That salvation will be at His second coming, which has not yet occurred.  At His second coming, however, our bodies will be transformed.

And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.  Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.  Behold, I tell you a mystery:  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:  “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  (1 Corinthians 15:49-55)

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Part of the salvation at the second coming will be the transformation of our bodies so that they will be like His—incorruptible.  The other part will be eternal life—always being with the Lord.

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

God appointed us to obtain salvation, not to wrath.  “[H]aving now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”  (Romans 5:9)  “[T]he wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.”  (Colossians 3:6)  We are “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”  (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

1 Thessalonians 5:8 refers to putting on “as a helmet the hope of salvation.”  For what aspect of salvation do we “hope”?

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which is according to godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.  (Titus 1:1-2)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.  And not only they, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.  (Romans 8:18-25)

There are three aspects of salvation because we are tripartite beings:  spirit, soul, and body.  We were saved when the Holy Spirit indwelt our spirits (justification), we are being saved as our souls submit to our spirits (sanctification), and we will be saved when we receive a glorified body and eternal life (glorification).

The process of our souls submitting to our spirits is also called sanctification.  As quoted above, the Greek word translated “salvation” is used “of the present experience of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin, . . . this present experience on the part of believers is virtually equivalent to sanctification.”[viii]

The Greek word translated “sanctification:”

HAGIASMOS (άγιασμός), sanctification, is used of (a) separation to God, 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; (b) the course of life befitting those so separated, 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14.¶  “Sanctification is that relationship with God into which men enter by faith in Christ, Acts 26:18; 1 Cor. 6:11, and to which their sole title is the death of Christ, Eph. 5:25, 26; Col. 1:22; Heb. 10:10, 29; 13:12.

“Sanctification is also used in N.T. of the separation of the believer from evil things and ways.  This sanctification is God’s will for the believer, 1 Thess. 4:3, and His purpose in calling him by the gospel, ver. 7; it must be learned from God, ver. 4, as He teaches it by His Word, John 17:17, 19; cp. Ps. 17:4; 119:9, and it must be pursued by the believer, earnestly and undeviatingly, 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14.  For the holy character, hagiōsunē, 1 Thess. 3:13, is not vicarious, i.e., it cannot be transferred or imputed, it is an individual possession, built up, little by little, as a result of obedience to the Word of God, and of following the example of Christ, Matt. 11:29; John 13:15; Eph. 4:20; Phil. 2:5, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 8:13; Eph. 3:16.

“The Holy Spirit is the Agent in sanctification, Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; cp. 1 Cor. 6:11. . . . The sanctification of the Spirit is associated with the choice, or election, of God; it is a Divine act preceding the acceptance of the Gospel by the individual.”

For synonymous words see HOLINESS.[ix]

Examples sanctify and sanctification in the context of being set apart to God at salvation are:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Thessalonians 1:13-14)

An example of sanctification in the context of separating from sin:

Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.  Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.  (Ephesians 4:1-8)


[i]  W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, ed. John R. Kohlenberger, III (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), p. 988.

[ii]  W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, ed. John R. Kohlenberger, III (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), p. 993.

[iii]  The Complete Word Study New Testament, ed. Spiros Zodhiates (Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG Publishers, 1991), p. 869.

[iv]  Id. at 867.

[v]  Id.

[vi]  Id. at 866.

[vii]  Id. at 867.

[viii]  W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, ed. John R. Kohlenberger, III (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), p. 988.

[ix]  W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, ed. John R. Kohlenberger, III (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), p. 989-90.