When we evangelize, we sometimes do big events where music functions as foreplay, preaching gets everybody revved up, and the decision to accept Jesus becomes the climax—after which time everyone heads home, tired but feeling pretty good.
But Scripture never portrays salvation this way. Salvation is always portrayed as a lifelong process that starts with a seed. Jesus said in Mark 4:28 that the kingdom of God would come gradually: “first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (Mark 4:28). Even the new birth is portrayed in Scripture as part of a growth process to full maturity. We start as infants and we know it—or ought to. We’re to move on to solid food. And then in 1 John we hear about little children, young men, and fathers. So salvation is always portrayed as a call to new life as part of a lifelong process, one that climaxes not at birth but when we become fully formed into the image of Christ.
It’s interesting that the first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses proposes that the whole life of believers is a life of repentance (Oden, 577). When we talk to people about salvation, we need to talk to people about taking the first step in a process that will never end.
Scripture always connects three tenses of salvation: “We have been saved from the penalty of sin for our justification. We are being saved from the power of sin for our sanctification. We will be saved from the remnants of sin for God’s glorification” (Oden, 566).
Listen to how each of these three tenses strains forward eagerly to the next, not just backwards in memory of when we “got saved” (this is Paul in Titus 2:11, 12): “For the grace of god has appeared [past tense], bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed [future] hope.” Paul always reminds us that “we who ‘have the first fruits of the Spirit’ wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, for ‘the redemption of their bodies,’ while the whole of creation still is groaning for redemption (Rom 8:23)” (Oden, 567).
So when you proclaim salvation, think marriage, not orgasm. As we’ll talk about in our next post, taking the long view of salvation will remind you to talk about faith and belief in a way that will prompt people to genuinely count the cost of following Christ, not just go home a little bit less tense about life.