What Does It Mean to Be Saved? Paying Attention to the Tense of the Verb

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Last week, we began focusing on Ephesians 2:8, using the question: What does it mean to be saved? (See the reflections for Thursday and Friday.) We learned that both the context for this verse and the definition of the verb “to be saved” point to a broad sense of salvation. Yes, God has saved us from ultimate death so that we might be with him forever after we die. But, from the perspective of Ephesians, salvation begins even now, and it touches everything that matters most in this life.

You may have noticed that the English translation of Ephesians 2:8 uses the present perfect tense of the verb “to be saved”: “For it is by grace you have been saved.” This accurately renders the Greek original, which is also in the present perfect tense. (Strictly speaking, the Greek reads “you are having been saved,” a common Greek pattern.) What is the sense of the present perfect here? In Greek, this tense indicates that something happened in the past, but with continuing results or implications. “I am saved” states a present condition. “I was saved” specifies that this happened in the past. “I have been saved” means that my salvation began in the past but continues into the present.

In his letters, the Apostle Paul uses various tenses when he speaks of our salvation. Most often, he uses the verb “to save” in the future tense, in reference to the ultimate salvation that we will experience in the future (for example, Rom. 5:9-10; 10:9). Yet, Paul can also speak of salvation as a present experience (1 Cor. 1:8; 15:2) or even as something that happened in the past, though with an eye to the future (Rom. 8:24). By using the present perfect tense in Ephesians, Paul underscores the fact that our salvation is grounded on something that happened in the past, namely, the sacrificial death of Christ. In this sense, we were saved (past tense). Yet, our salvation continues to unfold in our life as we experience more and more of what we have in Christ.

Let me illustrate this by pointing to my own life experience. My salvation was earned in the past when Christ died for me on the cross. I received this salvation by faith in the past, when I went forward at a Billy Graham crusade in 1963. At that time, I had assurance that I would be saved in the future. But that was not the whole story. For the past fifty years, God has been graciously allowing me to experience my salvation as he has been bringing me into greater wholeness. Thus, I am able to say with gratitude that I was saved. I will be saved. I am saved. And I have been saved. Hallelujah!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what ways have you been experiencing God’s salvation in your life? In what ways do you sense that you still need to experience more of his salvation?

PRAYER: Gracious God, I thank you that you saved me through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. I thank you that you saved me when I received the gift of salvation by putting my faith in you. I thank you for the assurance that you will save me when, in the future, I stand before your throne of judgment. I thank you because I have been saved because of what you have done in the past and because I continue to experience your salvation in new ways in my daily life.

All praise and glory be to you, O God, my Savior! Amen.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.