In my most recent sermon I discussed what I believe “working out our salvation” really means as found in Philippians 2:11-12. In it I surmised that some of the difficulty we evangelicals have with this expression comes from limiting the term salvation to its past tense usage. Yet scripture will often use the term salvation, or salvific terms like redemption in both a present sense (I Peter 1:9-“obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls) as well as a future sense (I Peter 1:5-“salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”) to show that salvation is more robust than just getting “saved.” However, I feel I used the phrase “how many salvations were there at church” in a fairly pejorative manner-though I didn’t intend to use it in that way. I seldom have time to caveat anything, particularly when I’m trying not to say too much so I can focus on what I feel led to say.
So I do want to go back to salvation in the past tense: what many folks call “getting saved.” I do hope that many in the congregation who don’t know Christ will repent and believe in Him alone for their salvation. I hope and pray for that in every sermon, folks who don’t know Jesus at all will be saved from the punishment of sin. At the same point I hope and pray that everyone who doesn’t know Jesus as well as he/she thinks he/she does (all Christians) will repent and believe the gospel more that day than the day before.
This is the present tense, or sense of salvation, which we seldom ask ourselves and others: “how is God saving you today from the dominating power of sin in your life?” I think this is a question seldom asked, but is part of our “salvation,” just as important as the start and finish of it. And its usually much harder than pointing to a date!
Still, in a zeal to emphasize how the gospel saves us now, and will save us then I often don’t take enough time to explicitly explain how salvation starts. I, as well as many Presbyterians seldom give folks enough of a chance to respond. While I don’t see anywhere in the bible which instructs pastors to call people forward like an altar call (that really didn’t happen until the mid 1800’s thanks to Charles Finney) or raise their hands if they believe, I still know that the church is the place where new Christians are to be born. The church is to be a hospital for sickly believers in need of grace, but also a place where all believers are technically on staff and can serve as spiritual midwives delivering baby Christians.
I’m definitely envious of churches which regularly see “salvations” start each week. And Presbyterian churches can learn much from and be challenged by them. But I’m also aware that new births and new breakthroughs in growth may happen gradually as folks eventually get the gospel (for the first time or thousandth), and need not happen solely through a response prayer. Such “salvations” may be happening as well but not be as visible.
Regardless, churches need to consider salvation in all tenses and senses so that the full gospel is preached, cherished, and responded to each week regardless of differing denominational mechanics.