Threefold Salvation

I have had conversations with several people lately concerning salvation, justification and sanctification. I found that these people I usually am in agreement with have held widely different views than me. I have since looked deeply into the scriptures for clarification. This topic runs very deep. Books have been written on it, and people have degrees in the study of salvation. I am going to try to write a concise, brief account that just touches on a few major points. I will not leave anything out because it is unimportant. For the sake of space and time, I am just trying to keep it as simplified as possible.

The topic of salvation can be a confusing topic when you take all the various scriptures independently of each other. Take the 3 following scriptures for instance:

“who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5)

In the first verse, it talks about salvation as being a past event. In the second verse, we are told to work out our own salvation, apparently a process we are currently engaged in. In the third verse, salvation is a future event. These are all in the same Bible, yet appear to be talking about 3 different events.

Salvation is performed in 3 phases:

  1. What Jesus did for us on the cross (Past)
  2. The continual cleansing of our souls in the blood of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit (Present)
  3. Our glorification into the divine upon either the return of Christ or our death (Future)

This process is also known as:

  1. Forgiveness of the Penalty of sin (Justification)
  2. Forgiveness of the Power of sin (Sanctification)
  3. Forgiveness of the Presence of sin (Glorification)

Theologian Arthur W. Pink suggests that this is actually a fourfold salvation. He inserts the forgiveness of the pleasure of sin as the first step, and then reorders the rest. I submit that this is actually encapsulated in sanctification, number 2. He goes on to say that in the original model, Justification is the first step, whereas in his model, Regeneration is the first (and most logical step). However, is it possible for you to be made a new creature in Christ without accepting His atoning sacrifice, thereby being made justified? I would say that you can’t be justified without regeneration, but you can’t be regenerated without being justified. This article is going to focus on the 3 phase model, with “the pleasure of sin” being made part of number 2 rather than being its own phase.

I think we can all agree on phases 1 and 3.

  1. Christ died to save us from our sins. The result of sin is to be death (Rom. 6:23). So, Christ came to live on the earth in human form so that He could provide an act of substitution for our death. Since He was perfect, yet died for sins anyway, He took away our punishment for the sins we committed. (Rom. 6:3-5; 8:2)
  1. One day, at either our death or the return of Jesus, we will live in a glorified body in Heaven. This eternal state exists apart from sin. When we reach this state of glorification, sin will not be present.

Phase 2 is where the primary disagreements lie. Three main views exist concerning the life a Christian leads between that initial moment of justification and glorification:

  1. Once someone is justified, they will never sin again. This person in incapable of sin. If they sin, it is evidence that they were never truly saved.
  2. Once someone is justified, they never have to sin again. In this belief, a person can live totally free from sin, but it is still possible to sin.
  3. Once someone is justified, they strive to never sin again. This is a lifelong process where the believer continues to grow in the Lord.

Number 2 and 3 are the most widely held beliefs. It is interesting that all 3 systems use the same Biblical passage as proof for their points:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5-10).

People who contend that it is possible to completely abstain from sin (numbers 1 and 2) concentrate on verses 7 and 9: “…the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” They say that, yes, we have all sinned, but at the point of justification, that sin is removed. Temptation to sin still exists in the world, but we have the ability to overcome it all through the blood of Jesus.

People who contend that sanctification is a lifelong process (number 3) focus on verses 8 and 10: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” They say that we have been cleansed from our past sins, and the sinful life that separates us from God. However, as we continuously grow closer to God, we sometimes will succumb to the temptations of sin. This is part of the growing process.

This is where it is helpful to understand the 3 phases of salvation: Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. Think of it this way:

  1. God has saved us. (Justification – Past tense)
  2. God is saving us. (Sanctification – Present tense)
  3. God is going to save us. (Glorification – Future tense)

Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area puts it this way, “We have been saved already from the penalty of sin…If you receive Jesus, you’ve been forgiven…One day, we will be saved from the presence of sin. In Heaven, there’s no sin…Right now, we are being saved from the power of sin…because sin is still present in the world, sometimes believers still fall under the power of sin.”

Please let me know if you agree with, or disagree with this, and why.

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