Is salvation instantaneous? Or is it a process?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Is Salvation a process? Is a person saved upon accepting Christ, or is he continually being saved along the way? I was told that because people don't immediately stop sinning in a certain area, just means that they are still being saved. But I always thought that salvation was an instantaneous thing. When scripture says, "Old things pass away and all things become new. And that you are a new creation" it just means that those sins that once ruled me, no longer have that power over me. What do you think?

Answer: Your suppositions are exactly correct. Our salvation is instantaneous, and there is no need for any further salvific process. The effect of Jesus’ atonement lasts forever, and it covers the believer’s every sin. Acting or affirming differently insults Jesus Christ. After all, he said of his own work, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He did not say, “My part is done. Now you guys keep this going.”

Since Jesus overcame both death and sin (1 Corinthians 15:56-57), sin can no longer condemn us (Romans 8:1). As such, why would any ongoing processes of salvation be necessary… I mean… what would it do? Keep us saved? The Bible will have none of that! Salvation is, by its nature, eternal (1 John 5:11-13), so any ostensive salvation processes would have no purpose — and I find it difficult to support any construct that has no purpose.

You have also correctly noted that we have become a new creation and that the old things have passed away with the advent of our new natures (2 Corinthians 5:17). So, what has passed away? The burden of death (John 5:24) — and along with it, its intrinsic requirement to appease God. Therefore, it would be silly… no… make that a waste of time — for those who have already been saved to continue chasing after salvation. Unfortunately, some do… but I question their salvation because they do not have a clear picture of it, neither do they really know the Savior that wrought it.

Perhaps the most famous analogy for salvation is that we are “born again” (John 3:3). No one seems to argue that our physical births occurred at a point in time (and we affirm this by celebrating our birthdays), but so were our spiritual births. One moment we were lost, and the next moment we were saved — “born again” by the Spirit of God. So, please note well this rule for birth and life. After we are born we begin to grow… but we do not continue to be born — and, yes, that sounds obvious. But this is what people insist upon when they teach that salvation is a process rather than an event. Any processes subsequent to salvation have to do with sanctification. They cannot be salvific… even if the words sound like they are building salvation. Here is an example.

“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,” (Philippians 2:12, ESV, emphasis mine)

You have probably heard the phrase “working things out.” For example, if an engineer reached a design roadblock and said to his boss, “Give me another day and I will work things out,” the boss would understand that the engineer is confident that his training, experience and diligence will help him complete the project. But this understanding of “working things out” militates against the Apostle Paul’s phrase “…work out your own salvation…” Paul is not saying that there are some things we must do to create or to maintain salvation. He is telling us that we already have this salvation within us, so work it out — use it! Do something with it! Look like the Christians that you are. He is not telling us to become Christians; he is telling us to become better Christians. This is sanctification, not salvation.

People who believe that salvation is a process will likely have a problem with the eternal security of the believer, too. Because, if salvation were indeed a process, then it would be possible for a person to derail his salvation somewhere along the line. Such a possibility posits an insecure future of necessity. But we know that the believer’s future is secure in Jesus Christ (1 John 5:13). As such, we also know that subscribing to salvation as a process or adding any elements to the already finished work of Jesus Christ, is illogical at the least, insulting to Christ at the most… or an indication that a person is not really saved, at its most horrific.

Once we understand that a believer is eternally secure in Jesus Christ, then we can discuss the problem of ongoing sin, because Christians do indeed continue to sin. What this means is that although sin can no longer destroy us, it continues to annoy us — and we have to deal with it! However, we no longer have to manage sin for the purposes of salvation, but we do have to consider our spiritual hygiene. Let us eavesdrop on Jesus as he teaches about this very thing.

“Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”” (John 13:10, ESV).

After Peter and Jesus had gone back and forth about the washing of the feet at the Last Supper, Peter finally acquiesced… except that he wanted a whole bath instead of a foot bath! But Jesus used this opportunity to teach that we are already clean as a whole; we just have to take care of the places that are easily soiled — like the feet. This is the picture of how a believer deals with ongoing sin; he repents of it.

But this type of repentance is not about the whole person who has already repented unto salvation (as symbolized by being bathed); it is about the parts of a person, like his feet, that will certainly be soiled while he still walks this earth (as symbolized by the foot-washing). Therefore, just as the feet need a washing that is not an entire bath, so do our ongoing sins need a repentance that is not unto salvation. This type of repentance is about washing the new creature — not becoming one (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Now, it is important to understand that although salvation was instantaneous for us that there were processes behind it. Salvation was wrought in God before time even began (2 Timothy 1:9). He knew us in Jesus Christ before the foundations of the earth (Revelation 13:8). Even the angels were curious about —  but had no inside knowledge of — redemption (1 Peter 1:12). Jesus, who is God himself, was born at a discrete moment in time to become one of us, to live a full life and to suffer and die for us (Hebrews 2:9). That is quite a process!

And we, too, participated in a pre-salvation process. God drew us (John 6:44), the Holy Spirit wooed us (John 15:26), people witnessed and did their jobs as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). As in a natural birth where conception and gestation lead up to someone’s birthday, so did all the processes that prepared us for that moment of spiritual birth. But the moment itself was discrete — a point on a timeline — and not a process.

In summary, I agree with you that salvation is instantaneous as opposed to longitudinal. Now, the Christian life — that’s longitudinal! But it is the result of salvation — and of a certainty — it is not part of any process that bills itself as necessary to continue being saved.

For more details on working out your salvation, visit the following link:

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