Past tense makes no sense

While recently visiting with our son Jeremy, he and I decided to go fishing.  His choice was to fish off a wooden pier on a nearby lake. It was there that we met Eugene. Since his retirement ten years earlier, Eugene said he spends a lot of time doing what he loves, fishing for “bream” (pronounced like “brim”). In our case, the bream were black crappie bass. In that part of the country the bigger fish were also called “slab.”

We arrived about an hour before nightfall. Eugene had been sitting at his favorite spot since ten that morning. He would remain there until he had his limit or he felt like going home.

After learning a lot about Eugene’s life as a sharecropper’s son who came of age in the racially divided south of the 50’s and 60’s, the conversation then came around to Jesus. “I was brought up Holiness,” he said. “Daddy was a deacon and the ten of us had church all day on Sundays. I was saved as a boy, so I know where I’m going. I used to read the Bible for Daddy. He wasn’t much good at readin’.” Eugene was quick to add, “Don’t go to church much these days, but I never stopped believin’. Nope, I never lost that.”

Five days later and in a different state, something similar was said at a store where I had gone on an errand for son John. This time it was Scott I encountered. After he helped, Scott began opening up about his 30 year-old son Nathan. Five times in and out of jail, Nathan was due to be released, yet Scott was afraid, because he had tried everything. When I offered a little Christian counsel, Scott chimed in that years ago everyone in his family got saved, all six, including Nathan. Scott didn’t know why his son turned to drugs. All he knew was that Nathan needed help that recovery programs failed to give. Hours from home and in a strange town, I did the only thing I knew how to do. We prayed.

I started to ponder the way Eugene and Scott spoke of their spiritual experience as something in the past. “Saved” was something that happened long ago like buying a life insurance policy. It was purchased then filed in a drawer. One hopes it is still good whenever they pass.

Past tense salvation (“I was saved; therefore I still am”) makes no sense. It is not what the Bible teaches. Churches are the main disseminators of this false notion that getting people saved is the all in all. (“If you know when and where you saw the light then you’ll be alright.”) An emphasis on a decision, emotional or intellectual, without growing up in our salvation makes us, in Peter’s words, ineffective or unfruitful in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:8 ESV).

Salvation must begin with a decision, but it cannot end there. We are saved (past tense) to serve (continuous action into the future). In His Great Commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples (other followers and learners), not converts. It is the difference between having babies and the commitment to raise healthy children.

To our God, there is no past or future. He envelopes time, so that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years as a day. Time, as in days and nights, seasons and ages, did not exist before creation nor will they remain after the consummation of all things. After all is accomplished, time will be swallowed up by eternity.

It is people who become caught in the time trap, especially when it comes to salvation. (“I was saved years ago” or “I’ll get saved after I’m done living it up.”) Salvation is a process referred to as sanctification (being made holy or set apart for Christ). It can be compared to running a race. Being saved (past) places us among the runners. Salvation (present) is our reward for service pleasing to God (i.e. running to win). Salvation (present) can also mean correction for the Father loves those whom he chastises. If we repent, the Lord extends grace and mercy then helps us get back into the race. Salvation (future) is when we cross our finish line and receive the victor’s crown. Not until then are we really saved.

We may be ahead with the end in sight, but still fall short. We may have enjoyed all the benefits of God’s salvation then go astray. It is like crossing a deep crevasse. Almost making it does not count. Paul, an accepted authority on salvation, saw the personal danger.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV)

Paul, disqualified? This only makes sense if he saw salvation as a continuum, something that began on the road to Damascus and carried him through his momentary suffering until, at last, he attained his prize (Philippians 3:13-16).

Our past is no indication of our future unless we allow it. It is not how we start out in this Christ-life, Eugene and Scott, but how we finish. My friends must get back in their race and run like they mean it.

I did not start out well, but I want to finish well. The race does not belong to the swift but to those who keep on running. As Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 24:13, “… the one who endures to the end will be saved.” 

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