The doctrine of salvation is tricky, controversial and sometimes confusing. Are Christians saved now? Are we presently born again, as fundamentalists teach? Or is salvation a future event, something we must work and strive for in this life, in hopes of receiving at a future judgment day? Is salvation already past? Were Old Covenant believers already saved then, long before Christ, our Passover Lamb died on the cross, thus paying sin's price? Where did they go when they died? Where will you go when you die? What does the Bible teach about the when, the timing, of salvation for the genuine Christian?
by Jerry Gentry
"Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).
Once there lived a Baptist preacher. He was a good preacher, a fiery preacher. He labored for the Lord for over 51 years, preaching the gospel, witnessing to the lost, tirelessly winning souls, praying unceasingly for the sick, faithfully baptizing converts, leading and teaching the flock of God. He labored willingly, living a good life.
At times his enemies spoke out against him, faulting him for things like too much emphasis on soul winning, too much perfectionism in holding up Bible standards, too much naming of sin from the pulpit and calling sinners to repentance. This preacher was a real man, not a fictitious character. His name is withheld to protect his family's privacy.
Never once in over a half century of ministry did this preacher step out on his wife of 53 years; never once was he charged with misappropriating church funds; never once did he take advantage of his position for gain. This preacher was a good man, loved by all those he served. His faults were few.
But was he saved? The question seems absurd on the surface, but it is a valid one, applicable to everyone wearing the name "Christian." Can we go to church for a lifetime, do many good works, be good people and still be lost? Will hell be populated with only the worldly wicked and unchurched? Or will there be enough Bible toting church goers in hell to hold a Bible conference? It is a sobering thought, a compelling question, a demanding issue for us all.
As good "Christians" ourselves, we will now make a vicarious visit to the bedside of this preacher, who at age seventy four, has fallen sick. He has lost strength and become bedridden. The doctor says there is nothing wrong but old age. No cancer, no heart attack, no dread disease of any kind is present. The preacher is able to talk fluently with us and other friends who come to visit him on his deathbed. With full mental facilities in tact, he speaks clearly and lucidly. Neither do his hands shake with palsy of any kind. Yet as each day passes, this preacher refuses food and becomes weaker and weaker. Everyone knows that he will soon die.
He will soon depart this world. Where will the preacher go at death? Will he go to heaven, ". . . to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2Cor. 5:8), as he himself had previously taught at hundreds of funerals over the years when he had officiated for the deceased among his flock? Will the preacher go to hell, God forbid? Will he go into the earth, as in "dust to dust, ashes to ashes," entering a time of "soul sleep" until the resurrection?
In short, is this preacher saved, his soul going to heaven when he dies, or will he burn in hell forever. According to the Bible, there are only two alternatives, no middle ground, no purgatory for saving the unsaved dead, no second chance for this preacher or any of us. The Bible teaches: ". . . now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2Cor. 6:2); "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebr. 9:27). It is a scary thought for every man to contemplate. God is a not a recycler, as some might believe. Neither has he missed anyone in this life: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11).
You, my friend, as will this very sick preacher also, will make your decision for Christ now in this life before you die or never at all. Are you saved? If you died tonight are you absolutely sure you will go to heaven and "be present with the Lord," be "carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22), that special way station, awaiting the resurrection of your body and the kingdom? The Bible teaches "there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15)?
After death, will you receive a glorified body at the first resurrection, in that "moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: [when the] . . . dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1Cor. 15:52)? Or will you be part of that second resurrection unto damnation, and hear the words: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41)? The choice is yours and your decision, as well as that of the sick preacher who's bedside we are now vicariously visiting, will be made now in this present life only.
For surely "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28). Which of these two resurrections will you be part of? How can you now be sure?
Perhaps the question itself pricks you, puts you off, irritates you? Why? Fact is, it is a dangerous assumption that unsaved "Christians" of our day make when they assume their salvation is genuine, based on outward appearances. Many of these unsaved "Christians" believe they are saved because they go to church, live a good life, do good works, control their tempers and even smile a lot. "How would God have the audacity not to save me?" they might think. "Why, I am as good as the best, better than most Christians I know," they reason.
If you think God owes you salvation because you are such a good person, think again, friend. The church world today says "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." Of such, God says, ". . . thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. . . [and] I will spew thee out of my mouth." (Rev. 3:17-18).
Ask one hundred Christians if they are saved and many will say "yes," emphatically; some will say "maybe, as long as I don't fall into sin too badly before I die." Some will tell you they are not sure, that they don't exactly understand salvation. They will tell you they want salvation, whatever it is. They know that Jesus died for sinners. They believe Jesus was a good man, the best ever. They try to live a good life in an effort to avoid that bad place where the devil will be cast.
But are they saved? Will they go to heaven when they die? Or will they go to hell and burn forever?
Ask a practicing Catholic, and he will tell you he may need the prayers of the living after death, especially if he dies as a notorious sinner, as admittedly many Catholics are. Witness all the Catholic mafia bosses, etc., who pay big money for the priest to pray them out of purgatory! Are these lifelong confirmed murderers and thieves and alcohol peddlers saved? Can they be prayed out of purgatory by the living, if they leave behind enough money?
Is this sick preacher lying before us saved now, eternally secure by faith in Christ? Where will he go at death, which seems inevitable now? What will be the state of the man when his soul and spirit departs his body, in the same manner as with Rachel of old: "as her soul was in departing, for she died" (Gen. 35:18) and ". . . as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebr. 9:27). We must think deeply about salvation, especially now as we witness one soon to depart this life.
We must view salvation as a great triunity&emdash;past, present and future.
Salvation is past in the sense that Christ paid sin's price as "the Lamb [who was] slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). Salvation is past in the sense of God's sovereignty: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). Salvation is past, in the sense of those "whose names are not written in the book of life" (Rev. 13:8) and "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4).
Salvation is present, in the sense that "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is [already now] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2Cor. 5:17). Salvation is present, in the sense "that ye may know that ye have [present tense] eternal life" (1John 5:13). Salvation is present, as in: "And if the righteous scarcely be [present tense] saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1Pet. 4:18). Salvation is present, in that sense of the thief on the cross: "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today [presently] shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Can there be unsaved people with the Lord in paradise? Obviously, not.
Salvation is present, in the sense that the apostle Paul found himself "having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ" (Phil. 1:23). If he had believed he would at death have merely been placed in the grave, awaiting the future resurrection, that state would certainly not "be with Christ," because "in that very day his thoughts perish" (Ps. 146:4). Obviously, there are no thoughts in the grave, where the body lies dead. Thoughts are a function of the soul, which goes "to be with Christ" in Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22), where the beggar Lazarus now resides in a state of full consciousness, with full thinking and speech capability, yet without a body to carry out executive activities. Salvation is present in the sense of King David's prayer: "Restore [now, in this life] unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Ps. 51:12). David was saved and he knew it, but the joy of his salvation was clouded, dissipated, due to grievous, personal sin that overwhelmed his soul.
In heaven, Abraham's bosom, the much preached "way station" to God's eternal kingdom, men can see, at least with the mind's eye, and think and talk, but they have no body for acting. Their executive dimension is cut off, dead, without dominion capability, lying below, returned to the dust of the earth, the terra firma, until a future "trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1Cor. 15:52). The body is not a prison house, as Plato taught. The body is the executive branch of the human triune being composed of body, soul and spirit, made in the image of the triune God.
And finally, salvation is future with the resurrection and coming of the "fulness of times," (Eph. 1:10) the corporate restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6) when "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14). Now that is salvation, future tense, available openly to everyone, when "the Devil, and Satan, [is] bound him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:2).
Salvation is future, when man is fully redeemed. The church triumphant presently resides in heaven, Abraham's bosom, in soul and spirit, awaiting resurrection of their bodies, which will give them full executive capability. Jesus, one of three members of the triune Godhead, is executive. He acts on behalf of God the Father, through power of the Holy Spirit. The human body is the executive dimension of our being, giving spirit and soul acting and working capability to fulfill the dominion mandate given to Adam.
Salvation is future in the corporate sense that "I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, [future] and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night" (Rev. 12:10).
This is that great future time, when souls and spirits are reunited with incorruptible bodies, "when he shall appear, [and] we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1John 3:2); when "the dead shall be raised incorruptible" (1Cor. 15:52); and "when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality" (v. 54).
We look on intently, now, as the preacher urgently calls a special friend to his bedside. His friend is also a minister, a friend for many decades. The sick preacher becomes animated. In a tone of fear and panic, with a flurry of words, he calls out to Jack, his old friend: "Brother Jack, I see hell, I see the flames of hell! Jack, help me! Jack! Jack! I'm going to hell, Jack what can I do? I'm not saved, Jack! Help me! Help me!"
Friend Jack jumps immediately to the rescue, opening his Bible and saying to his minister friend, "Do you know you are a sinner?" The dying minister answers, "Right." Jack quickly continues, "And do you know that Jesus came to save sinners?"
"Yes!" the now dying old minister sighs with a dying breath. "Now you know that Jesus paid the. . . "Listen to me! Listen to me!" Jack exclaims, as the old preacher's eyes close, his face turns white and all breathing stops.
"Listen! Listen! Jesus died to. . . ," Jack cries, shaking all over. Tears of sorrow are running down his cheeks.
"Wake up! Wake up!" Jack begs his friend, as he squeezes his limp hand, shakes his lifeless body and tries to open a motionless eyelid. "No! No!" Jack mutters, now openly crying out, weeping to God. "I let this old friend slip right through my fingers, go right into the flames of hell as real as his motionless body now lies in front of me! No, Lord, No!" Jack weeps.
There is weeping and wailing now all around the room. Friends and family know that their friend and preacher, who brought salvation to others, never himself came to personal salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. He is lost forever.
Friend, salvation is real. Death is real. The flames of hell are real. Two resurrections&emdash;one to life and one to everlasting judgment&emdash;are very real. And whether or not you believe the dying preacher's confession of being unsaved, going to hell, is not the point. The point is that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ plus nothing. Are you saved? Do you know for sure? If not, then pray the sinner's prayer, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner," accept Christ as your personal savior by faith right now, and be saved!
Hallelujah! Praise God for salvation&emdash;past, present and future. This great triunity of God's plan for man reflects the very being of God Himself. Salvation is three, yet one, inseparable, yet distinct in time, mirroring the very being of God Himself, hallelujah!