Randy White | June 10, 2023
Salvation, in traditional Christian theology, has been generally delineated into a three-part framework: we have been saved (justification), we are being saved (sanctification), and we will be saved (glorification). These three phases are justified by specific Biblical texts. But are we accurately interpreting these scriptures, or have we veered from their original intent due to misunderstandings of the Greek grammar? Let’s delve into the evidence and reconsider this classic teaching.
The Three-Phase Approach to Salvation: A Misinterpretation?
The three-phase salvation model, however ubiquitous, raises challenging questions. It posits that believers must continually strive for sanctification or risk uncertainty about their salvation. But is such a phased salvation compatible with Ephesians 2:8-9’s declaration that salvation is “not of yourselves”? If we are saved purely by God’s grace, then the lack of apparent progress towards sanctification shouldn’t lead to a believer doubting their salvation status.
Moreover, a tripartite salvation framework could potentially fuel legalism, as believers might feel pressured to meet a list of rules to ensure their salvation, resulting in a distorted legal standard for Christianity contrary to the Bible’s teaching of salvation by grace. This focus on continual striving for salvation could also deprive believers of the joy of salvation, as they might feel perpetually inadequate.
Decoding the Greek Grammar
A nuanced understanding of the Greek grammar is essential to properly interpreting the Biblical texts that have traditionally been used to support the three-phase salvation model.
When the Bible speaks of justification, it often uses Greek grammar forms such as the aorist passive indicative and present passive indicative, conveying a completed action and an ongoing state, respectively. Greek grammar also employs the present passive participle to describe an ongoing state. The Greek participle does not inherently suggest a completed action or a continually ongoing condition that may cease in the future. It simply depicts the state of the recipient of the action at that point in time.
To illustrate, some scriptures present justification as a completed state (Acts 13:39), while others present it as an ongoing state (Romans 3:24). Both are valid representations, and it’s the grammar that informs these interpretations, not a predefined theology of salvation.
Sanctification is often portrayed as an ongoing process, and proof-texted by the present passive participle in the New King James Version (and other modern versions) of 1 Corinthians 1:18. But again, Greek grammar nuances are essential here: this tense doesn’t necessarily suggest a process; it simply describes the state of the subject at the given time. This is why the King James Version speaks of those who “are saved” while the modern translations speak of those who “are being saved.” Both are translated from the same grammar, the present passive participle. But this verb tense cannot be used to prove an ongoing process because the participle simply describes the state of being at the moment.
Reevaluating Our Understanding of Salvation
Instead of viewing salvation as a three-phase process, I propose that salvation is a holistic package of God’s grace, conferred upon us entirely at the moment we believe. When we accept Christ, God declares us righteous, sanctified, and saved in His eyes, irregardless of our ongoing spiritual journey.
This does not undermine the importance of spiritual growth or obedience; rather, recognizing our full salvation should motivate us to live lives that reflect our new identity in Christ. Our goal as Christians is not to earn salvation, but to respond in gratitude to the immense love and grace already gifted to us.
Our understanding of sanctification should therefore be revised. Instead of viewing it as a life-long process, let’s see it as a gift given to us in Christ.
By reframing salvation in this way, we can better appreciate God’s abundant love and mercy, and the transformative power of His grace, not just in the present moment but for all eternity.