Salvation is not an easy subject to unpack. One of the issues I have run into lately is the language in the Bible that seems to contradict itself. There are numerous places in the New Testament that refer to salvation as if it is a past reality for the Christian: “you have been saved,” “you were saved,” etc. Then there are those places that seem to point to salvation as a “someday” thing for Christians: “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” “you will be saved,”etc. All the while, the Christian is called to live out their salvation in the present, “be holy,” etc.
So, which is it? Are Christians saved now or are we saved then? Is it a past reality or a future reality? The answer to these questions drastically informs the present.
So is salvation a past, present, or future reality?
I think the biblical answer to that question is “Yes.”
Yes, salvation is a past, present, and future reality for the Christian.
Maybe a better question is, “How do we rightly think about salvation in terms of something that we have been given (past), are called to live out (present), and look forward to (future)?”
As I was thinking about this subject, I remembered a chapter in Tullian Tchividjian’s book Unfashionable which referred to the kingdom of God. A biblical understanding of the past/present/future realities of God’s kingdom (which this book discusses) may give a practical answer to the salvation question. If we can understand the past, present, and future of God’s kingdom, it will go a long way in helping us live it out in our daily lives.
First of all, God’s kingdom as defined by Sinclair Ferguson:
“The rule and reign of God, the expression of his gracious sovereign will. To belong to the kingdom of God is to belong to the people among whom the reign of God has already begun.”
There are three phases, or “stages” of God’s kingdom:
1) Kingdom Inauguration
2) Kingdom Continuation
3) Kingdom Consummation
Kingdom Inauguration (past):
The incarnation of Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth. “The rule and reign of God” breaks forth into the world through the incarnation (“in flesh”) of the Son of God. John the Baptist carried this message, and so did Jesus (in Mark 1:15); “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” At every turn, the gospel writers labored to unveil this reality in their individual accounts of the life and work of Jesus on earth.
Kingdom Continuation (present):
This is the stage of God’s kingdom marked by the phrase “already/not yet.” As we surrender to the work of Jesus, we can experience salvation through him. This is the already aspect of this phase of God’s work. However, we still battle with our sin nature, we still feel the effects of sickness and death, and we still witness a broken world around us. These realities are one of the reasons the New Testament writers have so much to say about enduring, working out our salvation, fighting sin, trusting God, walking in faith, etc. We have not yet experienced the final completion of God’s work in us and in our world.
I really like the way Tchividjian describes this phase: “The kingdom is already here in true form, but it is not yet in its full form. It is present in its beginnings but still future in its fullness.”
Kingdom Consummation (future):
This is the phase of God’s kingdom that we look forward to in hope, as the not yet will become the now. First Peter 1:5 says that Christians are “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Kingdom consummation is what we look forward to with a “living hope” that has been made alive in Jesus. Revelation chapters 19-22 talk about the consummation of the kingdom of God, detailing the return of Jesus Christ, the final defeat of Satan, evil, and death, and the creation of a new heavens and new earth which will be the eternal dwelling place of God and his people.
These biblical realities should give us hope as we work out our salvation in the continuation of God’s kingdom. We can endure as we put our faith in Jesus’ inauguration of it, and target our hope toward the promised consummation that awaits us.
 This Ferguson quote is originally found in Fergusons Sermon on the Mount, I am re-quoting it from Tullian Tchividjian’s Unfashionable, p. 70.
 Tchividjian’s word.
 Tullian Tchividjian, Unfashionable, p. 73.