For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
Read: 2 Chronicles 8:11-10:19, Romans 8:9-25, Psalm 18:16-36, Proverbs 19:26
Relate: I am an American Archer. That says nothing about my current abilities or location. It has everything to do with past accomplishments. These days I am horrible with a bow. At least, I think I would be. Honestly, I haven’t picked one up in a couple decades. But once upon a time, I was actually quite good at archery. Growing up, I attended and later worked at a camp where I spent as much of my free time as possible shooting with their cheap bows and crooked arrows at targets of ever greater distance. They have a scoring system and starting from 10 yards out and scoring 60 I earned one rank after another until I was able to score 160 points from 50 yards. When I think back on this now, I am not as impressed that this could be done but rather that I was able to accomplish this with such poor materials as I was given. Seriously, even Green Arrow would not have been able to match such a feat without copious amounts of luck.
So I am an American Archer. This despite the fact that I will probably never again live in America or shoot a bow. Probably the only significant current impact this has on my life is how it has come to shape my views on salvation. There are three parts to the act of shooting an arrow. 1) The release from the bow 2) The flight through the air 3) The arrival at the target. In the same way, there are three different theological concepts that all are used in the Bible under the term “saved”. It is completely correct for a Christian to say, “I am saved. I am being saved. I have not yet been saved.” Here’s how:
React: I am saved. An archer will pull an arrow from his quiver, nock it, set his feet and stance, draw back the arrow, aim, and then… release. With just the slightest twitch from his fingers, the arrow has been set in motion. In one nearly instantaneous action, the flight has begun. An arrow that was once bound to the bow is now free. Paul in Romans 8 describes this release in this way:
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
In theological terms, I am justified. This is actually the most common use of the word in our day and age. When I confess and believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead, I was instantaneously justified. (Romans 10:9-10) This is the salvation that comes by grace through faith as a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9)
I am being saved. Once the arrow has been released, it then travels through the air from the bow towards the target. This is the life that occurs from the moment we are born again (in the Biblical sense, not with all the cultural baggage that term now carries) to the moment we will meet our Maker. Here is where the analogy starts to fail. When an archer shoots, that arrow will fly in a straight line at a steady speed towards its target. In real life, that “flight” more resembles a drunken arrow flying through a tornado. There are ups and downs. Sometimes we fly swiftly, other times we move at a crawl. Sometimes it even seems as though we are headed in the wrong direction. Advancing in the Christian life is not smooth or easy. The theological term for this “salvation” is sanctification. Its most famous Biblical reference is when Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12-13). Paul almost uses my archery illustration himself the next chapter in Philippians when he says he presses on towards the goal (Phil 3:12-14). Here in Romans 8, Paul is talking about this same idea of sanctification when he writes:
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
I am not yet saved. The most satisfying sound when I was working my way through those archery ranks was the loud thwack when the arrow reached its target. The flight of the arrow came to a sudden and immediate end. That is when the score is tallied and the points are awarded. If the release from the bow is justification and the flight of the arrow is sanctification then the arrival at the target would be glorification. This is the theological term we are talking about when we say, I am not yet saved.
My hope of future salvation for a Christian is a sure and certain thing. I know God will give me a new body. I know that I will be with Him in heaven. I know that will one day see again my father, cousin, sister, niece, and all those others who have gone on before me. I look forward in hope that that day will be soon. As Paul says in Romans 8
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay… In this hope we are saved.
I thank You for my salvation. I thank You that I have been justified through the cross. Help me to live in that freedom. I thank You that Your Spirit is Sanctifying me, making me more and more like You. Help me to work with You in that process in fear and trembling. I thank You that one day, I will be made new. Help me to look eagerly forward to that day. Until that day, help me to live in the salvation You have purchased for me.