May 28, 2018 • Life for Leaders
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Okay, I’ll admit that I am rather odd. (Okay, probably in many ways, but I’m only going to mention one here.) Are you ready? I find grammar interesting. I like it. I care about it. Now, when I was a child, I did not enjoy learning the rules of grammar, filling out endless grammar worksheets, and so forth. But fascination with grammar came later in life, especially as I began studying New Testament Greek and realizing how much grammar can help us understand what God is saying to us in Scripture.
Take Ephesians 2:8, for example. You may have noticed that the English translation of this verse uses the present perfect tense of the verb “save”: “For it is by grace you have been saved.” Not “are saved” or “will be saved” or “were saved” but “have been saved.” This English translation accurately renders the Greek original, which is also in the present perfect tense. What is the sense of the present perfect here? In Greek, this tense indicates that something happened in the past, but with continuing results or implications. “I am saved” states a present condition. “I was saved” specifies that this happened in the past. “I have been saved” means that my salvation began in the past but continues into the present.
In his letters, the Apostle Paul uses various tenses when he speaks of our salvation. Most often, he uses the verb “to save” in the future tense, in reference to the ultimate salvation that we will experience in God’s future (for example, Romans 5:9-10; 10:9). Yet, Paul can also speak of salvation as a present experience (1 Corinthians 1:8; 15:2), or even as something that happened in the past, though with an eye to the future (Romans 8:24). By using the present perfect tense in Ephesians, Paul underscores the fact that our salvation is grounded on something that happened in the past, namely, the sacrificial death of Christ. In this sense, we were saved (past tense). Yet, our salvation continues to unfold in our life as we experience more and more of what we have in Christ.
Let me illustrate this by pointing to my own life experience. My salvation was earned in the past when Christ died for me on the cross. I received this salvation by faith when I went forward at a Billy Graham crusade in 1963. That also happened in the past. At that time, as a six-year-old boy, I had assurance that I would be saved in the future. But that is not the whole story. For the past fifty-five years, God has been graciously allowing me to experience more of his salvation as he has been bringing me into greater wholeness. Thus, I am able to say with gratitude that I was saved. I will be saved. I am saved. And I have been saved. You can say the same things about yourself if you are in Christ. Hallelujah!
Something to Think About:
In what ways have you been experiencing God’s salvation in your life?
In what ways do you sense that you still need to experience more of his salvation?
Something to Do:
If you keep a journal, write down some of the specific ways you have experienced God’s salvation. If you don’t journal, or even if you do, share with a friend how God has saved you and listen to your friend’s experience of salvation.
Gracious God, I thank you that you saved me through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. I thank you that you saved me when I received the gift of salvation by putting my faith in you. I thank you for the assurance that you will save me when, in the future, I stand before your throne of judgment. I thank you because I have been saved because of what you have done in the past, and because I continue to experience your salvation in new ways in my daily life.
All praise and glory be to you, O God, my Savior! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Key Verses and Themes in Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.