Jeremy Sarber

Salvation past, present, and future in Ephesians

In Ephesians 1, Paul takes us through the past and present aspects of our salvation. In the past, God chose us in him … he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:4-5). In the present, we have redemption through Christ’s blood and all of the great riches which God lavishes upon us (Eph 1:7).

We may think of redemption in the past tense because Christ died so long ago, but the Bible doesn’t present it that way. Turn over to Ephesians 2. In verse 5, Paul says, When we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:5). Obviously, Christ procured our redemption and salvation long ago, but the Bible doesn’t present a sinner as saved until God personally redeems him. He must first be called out darkness and justified by faith in Christ. Verse 8 says, By grace you have been saved through faith (Eph 2:8).

Better yet, consider Romans 3 where Paul writes:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)

In his account of the gospel, John wrote, To all who did receive him—that is, Christ—who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (Jn 1:12). On the one hand, God has always known his children because he chose them for adoption even before the foundation of the world. On the other hand, they cannot officially become his children until the righteousness of Christ is applied to them at the moment of faith. As Paul said, The righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith (Ro 1:17). Another possible translation would be: The righteousness of God is revealed in faith from beginning to end.”

I make this point because I don’t want us to think of our salvation as some mystical concept of which we’re far removed. God’s people are not going to wake up in heaven one day, thinking to themselves, Well, what do you know. Christ saved me.

No, Jesus said, My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). Paul said, The Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Ro 8:2; 16). That is a personal, experiential reality for the redeemed in Christ.

In one sense, God’s people have always been saved. In another, we are still being saved. Ultimately, however, our salvation won’t be complete until the return of Christ, which is what Paul brings to our attention in Ephesians 1. The history of redemption has three phases: past, present, and future, though Paul rolls them all together in this text.

Technically, Paul began his summary of what is to come in verse 10. He said that once the fullness of time has come, Christ will unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1:10). He’s pointing to our divine inheritance as God’s redeemed family.

History is continually moving toward its climax when everyone will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and new heavens and a new earth will become the permanent home of those whose names are found in the book of life (2Co 5:10; 2Pe 3:13; Rev 20:12).