The Three Phases of Salvation

The Three Phases of Salvation

As Christians, we understand that to be saved we need to come to Christ, repent of our sins and receive Him as Lord and Savior of our life.

In my last article “What is salvation in Christianity,” we defined salvation as God’s act of reaching out to man to rescue him from the power of sin and eternal punishment in hell.

But biblically speaking, salvation in Christ is often spoken of in three phases or tenses: salvation past (justification), salvation present (sanctification) and salvation future (glorification). The Bible undoubtedly teaches that:

  • We have been saved (past) – Ephesians 2:8
  • We are being saved (present) – 1 Corinthians 1:18
  • We will be saved (future) – 1 Peter 1:5

In this article, we define salvation as a process by which an unsaved sinner separated from God by sin and destined for hell, is redeemed from hell, reunited with God and destined for heaven. This threefold process of salvation begins in justification, proceeds through sanctification and ends in glorification.

I – Justification

“A right understanding of justification is crucial to the whole Christian faith. And if we are to safeguard the truth about the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification because a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works.” – Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, Justification)

Justification is the judicial act of God whereby He forgives the sinner of all his sins – past, present and future – and declares him righteous in His eyes and free from guilt and punishment. It is an immediate and instantaneous act of God upon the sinner’s confession and his acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9).

One of the modern errors of today is to identify justification with pardon. Justification is more than just pardon; to justify means to declare righteous. When God justifies the sinner, He does not acquit him of his sins. Instead, God restores him back to a state of innocence.

It’s also important to note that the sinner is not made righteous but declared righteous and justified by God the Father based on the works and merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sinner puts on the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Henceforth, God sees the sinner righteous and perfect in the righteousness of Christ. The sinner is justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by works (Romans 5:1; Romans 3:28).

For a more detailed study on the doctrine of Justification by Faith, I highly recommend you get the e-book “God Who Justifies” by James R. White.

God Who Justifies, The – eBook By James R. White

The author of The King James Only Controversy calls believers to a fresh appreciation and understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith. White, a Reformed Baptist, offers an in-depth study that focuses on the pivotal place of this often-ignored principle in church history; and an exegetical defense of key biblical passages in Romans and James.

II – Sanctification

Perhaps you’ve heard somebody referred to salvation as a continuous process in the life of a believer and not just a one-shot deal. That’s true because of sanctification – the second phase of salvation.

The basic meaning of sanctification is “separation” or “to be set apart.” In the spiritual sense of a believer’s life, sanctification means to be set apart: 1) by God 2) for God 3) from sin 4) unto a holy life and 5) to be made more holy through conforming to the image of His Son Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Sanctification differs from justification in several ways. In justification our standing in the Lord is changed while in sanctification our character is changed. Justification occurs at the moment of salvation; it is a one-time work of God that results in a declaration of “not guilty” before Him because of the work of Christ on the cross.

Sanctification on the other hand is a process. It is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life (2 Thessalonians 2:13), beginning with justification and continuing throughout life, whereby the believer moves from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity over time as he learns God’s Word (2 Peter 2:2) and chooses to live under God’s will. In short, sanctification means spiritual growth (2 Peter 3:18).

We have to reiterate that good works cannot save us. What does Paul mean when he says in Philippians 2:12-13 that “we must work out our salvation…?” To “work out” means to bring to completion or to accomplish. We need to work out our salvation because though our past sins have been removed and we have been justified, the present is still here. We are still living and every day we face a world full of sin and temptations.

Paul goes on to say in Philippians 3:13-14 that he’s not perfect but he presses on to achieve all the purposes for which Christ has saved him. This should be our goal as believers in Christ. To keep pressing on until the day we will meet face to face with the Lord. But until then let us retain a sanctified walk by living a life of implicit obedience to God, (if we fail, we immediately confess it to God and He will restore us), resisting the devil and by faithful regular Bible reading, prayer, witnessing and living for others.

Sanctification is not instantaneous but is ongoing until the believer leaves this world and goes to heaven.

III – Glorification

Glorification is the final phase of the saved sinner’s salvation experience wherein he leaves this world, either by death or by rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), and is reunited with the Lord Jesus in heaven. The believer never achieves sinless perfection until he is glorified in heaven; his sin nature removed and is given a perfect glorified body.

Philippians 3:20-21 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we wait for our Savior to transform our lowly body to be conformed to His glorious body…”

Jesus died on the cross to save us from eternal death and to grant us eternal life. He will come again to complete our salvation by transforming our bodies into immortal glorified bodies to live with Him for all eternity.

IN CLOSING, I challenge each one of us to maintain a sanctified walk with Jesus, just as the apostle Paul did. Let us deal with the present and allow God daily to work in us for His purpose and glory. Let us grow in holiness by completely submitting to the lordship of Jesus in every area of our lives and continuously leave past behind all the things that are not right in the sight of God.

Let us live as Jesus wants us to live, allow Him to work in us, have His way in us and let us be always open and sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

18 Replies to “The Three Phases of Salvation”

  1. It is very nice to see how people can share many opinions but I think it is always good if we use the Bible and Bible alone to support our opinions. I don’t agree with the opinion that once you’re saved you’re saved. Paul said in the book of Romans, “Can we continuing sinning because the grace is exceeding,” and the answer is no.

    1. Hi Fanuel,

      I think you agree with me that even if Christians are reading from the same Bible, they still come up with different understanding and interpretations as to what the Bible is saying.

      As regards to what some Christians believe that salvation is a one-shot deal, which means that once you’re saved, you remain saved no matter what, there are a lot of passages in the Bible saying that one must continue in their faith up to the end in order to attain the fullness of their salvation.

      We must not stop at the justification phase, but must continue on to be sanctified and finally to attain glorification.

      Thanks for your comment, shalom and God bless!

  2. Thank you for your article. I like that you point out the OSAS as a lie. It is very sad that people have been taught to believe it. But that is where the devil clearly wins. If we sin everyday and believe we are saved, he sure loves to see us in false peace.

    One thing I do not agree totally on is the fact that sanctification is a lifelong process. I firmly believe that sanctification is an experience just as you experience to be born again. If you take the apostles, they were filled with the fire of the spirit (sanctification) and that was nothing that happened over time, but in a moment. However, you will have to work hard to keep that state of sanctification up and serve the Lord wholeheartedly.

    Nevertheless, as somebody in the comments states, we shouldn’t be arguing about minor things. Just thought I would bring that topic up.

    Very informative article and has been a blessing to me. Thanks for sharing.

    Oscar

    1. Hello Oscar, thanks for dropping by!

      The doctrine of OSAS is one of the tools the devil is using to deceive Christians into believing they’re saved no matter what they do after being born again; that even if they continue in sin they will still end up in heaven. It’s sad and unfortunate that many are buying into this lie, probably because those who hold to this view are well-known church personalities. 

      I said that sanctification is a lifelong process because sanctification, in contrast to justification which is instantaneous because of the finished work of Christ, is the phase or stage of salvation wherein our character is changed. It is the process of us being conformed to the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Sanctification means separation; it is the same in essence with holiness. Our characters don’t change instantly when we get born again that’s why the word of God says we are being changed from glory to glory as the Holy Spirit works in us (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

      When you said that sanctification is instantaneous, the same way that justification is, I believe you are quoting 1 Corinthians 6:11 which speaks of sanctification being a past event. And that is because sanctification has three stages or timelines namely: 1) positional or instantaneous which happens at conversion 2) progressive or continuous and 3) complete or final is when we will be completely holy ,which happens when Christ comes to give us glorified bodies.

      But sanctification as the second phase of salvation is a lifelong process because while we are still in our bodies and persevering to live according to the Word of God, spiritual growth continuous to take place, our character is changed and we become more and more like Christ. 

      Shalom and God bless!

  3. I like the distinction you made by saying that we were not “made” righteous but “declared” righteous. Because that’s two different things.

    And it’s not because of any act of righteousness we may have done, but only because of what Christ did and our response to it by accepting Him as Savior and Lord.

    Because the only act that we do in this case is that.

    Then, in the sanctification part, is walking following God’s Spirit. And like you said, it can be a slow process…. A process that was started by God in us and completed by Him when we will finally see Him… if we continue to remain in Christ.

    1. That’s right Guy, the Bible clearly says that we were “declared righteous,” not “made righteous.” We become righteous in the sight of God because He sees in us the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

      The sanctification phase is where we allow God to continually work in us and through us, transforming us from glory to glory until we see Him face to face.

  4. I thank God for His grace and mercy because without it man would be forever lost. What God did through Jesus Christ on the cross is so amazing and because of this we have hope. John 3:16 speaks very clear and loudly to this fact. It all points back to the cross because God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world back to Himself. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hello Norman,

      God’s love is indeed amazing, His grace and mercy immeasurable. Man would be lost forever had Jesus not come to suffer and die to redeem us. Yes, it all points back to the cross, the ultimate symbol of God’s eternal and unconditional love, hallelujah!

      We are justified by faith and declared righteous in the sight of God but it should not end there. We need to grow in our faith in Christ through sanctification while we wait for the redemption of our bodies (glorification) to spend eternity with Christ our Savior.

      Blessings to you!

      1. I LOVE your quote “we are justified by faith and declared righteous … it explains it all so well….TX!

        1. You’re very much welcome Maria.

          Although the doctrine of salvation (Soteriology) sounds very basic and easy to understand because all we need to do is place our faith in Christ and in His finished work on the cross, many Christians especially the new believers find themselves stuck there and do not know how to move forward. That’s why it is important to understand the three phases of salvation.

          Thank you for visiting, God bless!

  5. Thanks for such inspiring messages.

    I am a Christian believer and have faith in salvation but to be honest, I was confused about the contradicting opinions of some Christians about salvation.

    You made it right that OSAS (Once Saved Always Save) is a lie because it is unscriptural. I think I need to do more reflections about myself and my relationship with God. In the end, it is God that will finally judge as to who will be saved.

    1. As there are many sects or denominations of Christianity, different and contradicting opinions or biblical interpretations are also expected. But what really bothers me is that many Christians often major on the minors. What I mean is, they are giving so much importance to the doctrines that do not have any bearing with our salvation. Minor doctrines such as the timing of the rapture, the types of music that should be sung in church, speaking in tongues and many others. 

      As regards to OSAS which is held by mostly Calvinists and Reformed Baptists, I agree with you that it is totally unscriptural. I’m sure you are familiar with the 5 points of Calvinism or T.U.L.I.P. which are their basis for holding on to the doctrine of OSAS. 

      But as you said, at the end of the day, only God can tell who are really His and who aren’t. Didn’t He say in Matthew 7:21 that not everyone who says to Him, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven but only those who do the will of the Father in heaven? 

      Let us continue to serve God, be faithful to Him  and submit to His will. 

      God bless you brother!

  6. This is a great article! I am a pastor’s wife and I find that these 3 words: Glorification, Justification, and Sanctification – (we call them $5 Bible Words) – are very hard to explain to people, especially new believers.

    I really love how you broke each component down and made it easy enough for a new believer to understand, but it didn’t seem too vague for me. (a seasoned believer. lol)

    I’m going to use your definition of Salvation Past, Salvation Present, and Salvation Future the next time I have to explain these word to someone.

    Great job! You’re doing good work for The Kingdom!

    1. Hi Kayla, you’re absolutely right! It’s quite difficult to explain the three phases of salvation to new believers and I personally think that we should not even attempt to do so until such time that they will come to a full understanding of what it really means to be saved.

      Trying to talk about justification, sanctification and glorification to new believers will just confuse them and will lead them to think that salvation is complicated when it really isn’t. The danger I see in this is that new believers might think that they have to work for their salvation which makes it a work-based salvation. I know because I’ve been there. When I was a new believer I was always told by my church leaders and pastors that salvation is a process but they can’t explain it in a way that did not sound like I needed to do good works in order to keep my salvation.

      But I thank God and give Him the glory for teaching me how we can simplify the doctrine of salvation (justification, sanctification and glorification) in a way that makes it easier for everyone, especially new believers, to understand. 

      Shalom and God bless!

  7. I really liked this article. It shows a good understanding of salvation and what it entails. I would add one more step in salvation and that would be acceptance because I believe we have to accept the fact that we need to change before we actually do so. Although in some cases it can be added into justification.

    1. Hello MJ, thank you for your thoughtful comment.
      Salvation is often misunderstood because people tend to make it complicated when actually it’s not. But as believers in Christ it’s important that we understand it for what it really is. I agree with you that in order for us to experience the change that salvation gives, we need first to acknowledge that we are broken. I believe this is the common problem with people who reject Christ. They do not acknowledge that they’re lost so they also do not think they need saving. 

  8. This is a very informative article on salvation. In this highly competitive world that we live in today, it can be extremely easy for us to forget about our Salvation. I think all Christians would like to live a righteous life but many of us have a tendency to give into our temptations. You stated that salvation is a continuous process in the life of a believer, that’s very true. So how long have you been saved?

    1. I’m glad you agree that salvation is a continuous process and not just a one-shot deal. Many Christians today have bought into the lie of eternal security or commonly known as OSAS (Once Saved Always Saved). They have been taught to believe that when they pray a short prayer of acceptance and surrender they do not have to worry anymore about their salvation because it’s already been secured. So they can go out there and live their lives in anyway they like. 

      Although our salvation is secured in Jesus, we have to remember that the evidence that we are truly born again is a changed life and continuing to live for Christ. I discussed this more thoroughly in my article “Assurance of Salvation.”

      As for your question how long I have been saved … well, although I initially accepted the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior of my life at the age of 11, I say I did not grow and mature but went back to the traditional faith (RC). The same thing happened three years later but July 2001 was the time that God really took a grip on me and so that was when I was really born again. So from there I’d say by the grace of God, I’ve been walking with the Lord for more than 16 years now, praise God! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *