I grew up in the Bible Belt where, by mid-elementary, most of my peers could point proudly to a note written in the front of their Bibles announcing the exact date they Got Saved. At junior high youth rallies the Rededications began, along with a smattering of I-Thought-I-Was-Saved-But-I-Really-Wasn’ts (scribble over that first date and write in the new one). Through all seven verses of “Just As I Am,” and all four years of high school, we children of the Bible Belt battled our doubts and bustled our backslidden selves down aisles to altar rails.
Maybe, we thought, this time just maybe the Saving will stick.
Where’s the Freedom?
Our problem was this: our sinning had not ceased with our professions of faith. The salvation that had promised us new life in Christ had by all appearances failed to deliver. We still made all the same mistakes, and along the thorny path of adolescence we added fresh failures to the list. Damning evidence, or so we thought, that when we Prayed The Prayer we had somehow not done it right. Where was the freedom from sin we had been promised?
Looking back I wonder if, for many of us, our problem was not with salvation itself, but with our understanding of how salvation brings freedom. Not until my early 20s did I gain any clarity on this issue. I knew I served a God who was and is and is to come, but I had yet to learn that I possessed from him a salvation of which the same could be said. Salvation from sin can be broken down into three categories: justification, sanctification, and glorification. For the believer, our justification was, our sanctification is, and our glorification is to come. We were saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. I’ve found the easiest way to understand these three forms of freedom is to remember the three P’s: penalty, power, and presence.
Justification: Freedom from Sin’s Penalty
Our justification is behind us. It is a past occurrence. We were saved from sin’s penalty.
Sanctification: Freedom from Sin’s Power
Our sanctification is ongoing. It is a slow-moving growth in holiness. We are being saved from sin’s power.
Glorification: Freedom from Sin’s Presence
We will fight to grow in holiness our entire earthly lives. But when we have run the race and fought the good fight, we will enter into the presence of the Lord forever. We will be glorified. In his presence, our soul rest will at last be complete, as sin and its devastation will cease to assail us. There can be no evil in his presence. Though now we are surrounded on all sides by sinfulness, though now sin continues to cling to our hearts, on a day not too distant we will go to a place where sin is no more. In our glorification we will at last be granted freedom from the very presence of sin.
Our glorification is coming. It is the day we trade the persistent presence of sin for the perfect presence of the Lord. We will be saved from sin’s presence.
Rest, Labor, Hope
If my childhood peers and I had better understood these three aspects of salvation’s freedom, we might have saved ourselves a great deal of anxiety and a few trips down the aisle. The knowledge that sin is gradually overcome across a lifetime would have been good news to the teenager who thought surely her ongoing sin invalidated her profession. The knowledge that sanctification is hard work would have helped her topple the myth of the effortless stock-photo Christian life. The knowledge that total freedom from sin is a future certainty would have helped her ask in faith for grace for her current failures.
Maybe you, too, have found salvation mystifying. Maybe you’ve wondered, If I’m really saved, why don’t I feel fully free? Well, you’re not free yet, but you will be. Our complete freedom from sin is certain, but it is not sudden. So we rest confidently in our justification, we labor diligently in our sanctification, and we hope expectantly in our glorification.
Be assured of your justification. It was. One day, you were freed fully from the penalty of sin.
Be patient with your sanctification. It is. Each day, you are being freed increasingly from the power of sin.
Be eager for your glorification. It is to come. One day, you will be freed finally from the presence of sin.