Storied Salvation: Part XVII

Salvation According to Paul: Past

Paul occasionally uses the past tense when referring to salvation: 

I. “For in hope we have been saved” (Rom 8:24, cf. Tit 2:11).

Although the verb used is in the aorist tense – denoting something that has been done – for Paul the nature of hope is anticipation,

“We . . . groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of the body” (Rom 8:23).

The adoption for which believers long for is their final salvation. The “inward groaning” experienced by believers and creation (8:22) is as Dunn describes,

“the inward sense of frustration of individual believers (as a whole) at the eschatological tension of living in the overlap of the ages seems the most obvious reference, not least in view of the parallel with v 26 and 2 Cor 5:2, 4.” J. D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 38A:474.

It is the redemption of the body, i.e. resurrection which is to be fully realized. This is evident in what the apostle explains,

“hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees . . . if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom 8:24-25, cf. 2 Cor 5:7).

“Hope in the NT is always future oriented, and unseen in the sense that the object of hope is yet to be revealed. Yet hope is not wishful thinking, but what the writer to the Hebrews describes as both ‘sure’ and ‘certain’ (Heb 11:1).” Colin G. Kruse, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012), 350. [1] 

II. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).

In the context of this passage there are clues that through Paul’s strong use of metaphor and the use of the past tense, he alludes to a future reality. Paul’s wording “made alive” (v. 5) and “raised us up and seated us with Him in the heavenly places” (v. 6) seems to specify “so that in the ages to come” (v. 7) a reference to glorification that awaits the saints. 

It is also possible that Paul sees believers being represented in heaven, Christ having been seated at the right hand of God (cf. Rom 8:16-24). [2]

III. “He [God our Savior] saved us, not on the basis of deeds” (Tit 3:5).

Here, the mention of “saved” although past, is tied to the hope of future life in the age to come (v. 7).

IV. “He [the Father] rescued us from the domain of darkness” (Col 1:13).

The context in Paul’s greeting is the inheritance that is being shared with the saints. Through the spirit, the guarantee, the first-fruits of what is to come, was given. This is sometimes called “now and not yet.”

Regardless of one’s eschatological orientation, it seems most are agreed that this present age – with its domain of darkness – is not as it should be and as it will be in the age to come. What is ahead, how to fix the problems now, and what God intends are usually where debate centers. Paul, though, envisions the people of God connected with the Messiah and saved in the manner which he described in detail to the Corinthians, “first-fruits.”

“The Messiah has been raised from the dead, as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” 1 Cor 15:20 (Wright, KNT).

First-fruits was an offering of the first-ripened grain, harvested and presented to God in celebration and thanks for the whole harvest which would follow.

“‘We were saved,’ says Paul in Romans 8:24, ‘in hope.’ The verb ‘we were saved’ indicates a past action, something that has already taken place, referring obviously to the complex of faith and baptism of which Paul has been speaking in the letter so far. But this remains ‘in hope’ because we still look forward to the ultimate future salvation of which he speaks ‘in (for instance) Romans 5:9, 10. This explains at a stroke the otherwise puzzling fact that the New Testament often refers to salvation and being saved in terms of bodily events within the present world.” Wright, Surprised by Hope, 210-11.
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[1] See also J. D. G. Dunn, Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity, Christianity in the Making, v. 3 (Erdmans, 2015), 714.
[2] See F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI.:William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 287.

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