When are we saved? Does the Bible present the “saved” condition as a present condition of souls still in their mortal bodies? Or, does it present it exclusively as a “hope” of a “future,” after death and after judgment, condition? A good biblical case could be made that salvation, or being “saved,” for mortals is always a “future” event. We know this, in part, because judgment does not occur until after death, and, eternal salvation is not granted until after judgment. Therefore while we are still in this life, we are neither “saved” nor “lost.” We have the “hope” of being “saved,” but hope applies only to future events, not to our present condition.
The term “eternal life” is used in scripture to apply both to the Christian’s present possession and to the Christian’s future eternal condition. Jesus said that the saved go into eternal life following judgment (Matthew 25:46; see also Mark 10:30); he also said that those who sacrifice for His sake have eternal life (John 3:36; see also John 5:24; 6:47, 54).
More often than not the distinction is made that the Christian will one day receive the eternal life that is now possessed only in hope or anticipation. However, a careful reading reveals that that is not what the Lord said. In speaking of the Christian’s present “eternal life” Jesus used the present tense. He said that the one who “hath” eternal life has passed from death to life. This must refer to spiritual death and spiritual life since the possessor is not physically dead. If the spiritual life is only a prospect, would not being dead to sin also be a future prospect? Ephesians 2:1ff. teaches that the present believer has passed from death to life. He was dead in trespasses and sin, but is not alive in Jesus Christ. Finally, the one who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Jesus has eternal life and Jesus will raise him up at the last day. Therefore, there is a sense in which the believer who eats the flesh and drinks the blood has eternal life before physical death.
Perhaps more to the point is 1 John 5:11-13: “11 And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life. 13 These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.” From this we learn the following:
God gave eternal life. “Gave” is first aorist in the Greek, indicating a completed action in the past. God gave them eternal life in the past.
This life in the Son is present tense, and is a reference to the “eternal life” of the preceding statement.
We may know that we have (present tense) eternal life, the life that is in the Son and that all have who are in the Son. This clearly says that the believer who is in Christ has eternal life while in the Son. What, then, is the meaning of eternal life in these verses?
Ephesians 1:13-14 teaches that the Christian is “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance. . . .” The inheritance of the believer is eternal life (Matthew 19:29). The “Holy Spirit of promise” is the Holy Spirit who is promises to the baptized believer (Acts 2:38; 5:32). Next, the word “earnest” means a pledge or an assurance. Thus, the Holy Spirit is given to the baptized believer as a pledge that he will finally receive eternal life. However, since the earnest money in a transaction is a part of full payment for the transaction, so the earnest of our inheritance is a part of the inheritance. Therefore, the baptized believer who has the Spirit as an earnest of his inheritance may truthfully say, as the scripture says, that he has eternal life.
Note that Jesus is speaking of obedient believers. He is not speaking of those who believed but who would not confess him (John 12:42). Moreover, when the believer has eternal life in the sense that he has an earnest of his inheritance, it is not his in the sense that he cannot lose it. One may make an earnest payment and “own” a house, but lose it because he does not perform to the end of the contract. “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). One may be enlightened, taste the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then fall away (Heb. 6:4-6).
Peter gives us a good look at faith in life and the final salvation or “end of faith”: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ: 8 whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: 9 receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)