When the Apostle Paul told the Roman Christians that "our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed," (Rom. 13:11, NIV), was he implying that these believers were not yet saved, that they were only "nearer" to being saved?
No one familiar with the numerous and unequivocal "assurance" passages penned by this great Apostle could believe this is what he meant. He did not mean these believers were not yet saved. Instead he sounded yet again a theme he repeated throughout his epistles, which is that salvation is in three tenses: past, present and future.
Born-again believers in Christ are usually most familiar with the past tense aspect of salvation. It is that aspect which is already fully accomplished for the one who has accepted Christ as Savior. Nothing need be added to this aspect of God's gracious work for man and it is completely secure against all present or future contingencies. The one who has partaken of this past tense aspect of salvation is forever delivered from the consequences of his sins and is forever a member of the Body of Christ.
Proof? Consider the following words spoken by Jesus: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24, NIV). Here Jesus speaks of the past tense of salvation, by which the believer is forever delivered from the consequences of his sins. Notice the finality and the absoluteness of His words. He could be that emphatic because He knew He was about to bear those consequences as our Substitute!
Consider also these words by Paul: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2: 8-9, NIV). This, too, speaks of that past tense aspect of salvation which forever belongs to the believer in Christ.
What does Paul have to say about the present tense of salvation? In many of his epistles he writes about that aspect of the work of God for the believer which saves him from being dominated by his own sin nature. This obviously makes clear that the sin nature still exists within the saved one while he or she remains on this earth—despite having already received eternal deliverance from all condemnation. But Paul also makes clear that the present tense aspect of salvation is God's answer to that problem.
By way of illustration, consider the very next verse in the Ephesians passage quoted above, where Paul goes on to say: "For (as an outcome) we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (the past tense aspect of salvation) to do good works (present tense), which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10, NIV; parenthetic insertions mine).
Notice Paul says here that we are saved "to do" good works—he does not say we are saved "by them." Having already been the object of His "workmanship" by being "created in Christ Jesus," we are forever saved from the guilt and penalty of our sin—but we still live in a sin-cursed earth and still possess sin natures which must be countered by the Holy Spirit. This reveals an ongoing work of God for man which is the present tense of our salvation. In this aspect of salvation each of us is led and enabled by the Spirit to do those individual "good works" for which God originally created us. Accordingly, whereas our responsibility in the past tense aspect of salvation was a one-time act of faith in Christ, our requirement for the present tense aspect is an on-going attitude of faith in the Spirit. (For other Scriptures which focus on the present tense aspect of salvation, see Phil 2:12, 13; Gal 5:16; Rom 8:2.)
This brings us to the future tense of our salvation—its consummation. In Romans 8:23 Paul tells us something about that consummation when he refers to an unknown time (said in Romans 13:11 to be drawing inexorably nearer) when we will receive our final redemption. He refers, of course, to the Rapture, when the dead in Christ will be raised and the living in Christ will be translated. In this Paul makes clear that salvation in every tense remains a gracious work of God for man and never a work of man for God—since no one could resurrect or translate himself! (For other Scriptures related to the final result of salvation see 1 Pet 1:3-5; 1 John 3:2-3.)
Since we are in the midst of the Christmas season, with crèches everywhere depicting the Christ Child, Mary, Joseph and the straw-filled manger, I am reminded of the Magi. When they stood that day before Herod, asking about the birth of a heralded King, they had no way of knowing that they were maybe two hours away from their goal. They did not realize that six miles away, in an unimpressive little town called Bethlehem, they would find the hope of mankind—the Foundation of salvation in all its tenses. Like them, we do not know how near we may be to that glorious future tense of our salvation, but we do know it draws inexorably closer.
I believe God wants us to know that it always draws nearer—but never to know just how near it is. I cannot find Scripture which tells us why He keeps this completely to Himself but I would hazard a guess: He welcomes our participation in His redemptive work but has no need whatsoever for our help in planning that work. If we knew exactly when the final tense of our salvation would occur, what would we do? We would forget everything He had us doing and focus instead on making sure the future arrived on time! That would not work—because as we have seen, salvation in all its tenses must be a work of God for man, not a work of man for God.
—Steven Ira, as a college undergraduate in English, intended to be an English teacher. He changed his mind, earned an MBA and spent his entire career as a small businessman. Having retired from active business he has returned to his first love, writing.
Throughout most of those business years he regularly studied the Bible, including the works of several well-known theologians: Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, Mark Hitchcock and others. His first three novels in the Daniel Goldman series, "Voices," "Babylonian Harlot" and "The Last Prophet," are based on Tribulation era prophecies, especially those revealed in the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. The vision for this series was to write stories about people caught up in the perilous times following the Rapture of the Christian Church. The stories are primarily about those people, yet they carefully follow Bible prophecies about the times themselves.
The Bible offers many specifics about the social and geopolitical circumstances in the period between the Rapture of the Church and the Second Advent of Christ. The series remains faithful to those details. Yet even in this area the Bible allows wide latitude for imagination since it describes only the essences of those circumstances.
In short, Ira's novels seek to show possible, plausible ways in which Bible prophecies of the end times might be literally fulfilled.