receiving eternal life is not merely signing on the dotted line

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Philippians 1:12-20; CSB

I have been away from churches like this for decades, but there at least used to be the strong teaching, and I think it still holds sway in the minds of many evangelicals, to some extent it has in my own thinking, that once you’re saved through faith in Christ, you’re always saved. There’s no need to get into the weeds over that teaching here. What I want to highlight is what the King James Version, and here, the Christian Standard Bible translate more literally:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:18b-19; CSB

The Greek word, σωτηρία is more literally translated “salvation”, though in some contexts it might mean physical deliverance. Most translations do translate it “deliverance” or the like. But from what I’ve heard, Paul could well have had something else in mind here. Namely the salvation he wanted to receive from God when he would stand before God after this life in the great Day.

There is past, present and future salvation in Scripture. Like Karl Barth answered when someone asked him when he was saved, he pointed back to the time of the cross, Jesus’s death, whatever year that was (33 AD), or many of us would point to the time when we committed our lives to Christ, or for some, they don’t know when their faith began, but they know they have it now. God’s salvation is accomplished in the past act of Christ in Christ’s death and resurrection, and by faith we receive and enter into that salvation.

When salvation is spoken of, it is mostly, as I remember, present. God is at work in our lives to change us, indeed save from the present evil age. To save us not only from the penalty, but also the power of sin. To indeed save us from ourselves in our fallenness and brokenness. More and more into who we were created to be through the new creation in Jesus.

And salvation is future. Someday, in the great Day, we’ll be transformed into full conformity to Jesus, something which indeed begins in this life, but will be completed then. And that will be a vindication of what we were in this life. Not just what we had received as a gift, but how we lived as a result of that gift. Something we see expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10:

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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Eternal life is not just about signing on the dotted line, and thinking we’re secure. That can end up being what Dallas Willard called “bar code Christianity,” thinking one is in no matter what, just because they once “asked Jesus into their heart,” or however they might describe their salvation experience.

Eternal life involves no less than following Jesus all the way. No turning back, and doing so together with others, through our love, help, and prayers, just what Paul was alluding to here. In and through Jesus.