When God came to rescue us through the Incarnation, the cross and the resurrection, he did a great deal more than merely provide a way for us to avoid the consequences of our sin. In other words, it is more than getting a ticket to heaven. He defeated the enemy that held us in bondage, freed us from our sin, transported us from Satan’s domain to the domain of Christ, gave us a new nature and a new identity, filled us and empowered us with his Spirit; thereby making us a participant in his divine nature for all eternity (2 Peter 1:3-4).
But if Satan is defeated, why is the creation still so messed up? Why does the New Testament itself refer to Satan as “the god of this age” and as having “power over the whole world” after the resurrection? And if we’ve been freed from sin and given a new nature, why do we still struggle with sin?
To address these difficult issues, we need to understand the New Testament’s covenantal understanding of marriage. We are the bride and Christ is the bridegroom. This biblical image is shaped by the first century Jewish understanding of how marriage worked at the time. Jewish couples were officially married – “betrothed “ to one another – one or more years before they celebrated their wedding and consummated their marriage. This was a period of time in which they learned and accomplished all they needed to in preparation for their life together.
In a sense, a newly betrothed couple could speak of their marriage in three distinct tenses, past, present and future. They were married the moment they publicly pledged themselves to one another during their betrothal ceremony. Yet, they were also in the process of getting married as they went through their betrothal period. But they wouldn’t be fully married until the groom returned, a wedding was celebrated and the marriage consummated.
In light of his, and given the covenantal nature of salvation, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that the New Testament speaks about salvation in three tenses.
There’s an important sense in which we were saved the moment we pledged our life to Christ at our betrothal ceremony (baptism) and became part of the collective bride (church) (Eph 2:5). But Scripture also talks about salvation as a present, on-going process (1 Cor 1:18). As the bride of Christ we are learning how live in the Kingdom, revolt against the Powers and recover our original God-given dominion. And the New Testament also speaks about salvation that is something yet in the future (Rom 10:13). We are waiting for our groom to return, at which time we’ll enjoy a wedding feast and experience the complete joy of a direct, unhindered, unbroken relationship with our Lord.
If you’re part of the Bride of Christ, you were saved, are being saved and shall be saved.
It’s important that all three tenses are held together in a balanced way. Disciples of Jesus need to trust that they have been betrothed to Christ and that everything God says he’s saved them from and saved them for is absolutely true. We have been saved.
At the same time, disciples need to be aware that we are a bride-in-training and thus need to continually learn how to live free from the bondage our groom as saved us from and participate in the life of God he has saved us for. We are being saved.
Yet, followers of Jesus must remain aware that our struggles with sin and warfare against the Powers will not be over until our groom returns to establish God’s Kingdom and dwell with us forever. We shall be saved.
Image by h.koppdelaney via Flickr