We fulfill the law of God through our love of Him and our neighbor (Rom. 13:8–10), but Paul is clear that our own fulfillment of the law is not what grants us salvation. Our fulfillment of the law remains imperfect in this life, for we continue to struggle against sin (1 John 1:8–9). The only reason why we can even begin to fulfill the law lies in the fact that Christ was born under the law and fulfilled it for us, succeeding where both Adam and Israel failed (Rom. 5:12–21; Gal. 4:4–5). Through faith alone, this obedience is imputed to us and we are justified, or declared righteous in the sight of God (Rom. 3:21–26). Paul speaks elsewhere of salvation as a past event, using the word salvation as a synonym for justification (Eph. 2:8–9).
However, the Apostle does not use the term salvation only for the past event of our once-for-all justification. Just consider today’s passage. Paul says our “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). Clearly, then, he views salvation as a future event in at least some sense. Paul’s varied usage of the term salvation reflects the Bible’s insistence that redemption is a past, present, and future reality. We were saved; we are being saved; and we will be saved. If we look at salvation as an overarching concept that encompasses past, present, and future, it becomes clear that Scripture views salvation as a work that begins with regeneration and justification, continues on in sanctification, and then is finally brought to completion in our glorification, or the point at which all remnants of sin are purged from us entirely (Rom. 5:1; 1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 2:12–13; Titus 3:5). Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Romans, “In the ultimate sense, we do not experience salvation the moment we [are] born again; that is just one aspect of salvation. The fullness of our salvation will not take place until our glorification when we enter into heaven.”
Certainly, the Lord guarantees the present and future aspects of salvation by what He has done in the past. If we have been justified, we will certainly be glorified, and if someone falls away, it is because he never had saving faith (Rom. 8:29–30; 1 John 2:19). In any case, the future aspect of our salvation that we will enjoy in our glorification is nearer now than when we first believed (13:11). Every day, we get closer to the appointed time at which our Savior will return, remove all sin from creation, and bring us into glory. That salvation draws near has ramifications for our lives in the present, as we will see in our next study.