Two Stages of Salvation

In explaining to you what the early Christians believed about salvation, the starting point is recognizing that the early Christians believed that our salvation comes in two stages. Unless a person understands that there are two stages of salvation he or she is never going to understand the New Testament teaching on the subject.  

Q.  What are these two stages?

The first stage is, we are saved by grace through faith at the time that we believe in Christ, repent of our past sins and are baptized in water.  

  • There's no works involved in this at all.  
  • Now we are involved in it. We have to believe, we have to repent, etc., but that doesn't merit our salvation, it's not something that we do to earn it. It's a step of responsibility on our part.

Q.  What happens at this first stage? And what does it mean to be saved at this first stage?

  1. First of all it means that all of our past sins are washed away.  
  2. We start with a clean slate.  
  3. If you died immediately after being saved you would go straight to paradise. In other words it's a completed work at that point. 
    It's not like it's half done and then something more has to be added to it. You are saved.

This is what the early Christians believed.

  1. You are born again at that time. You are a new creature in Christ. 
  2. You are a son of God adopted into His family and as a new creature you receive the Holy Spirit.

Q.  What doesn't happen then at this first stage?

What doesn't happen is that you are not perfect. You are still capable of sinning.

All of your past sins are forgiven. Not all of your future sins. The early Christians believed that future sins are not pre- forgiven at baptism.  
In other words, you start with a clean slate, but you can muddy that slate again.

Now, all of our favorite Evangelical verses about being saved by faith alone and not of works and all the verses that speak about our salvation in the past tense are all speaking about this first stage of salvation.

Q.  What role did the early Christians believe that theology plays in this?

The only doctrine that you had to know were the basics that are contained in the Apostles Creed.

Apostles Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried. 

He descended to Hades, on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. 

From there He will come to judge the living and the dead. 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic [or universal] church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, 
the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

If you didn't believe those things, then you would not really have even a minimal grasp of the Christian faith and yet at the same time, the primitive Church wouldn't have said that even all of those beliefs were necessarily essential for salvation.

That's because they generally recognized the baptism of heretics to be valid. In other words, they believed that the one who grants you salvation is Jesus himself, not the person who instructs you in the faith and not the person that baptized you. And they believed that His grace can even cover doctrinal errors if He so chooses.

They didn't believed that heretics are generally assured of salvation. This issue of the validity of their baptism only came up when persons heard the gospel through a heretical sect, but later were converted to orthodoxy and the question arose, did they need to be re-baptized at that time?

So definitely we can say that the early Christians believed in salvation by faith and by grace. But that's this first stage.

All of these verses that talk about being saved by faith alone and salvation in the past tense, they didn't throw those out, they believed all of that. But they also believed all of the other verses that talk about it as a future thing and so that's why they saw that there are two different stages of our salvation.

The second stage is, that we maintain our saved condition by holding fast to our faith in living in obedience to Christ's commandments. 

  • Please understand we are already saved.  
  • We are not doing these things to earn salvation.  
  • We do these things to maintain our already saved condition.

Now they didn't believe that you had to live perfectly, that if you sin or violate one commandment of Jesus Christ than you are starting over. No, they understood from beginning to end that salvation is a process of grace, that God's grace is there, His power is there indwelling in us and they didn't believe that there are any mechanical works that we can do. They believed that the essence of Christianity is an obedient love relationship with Jesus Christ.

So our final salvation is not determined until we die because we can lose our faith. The scriptures are full of examples of people who lost their faith (and live) like Judas. Or we can deny Christ with the way that we live even though with our lips we profess to believe in Him as our Lord and Savior. Our actions can totally deny that.

© OTR 2023