The “Glossary” in the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines salvation as “The forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God, which can be done by God alone.” This definition draws out the present significance of salvation, as something that can take place here and now. After all, any time we receive the sanctifying grace of the sacraments (which happens daily all over the world), we receive “the forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God.”
However, Fr. Peter Stravinskas, in his Catholic Dictionary, defines salvation as “The result of being released from death through the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, which brings us to the newness of life in heaven.” Did you catch that last part? According to this definition, salvation is something that has future significance. It is something that takes place later, when you die and consequently gain victory over death and receive eternal life in heaven.
So, which one is it? Does salvation take place now or later? I think it’s both. By God’s grace, we are every day being saved until we come to that day when God declares us fit to live with Him forever in heaven. That is why, in the Bible, salvation is referred to in the past tense (as something that has already taken place), in the present tense (as something that is taking place), and in the future tense (as something that will take place). Here are a few examples of each:
- Past Tense: “in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24); “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:8).
- Present Tense: “to us who are being saved” (1 Cor 1:18); “those who are being saved” (2 Cor 2:15).
- Future Tense: “we shall be saved” (Acts 15:11); “he himself will be saved” (1 Cor 3:15).