Even though we were dead because of our sins,
he gave us life when he raised Jesus from the dead.
It is only by God's grace that you have been saved.
Ephesians 2, 5
The apostle Paul perceived salvation as embracing the threefold dimension of time: past, present, and future.
In the original Greek, the statement "By grace you have been saved" reads χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι (chariti este sesōsmenoi). χάριτί or "grace" comes from chairo which means "graciousness, of manner or act." The present indicative active - 2nd person plural - existential perfect verb form ἐστε or "have been" indicates a collective "ongoing existence" that has resulted from a past event. What has resulted from the past and continues to exist in the present is being "saved" or σεσῳσμένοι. The present indicative active verb carries with it the affirmation that "You exist" or more precisely "You are saved." The perfect participle σεσῳσμένοι literally means "saved, delivered, or shielded." Thus, the persons who are saved or delivered continue in this state of existence as a result of a past event that is safeguarded from being nullified.
The ongoing and dynamic process of justification and sanctification begins here in our journey of faith. By the merits of Jesus Christ - the First Principle of all human merit - we are transformed from the interior state of being born a child of Adam into the state of being reborn in the Spirit. What happens here isn't a single event in our life of faith, which is now complete and eternally guarantees our salvation from that point on, but the beginning of an on-going process of growing in holiness and striving for spiritual perfection despite the occasional falls from grace following one's baptism (2 Cor 7:1).
For we are the aroma of Christ to God
among those who are being saved
and among those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2, 15
By reading, “those who are being saved” in English, we might have the impression that St. Paul is addressing a community of believers who are in the act of being saved or that to be saved is an ongoing action at the present time rather than a dynamic and progressive state. We mustn’t confuse the ancient Greek present tense with the modern English present continuous tense. The present tense verb in NT Greek doesn’t necessarily mean a continual or objective kind of action that is presently ongoing in an instance of time and could stop at any given moment or is temporal in aspect (Aktionsart). As we saw above, the grace of justification and forgiveness which our Lord alone has merited for humanity is the permanent result of his passion, death, and resurrection. Christ paid the ransom for sin once and for all and reconciled humanity to God at a moment in time that occurred in the past with a lasting effect.
Therefore, the verb that Paul uses ( “being saved”) is in the present tense. In Koine Greek we have σωζομένοις (sōzomenois). The apostle is addressing those who are “saved or rescued, and protected.” Still, when reading the NT in the original Greek, we must consider the author’s vantage point on the action or on “being saved” (aspect). The present tense doesn’t inherently indicate continuous action, just as the aorist tense mustn’t necessarily refer to a one-time action. Greek verb tenses indicate the subjective portrayal of that action or state by the writer, which is called aspect. The aspectual tense mark of a Greek verb helps us see what the subjective portrayal of the action is but not without the aid of the analogy of Scripture. Let’s proceed to see what Paul is saying to those who ‘are being saved’ and how their salvation might not be without any qualifications.
Writing in the present tense, what Paul has in mind here is the ongoing process of being made holy and righteous as opposed to habitually living in the state of sin like those who are perishing in their obstinacy. Our baptismal commitment marks the next life-long stage of our justification and sanctification. In our journey of faith, we who have received the grace of justification and forgiveness may condignly merit - by right of friendship with God and in justice but not in strict justice - as a reward more grace and an increase in sanctification and charity as we grow towards a more perfect image of God in the conduct of our lives through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Sanctification is the essence of justification. For us to be just before God we must be inherently holy and righteous. We couldn't be the "aroma of Christ" or Christ-like as members of his mystical body unless our righteousness personally belonged to us by the infusion of sanctifying grace into our souls (2 Cor 13:15). Christ produced sanctifying grace for us through the merits of his passion and death.
To be just in God's sight is to be intrinsically holy by the power of the Spirit who dwells in our souls. Thus, if we commit a mortal sin (i.e., the act of adultery or bearing false witness against our neighbor), we risk forfeiting the salvation Christ achieved for us since our souls would no longer be in the state of sanctifying grace until we confess our sins and make an act of contrition through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For this reason, we must repent of our post-baptismal sins to be restored to friendship with God. 'We must look to ourselves that we lose not the things which we have wrought but that we receive a full reward' (1 Jn 2:8). John underscores the importance of co-operating with divine grace to ensure our salvation, now that our Lord and Savior has made this possible for everyone by his passion, death, and resurrection.
Certainly, Paul didn't believe that justification is a static, single event in the lives of Christians which happened in the past and was completed by their baptism through faith in Christ. For him it was an on-going process which required human collaboration with the work of God in the Holy Spirit and involved constructive transformations of the soul and daily renewal (2 Cor 3:18; 4:16; Eph 4:22-24; Phil 2:13). Salvation is something the faithful must “work out in fear and trembling” lest they fall from grace and revert to their former sinful ways (Phil 2:12). Indeed, Peter concurs that we obtain our salvation as the outcome of our faith and implies that working out our salvation is a life-long process (1 Pet 1:9). So, it is imperative that all baptized members in the body of Christ persevere in faith to their last day. Jesus himself warns us that we must endure to the end if we hope to be saved (Mt 10:22; 24:13; Mk 13:13).
This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is;
time is running out. Wake up for our salvation is nearer now than
when we first believed. The night is past and the day is at hand. Let
us therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.
Romans 13, 11
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of salvation as future attainment that’s approaching ever nearer from the time his flock first professed their faith in Christ. Salvation, therefore, is something they must continually hope for in their pilgrimage of faith. It isn’t something they have already obtained individually in their personal lives and can’t ever lose notwithstanding the conduct of their lives. The apostle is concerned that they continually apply the Gospel truths in their daily lives to ensure that they finally receive what they hope for. Apparently, some members of the Roman church have reverted to their pre-baptismal sinful habits and behaved unworthily as disciples of Christ.
Thus, Paul is exhorting these lapsed members to conform once again to their renewed way of life and persevere in grace before it's too late. Their particular judgment may arrive at any moment when it's least expected; so, it's time for them to "wake up" and stop deceiving themselves so that they won't get caught off guard and lose the salvation they hope for. There is no need for the apostle to exhort the Christians in Rome if they have already been saved in a distributive sense upon their initial profession of faith in Christ (1 Cor 6:9). By calling all members to "put on the armor of light," Paul means they mustn't resist God's grace and the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives so that they will persevere in God's favor and be judged as righteous and worthy of eternal life at the moment of death. Paul understood very well that one's own personal salvation isn't guaranteed but is hoped for (1 Cor 4:4) despite Christ's formal redemption of the whole world. How we conduct our lives is instrumental in its personal application of our salvation.
Early Sacred Tradition
“And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men;
for there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God.
For ‘cannot he that falls arise again, and he may attain to God.'”
Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, 10
( A.D. 110)
“But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in
His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness,
covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; ‘not rendering evil for evil, or railing
for railing,’ or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in
His teaching: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be
merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you
again; and once more, “Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’
sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.'”
Polycarp, To the Philippians, 2
“And as many of them, he added, as have repented, shall have their dwelling in the tower. And
those of them who have been slower in repenting shall dwell within the walls. And as many as do
not repent at all, but abide in their deeds, shall utterly perish…Yet they also, being naturally
good, on hearing my commandments, purified themselves, and soon repented. Their dwelling,
accordingly, was in the tower. But if any one relapse into strife, he will be east out of the tower,
and will lose his life.”
Hermas, The Shephard, 3:8:7
“But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.”