I still remember as a teen the first time I heard a preacher make reference to the ‘Roman Road to Salvation’. We were guided through four key passages in Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome that clearly spell out the Gospel message:
The Problem: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) The Consequence: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) The Solution: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) The Decision: “...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Rom. 10:9-10)
I found this brief but powerful witnessing technique to be very helpful when trying to explain the Gospel to people. I still have my 40+ year old handwritten notes in the margin of my Bible to remind me.
In my mind, the emphasis on salvation was always on the past: those who confess their sin and believe on Christ as their Lord have been saved. Past tense.
It was many years later when I began studying Romans more carefully that my understanding of salvation and the impact of sin in my life grew even deeper. I realised that salvation from sin is an ongoing process, not just a one time thing in the past. The ‘Roman Road to Salvation’ took on a much deeper significance to me. The ‘road’ not only leads us to the cross of Christ, but beyond it as well.
This insight, outlined below, has proven extremely helpful in how I understand the ongoing role that the Holy Spirit plays in my life as I battle daily with the reality of my sin nature. Before that, I felt like a weak failed Christian. If I am forgiven and saved from my sin, why do I keep struggling with its effects in my life?
Past: we have been saved from the penalty of sin
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Rom. 10:10)
The very moment we acknowledge our rebellion to God, put our faith in Him and accept His free gift of redemption through the sacrificial death of Jesus, our sin debt is forgiven and forgotten forever. We are permanently justified in God’s eyes and no power on earth or in heaven can ever remove us from His omnipotent, loving and saving grasp (cf. Rom. 8:37-39; 1 Cor. 1:7-8; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). We are eternally saved from the penalty of sin, which is spiritual death (cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12-21; 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:21).
Present: we are being saved from the power of sin
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. ... For one who has died has been set free from sin. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. ... But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Rom. 6:6-7,12,22; cf. 2 Cor. 2:14-15)
Romans 6 is a masterful treatise on the victory we have in Christ over the power of sin in our lives. It spells out the lifelong sanctification process we undergo as spirit filled Christians. Having once been “slaves to sin”, the Believer undergoes a transformation process of being saved from the power of sin through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our desire to do the right thing grows into a passion so overpowering that we eventually become repulsed by sin and we become willing “slaves to righteousness” – we literally crave to obey and to please our Lord (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:14-17; Gal. 5:1,16-18).
And yet, the struggle continues…
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25a)
Future: we will be saved from the presence of sin
“...salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed”. (Rom. 13:11b)
Note the shift in language in Romans 13:11. It sounds like Paul is saying salvation is in the future, that it has not yet arrived. How does that work? He goes on to explain his meaning in the rest of the chapter. He’s talking about our salvation from the very presence of sin. When we are taken from this fallen world (one way or another), we will be eternally united with Christ where no sin can dwell (cf. Psalm 5:4). That is when the process of our salvation is ultimately consummated, when we are transformed into our glorified state and forever freed from the presence of sin.
“And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30)
In God’s eyes, unbound by the dimension of time, it’s a done deal. Our future glory is guaranteed. He sees us as already glorified (cf. Rom. 8:18-21; 2 Tim. 2:10). All our spiritual blessings are already stored up for us in Heaven through Christ, locked safely in God’s heavenly vault and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise (cf. Eph. 1:3-14).
We were permanently saved from the penalty of sin the moment we put our trust in Jesus. Death no longer has a hold on us. Our future destiny is to spend eternity in the glorious presence of God – guaranteed! However, we are also in the process of being saved from the power of sin by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit every day that we walk under His influence, and we will be saved from the very presence of sin the moment we pass into glory. We progress from ‘freedom from sin’ to ‘freedom from sinning’. What a blessed day that will be!
They say that “all roads lead to Rome”. Well, only one road leads to salvation, and that’s the road laid down by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you believe in Him, then we can rejoice together with Paul by reminding ourselves that “The night is almost gone, and the day is near”.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!
For further encouragement, reflect on this song by Matt Redman: