We often think of salvation as a one-time process where we professed our faith in Christ and were immersed into Him, and the Bible certainly supports this view (Mark 16:16; Acts 16:30–33). However, salvation is presented not as a one-time process of obedience which we for so long have called the steps of salvation. Rather, the initial acts of faith such as belief, confession, and baptism give us the new birth about which Christ spoke to Nicodemus (John 3:3–5). The Scriptures also speak of salvation as an ongoing process that we as Christians participate in throughout our lives. Is this to say that we’re only partially saved? Not at all. We are saved in Christ, but the ultimate salvation isn’t here on earth but at the second coming of Christ when all will be judged.
Paul urged that the Philippians work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). If they were saved then, why would they have to work anything out? Another way to state what Paul urged them is to say, “Carry it out to full perfection.” This, at least, is the best reflection of the Greek. Paul is, in essence, praising them for their obedience, and the first obedience of all Christians is being born again as mentioned above.
However, as with us today, some Christians then tended to rest on the laurels of being born again and did nothing to add to their faith that it would grow to maturity. This, we might suggest, is being fruitless (cf. Luke 8:5–15). Since we’re expected to bear fruit (cf. Romans 2:7; 6:22; 7:4; Colossians 1:10; Hebrews 6:11–12), we mustn’t think of our Christianity as something only that we’ve done in the past. It’s also something that we are doing now and will do as long as we have life. Not that we earn salvation, but that we practice our faith by obedience. Paul is telling them that there’s still work to be done. “‘Christian’ is the greatest of all nouns and the lamest of all adjective,” so says Greg Thornbury. For one to be a Christian, it entails doing.
Peter gives us an excellent blueprint as to how to grow in our faith unto salvation (2 Peter 1:5–8). Adding to our faith such virtues as he offers effectually leads to what he referred to like the outcome of our faith—the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9). This end of our faith, he contends, is a salvation to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).
Yes, being saved is something we once do to profess our faith in Christ. Salvation is also something we work out throughout life. Salvation ultimately comes when Christ returns for us too.