From time to time I get asked the question, "Do you see salvation as a process or a point in time?" My answer is always "YES!" I believe salvation is both.
What helps me to wrap my puny mind around the big subject of salvation is the illustration of salvation as a mountain range. Imagine with me two huge mountains climbing into the sky. These are the twin peaks of the broad doctine of salvation.
Like Pilgrim in Pilgrim's Progress we are going on a climb. The pathway (i.e. process) that is leading up to the first peak of salvation is conviction of sin. There are two guides on this pathway of conviction. The first is conscience and the other is the Holy Spirit.
Our own personal conscience is our guide up this hill in Romans 2:14, "Indeed, when Genitles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them."
This guide incessantly reminds us that we are sinners from deep inside our minds. It nags us about our fallenness and how out of spiritual shape we are as we huff and puff toward the crest.
While our consciences show us that we fall short, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Guide on this pathway. Speaking of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8 Jesus said, "When he comes, he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." In other words the Holy Spirit shows us the perfect standard, how far we have fallen short and reminds us that judgment is coming as a result. It is this conviction of sin and the impeding doom of future judgment that drives us up the salvific path toward the first peak.
And what is the crest of this peak? It is the first "point" in the salvation process, justification. This is the moment in time we first put our faith in Jesus Christ, based on His finished work on the cross, for the salavation of our souls. It is here we are "declared righteous" (the literal meaning of the word "justification") in the courtroom of God.
In Genesis 15:6 Abraham scaled the pathway of conviction and put his faith in God at the peak. As a result of believing in God's promise "it was counted to him as righteousness." In the same way (Romans 4:1-5) when we believe in Jesus as our sole hope of eternal salvation we are saved. But from what? From the penalty of sin! Our transgressions, past, present and future, are nailed to the cross and we are adopted into the family of God, never to be kicked out (Galatians 4:7.)
But it doesn't stop there. At this point in our holy hike we are just getting started. There is a long path that leads down from Mt. Justification into the valley and hills of sanctification that separates us from the next big mountain.
This sanctification pathway and process leads us through some painful realities and joyful exhilarations as we learn to die to self (Romans 6:11-14) and live by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16) until the life of Christ is unleashed moment by moment through our lives (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:10-14.) It's on this tricky pathway we experience the reality that Christ's death and resurrection not only saved us from the penalty of sin but is saving us day-by-day from the power of sin.
Everything from the moment we put our foot on the path of sanctification is working toward fulfillment on the crest of the second peak. It is this final climb that we are all straining, even groaning for (Romans 8:22-25.) This peak is the finish line. It is Mt. Glorification. This is when we drop our backpacks called sin once and for all. It is when we stand in the presence of God, not just legally justified before God but truly made righteous, not by our righteous acts but by THE ultimate righteous act of Christ's death on the cross. Here is where we are saved from the presence of sin once and for all. No more selfishness, no more lust, no more lying, no more arguing, no more pride!
I hope this little illustration helps you like it helped me. Salvation is a moment-by-moment process (conviction and sanctification) with two moment-in-time peaks (justification and glorification.) Let's hike this pathway together until we drop our packs once and for all in the presence of God and let's recruit as many people as we can to join us in our Gospel journey!