Sunday, August 3, 2008

Blessed Assurance

I don't think there is a Christian who at some point, for at least a little while, hasn't doubted whether or not he or she was actually saved. Some will tell you this is a bad thing, that Christians ought to never doubt, that they ought always be confident in their salvation. I'm not so sure I agree with that. I think sometimes a little bit of doubt about their eternal destination can cause Christians to reexamine themselves, to make sure that they are what the profess to be. I'd rather have a true Christian who isn't sure about his salvation than a fake Christian who has false assurance that he is saved. I'm afraid that on many of our church of rolls we have a lot of second category.

The Bible lays out a bit of a dichotomy on this issue. In 1st John 5:13, the apostle says, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life." This gives us the impression that salvation is something we should have some assurance about, that we should know and feel confident about. But 1st Corinthians 13:5a says, "Examine yourselves, to see whether or not you are in the faith. Test yourselves." That seems to give a totally different impression, that we must constantly be looking at ourselves to make sure that which we first confessed is indeed true.

Now, I don't think these two verses are in conflict at all. I think they compliment, rather than contradict one another. When John writes that he wants those who believe in Jesus to know they have eternal life, he does so at the end of a long letter that spells out what real Christians look like. Those include things like loving one another, not loving the world, and believing in Jesus, among other things. So when he says, "I write these things . . . so that you may know you have eternal life," he's saying that you can know you have eternal life by whether or not you are doing the things that I've just written about. That perfectly dovetails with the command in 1 Corinthians to "Examine yourselves." The way we can be assured of our eternal life is by examining ourselves to see if we are living in a way that is in line with the way the Scriptures define Christianity.

Now, no one does this perfectly. None of us will be able to look at the commands of the Bible and say, "Yeah, that's me." Any of us who are honest will compare ourselves to that standard and find that we come up woefully short. That doesn't mean all hope is lost though. In his excellent book, "Systematic Theology," Wayne Grudem has three questions we can ask ourselves that will go a long way in giving us assurance of our salvation. Here are those questions, with my comments.

1- Do I have a present trust in Christ for salvation? It is important that we don't look to some decision we made however many years ago as proof of our salvation. We must look at our present lives to see if they're living like the decision we made. But the question is not, "Am I without sin," or even, "Do I feel like I'm saved," it's "Do I trust at this moment that Christ is my only hope of salvation, and am I currently in repentance over my failure to live up to that?"

2 - Is there evidence of a regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in my heart? In other words, can I see signs that tell me grace is at work inside me? Again, not "Am I perfect?" but "Are there signs of the Spirit in me?" This is a question that it might also be helpful is we ask other people. Sometimes, others can see evidences of grace in ourselves that we can never see.

3 - Do I see a long-term pattern of growth in my life? Look back at what you were like before you were a Christian. Are you that person now? Have things changed for the better since then? Have you found victory over some of the sins that beset you earlier in your life? That ought to give you a good feel for what you eternal state is.

Now, the question is: What if I do all of these things and still don't have assurance? I think it depends. Sometimes, assurance doesn't come for a long time, even for those who've really been saved. But I think the solution is the same whether you are saved or not: repent and count on Jesus to be your rock and your salvation. Treasure him as the most valuable thing in your life. Ask him to forgive you again and again and again. And pray for assurance that he is truly yours.

Here's a final point. No one can give you real assurance about your salvation except God himself. The same Holy Spirit that convicts and draws you to Christ can give you confidence that you have an ongoing relationship with him.

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