Like all the other gifts of God, certainty of salvation is gratis. It is the Holy Spirit who produces this assurance. That must be the meaning of Roman's 8:16, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."
Any way you look at it, it must be God's will that all His children know they are His. Martin Luther was so convinced of that fact that he declared, "He who denies the certainty of salvation rejects faith." Yet it is both surprising and shocking to find so very many within the Church who are unsure of their relationship with God. Instead of a confident, "I know," they hesitantly answer, "I hope I am a Christian" or "I think I have eternal life but I am not sure."
Let us see three reasons why it must be God's will that all His children should possess the assurance of salvation.
I--The clear teaching of scripture
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: "God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." The knowledge of what truth? Quite obviously, the truth that they are saved. In other words, God not only wants to save all men but also give them certainty of salvation.
In his first letter, John used the word "know" over forty times (in its various verb forms). Here is one example: "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life," (5:13). Take note of the tense of "have."
Even the Old Testament "faithists" enjoyed assurance of salvation. The writer of "Hebrews" said of Enoch: "Before he was taken [taken up to heaven] he was attested as having pleased God," (11:5).
Again, to the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God," (8:16). He says "are," not "shall be," God's children.
So it is the clear teaching of the Scriptures that assrance belongs to the "salvation-package."
II--The obvious nature of relationships
There are various relationships in this life that are meaningful only if the persons related are sure of status. Chief among these relationships are found in the family: husband-wife and parent-child. Let me explain.
How unnatural and extremely risky is a marriage in which the partners are unsure of their relationship to each other. Suppose, for instance, you should ask me if I am married and I should answer like this: "I hope so," or "I think so," or "I am doing my best to be married." You could then rightfully suspect that I am idiotic, sleeping, philandering or suffering from amnesia. On the contrary, my immediate answer would be a definite, "Yes, I am married" and should I ever forget the details of the wedding I have a certificate which contains the facts that provide proof of the marriage.
Likewise, how abnormal and destructive for a child not to know his parents or to question his relationship with those adults who call him their child. Now it is is true that a child belongs to his parents long before he is aware of this connection because the belonging does not rest on his awareness of this relationship. How, if that child at age six, ten or fourteen years does not yet know that he is their son, then something is abnormal.
The point is this: if one can be certain about human relationships that terminate at death, then this certainly must hold in a relationship that "leaps over" death. The "Abba-Father" response is obvious.
III--the essential requisite for witnessing
The Christian has been redeemed to demonstrate the goodness of the Redeemer. He has been promised power for this superhuman task. But until he knows Jesus Christ as his Savior, how can he witness effectively? Until he is sure of salvation himself, what will motivate him to tell others the Good News?
Jesus had sent out the seventy on a "preaching-teaching-reaching mission." After a safari of some days, the thirty-five teams returned with joy over their successes. Then Jesus said to them, "...rejoice that your names are written in heaven" Evidently they knew their names were recorded in God's family album [the Bible calls it the "Book of Life] and this was (or should be) motivations for witnessing.
If you show me a witnessing believer I shall, at the same time, show you a happy Christian. It seems that assurance of salvation and joy in the Lord are Siamese twins. Together they make for contageous witnessing.
In summary, childship with God is His intention for every man. This is the Spirit's work. But the Spirit also yearns to lead every Christian into glad awareness of that childship. The believer who settles for less is limiting God's gifts and reducing his own usefulness.
Next, let us see reasons why many within the Church do not have assurance of salvation.
1. Many Church members do not have assurance of salvation because they do not have salvation itself.
Unless they are God's children they have no right to think (let alone know) they are His. Only they have a right to call God their Father who are begotten of Him. First adoption, then assurance. Any feeling of childship apart from abiding in Jesus is false security. Of that Jesus warned in Matthew 7:21-23.
2. Many confuse assurance with eternal security.
There is a vast different between childship with God and "once saved always saved." Just because I can honestly say today, "On the basis of God's Word, I know I am a Christian" is no ground for declaring, "Because I am a Christian, preservation is automatically guaranteed." The first statement refers to present reality; the secont to future possibility. (It should be said, however, that certainty of salvation reduces the chances of backsliding.)
3. Many depend on their feelings.
There is no religion in the world that produces such intense feelings in the heart as does Christianity. While these feelings may vary in kind and degree, it is difficult to conceive of an assured Christian who does not experience joy and peace in his soul. And so it should be, for it is a mighty miracle to be translated out of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love. To be a Christian is wonderful; to know one is a Christian is more wonderful. The trouble comes when one begins to build on one's feelings, when instead of looking to the historical event on Calvary 1900 years ago one turns his attention to emotions within his bosom. Feelings are a fruit of faith, not the foundation. While feelings shift and fluctuate, God's Word remains unchangeable. Therefore, many a person who trusts in Jesus examines his feelings to determine the genuineness of his faith. As a result he is upset, unsettled and unassured of his salvation because his emotions have dried up or have played tricks on him.
The sequence must always be: First FACTS, then FAITH, finally FEELINGS. Never a re-arrangement.
Feeling, Faith and Fact;
Feeling got an awful fall
And Faith was taken back;
Faith was so close to Feeling,
He fell too;
But Fact remained and pulled Faith up,
And that brought Feeling too!--Anon.
It cannot be denied that many people are converted during periods of great awakening. In these "refreshings of the Spirit" some thave been gripped by a deep sorrow over sin and almost despaired of themselves. Then, by God's extended grace, they have accepted His genuine forgiveness and inexplicable peace.
In telling about their conversion some of these people have given the impression that others must have similar traumatic experiences to be genuinely or "gloriously" saved. This has shaken the faith of some listeners who have quietly accepted the grace of God. They need the re-assuring word of the late Dr. J. N. Kindahl who wrote: "When God calls a man to repentance, he might go about waiting for something extraordinary to happen, as though the ordinary call, the ordinary grace and the ordinary power in the ordinary Word were not sufficient."
5. Many live on "defeat street"
The Scriptures certainly teach the possibility of victory in the Christian life. Again and again Jesus urged His listeners to relocate on "Victory Drive." However, there are many genuine believers who live in the forgiveness of past sins but know little or nothing about the deliverance from the power of sin in the present. In the hours of temptation they experience more defeats than victories.
Some of these folks think, "How can I be a Christian when I live such a wretched life? This cannot be the way decent Christians live. Therefore, if I am a Christian I must be a poor one." Their hearts condemn them mercilessly. Listening to that hard judgment they dare not claim childship with God. As a result they know little or nothing about "blessed assurance."
6. Some think assurance a conceit
For some strange reason, there are those who equate assurance with arrogance. They seem to think (and even say), "If you are sure you are a Christian, then you are proud." Likewise, "A humble Christian is one who is never sure he is saved."
Such reasoning is based either on ignorance of the clear teaching of the Word of God or on an unwillingness to face the responsibilities that accompany assurance of salvation.
While it is possible to be a Christian without knowing it, such uncertainty is a grief to the Holy Spirit. It not only reduces one's usefulness in the Kingdom but also leaves one more vulnerable to Satanic attacks.
Finally, let us see the avenues through which assurance of salvation comes.
Assurance, like repentance and faith, is a gift. It is not something we can merit or produce. Rather, it is a "bonus" which we receive from God Himself. It is the Holy Spirit who "endorses our inward conviction" that we are His. Paul states it so clearly in Romans 8:16, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."
But how does the Holy Spirit join with our spirit in testifying that we are God's children? It can hardly be via sky-writing, visions, hunches, ecstasy or jubilation. These methods would simply confuse and bewilder.
Rather, the Holy Spirit works through the written Word. His co-witness through the "exceeding precious promises" (II Peter 1:4). Saint John has succinctly said, "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life," (I John 5:13). When God's and my spirit agree with the promises of God, then things really happen. Or, to state it differently, when I have met the conditions of God's promises to me, then I have what these promises offer. To disbelieve this is to charge God with lying. "He who does not believe God, has made Him a liar," (I John 5:10b).
Before we see how this operates, let it be said that there is a close connection between forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. Luther said, "Where forgiveness is, there is also life and salvation." (To these three divine gifts can be added childship with God.) He who has one of these has the others. However, we shall look at assurance from all four points of view.
I--In His Word, God has made some remarkable promises regarding forgiveness. For example, "If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful, and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (I John 1:9).
When I meet the condition (confess my sins) then He forgives. That's the way David understood God's promise. "I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord';then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin," (Ps. 31:5)
Some seem to think that they are not forgiven because they do not feel forgiven; or they question divine absolution because they they still remember or suffer from the consequences of their sins. In these cases they must know two things: 1. forgiveness takes place in heaven not in the human heart; 2. God has promised to remove the guilt of the sin not the memory of temporal consequences.
My friend, if you have met the conditions of God's promise (if you have confessed your sins) then God HAS forgiven and He HAS forgotten your sins now. See Isaiah 43:25. To believe otherwise is to call God a liar.
II--How can I know I have eternal life?
In his Word, God has made some remarkable promises regarding eternal life. For example, "He who believes on the Son has eternal life," (John 3:36). "He who has the Son has (eternal) life." (I John 5:12). When I meet the conditions (believe I have the Son) then I have eternal life.
You see, Jesus Christ and eternal life are inseparable. He said, "I am the Life." To have Him, therefore, is to have that life, that eternal life. Consequently, as long as I believe in Him, as long as I have Him for what He really is, so long I have eternal life.
My friend, if you have met the conditions of God's promise (if you believe on Jesus Christ,) then you possess eternal life now. See John 3:16. To believe otherwise is to call God a liar.
III--How can I know I am saved?
In His Word, God made some remarkable promises regarding salvation. For example, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved," (Acts 16:31). When I meet the condition (believe in the Lord Jesus, or call upon the Lord's name) then I have salvation, then I am saved.
It hardly needs to be said that this "believing" means a personal trust in Jesus as Savior, and this "calling" is a confession of faith in Him as Lord.
IV--In His Word,God has made some remakable promises regarding childship. For example, "To all who received him (Jesus), who believe in His name, he gave power to become children of God," (John 1:12)
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God," (I John 5:2). When I meet the conditions (receive Jesus) [a little child can do this as easily as an adult, to ask Jesus to forgive my sins, ask Jesus into my heart, trusting in Him, believing he is Lord and Savior for ME, since He died on the Cross to take away all MY sins] then I am a child of God. To believe otherwise is to call God a liar...
There will be occasions when a believer may earnestly question the quality of his faith. When he realizes how far he is from what he ought to be, his heart will condemn him. He may cry out, "Help my unbelief!" At such a time it is good to know that God is greater than our hearts. He has the final word. Where he finds a broken and contrite spirit, there He makes His dwelling. Where he sees a repentent soul, He says, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven."
WE CAN KNOW
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