|Great Themes of the Bible (#2-Assurance)
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
You probably know how inquisitive little children can be. One evening at our house several years ago now, one of our children — who had become fascinated with those little “twisty buttons” that lock doors — was trying out the door locks. He went inside the bathroom, closed the door, and proceeded to turn the “twisty button” to the right and lock himself inside! He hadn’t caught on yet to the left-hand turn that releases the mechanism and makes it possible to get out. And we realized what had happened that night before he did.
Myra and I looked at each other, realized what had happened to our soon-to-be-scared-and-crying little boy, and went to work. As she stayed near the door and talked calmly and reassuringly, I went in search of the tiny little key that the builder gave us when we were finishing the house. We got our son out of trouble and set him free from a predicament in which he had locked himself. Child safe. Parents relieved. Nobody any worse for the wear. (And we still have that tiny key in a safe place!)
God’s Ability to Rescue His Children
Wouldn’t you like to know that God works that way on behalf of his children? He does!
Even when we have put ourselves in tight quarters and locked the door of some self-imposed prison, he swings into motion to rescue us from ourselves. He talks to us calmly through the tiny keyhole of our faith to reassure us. In the meanwhile, he puts all the resources of heaven into motion to free us from our prisons. In the meanwhile, he is more anxious for us than angry at us, far more concerned to reassure and calm us lest we make matters worse than to scold and berate us about what we have done.
Yet Satan has sold the vicious lie to many believers that their salvation is tenuous at best. He paints a picture of God as angry, scowling, and eager to condemn. He even sends preachers to do his bidding in getting Christians to be afraid of God! And I’m not talking about the reverential fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Prov. 1:7) but the dread and foreboding of an intolerant and ill-tempered God who is more likely to strike you down than lift you up when you have failed.
Do you remember what happened on that fateful day when God came for an evening stroll with his beloved Adam and Eve in their garden home? The strong man and beautiful woman were nowhere to be found that afternoon. So God called for them, but there was no answer. Then he went looking and found them cowering in a pitiful hiding place to which they had fled. When he called them out, these were Adam’s heart-rending and pathetic words: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen. 3:10).
Adam had been naked every other evening God had come to visit with him. He hadn’t been afraid to meet the Lord on those days. Neither had Eve. So what had happened from the time of the last visit until this one? “They had sinned!” you say. That’s right. But something more had happened. They had been set up to sin by a terrible lie that Satan had told them — a lie that was all the more terrible because it not only led them to sin but made it inevitable that they wouldn’t react well afterward. Satan’s lie was, in effect, that God is mean, hard, and vengeful.
It all started when he planted a doubt in the woman’s mind that God really loved her. “Why would God keep anything from you?” he wanted to know. “Why would he tell you not to eat of that tree over there? Why, if he really loved you, he’d want you to have every experience that is possible in this beautiful place! He doesn’t love you — not like I do anyway. I’m telling you that you not only can but that you should eat of it.”
Do you see what a terrible thing Satan did that day? He made Eve believe that God didn’t love her. Thus, he implied that she couldn’t trust God. Thus he seduced her into seeing God as someone trying to take away the best things in life from her, someone unworthy of trust, someone to fear. And she ate of that tree. Then she convinced her husband to be afraid of God, and he ate of the tree. The two started looking for a place to hide at that very instant. And the human race has been fleeing God ever since, convinced by Satan that the last thing we could safely do is run straight to God when we’ve messed up.
I’d like to challenge Satan’s lie today. I’d like for you to get a healthier image of the God who created, loved, and redeemed you. I’d like for you to know that the very thing Satan says is the wrong thing to do when you sin is precisely what you should do: Don’t run from God; run to him when you fail.
Is Assurance Possible?
It is false to say that there is no circumstance under which a child of God can be finally and eternally lost. For one thing, the New Testament warns Christians: “Be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12b; cf. Gal. 1:6-9; 5:4, 19-21). Why warn of something that can’t really happen anyway? Right?
But the possibility of apostasy is not the probability of apostasy. And it is equally false both to the character of God and to the teaching of Scripture to create unholy insecurity in the hearts of struggling believers as it is to give them a false sense of security. I have known some poor souls who were so spiritually neurotic that it was their undoing. They finally fell away from grace not because of immorality and false doctrine but because of their belief that God could not accept their imperfection and flaws. They had fallen for the devil’s lie that God is someone to be afraid of, that he is looking to judge and condemn his own children.
The New Testament, on the other hand, has a host of promises to believers about their security in Christ. Look at just a few representative texts on the subject.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” Jesus said. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
Paul wrote to some Christians, told them he was praying for them, and said he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
And Peter wrote this: “Through faith you are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have suffered grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Pet. 1:5-6).
It is important for you to know, believe, and trust these assurances. You’ll manage better in your Christian life to know, believe, and trust these promises. When you are tempted and struggling, it matters that you believe in the security of God’s love for you. You don’t sin by being tempted, and you don’t fall from grace by sinning or by being mistaken on some point of theology. Falling from grace is actually hard to do and involves resisting God’s best efforts to keep you from falling. In the last analysis, however, he will neither violate your free will in bringing you to Christ for your initial salvation or in keeping you near him for the sake of your ultimate redemption.
Some False Assurances
Granting that Christ’s disciples need assurance, some people are trusting the wrong things for their confidence and security. I know the kinds of things we tend to offer as our hope. I also know how inadequate they are.
“I accepted Christ at a revival meeting and was baptized.” Wonderful! That was a great beginning, but where are you now in your spiritual life? Is your heart tender and responsive to Christ? Are you growing in likeness to him? Are you learning to love people as he loved them? Paul wrote the Epistle to the Galatians we looked at earlier to people who had accepted Christ and who had been baptized. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ,” he lamented in the opening lines of that letter (Gal. 1:6). I’m glad you heard the call, but where is your heart today?
“I’ve joined a church and teach Sunday School.” Wonderful! But being in a church no more makes you a Christian than being in a hospital makes you a surgeon or being in a garage makes you a pick-up truck!
“I tithe, I’m active in Christian ministry, and I get results!” Good, but remember that Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, “ord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23).
“But I live a good life!” Not that good, you don’t! Nobody is going to be saved by being good enough or by dropping enough bad habits. This is the weakest of all the reasons anyone could give as the basis for assurance before God, for the Bible makes it clear than nobody is going to be saved by his good character or good deeds (Rom. 3:20; cf. Gal. 2:16).
How to Know You Are Saved
Instead of running down a long list of wrong-headed notions of spiritual security, let me go straight to the solution of this dilemma. How can someone be assured of salvation, confident of eternal life, and know that God is going to complete the work he has begun in her? Did you catch it from some of the verses we already read?
What was the “problem,” for example, with those who were prophesying and casting out demons but still wound up lost? Jesus didn’t know them! (Matt. 7:23). And that is THE ISSUE in salvation, assurance, and eternal life. The issue isn’t knowledge or performance. It isn’t what you know or what you do. It is Jesus.
Of course “knowing Jesus” shows itself in the things we do. People who say they believe in Jesus but don’t do anything about it have what the Bible calls a “useless” (Jas. 2:20) or “dead” (Jas. 2:26) faith. “Show me your faith without deeds,” wrote the half-brother of Jesus, “and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder” (Jas. 2:18b-19).
If you believe in Jesus, you will make some sort of response to him. You will be baptized in order to obey him. You will find a church that worships and serves him. Yes, you will tithe, do good deeds, and see your character improve. But you can do versions of all these things for a variety of reasons, and there would be no spiritual value to them. You could join the church to meet single girls or guys. You could get baptized to get your Mom and Dad off your back. You could give money to the church just because you need a tax deduction. You could change your lifestyle because you’re tired of putting your nose into a meat slicer.
When you do these things because of and for the sake of Christ, they are evidences of your faith — your living, saving faith. The meaning of each of the things you do is the same: Each is an action that fleshes out your trust in Christ and your willingness to submit to his as your Savior and Lord.
All this means that if you have authentically put your faith in Christ, if you are putting that faith into action by obeying him, and if you are growing in your desire for and likeness to Christ, you have the assurance of eternal life.
Now Satan comes to tell you his lies and to get you to doubt God! He says, “But you still sin. You even have an addictive involvement with alcohol or pornography or sex. You’ve trashed a marriage,” he says, “So you can’t really be saved, and you’d better do the Adam-and-Eve thing and run hide from God! You’d better be afraid and flee before he smacks you down! Church isn’t for you, and this whole religion thing is just for people who can manage life better than you can! So get out of here, man!”
Here is your answer to The Liar: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. . . . My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins . . .” (1 John 2:1-2).
And show him this promise from God as well: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
I began this sermon by telling you of an experience with our little boy. Let me close by telling you about one that has just played itself out. My friend Charles McGowan conducted the funeral service for Taylor Schrauger on Friday, June 2. I didn’t know Taylor, but I followed the story of this 12-year-old boy’s battle with cancer. I want you to hear part of a letter his Dad, Brian, wrote a few days after the funeral. Brian shared it in an e-mail with people who had been supporting his family in prayer during their great ordeal of so many months.
Dear Taylor . . .
Hey, buddy. What a battle you fought! Especially the last fifteen hours or so before Jesus finally brought you home. You were a warrior who just wouldn’t quit. . . .
Remember the times you cried out, “Where am I? Am I dying? I don’t want to die! I feel like I’m falling! Help me . . . Right now! What am I supposed to do? I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do!”
When you first rallied with these protests, they stabbed, they ripped my heart. Since them I’ve come to see them as familiar cries of my own troubled soul. But at the time I only knew them as a call to war. And so began an aggressive, relentless counterassault of truth.
Taylor, sweetheart, you are perfectly safe. Dad is right here. So are Mom and Christopher. And best of all, Jesus, is too. We’re not going anywhere. And because we’re all here, nothing bad can happen to you. We simply won’t let it.
You are not going to die. Jesus already did that for you. And because he died, all that lies ahead of you is life. Life and life alone.
And so, buddy, there are only two things you need to do. Remember you are loved. And just go to sleep. After all, you can’t wake up until you go to sleep! . . .
Remember The Questions I’ve asked and you’ve answered all your life?
How much do I love you? Soooo much and then some . . . and more and more and more!
How long am I going to love you? Forever and ever!
And what could make me stop loving you? Absolutely nothing!
Guess what, Christian! You have a father who loves you “soooo much and then some.” And he will love you “forever and ever.” And nothing can make him stop loving you. Absolutely nothing!
So trust your Savior’s promise that nothing can snatch you out of his Father’s hand. If you forfeit your salvation, it will be your choice. So long as you keep believing and obeying and growing — running back to God to confess it when you fail — there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love or void your heavenly inheritance. That’s God’s promise. That’s your assurance.
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