ISSUE: 2008, Volume 5, Issue 4
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Countless numbers of Christians down through the millennia of time have struggled with doubt. ‘Am I really saved?’ they ask. ‘Is it possible for us to be completely sure that God has saved us?’ ‘How can I be sure of my salvation?’ Some have been so uncertain that they have asked the Lord to save them over and over again. Doubt is something with which many Christians, though not all, struggle. It is uncomfortable sitting on a stool, or chair that has broken or wobbly legs. The chair of assurance of salvation, like all good chairs, has four legs. Let’s check to see if they are safe.
Despite the hopes of millions of people around the world today the prospect of any one getting to heaven to be with God in the next life is not dependent upon anything he or she does. Many live their lives hoping that God will see the good they do and reward it with a place in heaven. They have the forlorn hope that the good they do will outweigh the bad they have done, though many refuse even to acknowledge they have done anything wrong. Yet the Bible’s teaching is absolutely clear: ‘there is none that is righteous, no not one’, Rom. 3. 10; ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’, Rom. 3. 23; ‘the wages of sin is death’, Rom. 6. 23; ‘it is appointed unto men once to die but after this the judgment’, Heb. 9. 27; God ‘hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that manwhom he hath ordained’, Acts. 17. 31; that when the Lord Jesus returns He shall take ‘vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’, 2 Thess. 1. 8; and that they will be ‘punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,’ 2 Thess. 1. 9. It is God’s wrath and anger upon sin and sinners that is man’s clear and present danger, John 3. 36. No matter how much good a man or woman may do, the wrong that we have done cannot be cancelled out by the good that we have done. To make it clear to our benighted and stubborn minds, God says categorically that getting right with Him is ‘not of works lest any man should boast’, Eph. 2. 9. No matter what sort of life a person may lead, whether that is a life of huge wickedness or a life of seeming goodness, God’s forgiveness of any sin a person has done is absolutely dependent upon His grace.‘By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God,’ Eph. 2. 8. We need, then, to be saved from the wrath to come and we are totally dependent upon God’s grace to save us. How and why should God save us from His just wrath on sin? Sin has to be punished. So God sent His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on a Roman gibbet at Calvary. What men did to Him at the cross was terrible enough; but what God did to His own Son was worse. Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, and as such was punished by God. Peter, writing to believers, reminded them that, though Christ ‘did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth’, He in ‘his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree’, 1 Pet. 2. 22-24. Isaiah says, ‘the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’, Isa. 53. 6. On that cross ‘it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief’ and there God made His soul ‘an offering for sin’, Isa. 53. 10. So Christ ‘once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God’, 1 Pet. 3. 18. On the cross the Lord Jesus became a substitute for sinners who place their faith in Him, bearing sin not His own and being judged for that sin and forsaken by God for that sin. This was the great work of atonement that He had been sent to do and when He died, He was able to cry with a loud voice, ‘Finished!’ God was so pleased with what His Son had done that He raised Him from the dead and the Lord Jesus, ‘after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God’, Heb. 10. 12. Now ‘the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God’, can, and does cleanse us from all sin, Heb. 9. 14; 1 John 1. 7. This is the basis upon which we can be saved from God’s wrath. Because the Lord Jesus died as a substitute forsinners who place their faith in Him and bore God’s wrath and judgement for them, so all who believe in Him can know that their sins have been judged by God and punished by Him. God’s wrath upon them has been atoned by the death of another, His Son. God will not, and cannot, judge believers again for their sin. ‘Payment God will not twice demand, first at my bleeding Surety’s hand and then again at mine’. The first leg of the stool is firmly in place. The Lord Jesus has done enough for God to forgive sin.
God now commands ‘all men everywhere to repent’, Acts 17. 30. This was the message of the first Christian preachers. ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins’, Acts 2. 38. ‘Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’, Acts 3. 19. The gist of the message was ‘repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,’ Acts 20. 21. The sinner’s problem is this, that in his natural, sinful, state, he does not recognise he is a sinner, does not recognise his need to be saved from God’s wrath and therefore does not see the need to repent. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them for they are spiritually discerned’, 1 Cor. 2. 14. God has to do, first of all, a work of illumination in the sinner. It is the task of the Spirit of God to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgement, John 16. 8. To know God’s truth we need an anointing from the Holy One, 1 John 2. 20. When the Holy Spirit has shown us our need of a Saviour, and shown us the only Saviour we can ever have, He does a work of invitation in the heart of a sinner. ‘God hath, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth whereunto he hath called you by our gospel’, 2 Thess. 2. 13-14. It is this inward ‘calling’ (Rom. 1. 6-7; Rom. 8. 28, 30; 1 Cor. 1. 24-26; Eph. 4. 1, 4) that is in view when the Lord says, ‘No man can come to me unless the Father, which hath sent me, draw him’, John 6. 44; and He also says there, ‘him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out’, v. 37. Then, as the sinner sees his need of a Saviour, and is called through the gospel to believe and repent of his sins, he believes and God does a work of conversion in his heart, though the devil has done his best to prevent it from happening, John 12. 40. All these things, which stem from God’s work of regeneration, lead on to justification, salvation, adoption and a life of sanctification in living for God. These are the things God does in, or even to, the sinner. If you and I can look into our hearts and lives and see that a work of God similar to the above has been done in us, we have cause to believe that the second leg of the stool is secure. It is God who has ‘begun a good work in you’ if these things are true.3 The first leg of the stool is firmly in place. The Lord Jesus has done enough for God to forgive sin
So God has done something for me and I believe he has done something in me and to me. How do I seal that work? By my belief in it, and acceptance of it, yes, but also by my confession, or profession, of it. If a sinner has been truly saved, he or she must tell others about that. So the word of God tells me, ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’, Rom. 10. 9-10. The Lord Himself tells us that ‘whosoever shall confess me before men him shall the Son of man confess before the angels of God’, Luke 12. 8. Yet even this public profession of faith, or conversion, can only be done with the help of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 12. 3. Such a profession of faith is best shown by baptism. Standing for the Lord publicly confirms the work of God in the sinner’s heart. Secret believers are seldom secure ones.
Many Christians have got all three of the above legs secure, but the fourth one wobbles madly. It is one thing to believe Christ died for the ungodly, that God has saved me from judgement and that I have professed this publicly, either by word or by baptism; it is quite another to prove the reality of that profession of mine and the reality of that work of God in my heart. To prove this, to get full assurance of faith, I must live a life of discipleship and obedience to God. A disobedient Christian will have very little assurance of salvation in his life: a backsliding Christian will have even less. ‘Make your calling and election sure’ is the clear instruction of God to the believer, 2 Pet. 1. 10. Those who doubted their salvation in New Testament times were given a series of tests by which they could see whether they were truly the Lord’s. These tests included keeping His commandments, (being obedient, in other words) 1 John 2. 3, walking with Him, 2. 5, not habitually sinning, 1 John 3. 9, loving other Christians, 3. 14, believing that Jesus is the Son of God, 5. 1, and overcoming the world, 5. 5. It is true that God does His part and the believer is kept (preserved) in Jesus Christ. But the same writer in the same passage also tells us we have to do our part, too. We have to ‘keep ourselves in the love of God’, Jude 21. Perhaps we would all havemore assurance of faith if we had more proof of it in our lives from day to day.
Assurance of salvation is a subjective thing. Many will tell us that we must rest on what God has done and never doubt our salvation. This is true. But if we are not walking with the Lord, if we are not being obedient Christians, if we live like un-believers, then we have no right to assume God has done anything in us. If leg four wobbles, it won’t be long before leg three does, and then we should wonder whether leg two is secure. Though the believer can rest in the assurance that ‘he [God] which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’, Phil. 1. 6, yet he or she must still ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’, Phil. 2. 12- 13. Yes we should rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Yes, we should believe and be converted to God. Yes we should make public profession of our faith. But unless we obey God and live lives that please Him, our profession of faith in Christ may prove to be empty and false. It is by our fruits that we are ultimately known. We are to ‘walk worthy of the calling’ by which we have been called. Disobedient, worldly, unholy, reluctant believers seldom feel secure in their faith, and with good reason. I have no right to say I am one of God’s children if I do not look, sound or live like one.