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This week, I reached into my sermon files to pull out a "golden oldie"
for the church website message. This is a sermon that I have often printed
out and given to brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with the
whole idea of "assurance" in their salvation. It was a part of my sermon
series six years ago from Paul's epistle to the Romans. I hope it blesses
(All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
One of our church leaders and I took a trip to Los Angeles not long ago; and on our arrival, I discovered a great illustration of the importance of "assurance".
We had planned to attend a conference there a month in advance; and I was responsible for making the arrangements for our accommodations. A part of the package for this conference included being booked into a local hotel; but not having spent much time in LA -- and having heard all the horror-stories about the place -- I kept wanting assurance that everything was in order. It wouldn't have been possible for us to look around for a place to stay in the event that something when wrong with our plans; so I checked and rechecked, assuring myself that we really did have a place to stay when we got there. Just a day or so before we left, we got word that the conference office had to switch us to a different hotel; but we were given the assurance that everything was all right.
Finally, on the appointed day, after we flew in and took the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, we walked up to the desk clerk to check in. He asked my name, and I confidently gave it to him; and he proceeded to check his list for our confirmation. Then, he proceeded to check through the list again a second time, not having found our names the first time. I wasn't too concerned because, as I said, I had checked things out -- and the conference office had given me the assurance that we were booked into a room at the hotel.
I was still assured, even when the desk clerk asked my name again; and checked for my name on his list ... again. My assurance was beginning to waver, though, when he asked my traveling companion for his name; and checked his list ... again. He asked if we were sure we knew our names; and at that point I was really beginning to get concerned. I repeated our names to him -- with careful spelling, and he carefully checked for them -- again. By this time, I think that my partner was getting ready to check the sofas in the hotel lobby to find the one that would be easiest on his back that night.
But it all worked out. Eventually, they were able to confirm our lodging, and we were given keys to our room. I came away thinking of how important "assurance" is.
This experience reminded me of what some people believe about salvation. It's been assert to me by some folks that nobody can ever be sure of their salvation. When I've said that I was sure that I was saved, such people get offended at my assurance -- thinking that it's a little cocky and prideful to think that one could be so sure that one was going to heaven. They insist that, "You can never, ever be sure that you're saved until the day you die." (At that point, I always respond that 'the day one dies' seems like a very bad time to find out.) "You could be saved and on your way to heaven one day," they'd assert; "and then, do something the next day to blow it and loose your salvation." Such people are in a state of horrible uncertainty -- in their minds jerking back and forth between heaven and hell several times in the course of a week.
Given all this, I think Paul's assertion of "assurance" at the end of Romans 8 is profound. He had no fear of 'not been registered at the front desk', if you will. He says,
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
In Paul's statement of assurance, there is no room for doubt about salvation. He accepts no idea of there being a mistake; nor allows for any uncertainty. Those who are in Christ, he asserts, will never, ever be separated from His love. Assurance of salvation is not only possible; but Paul himself spoke boldly from his own experience of such assurance.
This morning, I'd like for us to talk about the assurance of salvation. The bold assertion that we have read from Paul reminds us that the assurance of salvation is biblical, beneficial, and very worthy of our every effort to obtain.
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Let's begin by establishing that ...
I. THE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS BIBLICAL.
Think about that objection: "No one can be sure." Perhaps that's something you've heard someone say. Perhaps it's something you yourself believe.
The fact is, of course, that not everyone has a right to so bold an assurance as Paul expressed. The Bible tells us that some people who think that they're saved will make a horrible discovery on the day of Judgement. Jesus Himself said,
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but 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 cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23).
Please think carefully about what Jesus says in this word of warning. It will not be 'a few' but 'many' who would be mistaken about their salvation. It wont be horrible, gross "sinners," but "religiously-minded" people -- people who call Him "Lord, Lord" -- that will be rejected by Him. It will be people who did good deeds in His name. They will have prophesied. They will have cast out demons. They will have performed miracles. Yet, in spite of all these things, Jesus will call them practitioners of "lawlessness" and tell them to depart from His presence. They will not be saved because, in spite of all their religious deeds, they hadn't done the will of His Father. They will not be saved because they missed the crucial element of a relationship with Jesus -- He didn't know them.
I can't think of anything more important that to make sure that you're not among that self-deceived number who will have thought that they were acceptable to God on the basis of all their good deeds, and yet to whom Jesus will one say say those awful words: "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." Nothing else in life matters when compared to making sure -- absolutely sure -- that you are saved. To be careless about this matter -- to just sort of hope that it'll all work out, and that God will somehow allow you to sneak in -- is horribly, horribly foolish. Hell is very real! Salvation is available! Jesus is the only Savior from our sins! The way is made plain; and yet Jesus Himself warns that "many" will be excluded. It's worth our every effort to make sure that we are not among those who will be excluded. It's worth your every effort to make sure that we have obtained salvation in Him, in His way and on His terms.
But does that mean that we must go through our whole lives on earth in nagging uncertainty, wondering if we're saved? A thousand times no! The Bible tells us that absolute assurance of our salvation is possible. Confidence in salvation isn't mere presumption. Such assurance is biblical. You can be sure.
First, look at these two verses at the end of Romans 8 -- how Paul expresses his confidence that nothing would ever separate him from the love of God in Christ. This affirmation doesn't come to us in isolation. It's Paul's crowning affirmation at the end of his long, careful explanation of how God saves sinful people and declares them "justified" (that is, not only "not guilty" but positively "righteous" in His sight). Paul gave, in Romans 3:21-26, what someone has called the "revolutionary revelation" of the Good News of salvation by faith in Christ:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:21-26).
Or, as Paul says in 6:23; "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord".
The message of the Gospel is that God has sent His own Son to experience God's wrath for our sins in our place; and that when we place our trust in Christ's sacrifice for our sins on His cross, God declares us righteous. We're saved not on the basis of our good works, but on the basis of our faith in His grace. That's the whole burden of Paul's message in the first eight chapters of Romans -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- the Gospel that Paul calls "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:16-17).
If the assurance of salvation was based on our good works, we'd have real good reason to be "uncertain" about it. In fact, we could pretty much be assured that we couldn't be saved; because we have all sinned and fallen short of God's standards. But "assurance" is never to be based on our own efforts. As Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer said, "Assurance is born of confidence in Christ."1 Paul could be so confident about his salvation -- not because of what he himself accomplished -- but because of what God accomplished for him through Christ! That's why he could end his explanation of the Gospel with such a note of confident victory!
* * * * * * * * * *
Because the assurance of salvation is based on confidence in Christ, we're told many times in the Bible that believing people can be sure of their salvation.
Take Job, for example. While in the midst of his troubles, he was able to affirm, in Job 19:25-27, "And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall see and not another." He was so confident in his Redeemer that he was able to face death with an overwhelming expectation of resurrection.
Or how about Paul? He was able to say, in 2 Corinthians 5:1; "For we now that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven ..." Paul didn't merely express that he 'hopes' this is the case. He says -- with the force of a settled fact -- that "We know ...!" Shortly before he was executed for his faith, Paul told Timothy, "... I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Tim. 1:12).
Or how about Peter? In writing to suffering, persecuted believers, he affirmed in 1 Peter 5:10, "And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you." Not that "He might"; but that "He will!"
Or how about John, the Beloved Apostle? He puts it in as plain a manner as he can when he says, in 1 John 5:13, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life." This one statement alone ought to settle the question of whether or not the assurance of salvation is a biblical thing. John himself wrote for the expressed purpose that his readers might be assured!
Or how about the writer of Hebrews? In Hebrews 10:21-23, he invites his Jewish readers, "... since we have a a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful ..." That's an invitation to rest assured in Christ about one's salvation!
Or finally, how about the words of the Savior Himself? Jesus Himself gives us the sort of promises that assurance is built on. He said, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37); and, "... This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (v. 40); and,
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all: and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).
So let's get rid of the idea, once and for all, that a sincere believer in Christ can't be sure of their salvation. Assurance of salvation isn't presumption. It's biblical! God invites us, in His own infallible word, to be assured of eternal life. Some sincere believers may have not come to the full experience of that assurance. Some people may even scoff at the idea of assurance of salvation because they themselves haven't yet even experienced salvation. But the Bible does, in fact, hold up assurance as a biblical experience.
Do you have such assurance yourself?
* * * * * * * * * *
Second, let's establish that ...
II. THE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS BENEFICIAL.
Now, someone might object, "Isn't it better not to be sure? After all, if you're sure, wont you get all fat and lazy?"
Well; no. It's not better to be left uncertain of your salvation. I can't think of too many things that would be more frustrating and defeating to the Christian life than not being sure your saved.
To show what I mean, imagine that two men were given a piece of land to homestead and farm -- one right next to the other. The land that they're given is identical in size, quality and potential. Every legal means necessary has been used to ensure that the farm land has been properly deeded and registered in their name. It really, truly belongs to them and to their children -- forever!
Let's suppose that while one of them is absolutely convinced that the farmland is perfectly, completely theirs, the other is uncertain about it. While the first man sets to work immediately clearing his land, building a home on it for he and his children, cultivating it and making it productive, the other keeps going back to the County Department of Land Use and Transportation or the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service to make sure he's not violating any laws; or keeps checking with the public registry because of his doubts that it's really his land. One farmer never doubts and keeps on diligently working. The other never feels sure enough to throw himself into the work.
You tell me: which farmer will get the most accomplished with his land? And which believer will make the most progress in his or her spiritual growth -- the one that's assured of salvation, or the one that's uncertain?2 Assurance of salvation is not only biblical; it's also beneficial. Consider some of these reasons why it's beneficial:
(1) The assurance of salvation is beneficial because it gives us peace while in the midst of trials. Paul could say, in Romans 5:1-5,
Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exalt in hope of the glory of God.
Clearly, Paul is expressing assurance of salvation. But then, notice the benefit of this assurance:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given us (Rom. 5:1-5).
Paul had such confidence in his salvation that he was able to face his trials victoriously; fully expecting God to bring a good result out of them. The assurance of salvation will do the same for any true follower of Jesus.
(2) The assurance of salvation is also beneficial because it gives us motivation toward holiness. John wrote, in 1 John 3:2-3;
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.
Again, notice how John expresses assurance of future glorification in Christ. Notice, then, what that assurance does for the believer:
And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
For John, the anticipation of being made into the image of Christ one day didn't motivate him to simply kick-back and relax -- doing nothing to live a holy life. Anyone who behaves that way is being presumptuous! Instead, John asserts that the assurance of future glorification in Christ motivates a sincere believer to live a life of practical holiness now!
(3) The assurance of salvation is also beneficial because it moves us to committed service for Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:55-58, Paul wrote to explain to the Corinthian believers the glorious hope of the resurrection that awaits the believer in Christ. He declares;
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable ...
There's the assurance! Then notice the consequence of that assurance:
... always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:55-58).
Paul asserts that we can be so confident in the future God has for His people that we can give ourselves completely and unreservedly to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Paul said, "I am convinced" that nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ, he meant for us to understanding it as a conviction that governed everything else in life. The assurance of a salvation that we truly possess in Christ doesn't make us fat and lazy. Far from it! It fills us with "holy zeal"! It motivates us to live for Christ with all our being!
So; the assurance of salvation is something that's both biblical and beneficial. Third and finally, let's establish that ...
III. THE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS OBTAINABLE.
Think of that word that Paul used: "convinced" (or "persuaded" as it is in the KJV). It suggests that Paul came to "a firm, settled conviction," "a confident certainty" about his salvation.3 The form of this verb in Greek suggests that Paul came to this strong conviction not naturally, but as a result of a process of growth.4 That is very, very instructive. Assurance takes work to obtain; not salvation -- but the assurance of it. If you are a believer, you are saved by God's grace through faith. You may not have the full assurance of that salvation yet; but that doesn't affect God's work.
But given the fact that assurance is biblical and beneficial, how can we get it? How can you and I grow in the assurance of our salvation? Let me suggest a few things.
(1) First, I suggest that you examine yourself. Many people don't realize that the Bible actually urges us to examine ourselves to see whether we're saved or not. Have you ever done that? I suspect most people would be surprised to discover what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5:
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you -- unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5).
Would you like to have the assurance of salvation? Then do the work it takes to get it. Examine yourself. Ask yourself, "In what do I trust for salvation?" Do you trust your good works? Your church attendance? A good word put in for you from your dear, departed Christian grandmother? Some little, yellow 'prayer card' you signed some time ago? Some long, lost 'baptismal certificate' you got when you were a child? Or do you trust the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for your sins? Don't look to things you used to trust in. Ask yourself, "What do I trust right now -- today?" Examine yourself!
Ask yourself, "Is Jesus Christ is in me?" Do you see your life changed by Him? Do you find yourself increasingly hating the sin in your life? Do you find yourself growing in love with Christ more and more? Do you find yourself growing in love increasingly with His people? Do you hunger and thirst after Him? Do you find daily life and strength in his Word? Do you bring your concerns and cares to Him in prayer? Do you long to be with Him? Is His life being lived out in you through His indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit? Is Jesus Christ in you?
Whether you have assurance or not, please -- by all means -- examine yourself! Given Jesus' stern warning, you can't afford not to!
(2) Second, I suggest that you ask God for assurance. Pray, "God if I'm lost to you; if I'm still in my sins; please show me. Let me see my condition. But if I'm saved; if Christ is truly in me; grant me the assurance of my salvation. Give me the eyes to see myself as You see me. Give me the heart to believe your promises."
God has a vested interest in answering such a prayer. He isn't willing that anyone perish, but desires all men and women to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
(3) Third, I suggest that you cling tightly to God's promises in Scripture. John wrote His gospel story of the things that Jesus did and said for this expressed purpose: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).
(4) Fourth, I suggest that you take a careful inventory of your moral life. Confess and repent of sin and grow in the Christian life if you want assurance. Peter wrote that, applying all diligence,
... In you faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7).
That's the work that's required. Then, look at the consequence:
For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (vv. 8-11).
* * * * * * * * * *
There's nothing, to my mind, that could be more powerful on the planet earth than a group of people indwelt by the Holy Spirit, sealed for heaven, and sure of it! ... people who can, with Paul, say, "I am convinced!" Paul was sure of his salvation right up to the very end. He was as sure of heaven as if he were already there. In his final letter to his friend Timothy, just before Paul was executed for his faith, he said,
... I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
May God make us a church of believers who are that sure!
1Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p. 59.
2This illustration is adapted from J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1987), p 110.
3C.E.B. Cranfield, The International Critical Commentary: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to The Romans (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Ltd., 1975), vol. 1, p. 441.
4The verb peitho in the present passive form; a consumptive perfect.
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