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Posts Tagged ‘assurance of salvation’

We are finishing up our series “How can I know I’m saved?” talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. My point in all of this is to encourage you that as a Christian you need not wonder where you stand with God. You need not be insecure in your relationship with God. God has more for us than that.

As we have seen, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can and we should know that we have eternal life, and that our relationship with God is solid.

We’ve already looked at two of, what I am calling, the three bases of our assurance:

  • The assurance of God’s word and promises, and
  • The assurance of the Spirit

Today we look at the final source of our assurance, the assurance of a transformed life. And I also want to share with you a bit about the relationship of these three assurances to each other. But first –

The assurance of a transformed life

 The idea here is that if you are really a Christian, this will be evident in the way you live your life. You will be able to see this and even others will be able to see this and take notice.

Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t fail – you will. And there will always be things in our lives that we need to work on. But still, your salvation will be observable. So you can examine your life for signs of God’s work of salvation. And when you see these, they can give you assurance of your salvation.

This assurance rests on two crucial truths in Scripture:

1. Anyone who becomes a Christian is changed within. Something happens in us. God does something in us. Different images are used for this in Scripture:

  • We are born anew – John 3:3
  • We are a new creation in Christ – 1 Corinthians 5:17
  • We are raised with Christ to new life – Colossians 3:1

Something happens within us; we have a new heart; we come alive to God.

2. What is in a person will show up in their words and deeds. There is an unbreakable connection between what is within you, and what comes out of you. Now, you can fake it for a time, but eventually, over the long haul, what is within will come out in some form or another.

As Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” – Matthew 12:33. And so if you have been transformed within by the saving work of God, this will show up in your everyday life, in your words and deeds.

Let’s look now at two ways of talking about this in Scripture. The first uses the language of  the fruit of the Spirit. 

Before the Spirit comes into us and changes us and empowers us to live differently we bear forth the fruit of our evil hearts. What is within us, evil, is what comes out of us. Things like “sexual immorality . . . enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness . . .” – Galatians 5:19-21. When we walk apart from the Spirit, these things characterize our lives. These things are the outward sign of our inner person.

But when the Spirit comes and changes our heart and we continue to access the power of the Spirit to live differently, this will show up in our behavior too. What is within will come out. We will bear forth “the fruit of the Spirit.”  Things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – Galatians 5:22-23. These things will characterize our lives. They are the outward sign of the inward work of the Spirit within us. So when I see them in my life, I can be assured of God’s work within me.

Then, in 1 John, John uses the language of keeping the commandments of God.

He is talking to those whose faith has been shaken by false teachers and who are not fully confident of where they stand with God. He says, “By this we know that we have come to know him (that is, Jesus, or that we are a Christian), if we keep his commandments” – 1 John 2:3 (also 1 John 3:24). And then he says the same thing in reverse, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ (that is, I’m saved) but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” – 1 John 2:4 (also 1 John 1:6). Keeping God’s commands is the outward sign of the inward reality of salvation. Not keeping them shows that your heart is not, or is no longer set on God.

John goes on to focus in on the specific commandment, that we should love one another. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers (fellow Christians)” – 1 John 3:14 (also 1 John 2:10). And the reverse is also true, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” – 1 John 2:9. So he is giving us a test. Am I saved? John teaches us that we can tell by examining our lives to see if I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord; if I lay down my life for them. If I love fellow believers, this shows that God’s love is in my heart, that is, it shows what is within me. God has indeed done a work in my heart. And in this way, I can be assured that I truly am a Christian.

 So we have looked at –

Three bases for our assurance

  • The assurance of God’s word
  • The assurance of the Spirit
  • The assurance of a transformed life

Let me make a few points about the relationship between these:

1. The assurance of God’s word is foundational. That is, what God to us in Scripture.

So for instance you can have some inner feeling about your salvation, or an inward religious experience that might seem like the witness of the Spirit. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and turning from your sins, what the Word tells us, it doesn’t mean anything. We must always judge any perceived voice of the Spirit by the apostolic standard of the Word of God.

And again you can have some outward works, both moral and religious that might appear to be the assurance of a transformed life. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and walking in repentance, what the Word says, it doesn’t make a difference.

The assurance of the Spirit and the assurance of a transformed life are important and powerful, but if they are not based on the Word, they are useless in and of themselves. It is only when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior and repent of our sins that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, salvation.

2. The last two assurances supplement one another. Indeed, they need to.

On the one hand, the assurance of the Spirit is an inner, subjective experience. This is a very powerful source of knowledge, to know something deep in your heart. But such inward things can be misinterpreted. Maybe what we think is the voice of the Spirit is really just our own feelings. Sometimes we can misinterpret our inward experiences.

On the other hand, the assurance of a transformed life has to do with what is outward and objective, our words and deeds, which can be a very powerful testimony to us. But such outward things can be faked. We might have a form of godliness without the power. In other words, we can live an outwardly moral life in the power of the flesh. And such a life doesn’t come from a truly changed heart. It is merely outward. We can at least do this for a time, especially when others are looking. We all know of those who have gone to church their whole life, who don’t know the Lord.

So, my point here is that it is always best to have both of these assurances together to supplement each other; the inner and the outer; the subjective and the objective. When you have both of them this gives each of them individually even more power.

And then let me end by saying, 3. When you have all three, your assurance is well established. You have a truly solid foundation. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” And as Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches – a matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

When you have the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the words and deeds of your life lining up together; when you have all three bases of assurance there is no need to doubt where you stand with God.

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As Christians we sometimes struggle with questions about where we stand with God. And perhaps even you have asked at some point, “Am I really a Christian?” Sometimes it’s because God seems far away. Or perhaps you simply don’t feel saved. Maybe you are going through a very difficult time in your life. Or it could be that someone is telling you that your beliefs are wrong and to be truly saved you need something else. Or maybe you are struggling with a sense of failure and guilt.

This is real life. We go through these things. And this is why we are taking time for a series of teaching on this topic, the assurance of our salvation, or ‘how I can know I’m saved.’

Let me reiterate that I believe that you can know for sure that you are saved, even with these things that might make you question it from time to time, and that you can and should have confidence in your relationship with God.

As we saw last week, John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. We can know. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

Last week, we looked at the first of three bases for the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of God’s word. Today we focus in on the second basis, the assurance of the Spirit. And the Spirit, I believe, does this in two ways. First,

The very presence of the Spirit in our life gives us assurance

 The reception of the Spirit is one of the key promises that God gives us in the gospel, as we saw last week. And so, to put it simply when we see the Spirit in our lives, we know we have received the promise of salvation; we know that we are saved.

The connection between having the Spirit and being saved is so central that Paul can say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The reverse of this, of course, is that if we have the Spirit we do belong to Christ; we are saved.

As John says in 1 John 4:13 – “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” We “know” we are in right relationship with God – because of the Spirit in our lives.

Paul uses a couple of images that make this point. And I want us to look at these. The first is “sealed” with the Spirit. He says, “you . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” – Ephesians 1:14 (also 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).

Now this metaphor is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we are, as it were, locked up in a box and can’t get out even if we wanted to; that we are sealed in. (Sometimes appeal is made to Matthew 27:66, where the same word is used. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” In this case the tomb was made secure in two ways: 1) the guards who kept watch over it, and 2) the seal. The seal by itself would not keep anyone out. It could easily be broken. Rather, it secures the tomb in a different way. If it is broken it shows that someone got in. It means that the tomb has been tampered with. It is no longer “authentic” or preserved intact. In this case it is meant to keep Jesus’ disciples from getting in and taking the body so that they could claim he was raised from the dead – Matthew 27:62-65. It secures the tomb not as a lock (or a guard) would, but it secures it’s integrity; that it hasn’t been tampered with.) But this is a wrong understanding. The word used here refers to a mark denoting ownership and authenticity.

The background has to do with sealing documents in the ancient world. How do you know that a letter is truly from who it says it’s from; that it hasn’t been tampered with? The writer would take an engraved object, like a signet ring, distinctive to them, and press it into hot wax that has been placed on the folded or rolled up letter. This is the letter’s seal. So the seal is meant to confirm ownership (who wrote it) or here authorship and authenticity. (Again, the seal doesn’t prevent the letter from being opened, it simply shows that if it has been opened before you get it that its authenticity can’t be established)

The seal in our case is the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Which means that those who have the Spirit are truly owned by God; they are authentic. They are the real thing.

A second image from Paul is the “down payment” of the Spirit. After talking about the resurrection that is to come, Paul says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing (that is, the resurrection) is God, who has given us the Spirit as a down payment.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (Also, 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14.)

The word for “down payment” means an initial payment given as a pledge that the rest of the payments will be made. It is sometimes translated simply as a “guarantee” or a “deposit.” The Spirit here is the down payment from God to us. So the Spirit’s presence in our lives is an indicator of our present salvation; that we have already received the first installment of what is to come from God. And, as long as we have the Spirit, we have God’s pledge to give us the rest of what God has for us, in this case the resurrection. So the presence of the Spirit in our lives gives us assurance of our salvation both now and for the future.

This raises the question, how can you know if the Spirit is present in your life? There are a number of ways to answer this but our focus today is on the relational part of God’s Spirit within us:

  • The Spirit guides us in everyday life – Romans 8:14
  • The Spirit helps us to pray – Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18
  • The Spirit teaches us things and reminds us of what Jesus said – John 14:26
  • The Spirit is grieved when we sin – Ephesians 4:30. And we can sense this.

So in all of these examples we see that when the Spirit dwells within us, we have a relationship with the Spirit. There are various kinds of interaction. And through these interactions we can know that the Spirit abides within us. And when we know this, we know that we are saved.

But even more specifically –

The witness of the Spirit gives us assurance

 Paul talks about this in Romans 8:15-17 – “. . . you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

This is how it works. 1) We receive the Spirit. He says in v. 15 – “You have received the Spirit.”

2. The Spirit “bears witness . . . that we are children of God.” In other words, the Spirit tells me, deep in my heart that I am a child of God; that I am a Christian. [As John Wesley put it – this is “an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ has loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”]

And we ought not think of this as a one-time thing, maybe something that happens just when we are first saved. “Bears witness” is in the present tense. This is seen as ongoing. The Spirit will, from time to time, affirm our standing as a child of God, deep in our heart.

3. The Spirit enables us to cry “Abba! Father!” This is why it says that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. We both bear witness that we are saved. We hear what the Spirit tells us, and then we concur – “Yes, God you are my father. I am adopted into your family. I am one of your children.” And as Paul goes on to say in v. 17 – “. . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” Heirs of the salvation that God has for his own.

So if you feel insecure in your relationship with God, in addition to the assurance that comes from standing on God’s word, look to the assurance of the Spirit.

Examine your heart  

Examine it today and this week. Are there evidences of the Spirit’s activity in your heart? Are you in relationship with God, interacting with God by the Spirit who dwells within you?

And then, as a part of this relationship, does the Spirit testify to you that you are a child of God?

Perhaps you would say that you don’t know what it means to have the Spirit dwell within you. You have never experienced this. Well I invite you to put your faith in Jesus and to turn from your sins so that you can know what this means. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Ask and you can know what it’s like to have God’s Spirit live within you.

And if you would say, I have experienced the Spirit, but not really anymore. Ephesians 5:18 teaches us that we are to continue to be filled with the Spirit. It is not a one-time thing. So invite the Spirit to fill you again and continue to do this. And don’t go through life ignoring the Spirit. Cultivate your relationship with God by the Spirit. And then you will know the powerful assurance of salvation that comes from having the Spirit in your life.

 

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We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

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