As a Christian do you ever worry about, doubt, or question your salvation? I’ve never seen or done a survey asking the question, but my sense is that a lot of believers do from time to time.
It’s interesting that in the broad beliefs of Christianity in general, there are two basic positions. One is popularly known as once saved, always saved and the other one suggests a person can lose his or her salvation. Strange as it may sound, I don’t hold either position.
In the summer of 1976 as the pastor of a small church our youth group attended a Christ in Youth Conference. I remember sitting in one of the sessions and listening to the speaker talk about what is called our assurance of salvation. I don’t remember at that time if I doubted my salvation or not, but I do remember writing the date in the front of my Bible reminding me that I could be confident I was saved. Unfortunately, I tossed that Bible a few years ago because it began to fall apart.
Earlier this week I finished a new book by Dane Ortlund entitled GENTLE and LOWLY: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. The title, of course, comes from Jesus’ self-description in Matthew 11:29. In 33 short chapters Ortlund unpacks a variety of passages in both the Old Testament and New Testament that show us the heart of Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
I don’t remember hearing or reading anything in my past that was more encouraging, affirming, and assuring about my relationship with the Lord than this book. Before I share a few quotes I want to list a few chapter titles that say a lot about our God: “Able to Sympathize,” “I Will Never Cast Out,” “To the Uttermost,” “A Tender Friend,” “Father of Mercies,” “Rich in Mercy,” “To the End,” and “Buried in His Heart Forevermore.”
Ortlund’s book reaffirmed what I have believed and taught for many years: those who by faith have accepted Jesus into their hearts and lives as Savior and Lord can be confident and assured they are saved. Yes, we can be sure!
Sometimes, however, the realization of our failures and sins may cause us to worry and question our salvation. Early in the book the author explains “for the penitent, his [Jesus] heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures.”
Thirty pages later he underscores his previous point: “When we sin, we are encouraged to bring our mess to Jesus because he will know just how to receive us. He doesn’t handle us roughly. He doesn’t scowl and scold . . . . And all this restraint on his part is not because he has a diluted view of our sinfulness. He knows our sinfulness far more deeply that we do . . . . His restraint simply flows from his tender heart for his people” (p. 54).
A believer’s assurance of his or her salvation is not based on an absence of sin, but on the realization and acknowledgement of one’s sins. “The guilt and shame of those in Christ is ever outstripped by his abounding grace” (p. 68).
It would be a huge mistake for any Christian to see the truth of the Bible’s teaching in these quotes and conclude that it’s ok and no big deal for us to sin. It’s a believer’s sensitivity to his or her own sin that indicates their assurance of salvation. Near the end of the book Ortlund presses this home when he observes, “Our very agony in sinning is the fruit of our adoption [acceptance as a child of God]. A cold heart would not be bothered” (p. 194).
I believe the Bible clearly teaches that followers of Jesus can confidently answer the question “Are You Sure?” with a “yes.” And it isn’t because anything we have done or how good we are. It is because of God’s love and what Jesus did for us. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus invites, “Come to me.” To be sure of your salvation respond to his invitation over and over again as a way of life.
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