The Certainty of Salvation 

 

1 Jn. 4 and 5 brim over with certainty that we readers really will enter the Kingdom. There is a question which cuts right to the bone of each of us; right through the debates and semantics which increasingly shroud our Christian lives. 'Can we be completely certain that should Christ return now, we will be in the Kingdom?'. Posing this question provokes widely different response- from 'Of course not! How presumptuous!', to that of the present writer: 'By God's grace- yes!'. We can't say ultimately because we may fall away in the future- but we should be able to assess the spiritual state we are in at this present point in time. If we cannot do this, then our salvation is very much at risk; as Paul bluntly told Corinth: " Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5). They sought proof that Christ was in Paul (2 Cor. 13:3), yet he challenges them to know whether Christ is in them personally. The implication was that if they could not judge that, they were in no position to ask whether Christ was in Paul- or any other. This is vintage Paul; the logic is irresistible.

In Christ

By baptism into Christ, we are counted by God as if we are as morally perfect as Christ was. There is now the certainty of salvation . Just as surely as He rose from the dead to eternal life, so will all those in Him. So we ask 'Are we in Christ?'. Surely we should know the answer to that. We should know whether we are in covenant relationship with God or not. The " mercy and truth" , or " covenant mercy" which we experience under the New Covenant is not something which is exercised towards us just in the few moments when we pray for forgiveness. We live in this covenant of mercy, it is constantly shown to us. Faith in Christ does not only refer to believing in his historical existence and knowing the correct exposition of the atonement through Him. Real faith in Christ means appreciating the extent of his perfection, and really believing that God has imputed this to us. This is the hardest yet most vital thing to have faith in.

Some time, have a glance through John's first epistle. Almost every other verse brims over with the certainty of the true believer. If we are not intended to be 100% certain of receiving salvation, the language of this letter is hard to comprehend: " Truly our fellowship is with the Father...now are we the sons of God...the children of God are manifest...we know that we have passed from death unto life...we know that we are of the truth...we know that He abideth in us...we are of God...we have known and believed the love that God hath to us...he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself (in his own conscience?)...God hath given to us eternal life...ye may know that ye have eternal life" .

Reckoning Ourselves...

Already I can feel a sense of discomfort creeping over us. We are all intensely aware of our gross spiritual weakness. We feel much more at home with Paul's matchless confession of his innate tendency to sin, so strong that " When I would do good, evil is present with me...how to perform that which is good I find not" . Yet it is no accident that this dire recognition of the seriousness of our spiritual position in Romans 7 should lead straight on to Romans 8, one of the most positive passages in all Scripture. It is instructive to trace the parallels between these two chapters. For example, Paul's lament " I am carnal" (7:14) is matched by " To be carnally minded is death" (8:6). His argument in Romans 6-8 runs along these lines: 'We are all carnally minded by nature; but Christ had our sinful nature, yet achieved perfection. If we are in Christ by baptism and by His spirit/disposition being seen in us, then God will count us as Christ, and will therefore raise up our bodies to immortality, as His was'. The fact we still retain the old nature in this life means that we will be aware of the tremendous conflict within us between flesh and spirit. " If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin" (Rom. 8:10). Paul obviously didn't mean that we would not have the power of sin active in our natures any more- the preceding chapter 7 makes that crystal clear. The obvious connection with Rom. 6:11 explains the point: " Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin" . The apostle recognized his own innate sinfulness and spiritual failures which were solely his own fault (" When I would do good..." , Rom. 7), yet he was confident of salvation (Rom. 8). This was because he intensely believed in Christ's perfection, and that he was in Christ, and that at baptism he had received the condemnation of death which he deserved. " There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). There is the certainty of salvation.

The Totality Of Truth

We live in a world which is increasingly uncertain in its day to day existence, its thinking and philosophy. The Gospel of Christ and the personal knowledge of God which this leads to, is " the truth" . " Truth" is a concept which is alien to our surrounding world. To say that we are in God's covenants of truth, that we " know the truth" , that we speak forth " the truth of God" in our preaching, all requires faith. A correct appreciation of " the truth" is not based on blind dogmatism or unthinking continuation of dearly held traditions. A staid, tradition-based reverence for the doctrines of truth will not generate faith in salvation; and neither will any school of thought which reasons that doctrine is unimportant. God's word is truth, and that word develops faith. The spiritual attribute of faith is not unrelated to " the faith" in terms of the set of true doctrines which comprise this. It is on account of them, as revealed in " the word of truth" , that we develop faith. As faith increases, so will our certainty in the truth of those basic doctrines, and therefore we will the more clearly see doctrinal error for what it ultimately is- faith destroying. Mysticism is a feature of all false religion; major false doctrines such as the impersonality of God, the trinity, the devil, the immortal soul, are all couched in terms of 'mystery' (cp. Rev. 17:5). They are so popular because they allow a profession of belief without demanding real faith. Truth and faith are related. For this reason it is meaningless to hold up orthodox Christians as examples of real 'faith' in Biblical terms.

Because of our sinfulness, we constantly struggle with the problem of certainty. Are we really in Christ? Are God's promises really going to be fulfilled to us? Is our doctrinal basis really the truth? Because the word is truth, Christ our Lord is the truth, the covenants of God are the truth, we should be able to have a humble certainty in our salvation. We will be in a position whereby we can examine ourselves and know whether Christ is in us. Such faith is fundamentally rooted in a study and appreciation of " the faith" . As we hear those basic doctrines repeated from ecclesial platforms, they should be a dynamic force within us. They will not be a weariness to our ears, even if repeated in the same format.

If ecclesias were comprised of members who each had a firm faith that they are fully acceptable with God at this point in time, what a community we would be! What zeal to communicate our faith to each other and the world, what properly motivated zeal for the purity of the one faith, what great fellowship in joyful worship and praise! Indeed, what a foretaste of the future Kingdom which we firmly believe we will share in. Through our faith that we will certainly receive that great salvation, we will even now " walk...as (if we are) in the day" of Christ's Kingdom (Rom. 13:12,13).

The Truth Of The Cross

As he beheld the cross of the Lord Jesus, the idea of ultimate truth filled John's mind: " He that saw it bear record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe" (Jn. 19:35). 'I know this is the truth, and I know I'm saying the truth because it is the truth'. This could seem a bit of a tautology; but what John is doing, under Spirit guidance, is to express to us the great sensation of truth which came into his very being as he watched the death of the Son of God. The Spirit filled him with this sense; he comments on this in 1 Jn. 5:6: " This is he that came by water and blood (on the cross)...And it is the Spirit that beareth witness (through John), because the Spirit is truth" . The Centurion " and they that were with him" felt likewise: " Truly  this was a righteous man. Truly  this was the Son of God" . So our beholding of the Son of God now ought to inspire us with a similar realization of the glorious truth  which there is in our spiritual position. Paul upbraids the Galatians because they did not " obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you" (Gal. 3:1). Like us, they had not stood at the foot of the cross. But they had learnt something of the spirit of the crucified Christ from the apostle's words, and he is saying that this ought to have inspired their love of the truth, their belief of it, their real acceptance of the certainty of salvation by the great grace of Christ. And so the same is so true of us too. Through His death, Christ confirmed the promises of God, which are often referred to as His " mercy and truth" in the Old Testament. Having spoken of how Christ on the cross displayed a spirit of true love for all God's children, Paul says that " Jesus Christ (on the cross, in the context) was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" (Rom. 15:8). This explains further the connection between truth and the death of Christ. Those promises to Abraham of eternal inheritance, of being able to become in Christ, these truly are now made to us.

One small point in conclusion. In teaching His people how to pray, the Lord nowhere invited us to constantly ask the Father: ‘Please, may I be in the Kingdom’. Instead the first and major request of the model prayer is: ‘Thy Kingdom come’. It is hard to have this as the master passion of our lives and praying if in fact we are unsure whether we will be accepted into it or not. Surely the Lord is asking us to assume, to firmly believe, that in His grace we will surely be there, and on the basis of that certainty of salvation, we eagerly beseech for the day of physical realization of it all to soon come.

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