Assurance of Salvation
It was long one of Luther's biggest struggles. It's a struggle many have had and continue to have. Heaven, eternal life, is certainly a worthy desire. But, for many of us, there is a question about whether or not we will actually spend our eternity with God. These five truths from Scripture should help us with assurance of salvation.
Salvation is first of all a gift God gives us because He is gracious. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). God "saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (2 Timothy 1:9). It is a great comfort to know that eternal life is not dependent on ourselves, on whether or not we have been able to meet the standard God requires. We never have to wonder if we have done enough works or if our works are good enough. We are not saved on the basis of our works. We are saved by God who acted on our behalf through Christ Jesus because of His purpose and grace.
According to Mark 16:16, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Because for most of us in the Lutheran tradition, our lives began with baptism, let's consider our baptisms as the next truth in which we can find assurance. In baptism, our sins were washed away (Acts 22:16). In baptism, our old, sinful nature was put to death and a new nature was raised in its place (Romans 6:3-7). In baptism, we were clothed with Christ, that is, we were covered with His perfection, His righteousness (Galatians 3:26-27). In baptism, our hearts were circumcised, the old sinful nature was cut away (Colossians 2:11-12). In baptism, our consciences were washed clean (1 Peter 3:21). We can be sure we are saved because we have been baptized. We know this to be true because of what happened to us in baptism. God's grace is active through the means of baptism to save us.
Baptism, however, does not function all by itself. Turning again to Mark 16:16 we find that faith, believing, is also needed and that the absence of faith results in condemnation. Here's the promise: "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). When Jesus said that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16), He was not pointing us to "just believe" in some directionless or unspecified content. We know we are saved when, because we believe it, we confess that Jesus is Lord. We know we are saved when we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Of course our belief in the resurrection presupposes we also know why He was dead in the first place. The creator and ruler of the universe, the Word who was with God and was God and through whom all things were created (John 1:1-3), the Word who became flesh and lived among us in grace and truth (John 1:14), became our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and died the death we deserve for out disobedience. Death, however, could not keep Him. His resurrection is proof that Jesus is God (Romans 1:4) and that by His great power He "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (1 Timothy 1:10b).
One of the harsh realities of life is that even though our old nature was put to death in baptism, our old nature keeps trying to destroy our fellowship with God. This is the struggle the Apostle Paul wrote of: "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members" (Romans 7:22-23). Fortunately, we are not left hanging in the despair of this battle that might rob us of the assurance of salvation. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2). When we look to ourselves, to our own works, to our own obedience, we will find ourselves woefully short. When we think we are able to do enough to be right with God, we deceive ourselves. But, when we look to Jesus, when because of His grace we live by faith through the gift that is ours in Baptism, we have the assurance of life. We can claim the promise that when we are kept in Him we are not condemned. We can be sure of life now and forever.
Finally, the Apostle John was also inspired to confirm this truth for us. "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12). Here we have summarized the totality of our assurance. The testimony is the truth. Eternal life is a gift of God; He has given us eternal life. This life is extended to us in Christ Jesus, the Son. It is ours when it is received by faith. It is ours when we are given to participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Son through baptism. The promise we can trust (the application of faith) is that when we have the Son we have eternal life.
Assurance of salvation is the sure knowledge that we have God given life now and that we will enjoy that life in God's presence for all eternity. We can know we have this life because it is a gift of God's not dependent on us, because we are baptized, because we believe in Jesus and what He accomplished for us through His death and resurrection, because our life is in Him, and because we have Him. This is the confidence in which we live knowing whom we have believed, convinced that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:12).
Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.