Assurance & Justification

Why do Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation? In the last post I explored the Bible’s teaching about salvation generally. In this post I want us to go a little further and think about how that salvation works. At the heart of the Gospel, at the heart of salvation, is the doctrine of justification.

What is Justification?

Justification is one of the most important terms used by the New Testament in order to describe our salvation. It is a legal term, drawing its meaning from the pronouncement of a verdict in a court of law. In God’s economy, to be justified is to be declared “not guilty” of sin and therefore to be free from any fear of condemnation of judgement.

In the New Testament a person is justified by God when he or she turns to Christ in faith and repentance. Jesus’ death and resurrection effectively cleanse the Christian of all their wrong-doing and cover the Christian with Christ’s right-doing so that they are “justified” in the sight of God.

We are not justified by anything that we have done, but rather by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

Therefore justification means that Christians can walk through this life in the full assurance that when they face final judgement at the end of time, they already know what the verdict will be. It is as if they have never sinned and always obeyed. They are justified.

This glorious reality is given to us as a gift, free and undeserved.

Justification and Assurance.

The connection between the doctrine of justification and assurance should be fairly obvious by now. If you have turned to Christ in repentance and faith then you are justified and should have no fear of being condemned by God.

So why do we fear?

At one level we fear because our faith is weak. It is one thing to clap for the man taking the wheel-barrow across the tightrope, it is another thing entirely to get into the wheel-barrow. It is important to remember that the strength of our faith may affect our subjective experience of salvation in this life (happiness) but it never affects the objective reality of our salvation. Christ is our Saviour, not faith. It is the presence of faith, not the strength of it that matters.

The one who sits in the wheelbarrow on the tightrope, with eyes closed and fists clenched may not be having fun, but he is still in the wheelbarrow. He is safe in the hands of the one who holds him, whether he knows it fully or not. One day, he will see that there is nothing to fear. For now, he just needs to sit tight.

 

 

 

Pitfalls in the Pursuit of Godliness

Are you a passionate Christian? Are you passionate about evangelism? Are you passionate about holiness? Are you a threat to the health of your church?

Does that last question seem out of place to you? I’ve started to notice a strange phenomenon in the Christian life: the most zealous people in the church can often be the biggest threat to the church’s health.

It’s true that we should never be lacking in spiritual zeal. The pursuit of holiness and concern for evangelism, for example, are right and good. However, it seems frighteningly easy to allow our passion for godliness to run away with us to the point where we end up with something much less biblical.

The issue I think is that sometimes our zeal is not grounded in knowledge. Our passions are not held in place by a mature understanding of the teachings of Scripture. Here are a few examples.

Pelagius was a heretic (condemned at the Council of Carthage in 418 AD) who asserted free will and denied predestination to such an extent that he reduced the work of Jesus to mere moral example. Pelagianism is the view that we all have the ability within ourselves to obey God and earn salvation; we only needed Jesus to show us how. According to this view, salvation is comes through our successful imitation of the life of Christ. I trust we can all see that this is obviously not what the Bible teaches.

What does this have to do with being passionate about holiness? Here is the interesting thing about Pelagius…he was widely known, even by his opponents, as a godly man who was passionately concerned for the Church’s holiness. He formulated his theology and defended it because he believed that those doctrines would lead to reform. Somewhere along the line, his passions distorted his understanding of the gospel. His zeal was not grounded in knowledge and so it distorted his knowledge.

A few years ago I heard a series of talks by a church planter in Australia who described evangelists as some of the most dangerous people in the church. The church planter’s story was remarkable. He started with a handful of people and the church grew exponentially. A few years later the church was a couple of thousand strong. Yet the journey was plagued with difficulty because those in the church who were most interested in reaching out were also most prone to lead the church into compromise. The desire to reach out was so dominant that it began to replace and distort other biblical imperatives. Everything inside the church had to appeal to those outside the church.

I can see how this happens. Passionate Christians feel very strongly about the problems in the church today. It is only natural that this would lead to opinions on how to solve those problems. The pitfall in the pursuit of godliness lies in our failure to test both our diagnosis and proposed cure against the Bible.

What is the solution? Well, first we need to say that the solution is not that we become less passionate. Passion is a good thing. We are commanded in Romans 12:11 to “never be lacking in spiritual fervour.” The solution is to make sure that our theology is biblically robust enough to handle our passions.

Are you a passionate follower of Jesus Christ? Then work hard to make sure that your passion is firmly grounded in the Bible.

How do we do that? Stay tuned for the next post.