“Could It Be?”

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine

O what a foretaste of glory divine

Heir of salvation, purchase of God

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood

Perfect submission, all is at rest

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

This is my story, this is my song”*

I have sung those lyrics of the famous hymn “Blessed Assurance” countless times as have many of you, but I have to admit I have not thought long and hard about what I was singing.  J.I. Packer has thought long and hard about the topic expressed in these lyrics—assurance.

Maybe I should have…

We hear the idea of assurance in Christian gatherings sometimes but there is rarely a deep discussion of it.  I have heard of “conservative” pastors referring to it in regard to the sins his or her congregation may be committing.  “If you don’t work to rid yourself of sin, you will lose your salvation!” [aka assurance of salvation].  It may come up in a Bible study class or even in Sunday school.  But for the most part, it rarely gets mentioned in the everyday Christian’s life.

What is assurance?

Our Heavenly Father has sent His Son to be with us, to instruct us through His life and to die on the cross.  His death was a clear message to all of us that if we profess our belief in God and His Son Jesus, we can expect wonderful things to happen when we leave this earth.  We can expect to be in heaven.  He “has prepared a place for us”.  We can be assured that if we believe in Jesus Christ and His Father God, we will experience eternal life. 

“Heir of salvation, purchase of God”

“Watching and waiting, looking above”

Let’s stop and consider assurance.  In Packer’s Knowing God he spends several pages discussing the various approaches to our future, our afterlife.  In chapter 19 entitled “Sons of God” this is probably a good time to discuss assurance because if I am indeed a “son” of God, what should I expect as I end my time on this earth?  Do I really have a future in heaven?  What if I sin?  Worse than that: what if I turn my back on God?  Can I lose my salvation?  Do I lose assurance?  

Bottom line…

Can I count on God to stand by me…

A merciless sinner…

No matter what…

It turns out that theologians have debated this issue for years.  Packer cites Roman Catholic theologians who expressed the idea that man could be denied the favor of God due to sinful behavior.  In essence, they believed that man could lose his assurance.  Martin Luther attacked this doctrine that “taught that no man knows certainly whether he be in favor of God or not.”  Human behavior can lead to the torment of human conscience, the riddance of Christ from the church and the denial of the Holy Spirit on the life of the believer.  The Catholic doctrine seems to sidestep the fact that all of us sin; we can’t help it.  It does not matter; if we do, it could lead to eternal punishment—the denial of our salvation.

In my estimation, this approach is extreme [I guess I agree with Luther].  Luther felt that man could maintain his faith in God even under the temptation of sin.  The hope was still there; sinners could experience salvation.  Packer writes “be thankful that you have never been exposed to the kind of temptation that makes [loss of salvation] the actual state of your soul” [224].  Luther felt this loss of salvation was not a problem for every believer.

Puritan believers elaborated on this further, stating that assurance is based on repentance and commitment to Jesus Christ.  A sinner could always repent and continue his commitment to God.  Sin did not disqualify one from their inheritance of salvation.  Expecting to be absolved of sin is the process of “justification.”  Being “born again” is not just a one-time event.  As all of us live our lives on this earth, we will have to be brought right with God more than once.  Sin continues beyond our born again experience but absolution can continue also.

Accepting the idea of assurance is an act of faith; in fact, it is a cornerstone of faith for many Christians.

This all sounds good, but  the debate continues today.  The more one thinks about assurance the more it can be bewildering.  Can a person “bank on” assurance and sin “like the devil?”  Does God assure all believers, despite what they do?  When God assures, what does He really assure us He will do?  Are there any exclusions?  Is it really a black or white issue?

Here is where Packer inserts his adopted “son of god” argument.

If we are indeed the adopted sons of God, we are His children and He is our perfect Father, why would He cast us off?  We may sin and yet find favor with God if we are willing to return to Him, ask for forgiveness and make a sincere effort to repent.  The prodigal son is in our Bibles for a reason.  Does God care for us even when we stray away?  What does the parable of the sheep that strays away mean? God cares; He will leave ninety-nine sheep to tend to the one who has strayed.  Packer writes “God will go out of His way to make His children feel His love for them and know their privilege and security as members of His family.  Adopted children need assurance that they belong, and a perfect parent will not withhold it” [225].

Packer cites the Apostle Paul who exudes confidence in our assurance.   Consider his words in Romans 8: 38-39.  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He states if we are God’s children, we are His heirs “since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” [verse 17].

Furthermore, Packer cites the existence of The Holy Spirit as evidence of our assurance: “God’s Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit, and so to our spirit” [226].  He calls this inferential reasoning.  It works like this.  I know the Gospel.  I trust Jesus Christ.  I bring forth works that account for repentance of my sin.  I manifest the instincts of a “regenerate man”. 

“Our heavenly Father intends His children to know His love for them, and their own security and His family.  He would not be the Perfect Father if He did not want this, and if He did not bring this about” [Packer, 227].

Still hanging out there is the Christian who “sins like the devil” [wow, what an expression].  Packer explains that believing Christians who fall away must get to the point where they “grieve the Spirit.”  In essence, they must eventually seek God with all their heart.  What will happen if they don’t?  Packer states that they will miss the crowning gift of the “double witness.”   God give all Christians “saving faith” but He gives extraordinary Christians “edifying faith.”  Edifying faith is an inspirational life that builds up the Kingdom of God on this earth.   This edifying faith is seen in the Christ who has “a simple confidence in God that shows in all they say and do. Extraordinarily faithful people show a humble godliness and reliance on God’s promises, often so much so that they are known to be quietly fearless and zealous.”**  They are convinced that they can overcome all the obstacles to God’s working in their lives.  These Christians are a joy and encouragement to others. 

I will go even further.

They possess the Christian’s secret of a happy life.

This could be our life, our experience, our assurance of more wonderful things to come, if we live the life of faith in Jesus Christ, His Father God and the Holy Spirit.

“Perfect submission, all is at rest

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

This is my story, this is my song”

Meditate on the last words of these lyrics…

This is my story, this is my song…

Could it be?

Yes it could…

*written by Fannie Crosby

** “What is the Spiritual Gift of Faith” from GotQuestions.org website [accessed on 5/29/2020]

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