Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Basis for Assurance

“The only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ. Any doctrine of assurance that includes introspection as a component will produce anxiety in the hearts of the very people it is intended to encourage. Barth is right when he points out that no system THAT HAS A CHRISTOLOGICAL BEGINNING AND AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ENDING can provide genuine and sustained assurance” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 188).

What is the basis for assurance in the Christian life? According to the words above, “assurance is the objective work of Christ.” I would agree; and so would the writer of Hebrews:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and HAVING A HIGH PRIEST OVER THE HOUSE OF GOD, let us draw near with a true heart in FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NKJV).

Because of Christ’s work on the cross (“by the blood of Jesus”), we are to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Notice that “faith” and “assurance” are linked together---“assurance of faith.” This tells us that faith in Christ is our assurance. If we believe that He died and rose for our sins, then we have faith in Christ. And this faith assures us that we belong to Him. And this is why the Hebrews writer continues:

“LET US HOLD FAST THE CONFESSION OF OUR HOPE without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).

Because of what Christ has done, we are to cling to Christ with everything we have, “holding fast the confession of our hope [faith] WITHOUT WAVERING...”

My question is this: why does the writer talk about holding the “confession of faith” WITHOUT WAVERING? Because the faith of the Hebrew believers, scattered throughout the world, was wavering (shaky) at this point in time the writer sends the epistle. He reminded them to hold on to their faith, since Christ is faithful and promised them eternal life. In other words, Christ can be trusted. Christ is true to His Word. This is why the Hebrews writer states that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). God is truth (John 14:6), and so is His Word (John 17:17).
But the writer links assurance to endurance with these words:

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and GOOD WORKS, NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLING OF OURSELVES TOGETHER, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING” (Heb. 10:24-25).

The writer tells them to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” which indicates that the Hebrew believers were refusing to gather together because of the ongoing persecution they were facing (Heb. 12:3-4). The writer encouraged them to gather together and build one another up in the faith. This is how they would demonstrate they were “holding fast the confession of their faith”---they would continue to meet, despite the persecution. Their faith, then, would be demonstrated by their efforts to continue meeting and praising God in the midst of their struggles. Assurance then, would show up BY THEIR ENDURANCE. Assurance and endurance, then, go together---they cannot be separated.

Finally, the end of Hebrews 10 is where I think the writer shows us how assurance and endurance are inseparable:

“Therefore DO NOT CAST AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE, WHICH HAS GREAT REWARD. FOR YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:35-36, NKJV).

The Hebrews are not to “cast away” their confidence (assurance); and why? because their assurance would bring great reward---ONLY THROUGH ENDURANCE. The writer states, “For you have NEED OF ENDURANCE...” Endurance was not optional in the faith; it was necessary, and would be necessary, to receiving eternal life. Assurance by itself would not be enough. If assurance by itself was enough, why would the writer say “you have need of endurance?” If all the Hebrews needed was to believe that Christ died and rose for them and would grant them eternal life, then what need was there to mention endurance? It was necessary to mention because it is necessary for eternal life.

I wanna end this post by discussing some of the quote with which I began this post:

“Any doctrine of assurance that includes introspection as a component will produce anxiety in the hearts of the very people it is intended to encourage. Barth is right when he points out that no system THAT HAS A CHRISTOLOGICAL BEGINNING AND AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ENDING can provide genuine and sustained assurance.”

Barth notes that many believers have a view of salvation that involves “a Christological beginning and an anthropological ending.” But I think Barth is mistaken here.

Let’s look at salvation. The work of salvation is accomplished by Christ alone, for salvation is not of works (Eph. 2:8). However, in order for me to “receive” the work that Christ did into my life (to receive salvation), I must repent and believe the gospel (Romans 10:9). So while the work of salvation is Christological (Christ-centered), the work of salvation REQUIRES a response of confession and belief from me (anthropological). Christ has given me the atonement I need; once I understand this, it becomes MY RESPONSIBILITY to accept the work by confession and belief.
And this is no different when it comes to leading a godly life that is pleasing to the Lord. The Lord has given us believers “all things that pertain to life and godliness, THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3); as a result, we are to RESPOND to what God has given us with a life of faith demonstrated by good works.

We must understand that endurance is not a matter of “works-salvation”; in the same way that faith is not a work, neither is endurance. Faith is a response to the work of Christ on the cross, and endurance is a response to the gracious salvation that God has granted. It is our responsibility to believe, and it is our responsibility to endure. If Christ will not give me salvation WITHOUT faith, then neither will He grant me eternal life WITHOUT endurance. Christ took the initiative in salvation and I respond in faith; the Lord took the initiative in sanctification, and I am to respond with endurance. I can live a life pleasing to the Lord because His Spirit lives within me; but the presence of His Spirit does not provide me with an excuse to be slothful and lazy about living in accordance with the Spirit within.

The same Lord who let the wilderness generation die off because of their failure to believe and endure (Exodus 32:31-34) is the same Lord who will punish His Church if she fails to believe and endure (1 Peter 4:18). After all, it is not our assurance of Christ’s work on the cross that will be judged on Judgment Day; rather, we will be judged for everything we have done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

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