Am I Still Right With God?
Knowing what to do to be saved is straightforward to most Christians (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Peter 3:21). But after some time some Christians start wondering about the current status of their relationship with God. They knew for sure that they were right with God immediately after being baptized, but a year, two years or five years down the road, can they really be sure that they are still in a saved condition? The wonderful thing is that the preceding question can be answered. Various Christians in the first century where confident about their relationship with God, years after being converted. Some twenty years after his conversion, Paul could say, "…for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Timothy 1:12). Near the end of his life, he said, "in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness" (2 Tim. 4:8).
Confidence Has A Price
Many want to be confident about their salvation, but such confidence isn’t free or cheap. Various false sources of confidence must be allowed to fall by the wayside. There are no effortless assurances of salvation. To have a true assurance of one's standing before God, the following must be viewed as false grounds for assurance and therefore unfit for the child of God: 1. Once you are saved, you are automatically locked in (2 Timothy 2:11-12). 2. God will save everyone who professes to be a Christian (Matthew 7:13-14; 21-23). 3. Virtually every religion has credibility before God (John 14:6). 4. God will judge mankind on a curve (2 Corinthians 5:10). 5. Because of the all the confusion and disorder that has happened in the religious realm, God is going to greatly lower importance of believing and practicing the right doctrines (2 John 9). 6. Because of all the hypocrites in the church and all the abuses committed in the name of God, He will excuse those who have become discouraged (Revelation 21:8; Matthew 25:24-25). 7. God will save you just as long as you are a good moral person (Romans 3:23).
The Standard: Objective or Subjective?
We must once and for all bite the bullet and admit that subjective feelings about our relationship with God are a false basis for answering the question, "am I still saved?" This is especially where the price for true assurance really starts increasing. We must get our heads out of the sand and realize that a clear conscience doesn't save us. A Pharisee by the name of Saul, had been very confident about his relationship with God and had been absolutely convinced that it was God's will to persecute Christians (Acts 26:9). Years after being converted, he wrote the Christians in Corinth and laid down an important principle. 1 Corinthians 4:4 "I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted", "this does not prove that I am innocent" Gspd). Paul himself had been living proof that a clear conscience (Acts 23:1), can co-exist with a lost condition (1 Tim. 1:13-15). Therefore when it comes to the question of, "am I still saved, am I presently right with God?"; feelings, emotions, and personal experiences are unreliable measuring sticks (Proverbs 16:25). But if one's relationship with God isn't accurately determined by subjective means, and considering the fact that God wants His people to be confident about their salvation (Hebrews 10:22), the conclusion that must be reached is that God has left mankind with an objective means of determining our standing with Him, that is, the Scriptures. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
1 John 2:3 "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments". This passage and others like it (1 John 2:29; 3:10; 5:2; John 14:15; Matthew 7:21; 1 Timothy 3:15), demand that certain conclusions about the Bible must be accepted by Christians, if assurance and confidence is going to be ours. 1. His commandments must be clear, which demands that the Bible is understandable. I must be able to know when I am properly keeping them. 2. The Bible must be concise and to the point, that with confidence we could be able to say concerning any subject that relates to our salvation, "this is the truth, this is the right interpretation" (1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:2; Jude 3). One writer said, "This brings to my mind, an old but true Latin expression, …where the law is uncertain, there is no law." Unfortunately many religious people are under the impression that assurance is found in confusion. It seems that many people view judgment day somewhat like an exam at school. The assurance of many appears to be grounded in the fact that if enough people fail the test, then acting like some frustrated human teachers, God will just throw out the test results and then give everyone a toned-down and much easier make-up quiz.
As we have said, true assurance has a high price tag. We won't end up saved because mom and dad said we were (1 Peter 1:18). Neither are we automatically right with God because we are associating with some Christians who are (Revelation 3:4). No easy ticket to confidence before God exists. And while we might be tempted to rely upon the advice of one that might tell us, "don't worry about it, of course your saved", they don't really know us, do they? (1 Corinthians 9:27). 2 Corinthians 13:5 "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" "You should be looking at yourselves to make sure that you are really Christ's" (Phi). When you really think about it, the last Scripture makes perfect sense. For it is only our spirit that knows what is on our minds. Are we lusting? Are we jealous or envious? I'm the only one among men that knows what my true motivation is for serving God (1 Corinthians 2:11). Since "I" live with myself constantly, I am the best one qualified to answer the question, "am I keeping the commands of God or not?" (1 John 2:4). Now, certain conclusions from these passages must be drawn: 1. I can know myself. Self-examination that is accurate is not only possible, but it is commanded. 2. When I compare myself to the Word of God, I can with accuracy know where I stand. After all, isn't this the precise method that I used to determine if I was a Christian or not? I looked at the commands (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), then I asked myself, "self, have you done that yet?" (Romans 8:16).
But someone might say, "But Mark, no person can understand everything that the Bible teaches perfectly, therefore assurance can never be found from following the Bible." But can you understand perfectly any subject? Since all doctors would admit that they don't understand perfectly everything about the human body, does that mean they can't have any confidence in operating upon it? In addition, I have something that the doctor, biologist, engineer, chemist, etc., doesn't have as yet. When it comes to the subject matter that I am interested in, i.e., my relationship with God, I have access to an infallible guide (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). You are right, I don't know everything perfectly in this book. But the same is true with the dictionary. I do not know all the words perfectly, but I can keep Webster handy and quickly find the definition that I need at the moment. In addition, where did God ever argue, "you can’t understand My message completely, so you can’t really ever be sure if you are saved or not"? The very fact that God gave us His revelation, proves that He believes that we can understand it (John 8:31-32; 1 Timothy 2:4 "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"). Many people try to discredit assurance based upon using the Bible as your guide, as in the above argument, because one cannot attain to a perfect knowledge of God's will. If this is your concern, my question is, of what part of God's will are you unsure? What to do to be saved? (Mark 16:16). The organization of the church? (1 Tim. 3:1-15). How I should treat my wife? (Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:7). My relationship to civil government? (Romans 13:1-7). When do I partake of the Lord's Supper? (Acts 20:7). What are my priorities as a Christian? (Matthew 6:33). How do I treat Christians that refuse to repent? (2 Thess 3:6-15). What do I do when I sin? (1 John 1:8-10). As previously noted, true confidence in serving God isn't easy or cheap. It demands of us to resolve issues that we aren't sure about it, but that requires that we get our noses into the word, put forth some effort, refuse to allow preconceptions and prejudices to cloud our thinking (which Jesus said is possible, John 8:32). And in the end, to accept what God has said, no matter how many false illusions it may shatter. In pondering this subject, I'm persuaded that it isn't that the Bible is too confusing that causes us to question our present status before God. I think we are often the root cause. It just appears to me that if we tend to lack confidence it's often due to the fact that we fail to really study the word of God. Not because it's too hard, but because we are afraid of what we might find that would seriously conflict with our present lifestyle. In addition, it is much easier to sit back and question things, than to find the answers.
Salvation Isn't Based On Perfection
And thank God for that! David said that the righteous man, was the forgiven man (Romans 4:6-8). Even after one becomes a Christian, forgiveness remains available for transgressions (1 John 1:8-10). Again, this isn't a cheap assurance. While a person doesn't have to live a perfect life to gain eternal life, they do have to be honest, sincere, humble, and able to own up to sins they have committed (James 5:16). You don't have to live a flawless life, but you must be able to properly handle a rebuke (Galatians 2:14; Luke 17:3; Matthew 16:23).
Salvation Is Based On Something All Can Give
Being right with God isn't based on such external factors as wealth, prestige, social status, fame or family pedigree (Galatians 3:26-29). Eternal life, thank God, isn't handed out like political favors, or front row seats to a playoff game. You don't have to be physically attractive, rich or famous to gain favor with God (1 Corinthians 1:26). God in His wisdom and mercy placed salvation on a basis that would be attainable for every person who wanted it. Romans 4:16 "For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants…" (Romans 1:16). Everyone can manifest an obedient faith in God; that's something which is within the reach of Mark Dunagan too!
God Is For Us
Romans 8:31-32 "If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son…" . The sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, His resurrection from the grave, the preaching of the gospel to the whole creation, the Bible being available in our own language, all adds testimony to one great fact. God must really want me saved (2 Peter 3:9). God has promised us so many things in the present life (1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 13:5-6). After reading these verses, one thought keeps coming back to my mind. God is telling all of us, "if you end up lost, it's because that was your choice, not Mine." "I'm not going to let you down. If you are going to end up lost, you are going to have to let yourself down!" "I'm in this for the long haul. When you became a Christian, My pledge of faithfulness was given to you for eternity, and if you don't make it, it is because you didn't want to be with Me." God is exhorting all of us, "You can do it, just consider your past successes" (Hebrews 6:9-11). All of us have manifested "faith" in God in the past, and that simply means we can do it today!
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/ (503)644-9017