Genuine Assurance Today ©2003 Herbert E. Douglass
I want to talk today about my Best Friend and your Best Friend. Jesus is the reason we are all here today and He wants each of us to leave this church today convinced that each one of us has the assurance that if you died tonight, you would be saved.
I will be speaking to four groups: 1) Those who cling to a false assurance; 2) Those who are unsure of their assurance and want it back; 3) Those who may be living dangerously in the far country, and 3) Those who want to deepen their assurance. Did I leave anyone out?
The world is full of different answers to our question: How can I know if Jesus came tonight, I would be saved? The reason why there are many answers to that question is because the world is full of different pictures of God. That is why I keep looking at Jesus because the primary reason why Jesus came to Planet Earth was to give us a clear picture of what God is like and how He feels about every one of us. Let’s talk about it.
I will never forget that spring afternoon at Pacific Union College. The sun was streaming through my office window as I was correcting examination papers. And the door burst open. A former student, now graduated, flung himself into the chair beside my desk.
I had not seen him for several years. His face was wrinkled with despair. Out poured his anguish. He had been in jail for a few months. Over and over he repeated to me that probation had closed for him! He was certain that his name had “come up” in the investigative judgment, that he was a lost man and that was the reason he found himself in jail!!
He was always a very likable young man. But somehow, after graduation, an intense battle had been fought over his soul. His agony was caused by a wrong understanding of the gospel. He had forgotten what Jesus had done for him on the Cross and what Jesus wants to do for him as his High Priest in the Heavenly Sanctuary. This led to a scary mis-understanding of the pre-advent, investigative judgment.
What notion had muddled his thinking? Unfortunately, I too have heard it through the years--the thinking goes like this: Since 1844, angels have been turning pages in the books of heaven, each page representing the record of each person’s life, beginning with Adam and Eve. Pages are turning, day and night! Each person’s future—eternal life or damnation—is settled after each page is examined. Never tiring, the angels move through the years until the present. When the pages of the living come up— it’s judgment time, ready or not! If one is judged to be unfit for eternal life on the day one’s name “comes up,” probation is over. No mulligans, no replays. Their probation is closed—the Holy Spirit no longer speaks to that person; the unsaved now live unrestrained by the Holy Spirit speaking to the conscience. And so the scary notion goes.
Often I have heard the echo of my young friend’s agony through the years. Perhaps a camp meeting sermon: “Get right with God today, at this camp meeting! Who knows when your name will come up in the judgment? It may be tonight! You may never have another camp meeting!”
What is wrong here? It is hard to know where to begin! That’s why I wrote a chapter on the judgment in Should We Ever Say, ‘I am Saved’? I won’t take the time to review all that this morning, except to say: God doesn’t close our probation—we do. Like any genuine parent, God will keep pressing His appeal, night and day, never holding back His promises of pardon and power. But we can tune out His Spirit’s voice by rejecting the Light of truth that we all have—until we no longer hear His whisper in our conscience!
Let’s keep looking at Jesus. Jesus did not come to this world to hand us a list of duties by which we can be sure that we are saved. He came to tell us what God is really like—He is our great Heavenly Father who loves all his kids, not a harsh judge, or an exacting bookkeeper, or the traffic cop in your rear-view mirror. When you think of your salvation, think of God telling you, this very moment, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
So let’s talk about it: How can we be sure of salvation today?
About a year ago I received a letter from an old friend, a distinguished author. I quoted some of that letter in this book, Should We Ever Say, ‘I Am Saved’? and many of you have read it. That letter drove me to get busy writing. Read the letter yourself; here are the last few lines.
“I used to fantasize that if I could just meet Jesus personally as He was on this earth, I would run and bow down before Him, and tell Him I wanted to be a real Christian, but I didn't know if I was one. I wanted to serve him, and I wanted the assurance that He loved me and would save me. Maybe He would even tell me, Yes, I have saved you, and feel free to believe it! . . . [last page] I'm 79 now, and I hope for a few months or years of fellowship with Jesus my Savior, no longer separated by a gloomy cloud of salvation by works.”
Don’t you feel like weeping when you read a letter like this? What’s going on, in my dear friend’s life? Somehow, in all his reading, my friend did not get a clear picture of the plan of salvation. Nor, did he have a clear picture of the character of God. Hard to believe, but, for him, God was a Cosmic Traffic Cop in his rear mirror!
Where would you start in answering this letter? I can guarantee that your children, your parents, your friends everywhere are looking for those answers you would give to my 79-year old friend. The question that hangs over all else is this: How can I have assurance that I am saved today? If I should die tonight, would I be saved?
First, we must be honest with each other, especially the young people. Church members can live with a smile, anesthetized by a false, presumptuous assurance. But, Jesus said that many, in the final judgment, will believe that they are saved—but they are lost! How can that be? They lived with a false assurance!
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matt 7:21-23. (See Luke 11:25-27)
What is going on here? How could it be that Jesus did not “know” them? Of course, He knew them as He would know everyone who has ever lived. A better translation would be: “I never recognized you for what you said you were.” Somehow there was a disconnect between acting like good church members and what Jesus was really looking for.
In other words, Jesus is giving us a clear heads-up: Salvation is more than saying the right words. Salvation is a matter of lining our lives up with the way God runs the universe. In other words, our assurance that we are saved should not rest on merely playing church or upon what others may say about our wonderful good deeds.
Paul understood the anesthetic of false assurance when he wrote his second letter to the Corinthians: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (13:5).
How does one slip into a false assurance? Paul saw two ways that fellow Christians could slip into a false assurance. In Romans, he appealed to those who wandered into a false assurance when they substituted “faith” for obedience (Romans 6). In Galatians, Paul was concerned with a presumptuous assurance from the other direction, this time from lawkeepers who misunderstood the Jewish rituals and the purpose of law in the Christian’s life.
We see these two groups thriving in the Christian church today—both misunderstand the everlasting gospel: those who substitute faith for obedience and those who turn the gospel into laws to be kept. Here’s the question that will help us in deciding how obedience and law-keeping and assurance can best fit together: Are you guarding the Sabbath and paying your tithe to impress God or to honor Him? Same act, but different motives!
Now, let’s talk to those who are unsure of their assurance and want it back. Listen to Ellen White’s counsel to a faithful Christian, who is ill and depressed and finding it hard to believe: “The message from God to me for you is ‘Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37). If you have nothing else to plead before God but this one promise from your Lord and Saviour, you have the assurance that you will never, never be turned away. It may seem to you that you are hanging upon a single promise, but if you have nothing else to plead before God but this one promise from your Lord and Savior, you have the assurance that you will never, never be turned away. It may seem to you that you are hanging upon a single promise, but appropriate that one promise, and it will open to you the whole treasure house of the riches of the grace of Christ. Cling to that promise and you are safe. ‘Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.’ Present this assurance to Jesus, and you are as safe as though inside the city of God.” –MR. vol. 10, 174-178.
Believe me, these words are God’s words to each of us today. The Bible is crystal clear that Christians, today and every day, should have genuine assurance that they are saved.
John 6: 37— “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
1 John 1:9—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
2 Timothy 1:12—“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
Hebrews 10:22—“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.”
1 John 5:13—“This letter is to assure you that you have eternal life.”
(Reread page 53, in Steps to Christ)
We believe all this to be true because we believe Jesus and what He told us about God. How did Jesus describe God?
Jesus described our Heavenly Father, not as the Arbitrary Judge, not as the Cosmic Cop, not as the Exacting Bookkeeper, but as the Waiting Father, as the Involved Parent.
In His unforgettable parable of the two sons and the Patiently Waiting Father, Jesus gave us not only blueprints of two kinds of men and women but also a picture of God that incinerates all of Satan’s lies about Him. But, strange as it may seem, most of the sermons and books explaining this parable focus on the wasteful, irresponsible son, and sometimes on the cool son who played it safe.
However, the primary point of this parable is the same as the two preceding parables in which Jesus was giving a picture of God that the Pharisees never dreamed of. The Devoted Shepherd, the Diligent Housewife, and the Waiting Father belong to one giant mosaic depicting certain facets of a very wonderful Heavenly Father.
Most people have heard these three stories told many times. But the grand theme of each story gets lost when we focus on the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son. Granted, Jesus gives us all hope when we consider how we all have been, at times, the sheep, coin, and son. But when we read these parables, we should look at the main character in these three parables and shout, “God is like that! Why should we ever doubt!”
Where do you find Jesus likening our Heavenly Father to the Cosmic Cop, or the Arrogant Judge, or the Vengeful Bookkeeper? Never! So why should we?
What brought the Wasteful Son to his senses? Was it the stench of the pigpen? Was it the ridicule of his “fair-weather” friends? Was it the filthy barn where he slept? Was it the gnawing hunger, day and night?
No, it was homesickness. “I remember Dad whistling into the sunrise, singing as he milked goats. I remembered how he taught me to drive the oxen and to ride my own favorite horse. I remember those strong hands folded in prayer before each meal. I remember how patient Dad was when I broke the plow by trying to go too fast. I remember the sad shadow on Dad’s face when he caught me lying. I remember the far-away look on his face when he gave me my so-called inheritance. And the arm around my shoulders when I left home. And I remember his last wave before I turned the far corner.”
No, it wasn’t his empty pocketbook, his empty stomach, or his empty pride that brought the Wasteful Son to his senses—it was his memory of home and of his father that led him to repentance (Romans 2:4). He had learned through bitter circumstances that he was the freest when he was with his father; he left his father only to find that he was soon chained by sensual gratifications, by the lies to maintain his veneer, and by the addictions that dragged him to a pigpen.
I am emphasizing this parable because I think this parable of the Waiting Father was given primarily for those who once knew the sweet taste and quiet assurance of his Father’s home. Prayer was a delight, the Scriptures a daily pleasure. But somehow all that fades under the stress of life.
Some of you may feel that Satan seems to be winning, throwing up one distraction after another until even the thought of being saved seems so uncertain. You may feel you are in your own “far country.” Far from your Heavenly Father. In your quiet moments, you feel your misery, your despair.
Perhaps the only solid fact in your life is your memory, faded as it may be, of Friday nights around the piano or vespers at academy or college. That’s thee bell of homesickness ringing for you. He already has His arms outstretched for you, waiting for you to “come to yourself.” Just as the Waiting Father embraced the Wasteful Son!
Of course you feel guilt, as did the returning son. But don’t wait until you can pull yourself together before telling Him you are coming home—for that is impossible. He alone can turn your world right-side up! He is the only one who can clear up the clouds in your life. Problems at home, with your work, with your deep-grained addictions, with your anger (even though you may be right), with your self-satisfaction—all that is on your Heavenly Father’s agenda to work out. All you are to do is to fold yourselves in His everlasting arms, believe and trust His promises, and let Him turn your world right-side up! He is very good at what He does.
If Satan whispers (and so logically) that you have gone too far this time, or that you have wasted too many years, throw in his face our Lord’s own words, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:38). He wants you to have the assurance that you are saved now! Sense it! Believe it as much as you believe that Jesus died on the Cross for you! And that He has special High Priestly grace to help you grow up in your heavenly Fathers house.
On one hand, Bible writers often pointed out that there is no stopping place in our “growing up” “to the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). We must keep “pressing on” “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Remember the Nike ad: “There is no finish line.”
But, we also must remain realistic: Jesus and other Bible writers also make it clear that we can lose our present salvation if we choose not to continue “pressing on.”
Think of Hebrews 10:26: “For if we sin [continue to sin] willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment.” Check out Heb.3: 12-14; 6:4-6; 10:26-29, 36-38.
Sad to even think about it! But assurance can be lost—by continual neglect, or by sheer stubbornness in wasting life away in the pleasures of this world. Or by accepting the false assurances of a limited gospel that promises salvation without obedience and without character transformation.
Paul knew from his own experience in working with his young churches that once converted men and women could fall away and lose their saving relationship with Jesus.
Think of Demas, one of Paul’s early supporters who left him because Demas “loved this present world” (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:9). Think of Hymenaeus (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:17) He once had “faith and a good conscience” but rejected it, making “shipwreck” of his faith. He is remembered today for being among the first in the Christian church to sink into religious chatter and doctrinal subversion.
My children remember the day when we went to Saratoga, New York. In 1777, the second Battle of Saratoga in the American Revolution gave the young Continental army one of its most decisive victories. I wanted my children and Norma to see a very interesting monument in the cemetery near the battlefield. The monument is dedicated to four generals of the Continental army who were commanding their groups during that remarkable colonial victory.
General Gates was supreme commander for that day, they say, chiefly because of his political skill. The battle for Saratoga would have been lost if Gates had not received the dashing heroism of Benedict Arnold at the right time. Reports say that Benedict Arnold late in the day did more with his 3000 men than Gates did all day with his 11,000. Benedict Arnold was second only to Washington in the eyes of the Continental soldier.
But that monument! On that four-sided obelisk today you will find the name and statue of General Gates, Schuyler, and Morgan. But on the fourth side, an empty niche remains for the hero of Saratoga. We pondered what could have been!
However, I especially wanted my children to see the second monument on the battlefield itself. Much, much smaller than the obelisk is a statue of a boot, the boot of Benedict Arnold. In the evening of the Battle of Saratoga, a wounded Hessian soldier, lying on the ground, fired at Arnold, shattering his left leg, that same leg that had been wounded in Quebec. A rifleman, rushed upon the Hessian with drawn bayonet. He was stopped only by Arnold’s cry: “For God’s sake, don’t hurt him!” It has been well said that that was the hour when the brilliant young general should have died.
A few months later, General Benedict Arnold, the commander of the fort at West Point, was plotting to turn the fort over to the British! By a chance coincidence, he was discovered and he fled for his life to the British. The profit he received for his treason was a few thousand dollars and a commission in the British Army.
After becoming a Britisher, he asked an American prisoner, “What would the Americans do if they caught me?” With contempt the American said: “They would cut off your wounded leg and give it the best of military burials—then, they would hang the rest of you.”
So today there is an empty niche in Saratoga, New York. Benedict Arnold started well, but he didn’t end well. Have you ever heard of a child named Benedict, or Judas, or Adolf? Jesus has given us all a sober promise: “He that endureth unto the end shall be saved!”
One of these days there will be a great marriage supper. A wedding reception with a long table set with the best of Rodgers silver and better than Blue Willow or Wedgewood china. You can be sure that fathers and mothers will be going up and down that long table looking for a son or daughter. Or children looking for their parents. Or a wife looking for her husband, a husband looking for his mate. Or sweethearts separated by war.
But, there will be empty seats at that table—just like that missing niche that was made for Benedict Arnold. Many of those missing started out well, but they changed leaders in their spiritual journeys. Many of them redefined “faith” and substituted it for obedience to their Lord. Others drifted into the current of least resistance, enjoying immediate gratifications. Whatever, trading eternity for a few “fun” years on this earth is a poor bargain.
Those missing places need not be! Let us make Paul’s appeal our personal life text: “Having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. . . . Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:21-23).
The last word will not be our faithfulness, but God’s faithfulness in what He has promised! Don’t try to measure how much faith you have to see if it is enough! Mark 11:22—“Keep holding to God’s faithfulness.” He is telling us today—“Those who come to me I will by no means cast out.” His promise: “As long as you do not resist Me, I will hold a place for each of you at My marriage supper. “ John said that he wrote his first letter “that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). I talked to you today, “that you may know that you have eternal life.”
How many want Jesus to hold a place for you at His wedding reception? If you are serious, will you stand with me and tell Him today that by His grace you will not disappoint Him? ===========================