Should We Ever Say, “I Am Saved?”
I have two reasons for selecting this sermon title. First, some uncomfortable questions: How many times have you been asked, “Are you saved?” How many times have you stumbled and stuttered, not knowing exactly how to answer? And then you hear that you can’t be much of a Christian if you don’t have that assurance now. Part of your reluctance is a natural modesty, not wanting to sound too proud. But the other part is trying to explain that nothing is for sure until the investigative judgment—and that sounds real wild, as if Adventists could never have assurance now that they are saved.
How about some more slippery question: If probation closed today, are you saved? Or, If you should die tonight, would you be saved?
But my second reason is a four-page letter that I received a few days ago from a long-time friend, a distinguished scholar and author. This letter really changed the subject that I had planned on discussing today.
I will read only parts of the letter. He writes about his long-time Adventist heritage, both grandparents, beginning before 1900. His father was one of the first students to enroll at PUC in 1909.
Concerning Ellen White’s family: “The White family has been quite familiar to me most of my life. Dad saw and heard Ellen White personally when she would come up from Elmshaven to speak to the students at PUC. I once met Willie White at Elmshaven, in 1933. I attended school with Oliver, Sylvan, and Viola Jacques, Ellen White’s great grand kids. . . . . Throughout out much of my life I absorbed EGW through my pores, so to speak, as well as consciously. . . .”
Concerning his home life: “We kids were brought up as pretty good SDAs, never using gee or gosh or darn or heck or such words, never eating meat, being ready for the Sabbath at sundown Friday, reciting our memory verses for the quarter, attending campmeetings in the summers, reading the MV reading course books, and doing the usual things SDAs did. Looking back, our parents were wise, kind, loving, and in most ways as good parents as anyone could ask for. As kids we used to end our prayers, ‘Help us to be good so we can be saved when Jesus comes.’
“To skip a lot of ground, . . . I think I became too religious. I used to wonder if I was good enough to be saved. . . . I saw the pictures of recording angels writing the record of the minutiae of our lives in ponderous books. I went through numerous weeks of prayer in academy and college, and listened to testimonies like, ‘I am determined to get the victory over my besetting sins.’ I gave such testimonies myself, and six months later at another week of prayer we would be making the same resolves and realizing we were just as far as before from living the ‘victorious life.’ One of the most awesome and scary things I heard over and over again was that the investigative judgment has been going on since 1844, and by now they must be very close to deciding on my name for all eternity. What more, I wondered, could I do? . . .
When I graduated from college I purposed to spend the short time I had before the end of the world teaching people they had to keep all the commandments, not just nine, and about the sleep of the dead, and other true doctrines. But I knew almost nothing about God’s salvation. I knew nothing about grace. What I knew about was ‘Blessed are they that do His commandments. . . .’ Disobey and you will be punished, like Korah or King Saul. But how does one know when he has obeyed enough to please God? I read DA through twice, PP once, and GC once. I read about the law, the law. I read things like PP:370—‘The covenant of grace . . . promised them eternal life on condition of fidelity to God’s law.’ It always came down to my own obedience that was going to earn God’s grace. . . . Eventually I read the Bible through 7 times in the King James, twice in newer versions, and once each in Spanish and French.
“For years I would see a meeting on TV, maybe Billy Graham, and envy the people thronging there. They were happy, praising God for His salvation. They were thanking God for saving them! But then I would remember EGW. We were never to say we are saved, and I would sink back in my misery. I finally admitted to myself that I devoutly wished I have been born a Baptist, or something. Then I could come out into the sunlight and be a happy child of God 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 this dear friend’s life? I know that it will take more than a few minutes to get our minds in gear to fully respond this morning but let’s try.
Somehow, in all his reading, in the Bible and in Ellen White, he did not get a clear picture of the plan of salvation. Nor, did he have a clear picture of the character of God. When he read Ellen White, who could have been his best friend throughout his life, he saw only black clouds and not the noon-day sun.
Where would you start in answering this letter? I assure you, your children, your parents, your friends everywhere are looking for the 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, should I have assurance this moment that I will be saved?
Much of my friend’s concerns zeroed in on his reading of Ellen White. So to find some answers we should begin where Ellen White began—listening to the Bible.
First, we should clear the air and accept our Lord’s words 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.” They did not choose to live in conformity with God’s law.”
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 problem 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).
Ellen White echoes Paul: “Deal truly with your own soul. Be as earnest, as persistent, as you would be if your mortal life were at stake. This is a matter to be settled between God and your own soul, settled for eternity. A supposed hope, and nothing more, will prove your ruin”(SC:35).
Now, let’s look at the whole question positively: 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.”
John 15:7— “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”
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 the 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.”
Furthermore, Ellen White is crystal clear that Christians, today and every day, should have genuine assurance now that they are in a saved relationship with Jesus now!. In an article for the Review and Herald, July 14, 1891, she wrote: “Simple faith in the atoning blood can save my soul; and with John, I must call the attention of all to the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Jesus has saved me, though I had nothing to present to him, and could only say,—‘In my hand no price I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling.’”
Listen to Ellen counsel to a faithful Christian, who, in depression because of illness, found 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 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” (10MR 175).
Why can Ellen White be so emphatic that trusting, willingly obedient people can have assurance now? Because she has seen the big picture we call the Great Controversy Theme.
In a nut shell she accepts the biblical principle that the purpose of the gospel is more than forgiveness. The good news promises that God will restore all that sin has messed up. The gospel promises to cleanse our minds so that God’s will can be done in our lives as it is done in heaven. It’s the message of 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.”
On one hand, Ellen 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).
But, on the other hand, Ellen also makes it clear that we can lose our present salvation if we choose not to continue in a saving relationship with Jesus. She often refers to those biblical passages that warn of dire consequences for those who do not maintain their loyalty to God’s will.
2 Peter 2:20-21: “If, after they have escaped pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.” Check out Heb.3: 12-14; 6:4-6; 10:26-29, 36-38.
In other words, we may have assurance now and yet recognize that we can lose that assurance by dishonoring Jesus, by not continuing to walk into the Light of Truth that keeps opening up to genuine Christians.
Ellen White is also crystal clear as to how to misuse the phrase, “I am saved.” First, COL:155-- “Peter's fall was not instantaneous, but gradual. Self‑confidence led him to the belief that he was saved, and step after step was taken in the downward path, until he could deny his Master. Never can we safely put confidence in self or feel, this side of heaven, that we are secure against temptation. Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved. This is misleading. Every one should be taught to cherish hope and faith; but even when give ourselves to Christ and know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation.” . . .
How is Ellen using the word “saved” in this context? Obviously, she is thinking in terms of being “eternally secure,” “eternally saved.” She is warning against self-confidence which was Peter’s downfall. Her warning is identical to Paul’s when he wrote “We have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 2:14). Satan will never give up his attacks on us, just as He kept at Jesus through Gethsemane and the Cross. Our answer to the question, “Are you saved?” should always be, “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
In an 1892 article in the Review and Herald, she gave another reason for being cautious regarding the phrase, “I am saved”: “It is essential to have faith in Jesus, and to believe you are saved through Him; but there is danger in taking the position that many do take in saying, "I am saved." Many have said: "You must do good works, and you will live"; but apart from Christ no one can do good works. Many at the present day say, ‘Believe, only believe, and live.’ Faith and works go together, believing and doing are blended..” (1 SM 373). (See also ST:Feb 25, 1897)
What is the danger that Ellen is guarding against here? On one hand, she is guarding against the popular theology of her day that promises “once saved, always saved.” That in some magical way, anyone who “accepts Jesus as their Savior” is guaranteed eternal life. We call that “religious liberalism.” On the other hand, she is guarding against another error too prevalent even in her own church—that by faithful observance of the commandments, respectable living, one can have the assurance of salvation. We call that “religious legalism.”—excellent example of Ellen White’s understanding of the ellipse of truth.
In other words, righteousness by works and righteousness without works are equally wrong and equally giving people a false assurance.
So what have we learned so far in this quick flyover?
Don’t teach our children or new converts to say, “I am saved,” with the sense that they are beyond the reach of Satan’s temptations. (COL:155)
Don’t teach them to say, “I am saved,” in the sense that our faith substitutes for obedience to God’s law and known duty. (1SM:373)
Don’t teach them to say, “I am saved,” in the sense that character change is not important to their salvation. (1SM:314)
So what do we say to ourselves and to our children:
do teach them that “it is essential” to believe they are saved today;
do teach them that no one, no devil, can snatch them out of our Lord’s hands when we ask Him to pick us up for the sixty-eleventh time (John 10:28);
do teach them that anyone who calls Jesus Lord, He “will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37);
do teach them that by presenting these promises to Jesus they will have the assurance that they are as safe now” as if inside the city of God.”
I know some are saying: What about Noah and David and Abraham and Sarah—look at the big-time mistakes they made and Paul said that God was “not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16)? They were major-league failures and they will be saved!
Right! They were all prodigal sons and daughters at some time in their lives. But they kept coming back to the Light of Truth.. Like all of us, they stumbled and messed up their lives. But let’s not forget Mary Magdalene! Seven times she blew it. If anyone could have been discouraged, surely it would have been Mary. But she kept coming back to that Voice which kept saying, “Mary, I love you! I will never give up on you. Let’s start walking together once more. I will never leave you nor forsake you!
Let’s sit back and take another look at what the Bible is doing. The major theme of all Christ’s teaching is the Fatherhood of God. No real father gives his children stones when they ask for potatoes. No real father ever stops loving his children, no matter how much they may disappoint him, or even disgrace him. He is forever trying to figure out how to help them see the big picture. The big picture tells us that the father loves unconditionally but does not approve or accept his children’s actions unconditionally—or else there will be utter confusion and ultimate disaster for all concerned.
When we get the character of our Heavenly Father right, we will never again wonder about the assurance of our salvation. Assurance comes naturally to those who trust their parents. Assurance of salvation comes naturally to those who appreciate what Jesus did on that awful Cross. Assurance comes naturally to those who know that our Lord is alive in heaven today, doing all He can to work sin out of our lives. That’s His job as our “all-powerful Mediator.”
Assurance of salvation comes when we say with Paul, that we too may “be confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:16). And when we remember daily the words of Jesus, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.”
© 2002 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org