When studying the word of God, there are times when I feel overwhelmed by some insight declared through the pages of Scripture and it compels me to respond. If no one is around to share the wonder, then I sit down and blog out my praise of what God appears to have revealed.
Today, as I read through Hebrews chapter 10 and into 11, I was struck by the contrast between the popular Doctrine of Assurance of Salvation and how the text describes that this confident assurance is actually the definition of Faith.
As the Spirit reveals in Heb 11:6, Faith has two primary aspects that establish a biblical confidence: an accepting belief in the existence of God, and a recognition that he rewards those who “earnestly seek him”. Claiming faith in God is “impossible to please God”, if we only accept him without responding rightly. It is what the Bible identifies as a “shipwrecked” faith.
In order to solidify this fluid nature to faith, many churches have turned their teaching about this confidence into a law. In other words, the doctrine of assurance has become for many a legal guarantee with no need for faith to remain active. They reject any need to earnestly seek, to do the will of God, to endure to the end, to obey, to stay faithful.
The twisted idea is that because the facts about who Jesus is are unchangeable, that makes their application to every individual who claims it, also unchangeable. The problem here is that what is absolute in Christ, is not equally absolute in a professing believer, who “deliberately keeps on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth”. Hebrews says that such confidence for this believer has changed into “only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire”.
The writer appeals to Christians to pay more careful attention so that our claimed faith doesn’t “drift away”. This drifting of faith, he says is threatened by ignoring such a great salvation (chapter 2), by hardening our hearts by sin’s deceitfulness (3), by a lack of maturity (5), by falling away and never being able to repent (6), by throwing away our confidence and by shrinking back (10), by sins that so easily entangle (12).
No law can prop up faith. No doctrine can replace faith as the foundation of assurance. There is no acceptable license or guarantee that can replace faith as our confidence in what Jesus has promised to those to love him.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1)
Those who persist in sin, damage their personal faith, and undermine their offered assurance. Many who promote their doctrine of assurance, do so as if it is a law that cannot be revoked, a license that protects their desire for salvation even while living immoral lives—a license for immorality. In this way, their doctrinal tradition is set up over the word of God.
Thinking that you are saved doesn’t work. Claiming a church doctrine as your guarantee also doesn’t work. Many think they are saved, but are actually self-deceived.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Mt 7:21-23)
Our assurance of salvation is our faith. Believers are initially given this faith as a gift by the Author of our salvation. From there, we are taught that Jesus is also the Perfecter of our faith. This does not mean that the gift of faith is imperfect, but rather incomplete. The gift of faith must thereafter develop and mature inside an individual in order to please God.
This is the difference between justification and sanctification as they work together to bring us to glorification. Justification is entirely about the work of Jesus on the Cross in causing salvation, in providing the means of forgiveness for all sin (past, present, and even future). This is where faith is offered as a gift of God’s merciful grace to a person he chooses to call. This is where a person can taste of the heavenly gift, to experience the joy of hope in salvation, to be reconciled to God even while still struggling against sinful temptation in the flesh.
But no doctrine can replace the truth that God expects a return-on-investment for this gift of faith, for granting us a deposit of his Spirit, for applying this one-time sacrifice of Christ to cleans us from all that had separated us from him. This is where faith must mature through sanctification, through our willing participation in the internal working of the Spirit. We are not possessed here, or forced to automatically comply; we are prompted with the freedom to respond as a reflection that will demonstrate our faith.
This is why we can still be choked out by weeds and scorched by the burning sun in temptations, like warned in the parable of the soils.
In spite of this, we have an assurance to approach the throne of God with confidence. That assurance is in who Jesus is, not in what we can or cannot supposedly do. Our faith must stay focused firmly on him, for he cannot fail, but if we let go of our faith, we certainly will fail. Our assurance is in the unchanging nature and eternal power of who Jesus is, not in some legal guarantee that allows us to continue living our way and still be saved.
Faith in Christ cannot fail. Faith away from Christ, which still could only ever have occurred by gift, will not produce the fruit God requires, and in the end the person who had that initial faith will get burned up with the chaff. The command is to be holy, to be sanctified, to come out and be separate. Unlike the elements of nature which always perfectly and automatically respond to the words of Jesus in obedient compliance, humans are an expectation.
We have been given the freedom to choose. From the start we could choose between the trees in the garden of Eden. The Bible declares that God has called heaven and earth as witnesses against humanity, because he set before humans the ability to choose between life and death (Dt 30:19). The rest of the material world does not have that freedom. This is why the Holy Spirit doesn’t posses and control a person against their own will. We must willingly choose to submit to and participate in the work of God. Our faith must grow and mature.
Like the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11, who all were commended for what they did in demonstration of their faith, so we must respond to the gift given to us.
Our confidence remains assured as our faith is actively lived. This is saving faith. Our confidence is misplaced, when our faith is replaced with alternative guarantees of human origin, like doctrines of assurance which eliminate any need for obedient faith.
We do have assurance; it is our faith. Our victory and hope is in Christ through a living faith.