One of the disagreements between the Protestants and the Catholics was the issue of assurance. The Reformers believed that God cannot lose any of His own, that He sustains them all to the end. The Catholics were appalled. In the Council of Trent they said, "If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end, unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema." (The Council of Trent, Session 6, CANON XVI) Do you believe that it is possible to know that you have eternal life? They consider that worthy of damnation.
Now, on one hand, as it turns out, the Roman Catholic Church has officially, with this statement from the Council of Trent, managed to anathematize Saint John. It was he who wrote, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13) You have to admit it takes real courage for a Church Council to damn one of their own official saints, let alone one of Christ's prime Apostles. Or, maybe it's not courage at all ...
But what strikes me is the problem of the basis of the concern. Why did they respond with such angst over the concept of the assurance of salvation? It's a concern shared by most who oppose the idea. Basically, it's this. "If you say that you can know that you have salvation, then you give license to people who will receive that assurance and then go and sin to their heart's content." They warn (even rightly) about false assurance, but their primary concern is that the certainty that you're saved gives you the freedom to sin.
So what is at the root of this line of thinking? It seems to me that it's premised on the notion that good works are self-propelled. We know that we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works." (Ephesians 2:10) We know we are called to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12) If anybody tells you that we're not expected to do good works, point them to James. "Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:17) "So," they think (I suspect without thinking), "we're expected to do good works and if you have this 'assurance', it will short-circuit you from doing good works." I'd guess that this is a fairly common line of thinking, actually, even among those who believe in the believer's eternal security. Works are something we do, something we generate, something we ... well ... work. But this misses entirely the concept of salvation.
When we are saved, we aren't "helped out" by God. We aren't "encouraged to do good." We are in Christ. We have God "who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13) Those good works for which we are designed and created for are "His workmanship" (Ephesians 2:10). We are "predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29) with the certainty that "these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:30) Yes, we have work to do, but it isn't powered or predicated on ourselves. It is all of God. "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9)
Lots of people see the confidence that Christ will not lose one of those God has given Him (John 6:39) as a recipe for disaster. It's a license to sin. I suppose they'd be right if not sinning was within our realm of possibility. It isn't. We are baptized into Christ's death (Romans 6:3) in order to be freed from sin (Romans 6:6-7). We are God's workmanship under God's influence powered by God. I guess I just think that there is much more power there than in the human propensity for good works.
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