by Stan Smith
I don't think I've ever met a genuine Christian who has not wrestled with the soul-wrenching question, "Am I really saved?" I've met lots of people who haven't had a tug in that direction. Those worry me. But everyone I've ever known of whom I'm certain of their ultimate condition has struggled here. John wrote, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). It seems as if it has been the question of every true believer since Christ walked the earth.
A famous Christian who fought this very problem was John Bunyan. His book, Pilgrim's Progress, has been listed by some as one of the most widely read books in the world, second only to the Bible. Bunyan spent a great deal of time agonizing over his eternal condition. He was fairly sure he had committed, at some point, the unpardonable sin and was sure to be lost. While in prison for 12 years for preaching without a license, Bunyan wrote Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners in which he explains his process in this struggle. He gives his solution here:
But one day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and methought withal, I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, as my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was adoing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.
In my conversations with believers struggling with this problem (and with my own struggle there), the problem is almost always the same. "I know I'm not good enough." Sometimes it's reversed. "Have I done too much wrong?" Similar to Bunyan, "Have I committed the unpardonable sin?" There is a huge recognition of the problem of sin. The more godly these people become, it seems, the more sinful they see themselves. And the heart that longs to be like Christ can hardly tolerate the weight of sinfulness that hangs from the flesh.
We see, then, that our assurance cannot lie on ourselves. "Good enough" doesn't exist for us. We know this. We acknowledge it. But we still suffer from Satan's accusations and from a genuine sense of longing to be like Christ and falling short. So it is that our confidence is not found here, but in Christ. We are not justified here, but in Christ. Our hope is not in our godliness, but in His. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our righteousness, then, is not here, but in Christ, and Christ is not here, but at the right hand of the Father, keeping our righteousness safe even from our own attempts to sully it. Now that is assurance. The Apostle John, as it turns out, was right. We can know we have eternal life. Now you just need to tell your emotions about it.
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I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.
For more writings you can see my blog at birdsoftheair.blogspot.com.
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