“The Assurance of Salvation”
Of the twelve disciples of Jesus, ancient tradition holds that 10 were martyred for their faith. While it is not really fully known how each died, traditions ascribe such deaths of the apostles to crucifixion, being crucified upside down, being stoned, being sawed in half, being beheading, or being killed with a sword, to name a few. Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus committed suicide and only John it is believed survived to die of old age. The apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans around the spring of 58 AD. He would have known about the deaths of some of those who had been close to Jesus. Also, if you remember it was Paul who stood and watched over the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death, and the scriptures tells us that he had agreed with what he saw. Also, if you remember, from last week, I spoke a little about the trials and difficulties that Paul himself had endured as an Apostle of Christ.
And yet these last verses in Romans 8 overflow with an abundance of reassurance that we are God’s chosen people. “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Despite the worst that the world had to give to Paul and those who kept the faith, Paul was fully convinced that God’s love in Christ would never ever fail. Despite whatever mistakes or wrong directions Paul had taken earlier in his life, he was sure that our salvation and God’s love for us is a sure and certain thing. What he and others experienced on the outside –hardship, famine, sword, nakedness, or persecutions, did not reflect, or effect the certainty of salvation and spiritual life on the inside. The past carried no weight in being able to diminish God’s love and forgiveness as experienced in the present.
I think that sometimes it is easy to forget these points. I once visited an elderly man who was struggling with poor health, and he said to me, “If I had enough faith, I won’t be sick.” From his viewpoint his poor health was a matter of his lack of faith. He felt in some way he was not measuring up to God’s standard and therefore he was struggling with illness.
And how many people walk around with a sense of guilt over past mistakes? How many people’s greatest stumbling block to receiving the fullness of the life God has given us, is simply in their inability to forgive themselves, because they are convinced that God could never forgive them? Do we live with self conceived limitations on the love and forgiveness of God?
Let’s face it sometimes life can be trying, and when things are not perfect, we may wonder whose side we really are on. It reminds me of the story of the pastor who woke up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed. First his alarm did not go off and he overslept. Then he cut himself while shaving. He burned his toast at breakfast. He couldn’t find his briefcase. Then on his way to his office, he was caught for speeding. When the police officer came over to check his license, the minister growled, “What a day! What else could go wrong?” The officer smiled. “I understand, buddy. I had days like that too before I became a Christian.”
Now you could convince me that that one is a true story. That is what we call irony. Things aren’t going well and it seems the minister has lost his Christian spirit. Where is God when life is a mess, or we are ill, or facing difficulties. Where are we? To whom do we belong? These questions can rise up sometimes.
If the scriptures are telling us anything today, I think it would be that God is always for us even if sometimes we are not quite at the point in life where we should be. I think we also learn from today’s scriptures that difficulties in life do not limit the love and power of God in one’s life. Even if we are just not feeling it anymore, we need to remember that our faith is not about just feeling. It is about knowing, even when we are not seeing.
Fannie Crosby is a well-known name with regard to our Christian hymns. She wrote one of my favorite hymns, Blessed Assurance. The hymn creates images of God’s glory and our place in it. “Vision of rapture now burst on my sight; Watching and waiting looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.” But did you know that Fanny Crosby was blind. Sight was the least useful attribute to her in her earthly life, but she saw great things through the eyes of her Spirit. She knew about things that she could not see. That kind of vision comes from God. You do not always have to see it, or even feel it, to know it. With patience and endurance God has ways of revealing his truths to us.
From Romans 8:26 we are reminded that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that the very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…” One commentator suggested that pagan culture in Rome would teach that if you did not know what to say when praying then don’t say anything. Button your lip. Paul reveals a different understanding of God. Even when we have no words to offer up either because we are feeling lost in life and do not know what to say, or maybe because we are overcome with the glory of God around us and words become inadequate, Paul tells us that the Spirit of God will intercede on our behalf, and provide the deepest of communication and understanding before God. God’s Spirit strives with us in life even when we are at a loss to express ourselves. If you are down on the bottom of life, God hears your prayers there too, because God’s Spirit is there with you.
The apostle rattles off all the miseries that afflicted those of the faith, hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. These things that have brought suffering and even death to people, and Paul says they are of no account in changing God’s mind for you. And then again in verse 38 he dwells upon all things created from heaven above to hell below and he declares that “nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There is nothing that God has made that has the power to isolate you from Him. Even if you are not always sure, this is the certainty of salvation that God has established.
This is all very true because of one reason. That reason is because Christ died for you. Christ rose from the dead and is seated and the right hand of God the Father; making intercession for us before God.
The Apostle Paul speaks about it in these terms, “ 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Here Paul has walked us through the intent of God’s will for you in Christ. When Jesus came into this life and willingly gave even his life in obedience to God’s will, and was raised back to life, this was God’s complete election of those who will come to accept Christ as their Lord and savior. God did a complete and perfect work of redemption and salvation in Jesus, from beginning to end. There is nothing that you need to add to it, and there is nothing that you have the power to take away from it. Salvation is not contingent upon a particular work that you can do, and it is not so fragile that you may easily break it. As the book of Ephesians tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Personally, I really do not go quite so far as to believe in predestination, or to say once saved always saved. But the scriptures are clear that salvation is the work of God and it comes to us as a perfect gift. We can not earn it, and we can not make ourselves worthy of it. It is simply what God gives to us and it is given based upon what God desires. Therefore, from beginning to end as you have come to Christ, this is God’s full and perfect election of you unto eternal life. All God ask of us is to accept it.
Finally what this means to us is that many times the greatest demonstrations of faith and the grace of God may not be seen in the midst of greatness, perfection, or unquestionable victory, but often it will be seen in the humble and simple places. God does not need the outward marks of success in order to accomplish his will for life.
In the book “More God Allows U-Turns: True Stories of Hope and Healing” the story of Malinda Fillingim and her brother, Scott is shared. Scott was born with severe handicaps due to cerebral palsy. According to Malinda, Scott is the most joyful person she knows. On her regular visits to the assisted-living facility where Scott lives, Malinda would lead the residents in singing “Jesus Loves Me,” the boys’ favorite song. Often times, Malinda wondered how these boys, who faced so many obstacles in their daily lives, could sing so joyfully about Jesus’ love when she sometimes had her doubts and fears about the issue. One boy answered the question for her when he remarked that he knew Jesus loved him because Malinda loved him. If Malinda loved him, and Malinda believed in Jesus’ love, then surely he had no reason to doubt that Jesus loved him, too. He experienced Jesus’ love every time Malinda came to visit and sing with the boys.
As a pastor isn’t this what I hear often, “I’ve been through a rough time, pastor. I couldn’t have made it without my church.” “There were times I didn’t think I could get through this, Pastor, but my friends at church really showed that they cared for me.” One way God is present is through those who love Him. It is here that the love of God is made known.
God’s love is greater than the illness we face, the mistakes we make, or the wrongs we might do. Jesus Christ is God’s yes to you. Christ is the certainty of salvation through anything you might encounter in this life. If you remember these truths, than you will never have to wonder, to whom you belong. We are God’s chosen people guaranteed an eternal inheritance. Therefore, let that light shine beyond the pains, disappointments, and hurts of this world, until all that exist is the reality of God’s love for the world. In Christ, your salvation is certain and sure. Amen.