Assurance and Grace
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One episode of the classic 1960s television series The Andy Griffith Show involved a threat that a local tough guy made against Sheriff Andy Taylors timid deputy, Barney Fife.
Barney had given the man a parking ticket, which infuriated him. He appeared before the sheriff and paid his fine, but he told both Andy and Barney in no uncertain terms that if he ever caught Barney on the streets out of uniform, he was going to beat him up. The rest of the program revolved around Barney's reaction to this threat.
Of course, Barney was famous for being nervous and fearful and easily intimidated, and he definitely was no match for this bully. So he decided not to change out of his uniform, no matter what. That got to be a problem as situations came up in which people didn't expect to see Barney in uniform. He was too ashamed to admit that he was afraid of the other man, so in typical Barney-like style he bluffed his way through the week.
But the issue came to a head when Barney insisted on going to the big Saturday night dance in uniform. No one knew what was really going on except Andy, and he didn't want to embarrass his deputy and friend by telling on him.
But with Andys urging, Barney finally realized he couldn't hide behind his uniform and decided to face the issue. He changed into a suit and, sure enough, met the bully face-to-face on the street. Barney was shaking in his shoes, but he rose to the occasion with a stirring speech about the authority that his badge and uniform represented, and the importance of upholding the law. The intimidator was undone by Barney's newfound assurance and left without carrying out his threat.
I'm afraid that when it comes to the Christian life, and especially the issue of assurance, too many of us adopt the Barney Fife approach. That is, we let the enemy bully us into believing that we're only safe as long as we're wearing our Christian "uniform." These are the outward actions and symbols of faith that, while they may be valuable, were never meant to serve as a basis for the assurance of our salvation.
The solution for us is the same as it was for Barney. Once we come to understand that our security and protection are not in the "badge" of faith that we wear, but in the grace and power of Christ behind the badge, we can walk in confidence and not fear that the Enemy is going to take us out.
This is why we need to understand the relationship of saving grace to the doctrine of assurance. We dealt with grace's role in salvation, and I would urge you to review that chapter if you need to refresh yourself on the way grace operates.
My purpose in the present discussion is not to repeat what was said there, but to develop a twofold thesis. First, the grace of God that saves us totally apart from any merit of our own is the same grace that keeps us saved, totally apart from any merit of our own. Second, the God who saves us by His grace totally apart from anything we can do to earn it is the same God who guarantees the uninterrupted flow of that grace, totally apart from anything we can do to earn or keep it.
The Confusion That Surrounds Grace
As Christians, we often tend to get our Bible doctrine confused and start mixing truths that were never meant to be mixed. The relationship between grace and works is Exhibit A of this tendency. If the truth about salvation is compromised, our assurance will also be compromised.
Compromising Our Assurance
One reason for this confusion is that grace simply sounds too good to be true. Human nature being what it is, if you told me you were going to give me one dollar with no strings attached, I probably wouldn't question the gift too much. But if you told me you wanted to give me one hundred dollars with no obligation, I'd have to think about it for a minute before accepting. And if you upped your gift offer to one million dollars, no strings attached, I would really wonder what was going on, because I know I haven't done anything to even begin to deserve such a lavish gift. And if I did accept your gift, I would probably feel obligated to do something for you in return.
Now if I did something nice for you in an attempt to pay you back for your kindness, I would be confusing grace and works. If its any comfort, the early church also became confused about the nature of grace even though they heard the truth straight from the apostles themselves. The Christians in Galatia got sidetracked because a group of people called the Judaizers had confused them about the relationship between the gospel of grace and the works of the law.
When Paul learned that the Galatians had been infected with a faulty theology of grace and works, he knew he had to deal with that mess right away because trying to substitute works for grace always undercuts grace. Galatians is not one of the letters you read by the fireplace when you just want to feel better about being a Christian. It has some sting to it because Paul had contended too hard for the truth of salvation by grace to let it be undermined.
Paul brought the issue to the floor right at the beginning of the letter.
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! ()
This was a serious issue to Paul. Even if he, or the angel Gabriel himself, showed up in Galatia with a message other than the gospel of grace, the Galatians were to show the person or angel the door. This was a reference to the Judaizers and their message that people needed to add law-keeping to grace to truly be saved and sanctified.
Paul summarized the problem this way: "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (). To try to win salvation by the works of the Law ruins grace. Law and grace are an unholy mixture. That's why Paul called his readers "foolish Galatians" (3:1) for thinking they could begin the Christian life by grace and then progress in it by works (see v. 3).
This kind of mixed-up thinking takes a huge toll on a believers' assurance of salvation. You can hardly expect to have peace about your relationship with Christ when you're doing all kinds of things to try to hang on to something that God has already given you as a gift.
Confusions Road to Trouble
How confused can people become concerning the proper relationship between grace and law or works? The answer to that is in Galatians 5:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (vv. 1-2)
One of the Laws requirements that the Judaizers insisted on was that Gentile believers become circumcised. But Paul warned that if the Galatians submitted to this rite as a means of seeking God's favor; then they were assuming the obligation to keep the whole Law, which is what God demands and yet is impossible for anyone to do.
More than that, those who sought to be justified by law-keeping cut themselves off from Christ. Phrases like "severed from Christ" and "fallen from grace" () sound like it is possible for believers to lose their salvation, which if true would fly in the face of everything the Bible says about our security in Christ. So let's find out what Paul meant by these severe warnings.
The first thing to remember is the context of. The teachings of the Judaizers had thrown these believers into such confusion that at least some of them were ready to take a giant step backward and place themselves under an impossible burden. Paul spared no severity or sternness in warning them against making this mistake.
This had become personal for Paul because he had to rebuke Peter for allowing these Jewish teachers to influence him and giving Gentile Christians the wrong idea that there was some saving merit in law-keeping. You won't find a clearer statement of salvation by faith alone than what Paul said to Peter on that occasion (see).
So the very nature of the gospel as a gift of God's grace was at stake in this Galatian controversy. Those who were on the verge of "seeking to be justified by law" (5:4) were setting themselves up to be severed from a connection they had and to fall from a height they had reached. Did Paul mean that these believers would lose their salvation and fall back under God's judgment if they submitted to circumcision?
No, for at least two reasons. First, loss of salvation is not the subject under discussion here. Second, the Bible is clear that those who belong to Christ are kept by Him forever. If you or the devil or anyone else could remove you from Christ's hand, then that entity would be greater than Christ and the eternal life He gave you would not be eternal at all. That's an impossible equation.
The issue Paul was addressing in Galatians 5 was not the loss of salvation for those who have believed in Christ, but the ground or basis upon which a person is saved. In other words, we can choose either "works of the law" righteousness or "by grace through faith" righteousness to be acceptable to God. But the Bible wants us to understand that these two paths are so mutually exclusive that the person who chooses to try to work his own way to heaven is cut off from the grace of Christ. It has to be either/or, not both/and.
Confusions Great Cost
But what about those believers in Galatia who had begun with Christ by grace through faith in Him alone, but were now in danger of putting themselves under the Laws obligation? The severing from Christ and falling from grace that they would undergo did not mean they would lose their salvation.
Instead, these people would be placing themselves on a different footing in relation to Christ and lose not their salvation itself but the benefits and blessings of salvation. And one of those benefits is the peace that comes when the Holy Spirit ministers the assurance of our salvation to our hearts. So don't be surprised if you have no assurance when you let go of grace and start putting yourself on a performance basis to maintain your relationship with Christ.
Someone may say, "Tony, that doesn't sound serious enough to warrant the kind of strong warning language that Paul used here." I beg to differ. To exchange grace for law is to trade a life of peace, joy, spiritual power, love, and confident assurance for one of guilt, frustration, exhausting effort, spiritual ineffectiveness, and restless uncertainty. A believer who decides to live like this in a misguided attempt to please God will still make it to heaven, but he won't enjoy the trip.
The Bible says in, "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." How did we receive Christ? The Bible answers that for us. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" ( ). So how does God want us to live our Christian lives? By grace.
In fact, God has something special for us as believers when it comes to His grace. The apostle John said of Christ, "Of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (). I call this "super grace." Christ is so completely sufficient that His grace overflows to meet whatever need you may have. That's why the Bible says, "In Him you have been made complete" ( ). Paul found his sufficiency in Christ.
By the way, John went on to make an interesting statement in: "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." In other words, the Law cannot supply what you and I need. It condemns us, whereas the grace that comes to us through Christ saves us.
I seriously doubt if there are any false teachers in your church trying to put you under the Law of Moses. But we can allow our walk with Christ, including our assurance, to be compromised when we lose sight of grace.
God's grace is a package deal that we will still be learning about throughout eternity. It reminds me of the car I bought several years ago. I didn't bother to read the owner's manual, so I wasn't aware of all the accessories that came with the car.
One of these handy devices is a button up front that opens the trunk. Before I discovered this button I spent an unknown amount of time turning off the ignition, grabbing the keys, jumping out of the car, running around to the back, opening the trunk with the key, then jumping back in the car and starting the engine again every time someone wanted to put something in the trunk.
I would have been better off learning what was included with my car when I first got it. Our challenge is to learn and to use all that God has given us in His grace package instead of trying to do it all ourselves. And when we open the "owners manual" to the Christian life, we'll discover that God's grace includes this assurance: "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" ().
The Cost of Grace
God's grace is incredibly costly because He had to give His only Son to save us. But what does the cost of grace have to do with the issue of salvation?
It has everything to do with it, because when God gives us His complete package of grace in Christ and says, "This is My gift to you, it is free of charge, and I will never take it back," we can react in one of two ways. We can receive the gift with gratitude, thank the Giver, and rest in His promise that the gift really is ours forever. Or we can insist on trying to pay for that gift despite the Givers assurance it already belongs to us.
The Impossibility of Paying for a Gift
Suppose a friend of mine shows up at my next birthday party with a huge box, beautifully wrapped with a big bow on top and a gift tag saying, "Happy birthday Tony, from your friend Joe." I open the box and find something that I have always wanted but was not able to afford.
Now suppose I say, "Joe, this is way too much. I can't allow myself to accept a gift like this. I don't deserve it. You really shouldn't have. I've just got to do something to try to pay you back for this magnificent gift. How much did this cost you?"
Of course, this kind of question is inappropriate when receiving a gift, but stay with me for the sake of illustration. Let's imagine that I badger Joe for the price of the gift until he finally said, "OK, if you must know, it cost me two thousand dollars." I gasp in disbelief, then open my wallet and offer my good friend two dollars.
At this point, Joe may have several reactions. First, he will probably be offended by the fact that I basically called him a liar by refusing to believe what he wrote on the gift tag. And second, he will probably feel insulted by my weak attempt to repay a two thousand dollar gift with two bucks.
I would never insult a friend like that, and neither would you. But this is exactly what we do to God when we say to Him, in effect, "Lord, I believe Your grace is enough to save me, but not enough to keep me saved. Thank You for the gift of my salvation, but now I'm going to work hard for You and try to do everything right so Youll be satisfied with me and I won't lose my salvation." That's an insult to God (see).
The point is that if God went to all of that trouble and paid such a dear price to save us, why should we think that it's too hard for Him to guarantee the eternal life He gave us? Paul asked the question this way: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans *: 32). Assurance is part of the "all things" of the gospel.
I'm aware that many people get jittery when the subject turns to assurance and security because they're afraid that some will abuse grace and use it as permission to live in sin without having to worry about missing their trip to heaven. Paul anticipated that problem, and answered it with an exclamation point. "Are we to continue in sin so that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (). Next question.
So anytime you hear someone say, "You mean I can get saved and then live any old way I want because nothing can separate me from Christ?" you know that this person either is not a believer at all or is seriously misinformed. Anybody who is thinking like that is on the wrong track already.
Many of us find it hard to accept God's grace for the same reason we find it hard to accept gifts from other people. We've been taught that we have to work for what we get, that nothing worth having comes without effort, that we need to stand on our own two feet and do it ourselves. And we're part of a culture in which more often than not, "free" doesn't really mean free.
Like a lot of other people, I learned about the world's definition of grace the hard way some years ago when we got one of those "free gift" offers in the mail. All we had to do was drive to this place and receive our gift, which was either a new car, a television, or a secret special gift. I must have felt like taking a drive at the time because I talked my wife into driving there with me.
It took a couple of hours to get there, so I was already out the cost of a tank of gas to pick up my free gift. Then we had to sit down and watch a video about the condominiums this organization was planning to build on the property.
They wanted us to buy a parcel of land, of course, so after the video we had to endure a high-pressured sales presentation. I had to keep saying no before they gave up and gave us our gift. Trust me that it wasn't the car or the television. I would have remembered that. The gift was something I can't even recall except for the fact that it wasn't as costly as the tank of gas or our time to get there.
Too often the world's gifts aren't really gifts. A "buy one, get one free" sale is a discount, not a gift. A gift would be "get one free," period.
Our "Thank-You Note" to God
Now if our salvation and assurance rest solely in Christ and what He has done for us, where do our good works fit into the picture? After all, immediately after saying that salvation is a gift, Paul added "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" ().
In other words, the answer is quite simple. Grace inspires and empowers works while at the same time being distinct from works (see).
Following the analogy of the birthday gift I used above, we could say that works are our thank-You note of gratitude to God for what He has given us. We serve the Lord not to get saved or make sure we stay saved, but in appreciation for His grace and because He has promised to reward us for the things that we do in His name and for His glory.
When somebody gives you an expensive gift that you've always wanted, and then asks you for a drink of water, you would be more than happy to honor that request. It's not a payback for the gift, but a way of showing your appreciation for such a wonderful and costly gift and for the person who gave it.
Some Christians may be looking to their good works as their source of assurance, but the service Christ has called us to perform was never meant to fill that need. It's much more liberating to serve God as a child who is secure in the Father's love than it is to serve as a way of trying to maintain the Father's love.
It's true that a believer whose works get burned up at Christ's judgment seat "will suffer loss" (). But this is referring to rewards and blessings in heaven, not salvation. Paul was even careful to add, "But he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." Even the Christian who has very little of lasting value to present to Christ will discover that his salvation is secure. This is true because of the wonderful grace of God, which should be our primary motivation for serving Him.
So if you're clinging to works to ensure your salvation, let go of them and look to Christ and His grace. And for those who object that the doctrine of God's grace in assurance kills a believer's motivation to work hard and faithfully for Christ, let me offer several observations.
First, the fact that all of us are going to appear before Christ to give an account of our Christian lives ought to be enough to motivate anybody (see). Even though our salvation is not in question, it would be an awful thing to see all of our works burned up and miss Christ's commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Here's another truth to keep in mind: Far from killing motivation for Christian service, grace is the source of our enablement for ministry. Paul said that the grace that God showed him was not in vain. Why? Because "I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (). Without the power of God's grace working in us, our labor for Him would produce nothing of eternal value. Once you get your eyes on Christ alone for your assurance, your Christian life will soar, not crash.
The Comfort of Grace
When you understand all that God has done both to save you and to keep you until He delivers you to His Son in heaven, then you're ready to appreciate and enjoy the comfort that the truth of assurance brings.
The best place to see this comfort in action is in the last part of Romans 8 where Paul summarized a tremendous section on the Christian life. In Romans 8 Paul linked together truth after truth and fact after fact until he had built an unbreakable chain of Christian assurance.
No One Will Be Left Behind
I want to begin with verse 29 of Romans 8, which begins with God's choice of us in eternity past. From there until the end of verse 30 we see a progression that takes us from foreknowledge and predestination in eternity past to glorification in heaven in eternity future. Along the way God doesn't lose one person who is in the process of being called, saved, and glorified. Everybody who gets saved also gets glorified that is, arrives in heaven with a new, glorified body.
Once you grasp the exciting truth of, you might react by saying, "Wow, think what all this means!" Well, you're not alone if you feel that way. Paul said essentially the same thing in verse 31: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" This verse begins a series of rhetorical questions that keep piling up reasons for our security n Christ until the evidence is absolutely overwhelming.
For instance, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" () Who is going to come before God and try to convince Him that you are not really saved? Satan can accuse us, but as soon as he does our defense attorney, Jesus Christ, comes to defend us. So the question is not what your accuser says about you, but what God says about you. No charge against us can stick because Jesus paid it all, and He paid it all for all time past, present, and future (see ).
Verse 34 of Romans 8 asks another question: "Who is the one who condemns?" Answer: No one can condemn us. Why? Because Jesus, the only Person who has the authority to condemn us, is the same Person who died for us. More than that, He was also raised from the dead and is standing at the Father's right hand as our Intercessor and Advocate.
Verse 35 begins with a question that is especially relevant to our discussion on assurance. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" To get the full answer, you have to work your way to the end of Romans 8, where Paul triumphantly declared that none of these things "will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v. 39).
Notice that in this most victorious of all declarations of our assurance, Paul brought us back to Christ. I know that I am saved because my Savior always finishes what He starts.
We Will Make it Because of Jesus
In sports, they talk about athletes who are finishers. Anyone can start a marathon and look good for a while, but its another thing to finish a long race. Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith" (KJV). He never did anything halfway. I'm going to heaven not because I'm a finisher, but because Jesus began and finished my salvation. That way, He gets all the glory because He is the only One deserving of the glory.
Excerpted from Totally Saved by Tony Evans. Copyright © 2002 Tony Evans. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL.
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