Monday, July 18, 2005

Christian Assurance at PTBC

The Project Timothy Bible Conference was great for the good fellowship over God's word. Numerous walks along the River Longkang of Singapore yielded:

beautifully disused warehouses

a colourful Clarke Quay (with S pretending to be a terracotta soldier)

erm...a water droplet blimp...

nightly shared supper fry-ups at Zion Road "Riverside" Food Centre (and loads of "see you in Zion" jokes)

beer mats (and last night's party people) drying out outside Gallery Hotel in the morning light,

great brekkie munchies from Simply Bread,

and encouraging discussions about God's assurance of our salvation.

It's somewhat surprising (and yet surprising to be surprised about it) that assurance is not a distinct academic doctrine all on its own but just the gospel again. Only more-ish (as people who write books like "How to be a Domestic Goddess" are wont to say).

The gospel is after all the good news. And the good news is that although we cannot find anyway to stop ourselves from our downward plunge, hurtling towards complete destruction, God himself has reached out a kind and loving hand to halt our fall and carry us to safety.

The good news is also that this salvation from destruction isn't earned by us in any way. Like Jacob, we were chosen before we were born, before we could have done anything to merit this salvation. (More on predestination here.)

The good news is that this salvation is by God's grace alone: we are beneficiaries of God's undeserved favour, recipients of a free gift far more valuable than if someone had stopped us at a crowded sweaty bus stop and given us keys to a flaming Lamborghini.

So what assurance do we have that we won't at some point fall away and continue our plunge towards eternal death?

Our assurance is in the very good news that saved us in the first place (just more-ish):
  • for in believing in the good news, we believe that we are outright rebels against God and sinners and cannot save ourselves from our just deserts, but that only God can save us and has saved us through the death of his Son on the cross;
  • and in believing this perspective of the world to be true, we are actually trusting (1) that the words of God set out in the bible are true and accurate; and (2) that God's promise of salvation to those who repent of their rebellion against him and believe in him and the efficacy of Jesus' death on the cross for our sins is trustworthy; and (3) that God himself is trustworthy and will fulfil his promise in the end, and also (4) that God is God and therefore has the ability to fulfil his promise in the end;
  • and in depending on the trustworthiness of God and also understanding that our salvation is by God's grace alone, that he reached out a hand and stopped us from falling, then we will continue by God's grace alone and he will carry us till the end, because he is faithful and trustworthy;and if anyone needs more evidence, well, God has already done the harder thing by sending his only Son to die on the cross as propitiation for our sins and to redeem us from slavery to Satan. If God has done the harder thing, what would prevent him from doing what he promised and keeping us till the end (Romans 5:9-10; 8:32)?
  • there is no assurance of salvation for those who continue to sin with a high hand, but in believing in the good news, through the working of the Spirit in our hearts and wills, we trust (as mentioned earlier) that God's take on reality as set out in the Bible is the only true and accurate interpretation, so we will not subject God's word to our own interpretation of reality (whether we call it reasoning or logic or something else) but instead subject our brains to and renew our minds with God's word, and will heed the warnings not to revert to our rebellion against our own Maker but to live under him and give him the respect and honour due to him. Therefore and thusly, we are kept safe from falling back to terrible destruction.
It is a great great comfort that ultimately, the certainty of our salvation rests on God and not on ourselves. Do we trust ourselves to ensure that we don't fall away? Do we have the ability to ensure that we don't fall away? Like Ray Galea, I don't trust myself to do that and I know I can't do that. Without God, I would happily and very stupidly resume my puny rebellion against God in a blink of an eye.

Thank God that our inheritance is entrusted to One far far more trustworthy than ourselves. Thank God that our priceless treasure is stored up in heaven for us safe and sound so we won't be hoodwinked into trading it in for a bowl of lentil stew.

Are Christians arrogant to say they are sure that they will end up in heaven? Their assurance comes not from their gross overestimation of their own resources but the very fact that they acknowledge that they cannot make it but the One who is steadfast and true will come through for them because he has promised to do so, he is willing to do so and he is able to do so.

"To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." (Jude 1:24-25)

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