“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)
Believing in Christ, and knowing that you have believed in Christ are two distinct subjects. Theologians call the first the direct act of faith (faith looking directly and only at Christ), and the second, they call the reflex act of faith (faith looking back at itself, believing that you have believed). None of us can pretend indifference to this subject. We all want to Go to heaven, and what’s more, we want to know that we are going there. Do you?
There are many reasons why the true believer can struggle for such confidence. Let me list three:
First, for a host of reasons, sometimes for no specific fault of our own, the Lord can hide His face from us.We might have all the truth in the Bible stored up in our mind, we just can’t feel or find any comfort in it. The Psalmist was well acquainted with such dark nights (Psalm 13:1ff). The best, and perhaps the only way out of such times is to wait for the Lord to be gracious to us (Ps 123:2)
Second, there are times when we are most definitely to blame for the lack. We drift away from a close, personal walk with God. We grow careless with private prayer, Bible reading, and thepublic means of grace. Consequently, our soul cools down. we feel distant from Christ, we lose that sweet sense of His touch upon our hearts. Almost inevitably, such (shall we call it) “passive” carelessness leads eventually to active, downright disobedience. In such a state, we begin to wonder about ourselves, and well we should (Psalm 38:1-4; 51:12)!
Third, and much more subtly, our lack of confidence before God can stem from a lack of confidence in the gracious nature of the Gospel and the Father who stands behind it. So, instead of grounding our assurance in the Grace of God freely given and freely received in Christ, we make the mistake of introducing works into the equation — works as the reason for grace.
(NB. Clearly, Scripture teaches us that we should expect to see works as the evidence of grace. What I am warning against here, is the danger of looking to works as the cause of grace.)
We know we have fallen for this old lie when we find ourselves thinking, “Well of course God should be gracious to me because I (insert some act of Christian piety or charity),” or, on days when we swing to the opposite extreme, when we find ourselves thinking, “There is no hope of grace for me, because I just (insert some life-defining, deliberate besetting sin.”
Such thinking betrays a secret legal tendency, a tendency that always finds its roots in a misunderstanding of the gracious heart of God. The legalist views God as a harsh taskmaster, the kind of God who has to be coaxed and coerced into grace. This is not the God revealed in the Bible, the God who while we were still without strength delivered up His own Son for the ungodly (Rom 5:6).
God is not a reluctant mercy-giver. He delights to show mercy, He wants to be reconciled to you — so much, in fact, that He is willing to beg: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20). AsPaul begs people to come to Christ, He is surely not more passionate about mercy than the Father!
So, rather than look into yourself, where no infallible confidence can be found, it is much safer to look up to Christ, risen and ascended for you at the right hand of the Majesty on High. His presence in heaven is your guarantee of redemption. Because He is there for you, you will be there in Him. God could no more reject you than reject Christ. It was because of you, after all, that He was rejected on the cross once. Now, however, it is a different story. Heaven has received Him because your sins have been dealt with. God no longer has a just cause to hold Christ at a distance. What is true of Christ is precisely true of You. It was because of His union with you that He was rejected, and it is because of your union with Him that you will be gathered home to God, saved to sin no more. For the believer, there is no more certain fact in the universe. Christ is the legal ground of such confidence, free grace is it’s motivating principle, and empty, dirty-handed faith is it’s only means of entry into the soul of man.