Greater than Assurance Only

Faith that increases in our great salvation is of two aspects.

Such a Great Salvation (6)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 
Hebrews 11.1 (my translation)

Our glory and shame
For the better part of the last generation, among evangelical Christians in America, at least, a particular formula for declaring the Gospel has been de rigueur. 

The primary elements of this understanding of the Gospel are readily identifiable in the various presentations of the Gospel, used in churches and various parachurch ministries, as well as in much of the popular music composed for worship during the past 50 years, and in much preaching.

This is a Gospel offering forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. By acknowledging our need – that we are sinners who cannot extricate ourselves from this miserable and baleful condition, as much as we might wish – and by receiving Jesus as Savior, we pass from death to life, from guilt to forgiveness, from bondage to freedom, and from hell to heaven.

Gospel presentations employing this formula typically include a word of assurance, sometimes based on 1 John 5.13, that if we sincerely believe in Jesus, we may know that we have eternal life. Praise songs celebrate that forgiveness in memorable melodies and lively lyrics, reminding believers, in an endless stream of new compositions, of what Jesus has done and how they may feel because of this.

Untold millions of people have been exposed to this Good News in a wide variety of means. Millions of those – full disclosure, myself included – have believed in Jesus, have been born again from darkness to light and from death in sin to life in Jesus, and continue to this day rejoicing in the assurance that, even now, Jesus is preparing a place for them in heaven, and that He will soon and very soon come to gather them unto Himself.

This Gospel phenomenon has been one of the great glories of evangelical Christianity over the past generation.

It has also been the occasion of one of our greatest shames.

“Near” Christianity
The great shame is that, content with forgiveness and the assurance of a place in heaven, we have settled into a version of Christian faith which is considerably less than the great salvation we are warned not to neglect. We have preferred not to go on to perfection, and thus it is little wonder that so little evidence of Kingdom Christianity exists among those who claim to have faith in Jesus.

When Paul arrived in Ephesus for the first time, he encountered twelve men who professed faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 19.1-7). They had heard the message of John the Baptist to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, and they had learned that Jesus, to Whom John pointed, was that Messiah. And they believed and were saved. Truly and sincerely saved.

These twelve men must have been conspicuous in their belief in Jesus. Perhaps they sold their idols of the city’s patron deity, Diana. Or refused to join in the celebrations at her luxurious temple. Or maybe they just seemed more joyful and at peace in their religion than their frenzied neighbors, who, like all good Greek worshipers, labored to appease their deities, rather than to know them.

But these men, distinct as they must have been – since Paul seems to have had no trouble finding them – had embraced only the barest kernel of Christian faith – what we might call near Christianity. They knew nothing of the Spirit of God and thus, nothing of the Kingdom of Jesus, nor the call to seek that Kingdom and live for Christ’s glory in every area of their lives, nor of the power for bearing holy fruit and persuasive witness to Jesus. They had no incentive for evangelism, perhaps concluding that their neighbors would not be interested in what little they could tell them about following Jesus.

Paul’s response to their status was to immediately begin teaching them “the things of the kingdom of God” (v. 8). And what were those things? We can gather from Paul’s other writings: The vision of Jesus, exalted in glory, advancing His rule on earth as it is in heaven; that same Jesus, enthroned in the soul of each man, working by His Word and Spirit to transform them into His own image; true spiritual growth that entails pressing on in the knowledge of Christ and His Word; spiritual fruit and gifts, flowing from the soul to refresh, renew, and restore all aspects of life; power beyond mere words to make all things new; works of faith and obedience devoted to glorifying God through self-denying love and world-uprighting truth.

In other words, Paul, building on the assurance of salvation these sincere but unschooled believers possessed, led them diligently, systematically, and Biblically into the saved life of Christlike evidence. Thus Paul brought their faith to a level of reality and maturity which was more than assurance, merely, and which, after only a brief time, resulted in all the province of Asia hearing the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On to perfection
True and saving faith in Jesus Christ entails both inward assurance – of forgiveness, eternal life, and a place in heaven with the Lord forever – and outwardevidence – of seeing and communing with and drawing vision and power from such unseen realities as Jesus Christ enthroned in glory and His Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. We have true and saving faith, which is crucial to going on to perfection in our great salvation, when we are both assured of grace and flourishing in it.

Mere assurance of salvation may indicate the genuine article. But it also may not. Which is why the writer of Hebrews urged his readers to go on to perfection, increasing in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, growing in their understanding of the deep mysteries of God’s Word (such as the man Melchizedek and the coming Kingdom and City of God), and bringing to fruition good works of many kinds in every area of life as the evidence that a great salvation had indeed taken hold in their souls.

In our day, it is a great shame for Christians who know better, to content themselves with some version of near Christianity as their claim to faith in Christ. Paul would not allow us to be content with this. Nor would the writer of Hebrews. Nor would Peter or John or James.

Nor would Jesus.

For reflection
1.  What evidence of true faith should the people in your Personal Mission Field see in you?

2.  Should we be content with some version of near Christianity? Why not?

3.  What unseen things should fill our vision of the life of faith? How can we cultivate that vision?

Next steps – Conversation: Talk with some fellow Christians about the role of unseen things in their walk with the Lord. How can you help one another have a clearer vision of these?

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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