I say it over and over in many different contexts:
The gospel is all about what God has done for us in Christ, not about what we do for him.
Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) has a great post: Losing the Treasure of a Christ-Centered Assurance of Salvation. He writes in response to a Christianity Today article addressing the question “How do you know you are a Christian if you can’t remember when you made your ‘decision?'”
The problem is that we as Evangelicals often have two ways in which we answer the question “How can I know that I am saved?”
- Often we point back to when we “made a decision for Christ,” when we “asked Jesus into our heart,” or when we were “born again.”
- The answer given in the Christianity Today article is “The true test of the authentic work of God in one’s life is growth in Christ-like character, increased love for God and other people, and the fruit of the Spirit”
The problem with the first option is that we can start to wonder, “Did I really make a decision for Christ?” One can get on a roller coaster: decision for Christ — ecstasy — stumbling into sin — despair followed by a new decision for Christ — ecstasy — stumbling into sin — despair followed by yet another cycle of new decision for Christ — ecstasy — stumbling into sin — despair. If the assurance of salvation is in the sincerity of our “decision for Christ” then we might all be in trouble. I’ve been there, and I know a woman who adds a baptism to the mix each time she gets “saved.”
The problem with the second option is, as the Internet Monk puts it:
The “best evidence” is “growth” in “love” and “fruit.” Being more “like Jesus.” Good grief. Can anyone spell “despair?”
If we know we are a Christian because we are becoming a better person, then what happens when we don’t see ourselves as a better person. Or when we sin? Or when we don’t measure up to some high standard? No matter how much we “grow” we have a lot more growing to do than however much we have grown so far.
There is a better, more Biblical answer. It is the answer that was articulated by Luther and Calvin in the Reformation. I don’t have assurance of salvation because I remember when I asked Jesus into my heart. I don’t have assurance of salvation because I am becoming a better person (at my best I am still a sinner). No, I am assured of my salvation because of the “Great Exchange.” I give Jesus my sin. He gives me his righteousness. Period. I have nothing else to give him but my sin. My salvation is 100% God’s work; we call this grace.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9 ESV)
I praise God for this Gospel (Good News) every day.
Grace and Peace
P.S. This by no means is an excuse for sin or a denial that we can and should be growing and maturing as Christians.
P.P.S. The Internet Monk links to an excellent article on justification by Rod Rosenbladt: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Justification