Saturday, September 26, 2015

Assurance of salvation?

Oftentimes on my blog, I have posted about the contingency and uncertainty of the threats of damnation in scripture. Even though God may speak unambiguously about the eventual destruction of some persons, yet it may still happen that they will not be destroyed because they will have repented. For example, God tells Ezekiel:

Again, though I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” yet if they turn from their sin and do what is lawful and right . . . they shall surely live, they shall not die. None of the sins that they have committed shall be remembered against them; they have done what is lawful and right, they shall surely live (Ezek 33.14-6).

Here God's words are certain and true: you will surely die. But the sinful person repents and turns from his evil, and rather than dying, he lives! God forgets all of his sins, and instead grants that person life. So God may speak quite unambiguously and candidly about the eventual destruction of some person or group of persons, yet those persons may nevertheless not be destroyed.

Yet it seems that the same principle works the other way around. Consider what God told Ezekiel just before this passage:

Though I say to the righteous that they shall surely live, yet if they trust in their righteousness and commit iniquity, none of their righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that they have committed they shall die (v. 13).

This is an interesting verse to consider in light of the debate among Christians regarding assurance of salvation and the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. If you are a believer who has the Holy Spirit, have been baptized, your sins are forgiven, and so on, do you have a guarantee that you will be saved some day? Certainly there are a number of texts in the New Testament which seem to speak of the surety of salvation of believers. You might say that through these texts, God is telling believers: Surely you will live! . . . And yet, God says that even this word of certainty will not save the righteous if they sin.

This sentiment is not foreign to the New Testament, either, as far as I can tell. How many texts tell us about the necessity of perseverance and vigilance, lest we slip and fall and not be ready for the Lord when he comes? Paul in 1 Cor 10, for example, draws a long analogy between the Corinthians and the ancient Hebrews. The Hebrews were redeemed from slavery in Egypt (slavery to sin), they all passed through the sea (baptism), they were all baptized into Moses (baptism in the Holy Spirit), they all ate the same spiritual food and drink (the Eucharist). And yet they were destroyed in the desert because of their disobedience. The analogy to the Corinthians and the threat of their own perdition is obvious.

This is the way, it seems to me, the Bible wishes us to speak about these things: take nothing for granted. Take neither your salvation nor your damnation for granted, but in perseverance work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2.12).

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