Thursday, June 26, 2014

Assurance From Our Good Works? Mmhmm!

Do we gain assurance from our works?

If you’re Reformed, that answer should be a resounding yes! But it is perhaps not what we would quite expect. Lord’s Day 32, Q. and A. 86 of the Heidelberg Catechism states, “And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits.”

And so, though it might feel quite an anti-protestant thing to say, the fruits that spring up in a believer’s life are an assurance to him of his salvation. Notice, I did not say they are the salvation. They are simply an assurance.

1 John 2:3 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

There are two types of knowledge spoken of in this verse. The first “know” is one of assurance. By this we can be sure. We can know truly.

The second “know” is one of relationship. We could paraphrase the verse this way: “By this we can be sure that we have come into a relationship with him.” And the answer John gives for us being sure that we are in a relationship with Jesus Christ is if we keep his commandments.

Don’t misunderstand. John is not talking about perfectionism. Just read the first chapter of 1 John if you think he is. John is neither saying that we are saved by good works, for “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

And that is precisely the key. Christ’s love for us causes us to love, and so the assurance found in our love stems from the fact that Christ loved us. 

False faith is the one that does not love. True faith is the one that grasps the promises found in Jesus Christ (forgiveness of sins, adoption, favor, redemption, righteousness etc.), and that true faith works through love, as Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

You see, if your faith works through love, you can be confident that you belong to Christ. One of the things that shows us someone has a false faith is if there is no love.

Prior to understanding what true Christianity was about, I only wanted to debate and argue the truths of Scripture, but not truly glory in them. There was little relishing in that the fact that these truths truly meant something, for myself and for others. 

Do you have a desire to see others come to Christ? Do you desire that God’s truth be accepted and loved by many people? Or would you just rather have it that you be right and others be wrong? Are you only desiring to win an argument? Or is your desire that other people come and understand the amazing works that God has done? This is perhaps the difference. True faith bursts forth in loving action, whereas false faith does not.

It was Jesus who said in Matthew 7:17-18, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

Has there been good fruit in your life? Have you shown a desire to worship? Have you shown a love for others coming to knowledge of the truth?

Often people are wary (especially Lutherans!) of saying that we can have assurance from our works. But ask yourself, would we be doing good works were it not for Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf?

We are not boasting in ourselves when we say that we can have assurance from good works. For these works come from the power of Christ at work in us through the Spirit that he sent after going to the Father. No, we never boast in ourselves. But believers should see Christ working through them, and should as Paul said, “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [them], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

You see? As God works in us, pushes us, grows us in grace, we WORK. But we do so with a reverent spirit towards God, understanding the one who has bestowed us with his grace. And what amazing grace that is! Grace that purchased us when we were sinners. Grace that gave us pure vestments, the rich robes of Christ's righteousness.

To be sure, there is a working out of a false faith. People try as hard as they can to please God, and look fantastic both morally and outwardly. Just think of the rich young ruler.

But the fact of the matter is, true faith works from the knowledge that God is already pleased with us in Jesus Christ. True faith says, “How can I please my Lord who bought me with his precious blood?” True faith receives Jesus Christ, rests in him because Christ made him right with God, and then runs to please his master.

As 1 Peter 1:8 states, there is a very real possibility that we can become “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We dare not abuse the free grace of our Lord in a cheap manner. The grace of God is certainly free, but it is never cheap. Rather, true faith soaks, saturates, and plunges itself in the restoring grace of God and runs forth in works of obedience. For true faith believes that “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2).

It is not the amount of works you see in your life, however. Have you seen any longing in your life for spiritual things? Have you found in yourself a desire to please your Lord? Have you seen the Spirit work in your life so that others around you know that you are, in fact, different? Have you loved another person and wanted them to understand the indescribable gift of Jesus Christ? Have you wanted them to believe in him and be free from all of their sin and misery? Have you desired that people understand the truths which the Bible speaks of? Do you yourself love the Lord and want to serve him, even if they are meager and half-hearted efforts?

Then take heart. The Bible says that you can take assurance from the good fruit that you see in your life. The good fruit of a true desire to follow after Christ, a hungering for his gospel, and a hungering after others tasting that same sweetness of which you have partaken. A hungering to love the Lord who bought you. 



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