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How can I be sure where I am and where I'm going?
Catching up on my blogging on this quiet Sunday night! This is another post that's been in my queue for a while now, and I'm just getting around to finishing it. I thought I'd write about a common question that comes up in the life of a Christian. It's actually a good sign to be thinking about this - that is, it's the kind of question that someone serious about following Christ tends to ask themselves at some point or another.
Most of us know John 3:16 - a person is saved solely by the choice to place faith in Christ ("whoever believes in Him"). The book of James goes on to say that while a Christian is not saved by 'works' (our actions and life choices), these 'works' are the indicators of true faith. If a person's life does not follow the pattern of one befitting of a Christian, it is reason for grave concern as to the genuineness, and therefore the validity, of that person's faith. A declaration of one's Christianity, or even church membership and involvement ministry service, does not exempt one from that possibility. The 2000 movie 'Left Behind' portrayed accurately the possibility that there could even be pastors that fall into this category!
Luke 6:46 (NKJV): "But why do you call Me "Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?"
Matthew 7:21 (NKJV) "Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
While we can see outward 'clues' of the presence or lack of true faith, there is no way we can see into the hearts and minds of our fellow man - even that of close friends, family, and even fellow church members. That is why Scripture puts the task of the test of faith on ourselves. Only we and God know the secrets of our private lives, the areas that are often the true indicators of who we really are.
I'm an eternal securitist in my theology - that is, I believe that once a person comes to true faith in Christ, it is a permanent change that can't be 'undone' - not by ourselves, not by others. However, you don't have to look too closely to see that this has always been a controversial issue throughout the history of Christianity, and that nearly half of churches and Christians believe you can lose your salvation status post-conversion - by a number of different ways depending on the denomination one belongs to. This theological position is called 'conditional security', in other words, the notion that our eternal security depends on our continued actions throughout life. A primary sticking point about this controversy has to deal with the problem of a person who once professed to be a Christian at some time in the past, but now either 1.) totally rejects Christ, or 2.) lives such a sinful lifestyle that he, by his actions alone, denies Christ.
Now, I won't get into this debate right now - but one principle that I think I can agree with conditional securitists is that a state of willful, unrepentant, unapologetic, unashamed sin (and/or a continual willful separation from church and Christian fellowship) is Scripturally incompatible with the state of being a redeemed Holy-Spirit indwelled individual on their way to heaven. A person who is in that state of sin simply cannot draw any Biblical support for assurance of salvation - whether they lost salvation or never were saved to begin with is to me irrelevant. The person's present state is the issue. If one ever finds themselves in that state in the present, regardless of any past profession, reputation or experience, that person cannot draw any Biblical support to be assured of redemption.
As an eternal securitist, the only theological possibility I have found for a past-professing believer ending up in such a state is if their past salvation experience was not genuine. Scripture supports the exisitence of the possibility of a professing, practicing Christian not being truly saved (many will say in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in Your name, and He will say 'depart from me, I never knew you' (Matthew 7:22)). The key word I see in that verse is 'never knew', IE, not "I knew you before, but now I don't". The verse implies there *never was* a 'known' state for those who otherwise proclaimed 'Lord, Lord" in their lifetimes.
The key here for assurance, then, is to examine one's present state of life, worldview and resultant pattern of actions. It is the current state of our lives that is the evidence of past, present and future salvation (which are all the same in continuity from the moment of true trust in Christ). By that same token, a state of willful, unrepentant, unapologetic, unashamed sin, and/or a continual separation from church and Christian fellowship, is evidence of any past profession being unreliable at best and outright false at worst. What I can agree with the conditional securitist is that such a person cannot be assured of ultimate salvation - as their current state of life is Scripturally incompatible with such a state.
To be sure, sin is ever-present in our lives and will not be competely eliminated this side of eternity. But it is the response and the view of that sin that separates the true believer from the unwitting or overt unbeliever. Repentance and remorse of sin is the pattern of response for a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit, not acceptance, defense and unapologetic continuation of that sin. The parallel I can draw is that of an alcoholic who has decided to seek sobriety. Though he will likely stumble and fall along the way, have relapses and give in to temptations from time to time, but overall, his pattern of life will show continued repentance (rejection of the sin) and improvement as time goes on.
This is why it is extremely critical to follow the advice of Paul to 'examine ourselves' to see whether we really are what we say we are. The overall pattern of our lives and actions (both in secret and in public) will follow the state we are truly in - our verbal assessment of that state is not a reliable indicator. The personal eternal implications of a miscalculation are too dire to ignore!
"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?" -2 Corinthians 13:5
The good news is that if you're not sure of your status, God makes it easy to make sure that things are right between you and Him. All you need to do is make the conscious choice to follow Him in Christ - which happens when you just turn to Him, ask Him to help you. Jesus says He'll accept anyone who calls on Him.
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