Nothing is more sure than death and taxes, they say, but I’d have to add a third certainty to that list: For the Christian, salvation is even more sure than
deathand far more sure than taxes!
Yet if you’re a Christian, at some point during your life, you are likely to question whether you’re really, truly, absolutely, positively saved beyond a shadow of
a doubt. You’ll question whether your salvation “stuck” and continues to “stick.”
At any given time you can be sure there are multitudes of Christians in the same spiritual quandary, agonizing whether they are indeed saved. Maybe you’re one
of these Christians right now. You’ll know because your appetite will drop, your palms will sweat, and you will feel a fear so deep and penetrating that
nothingno word of comfort, no friendly face, no happy thoughtwill dispel it.
I know this, because it’s happened to me. And I’ve heard enough Christians question the assurance of their salvation to know that I didn’t have some isolated
spiritual panic attack. After we pray the sinner’s prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts, some little voice inside begins to whisper, Is that it? Is that
all there is? I don’t feel any different. Surely there’s something else I need to do to be really, truly, absolutely saved.
Salvation doesn’t seem sure when we have no way to measure it. We might wonder, once we’re saved, whether we are always saved, no matter what? What if
we’ve accepted salvation but then committed sins that we haven’t confessed yetare we still saved? Or perhaps we were saved once but haven’t thought about
it in a while. How can we be sure we’re still saved? With so many variables, it’s easy to be blown by the winds of doubt.
It surprised me when I learned that salvation is not something we have to earn or wrestle from Jesus; He doesn’t grudgingly give it to us if we get enough “good
deed points.” Instead, Jesus wants to save us. He longs to save us. And He’s not keen on taking back His salvation. “My sheep hear My voice,” He said, “and I
know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”1 Jesus is
straightforward about the status of our salvation. He says we are safe in His hands.
Jesus’ sheep hear and follow
Jesus assures us of two things: The first is that His sheep “hear His voice.” That is, they recognize His voice. The sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice because
they’ve been with Him a long time. They’ve heard Him before, and they’ve come to trust Him. We can say that they have a relationship with the shepherd.
It’s the same with us and Jesus. In order to recognize His voice, we must have a relationship with Him. We recognize when He’s speaking to us because we’ve
heard His voice before.
The second thing Jesus assures us of is that His sheep “follow Him.” The sheep don’t question where the shepherd is leading them. They trust that He’ll lead
them where they can find food and water. They’re obedient to His call.
Similarly, when we hear Jesus’ voice speaking to us, we will obey. Obedience is the natural result of trust.
The next logical question we would need to clarify is whether obedience is the accumulation of good-deed points. Are we bearing enough good fruit to be
saved? Have we fed enough homeless people, clothed enough poor, joined enough committees at church? Have we done enough to be saved?
The answer is No. We can never do enough to save ourselves.
No spiritual extra-credit
The deceptive aspect of works is the temptation to believe that they set us apart from others, earning us extra spiritual credit. When the news of Iraqi prisoner
abuse and subsequent retaliation broke, I remember trying to wrap my head around the notion that such evil could exist in the world. (I’m shelteredwhat can I
say.) Compared to those atrocities, my puny little sins seemed negligible. Surely I am more “save-able” than those abusers, I told myself.
But, God reminded me that in His eyes, these evildoers and I are in equal need of salvation. Looking at deeds to judge salvation was focusing on the wrong
thing. My good deeds didn’t make me better; they didn’t save me. They were only evidence that I had accepted Jesus and was following Him. But only Jesus’
covering my sins can save me.
In his book Graffiti in the Holy of Holies, Clifford Goldstein points out: “Anyone who has ever glimpsed the righteousness of Christ knows that he must throw
himself on the mercy and grace of God, and that his workswhatever they are, however much done out of a pure and loving heartare never enough. That is
why we have to live by faith, trusting in God’s promises that He will save us because of Jesus and Jesus alone. It’s the realization of the inadequacy of our
works that drives us to faith and to the promises of salvation through Christ. And it’s that faiththe faith which believes God’s promisesthat transforms the
life, a transformation revealed in works.”2
Jesus stands in my place
When we choose to follow Jesus and receive salvation, we are saying, “Jesus is going to cover me. My sins, which deserve eternal death, are forgiven because I
accept Jesus, who did not sin. He stands in my place. He already suffered that final separation from His Father in my place. He paid the price for my sins. My
salvation has been completely paid for.”
Salvation is Jesus’ payment of our debt. We can’t pay it. This illustration might be useful: If I go on an out-of-control shopping spree and buy a million dollars
worth of merchandise that I can’t pay for, I will eventually go to jail. However, if a kind man contacts my creditors and offers to pay my debt so that I won’t go
to jail, does he save me? Only if I accept his money. If I accept his money, he has saved me from jail. I don’t have to do anything except say, “Thank you; I
accept your money.”
Now, I can’t pay back his million dollars. I don’t have cash like that, but if I mowed his lawn and baked him cookies and walked his dog because I was grateful,
he would likely consider them wonderful acts of appreciation. It wouldn’t come close to paying off my debt and that wouldn’t be the objective. No amount of
thoughtful gestures on my part would earn a million dollars.
However, after that kind person has paid my debt, I may want to mow his grass and bake him some cookies and walk his dog out of appreciation for what he’s
done for me. And that’s how it is with us in our Christian life. We obey Jesus because we love Him and want to express our appreciation for what He’s done for
us. Jesus Himself said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”3
This is how we are saved: Jesus does the saving. He’s paid the entire price for our sins. Our part is to accept what He has done for us and let obedience be our
loving response to that gift. As long as we listen to His voice and follow where He leads, we can rest with assurance that we are saved.
Céleste perrino Walker writes from Rutland, Vermont.