Assurance of Salvation (the second kind)

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

In verse 1 of this chapter, Paul has made a statement of confident assurance, grounding the believer’s hope of salvation on faith in Christ alone.  He has expanded on this confident expectation in verse 2, describing it as “hope of the glory of God”.  So far, this certainty has had no reference at all to the results of faith in the believer’s life.  Assurance has happened prior to any kind of fruit inspection.

But now Paul goes a step further, and provides another source of hope.  It is an ironic one, since it starts with the kind of circumstance that would tend to crush the normal human kind of hope.  The line that he draws to hope begins with suffering.  This suffering, in God’s economy, produces good things for the believer.  In particular, it produces endurance.  This is not simply because the believer has become a better person, but because the believer has seen more of God’s trustworthy love.  What has grown is not the believer himself, but the believer’s faith, which looks away from the believer’s capacities to the all-sufficient resources found in God.

As suffering produces endurance, so endurance produces character.  These two kinds of producing happen in much the same way.  The believer who looks to God over and over again in the midst of trials gets to see God in transforming ways.  As this happens, the character of Christ is manifest with increasing clarity through the believer.  And as the believer becomes more like Christ, he gains a fuller experience of the hope that began in verse 1.  This is very similar to the connection that Peter describes between sanctification and assurance (2 Pet. 1:3-11).

In Paul’s description as well as Peter’s, this kind of assurance is secondary.  It must be, because without a clear sense that I am accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, no amount of Christian growth will be able to convince me that I am justified.  There are simply too many problems mixed in with my growth at every point.  For every evidence of growth, I can come up with evidence of remaining sin.  An evaluation of my motives makes things even messier.  There is no good thing that I can do that will guarantee, by its nature, that I will do it for the right reason.  I can run myself in circles, and eventually into the ground, if I try to start with assurance based on my growth.

On the other hand, if I can stand firmly on the fact that I have peace with God because I am justified by simple faith, then I can have a brand new way of looking at my halting, imperfect growth.  Suddenly, the good things I do become evidence that the righteousness of Christ is actually at work in me, since I know I could never produce those things on my own.  The remaining sin is what I contribute on my own, but the fact remains that I am not on my own.  God justifies the ungodly, and my knowledge of my remaining sin reminds me that I am exactly the kind of person that God justifies, through faith in Christ alone.

Standing secure, looking forward

“Through him we have also obtained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2)

As I purposefully arm myself with the truth of the gospel against Satan’s attacks, I find Romans 5:1-11 to be particularly helpful.  In this passage there is a powerful list of reminders about the gospel and its implications for me.  In this verse, there are at least two.

First, I stand in grace.  My justification by faith does not usher me into a state of tenuous obligation.  It is not my job to sustain God’s kind intentions toward me.  Certainly, I am obligated to obey the Lord.  But that obligation is not smuggled into my life inside the otherwise good gift of the gospel.  It is a good part of the gospel itself.  Through the finished work of Christ and my union with him, I can now “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  That, along with my perfect acceptance before God, is what grace gives to me.

Second, I can gladly and confidently look forward to a full experience of the glory of God.  Sometimes I’m too vague in the way I envision this experience.  The glory of God is not just a light so bright you can’t quite look at it.  The glory of God is the combined expression of everything that is good about him (in other words, everything that is true about him).  My enjoyment of the kindness, intelligence, attractiveness and abilities of others in this life serves as a tiny spark of what it will be like to enjoy the glory of God.  I will spend eternity benefiting from his inexhaustible kindness (Eph. 2:7), being impressed by his unstoppable power, and unpacking the intricate wisdom of his plan to redeem his people.

Yet my experience of God’s glory will not only come through observation.  It will be even more personal than that.  I have sinned, and in my present state, I fall short of the glory of God.  I fail to glorify him by failing to be glorious like him.  I don’t live up to his glorious character.  But in eternity, that will no longer be the case.  When Christ is revealed, I will be revealed with him in glory (Col. 3:4).  From that point on and forever, I will be unhindered in my expression of the righteousness of Christ that I have received through the gospel.  I will no longer fall short of the glory of God.

Assurance by faith alone

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

This is a statement of profoundly confident assurance.  This assurance is not based on an examination of our Christian growth, or on any other thing about us.  It comes from looking entirely away from ourselves to Christ.  That is what “by faith” in “justified by faith” refers to.  When we believe, like Abraham did, God’s impossible promise to bring death out of life, God credits righteousness to our account and treats us as totally acceptable.

At the point of justification by faith alone, even before noticeable sanctification happens, we can confidently say “I have peace with God.”  And that peace is complete.  It is not a state in which God, though he is legally obligated to accept me, still harbors some personal animosity toward me or frustration about me because of my ongoing sin.  Rather, he is altogether for me.  He is never angry with me.

God is comprehensively aware of the sin remaining in my attitudes and behaviors.  He hates that sin, and is not content to leave it in my life.  As a result, he works in a variety of ways – often painful for me – to remove that sin.  Yet even when he brings this discipline into my life, he does so with sovereignly kind intentions toward me.  He frowns at my sin, but he smiles at me.

It is only when I hold on to this understanding of God’s disposition toward me that I can move on to the further promises of Romans 5, and the deeper assurance of hope that comes from proven character (v 4).