MORE ABOUT JESUS PART 4 — ASSURANCE GALORE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 28, 2007
If a neighbor asked you to define a Christian, what would you say?
If you are killed later today in a car accident, will you be among the resurrected that go to heaven? If so, how do you know? If no, how do you know?
Would you want your children to have a religious experience like yours? Why or why not?
What does Jesus mean to you? What do you find attractive about Him?
True/False I spend some specific and special time each day alone with Jesus for the purpose of getting to know Him better.
Those were the questions asked to seniors in an Adventist Christian high school or academy over a period of 15 years. These kids were sent by parents and grandparents and great grandparents that went to church. Many were 2 nd or 3 rd or 4 th generation Seventh–day Adventists. And if it were merely one graduating class or a two or three at the most the results would be startling enough. But the answers to these questions represent more than a decade of evidence! 95% is the average on question #1. A Christian is somebody who doesn’t do wrong and does the best he can to do right. He keeps the rules and stays out of trouble. 95% based on keeping the rules.
Number 2, 95% said no. Seniors in Christian high school and academy. 95% said they’re not doing very good at keeping the rules. They’re messing up. They’re falling and failing and sinning.
Number 3, 95% said no. Why? Because it’s not very fun failing at trying to keep the rules.
Number 4, most of the kids didn’t really have anything to say. Some said they think it’s cool how much power He has. Or that He came to earth.
But number 5, 95% said false. I don’t spend specific and special time alone each day with Jesus. And here’s the scary thing. About 90% of the 95% of Christian high school seniors who took the survey had been previously baptized. And yet, had no assurance. And were tired of failing at keeping the rules. Could it be these alarming statistics could be explained away because these students had hormones raging and confusing times. But the same survey was given to adults and the same statistics returned. Too many Christians do not have assurance of salvation.
Today we want to talk about what happens when you know it’s who you know. How all of us can have assurance galore. And the good news is the Bible is not silent on the subject of assurance galore. I was pleased to discover this in seminary and later at Ohio camp meeting when I had the opportunities to listen to Morris Vendon share much of what I’m going to share with you now. Let’s start out with 1 Thessalonians 1:5 [NKJV] “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance.” So obviously it’s not sinful to be certain of our Savior. His Gospel has always had built into it “much assurance.” But I suppose it is possible to have a false assurance. Based not on who we know and love but on what we do or will do. We talked about this before. Matthew 7:22-23 (NKJV) says, “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.” But then we get into trouble by substituting what we do for the will of the Father when the will of the Father according to the logical flow of these verses is getting to know Jesus. “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
But how do we get to know Him? How do we have assurance galore? By coming to Christ in our past. By staying with Christ in the present. And by looking forward to Christ’s second coming. It’s not sinful to be certain of our Savior! Let’s begin in our past. The first question we have to ask to have assurance galore is: Have I been saved?
Ask, Believe, Confess
You know the answer to this question if at some point you learned your ABC’s. If you have asked Jesus to come into your life as Revelation 3:20 suggests, if you have believed the truth about yourself and Jesus as John 1:12 describes, and if you have confessed your personal need of a Savior and confessed your sin, you have been saved. You came to Christ. Through PRS. Prayer. Reading. And sharing. And when you came to Christ, you can be certain that you have been saved because Jesus said in John 6:37 “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” Regardless of who I am or what I’ve done? Yes! It’s makes no difference. Anyone who comes to Jesus is always accepted. And this text, like Number 21:8–9, doesn’t have any conditions attached to it. Good only for Jones and Waggoner. It doesn’t have an expiration date on it like milk in the fridge. It’s good for you. And it’s good all the time. Always accepted when we come to Christ. And when we do, according to Romans 5:1 (NKJV), we are justified by faith. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Well, what does that mean?
Nobody normal uses the word justification. Sanctification. Glorification. Recreation. So talking to youth groups I started using the word forgiveness instead of justification. Until I realized it’s not even close. The other day, during a pastor peer group meeting, we had finished our sharing and prayer time together and went to get some lunch. Kevin mentioned that he wanted to go to Waffle House so he could eat breakfast for lunch with a short stack of pancakes smothered and covered. But when we arrived at the Waffle House, it didn’t look so clean. I thought I heard my dad, born and raised in England, use the word salubrious to describe what I thought was something undesirable. So I said, “We’d better go someplace else. This joint looks salubrious.” Which touched off a 15 minute debate on whether I knew what on earth I was talking about using a word nobody in our group had ever heard. So, we went to Mulligans in Belden Village. And were seated in the non smoking section of the library. Which is a section of the restaurant with a fire place and bookshelves with actual books on them. So Dean pulls out the Dictionary on the shelf and reads us the definition of salubrious. And it turns out, did you know, that salubrious doesn’t mean undesirable at all! In fact, it means the exact opposite! It means “Conducive or favorable to health or well‑being.” Which also means I’ll probably never hear the end of that.
To be justified is as if you have not sinned
Which got me thinking. Forgiveness is not a good substitute for justification not because it is the opposite, but because it is simply inadequate. It doesn’t even come close to what the Bible means when it says we are justified. For example, if I tell you a lie, then I feel bad, and I ask you to forgive me and you forgive me, I am now a forgiven liar. If you steal something from me, like someone stole my bike that was locked up in the bike rack at the Piney Branch pool in Maryland when I was 14 years old, but suppose they returned, gave me my bike back, asked for forgiveness and after much debate, I forgave them, they would now be forgiven thieves. And there have been a few forgiven murderers in the Bible. Moses and David and Paul to name a few. But justification is so much more than that! When God justifies me, I never was a liar. They never were thieves. They never were murderers. We stand before God as though we had never sinned—ever. No wonder we can have peace with God!
So it seems to me that this is the way it works. I go to God and I say, “God, I blew it. Please forgive me and God not only forgives me, He justifies me. I now stand before God as though I had never sinned. Following week, I go to God and I say, “Dear Jesus, I blew it again.” And He says, “You did what again?” If from God’s perspective you never did it before, how could you do it again?
But some good people say “You can’t say that! If you tell young people that, they will run all over that. That’s not grace. That’s cheap grace!” But I’ve decided these good people are wrong. And I decided based on some speeding tickets I’ve received the last few years. You guys know, since I live in Canton but pastor 2 churches, one in Canton and one in Wooster, that I end up driving on Route 30 east and west very often. So much so that my car just about knows where every pot hole is in the road. And it almost steers itself.
Well, one Sabbath morning I was running late for church and I was on my way to Wooster, driving downhill, when I noticed a police car with it’s lights on driving up behind me. It was a sunny morning. Blue sky. Not an Amish buggy or a car on the road. Except mine and now this local Dalton police officer. The same local Dalton police officer (I think there might be only one) that had pulled me over months before now pulls me over again and asks to see my license and registration. I tell him, in case he doesn’t notice, that I’m a minister and I’m on my way to church and that I’m running late. He doesn’t say anything. Returns to his car. Does whatever they do back there in their car. And returns a few minutes later with a pink and a yellow slip of paper. I was praying he’d give me the yellow slip of paper, the one he’d given me months ago, as a warning for exceeding the ridiculously slow speed limit on that stretch of highway. Instead, he told me to slow down, watch for the clearly posted speed limit signs, and handed me the pink slip with a fine on it I had to mail in. I was angry. It would be one thing if he pulled me over because I was endangering the lives of others or mine by the way I was driving. It would be fine if he gave me this ticket for reckless driving during a blinding snow or ice storm. But the sun was shining. The sky was blue. The road was dry. And aside from him and his donut, there was nothing on the road. And I wasn’t endangering anyone going 5 mph over the speed limit. But because of my previous ticket, I got the pink slip instead of the yellow one. And I was mad.
So I rolled up my window and pulled away and as soon as he was a speck in my rear view mirrow, I floored it and drove as fast as I dared the rest of the way to church. Prior to that, months ago, when I received the yellow warning. I rolled up my window. Looked both ways. Checked my rear view mirrow. Put my blinker on. And slowly eased my foot onto the pedal. Gradually picking up speed before settling in at 55 mph right at the speed limit. I was more than happy to obey the law. To drive the speed limit. Because of the mercy and grace the officer extended to me. But months later, when he threw the law at me, it made a rebel out of me. Does that sound familiar?
Because of God's mercy, we want to obey
If you throw the law at your young people, you’ll make rebels out of them. Mercy and grace was extended to me the first time, and I drove the speed limit every day until that morning I was late. Then, the law was thrown in my face and I rebelled. I drove faster than I was even driving before. That’s the way it works. And that’s why I decided those good people who think justification promotes cheap grace are wrong. In fact, it promotes the opposite. A greater appreciation and love for the law. His mercy and grace made me obedient. Anybody who says that God’s mercy and grace is going to make me disobedient doesn’t understand God’s mercy or grace! Because rightly understood, we don’t want to disobey Him, we want to obey Him because we appreciate His mercy. Salvation is all about grace. Sanctification is all about gratitude. And so, if you’ve learned your ABC’s and have been justified, you can answer question number #1 with a confident yes. You have been saved.
But that’s not all the assurance we have. The second question is: Am I being saved? Am I staying with Jesus? Just as important as coming to Christ is staying with Christ! Morris Vendon says it this way. “We believe in once married always married as long as you stay married.” Jackie and I exchanged our wedding vows on December 22, 1996 in Saginaw, Michigan. My father, a retired minister, asked me if I did and I said I do. He asked Jackie if she did and she said I do. And we were married. But what if after we married, I moved to Ohio and Jackie stayed in Michigan? And what if we never saw each other, spoke to each other, or even emailed each other for the next 8 years? Are we really married? The state thinks so. But does God? And which is more eternally significant? What God thinks or what the state thinks or even what we think? When Peter and the apostles were hauled in to speak to the high priest in Acts 5:29 (NKJV), “Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’” There is something equally as important as getting married and that is staying married! And that is based upon continuing communication and an ongoing relationship. If I don’t have that, I don’t have a marriage regardless of what the marriage certificate or the state says.
So what about the person who was baptized 20 years ago and think they are Christian? Are you a Christian? Yes. Have you talked to Jesus lately? No. If you are killed later today in a car accident, will you be among the resurrected that go to heaven? No. Would you want your children to have a religious experience like yours? No. What does Jesus mean to you? What do you find attractive about Him? Well, nothing much. Do you spend some specific and special time each day alone with Jesus for the purpose of getting to know Him better? No. But I have a baptismal certificate to prove it. My name has been and still is on the membership list of this church. No, that’s not going to cut it. That’s not the way it works.
He who has the Son has life
Am I in an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus? This is the key point to answering question number 2: Am I being saved? 1 John 5:11-12 (NKJV) says, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
But what does it mean to have the Son? Well, it means the same thing as saying: She has a husband. He has a wife. I have a friend. What do we mean by that? We mean that we have a relationship with that person. So if I have a relationship with Jesus, I have eternal life. Not, we’ll get it some day later. No, it says we have it now. John says this over and over in the book of John but also in his other letters as well. Eternal life is not something we get when Jesus comes. We already have it! Isn’t that good news? But if we don’t have a relationship with Jesus, we don’t have eternal life. It’s just that simple. That’s why if the majority of the church members don’t have a relationship with God, the majority of church members don’t have eternal life. It’s just that simple.
The apostle Paul was clear on this. In Philippians 3, he begins to boast a little bit because other people were boasting a little bit. But he trumps them all by talking about his pedigree and where he came from and his deeds. He says in verse 5, “I was circumcised on the 8 th day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrews of the Hebrews; concerning the law, I was a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” And then he says in verses 8 and 10 (NKJV), “Yet indeed I also count all those things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.”
What did he call all the good things he did? Rubbish is the polite word. The KJV uses dung. The actual word there describes the body parts of butchered animals considered inedible by humans because that’s where the animal’s waste came out. But the translators of the NIV and the NKJV simply say rubbish. Do you think Paul felt strongly about this? If I can go out as an evangelist and baptize many people, but don’t know Jesus, it’s rubbish. If I am a 3 rd or 4 th generation Christian, but don’t know Jesus, it’s rubbish. It means nothing. If I go to church on Sabbath and keep all the commandments as I best I know how, but do not have a relationship with Jesus, it’s rubbish. If I go to Christian schools my entire life and graduate with a Masters of Divinity but don’t know Jesus is rubbish. Paul was very clear about this. That I may gain Christ. That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection. So we can know Him in the past. And the present. It’s not sinful to be certain about the Savior. We can be sure about today. But what about the future?
Let me ask you, can you answer the question: Will I be saved when Jesus comes? If I can answer yes to the first one, I have been saved. And I can answer yes to the second one, I am being saved, is there any question about the third one? Paul had no doubts about it. 2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV) says, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” I know whom I have believed in. There’s a great hymn with those same lyrics. That was my grandma in England’s favorite song.
Focus on Jesus, not your failures
Well, someone says, what about my falling and failing? My mistakes? What if I’m part of the 95%? Well, we’re going to talk in detail about that next time. So come back for that. But long story short, when you keep falling short of the glory of God, you have two options. Your first option is navel gazing. You can look at yourself and list all your faults, failures, sins, issues, problems whatever and start working on them one by one. Paul tried that. It didn’t work. So I wouldn’t recommend that. Not only that, as 15 years of surveys prove, doing so doesn’t make you happy. So instead, I suggest door number two. Looking to live. Focusing on Jesus. And trusting His power to save and sanctify (Philippians 2:13). Ellen White in Steps to Christ says the genuine Christian will continue to fall and fail. But from God’s perspective, that’s not what He sees. All He sees is Christ’s perfect life covering ours. So by faith, we can leave all our faults, failures, sins, issues, problems, whatever in God’s hands which is much better insurance option than Allstate!
Philippians 1:6 (NKJV) states, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” So that’s a promise concerning our behavioral problems. But we don’t focus on them because John 15:5 says we cannot do anything on our own. Instead, we look to live (Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15; 12:32), trusting that our God whom we serve is able (Dan.3:17) to save and sanctify us all. Hebrews 10:14 (NKJV) says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” That’s how we can have assurance galore even in the future. Which we’ll talk more about soon.
In the meantime, 1 John 2:28 has some great advice for all of us. “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” John used the phrase “little children” as a term of endearment. He’s not talking about just the cradle roll and primary and junior divisions of Sabbath School. He’s talking about all God’s children. “Abide in Him.” What does that mean? If you do a word study on the word abide, you’ll find that it simply mean to stay with Him. The two men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:29 (NKJV) said, “Abide with us.” or “Stay with us.” Jesus said in John 15 “Abide in Me as I in you.” So this is good advice. “And now little children, abide in Him, that we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”
Bill Gates, before he hit the media and nobody knew him by face, was worth $27 billion at the time for his software. Since then, it’s way higher than that. Makes the Saudi Arabians with all their oil look like paupers. Well, he quickly grew sick and tired of people writing him and telling him how good looking he was and how talented he was and couldn’t they have some of his money. Until one day he got a letter from a little school girl in the midwest named Emily. Her letter was quite simple. She just said, “Dear Mr. Gates, I am in the 6 th grade. We have a science project that costs $6.70 and I heard that you had a lot of money and I wonder if you could help me. He liked it. He got on airplane and he flew to that town in the midwest and went to that school and he went to the 6 th grade room looking for Emily. And she came out. He said, “I’m Mr.Gates and I brought you your $6.70 and he handed it to her. She was pleased. Then he said, “Can we go to the principal’s office?” So they did. He said, “My name is Gates and I got a letter from Emily here. I would like to have an assembly if you could gather the faculty and students together. So the principal gathered the faculty and students together in an assembly. He told about Emily and her letter. And now I’d like to give $6.7 million for a new science center here to be named after Emily.
On another occasion, back in the day, Mrs.Gates was out and about driving around with her baby and she got a flat tire. And a man, not knowing who she was, stopped and changed her tire for her. She managed to get his license number and the following week his house mortgage was paid off.
When I heard these stories, something spiritual and 3-D popped inside my head. Here I am a poor sinner in a world gone wrong and I have a project. It’s the project of trying to get eternal life and I don’t have the $6.70. My best resources are like rubbish. And so I get in touch with the One Psalm 50:10 (NKJV) says owns the cattle on a thousand hills. I look and keep looking to Him who also owns extensive mining assets, for Haggai 2:8 NKJV, says the silver is His and the gold is His. And I say to Him, I have this project of trying to get eternal life and I wonder if You could help me? And He says, “Yes, I have already made provision for you in the past. Not only to give you eternal life later, but also to give you assurance galore in the present. You can have it if you want it.”
Question is, do you want it? If you do, you’ll never have to ever wonder again what a Christian is. Whether you’d be among the resurrected if you were to die later today in a car accident. Or if your religious experience is worth passing on to your children and grandchildren. Because Jesus will mean everything to you. He will be the focus of all your attention. He will be who you think and talk about. And you will begin to look forward to spending specific and special time with Him each day alone with Jesus for the sole purpose of getting to know Him better. Praise God, we can have assurance galore!