26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
Parable of the Great Feast
25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
The topic that I want to talk about today is the assurance of salvation. It is one of the most important topics in Christianity that can give believers utmost joy and hope in this life time, but it can also be the source of utter disappointment and damnation for eternity if it’s misunderstood. The question of assurance of salvation can be boiled down to three words: “Am I saved?” A closely related question, then, would be “What must I do to be saved?” Many religions have come up with their own ideas of ways to get saved and reach the heavenly realm. However, Christ Jesus, our Lord, who ultimately proved His deity and authority through His own resurrection, made it clear that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
Now, what does it mean to go to the Father through Jesus? The Bible tells us many times that it is by believing in Jesus or having faith in Jesus. We see this in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This tells us that believing in Jesus, i.e. having faith in Jesus, is the key to salvation. We know that we cannot earn salvation by ourselves. Apostle Paul made this clear in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So, evangelical Christians have generally concluded that salvation is by “faith alone.” They say, once you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again to give you an eternal life, you are saved for eternity.” Period.
However, those who read the Bible thoroughly will soon realize that it’s not that simple. How do you reconcile the idea of “salvation by faith alone” with the biblical truth that “a person is considered righteous by what they DO and NOT by faith alone (James 2:24)?” Also, why does Jesus say that “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' (these are so-called believers) will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who DOES the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21)?” Now, all of a sudden, this idea of “salvation by faith alone” seems to be weakened.
The relationship between faith and works is very important because they are directly linked to our salvation. And because it is so critical to our eternal life, I am going to defer this discussion to a far more qualified scholar, Dr. Millard Erickson, who is a well-known Christian theologian, professor of theology, and a prolific author in theology. In his systematic theology book called, Christian Theology, he wrote the following about faith and works:
The position we have taken here is that works do not produce salvation. Yet the biblical witness also indicates that while it is faith that leads to justification, justification must and will invariably produce works appropriate to the nature of the new creature that has come into being. … Genuineness of the faith that leads to justification becomes apparent in the results that issue from it. If there are no good works, there has been neither real faith nor justification. We find support for this contention in the fact that justification is intimately linked with union with Christ. If we have become one with Christ, then we will not live according to the flash, but rather by the spirit (Rom. 8:1-17). The union with Christ that brings justification also brings the new life.
In other words, genuine believers don’t do good works in order to earn salvation. They do good works because of the salvation they have in Christ. Genuine faith in Jesus compels to do good works of Jesus. Genuine faith is faith that expresses itself in love (Gal. 5:6).
This may lead to the next question, which is “How can I be sure that my faith is genuine enough?” “What can give me genuine assurance of salvation?” These are very important questions, and I will address them today. But before I do that, I’d like us to look at one of the interactions Jesus had with an expert in the law regarding this issue in Luke 10:25-37.
This section of the Gospel of is famously called the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” It addresses a few important topics, such as, “Who is considered my neighbor?” and “How should we treat them?” But what is far more important in this discourse is the issue of salvation, which is the very question the expert in the law asks. Let’s look at the passage together, starting from Luke 10:25. (I’m reading from the NLT translation.)
25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
31 “By chance a priest (a Jew) came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant (another Jew) walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins (that’s close to $600 in this Bay area), telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
The significance of this Samaritan man taking care of a beaten up Jewish man was that there was a long history of bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans. They despised each other since the Israelites were divided into two kingdoms - Israel to the north and Judah to the south. The city of Samaria once became the center of Baal worship. Jezebel also had many prophets of Yahweh killed in Samaria. When Samaritans came to help rebuild the destroyed temple, the Jews rejected them. Later, there were inter-marriages between Jews and Gentiles in Samaria, making the Samaritans “less than pure” Jews. So, in the days of Jesus, the Jews despised the Samaritans so much that they would even travel extra miles on barren land in order to avoid traveling through Samaria. It was in this context that Jesus told the story of a Samaritan man having mercy on this injured Jewish man. This good Samaritan took care of the Jewish man despite the animosity and all the expense that was necessary to care for him.
The immediate lesson of this parable, of course, is that we are called to love the unlovable. Jesus plainly puts it this way in Luke 6:32, “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” We are called to love even our enemies. So, your neighbor is not just the people you like or the people you hang out with. It’s the people you don’t really care, and even those who hate you. We are called to love all of them.
But a bigger question that Jesus is addressing is the question that the expert in the law initially brought up, which is, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” This question was so important for many people that Luke alone records people asking this question in three other occasions. In Luke 18:18, the rich religious leader asked “Good teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” In Acts 2:37, when Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost, the people asked, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’” And in Acts 16:30, when the jail door of Paul and Silas miraculously swung open with a massive earthquake, the guard came and trembled before them, and asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Interestingly, the answer to this question was not always the same. We would think that the answer should always be “believe in Jesus,” but as we see in the passage today, Jesus tells the expert in the law to obey the law, namely the Great Commandment, for eternal life! Look carefully. The expert asks, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Jesus told him. “Right! Do this and you will live!” “Do this and you will live???” Jesus is telling this man that he can actually earn eternal life by following the law! How can this be? We know that this cannot be true because of all the other passages that say otherwise. So, is Jesus lying here? Of course not! He is God. He doesn’t lie. So, then, it is a true statement. If you obey the law, then you are guiltless. And, if you’re guiltless, there is no ground for God to send you to hell. The problem is that no sinful human being is able follow the law perfectly, which is what the law requires. Look at the #1 requirement again. The law is to love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your strength, and ALL your mind. Forget about even getting to the second greatest commandment. Is there anyone who can love God with one’s entire being, ALL-inclusively? No. No sinful human being is capable of fulfilling the law. All fall short of the glory of God! That’s why Paul says in Romans 7:10, “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” And this is the very reason why Jesus had to come, fulfill the law, and die on our behalf as a sinless sacrifice.
So, why did Jesus tell the expert in the law to follow the law for eternal life instead of saying “believe in me”? Jesus’s answer was His way to state the truth, but at the same time, mock the arrogant expert. It was His way of satirically saying “Sure, fulfill the law (if you can), and you will have eternal life.” Jesus knew that this expert was testing Him. He also knew that this man was self-righteous by attempting to live according to the law. So, Jesus gave him the answer that fit the condition of his heart. Just as it is written in Proverbs 3:34, “The Lord mocks the mockers, but is gracious to the humble.” To the arrogant, Jesus gave an unattainable solution for eternal life, but, to the humble, he extends grace. And so, we confidently know the answer to the question, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” The attainable answer is to believe in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.
This takes us back to the original question. What can give a believer genuine assurance of salvation? Unless there is a way to surgically open a person’s heart and see if there really is genuine faith, anyone can easily be deceived. I’m sure many of you have experienced something similar when going into a classroom to take a test. Students walk in with a pretty high level of confidence, but many come out scratching their heads. What they thought they knew and what they actually knew was quite different. Faith is quite similar. The faith that you think you have and the faith that you actually have can be very different. So, how do we know we have genuine faith? How can we be sure of our salvation?
Dr. Wayne Grudem, another prominent evangelical theologian, seminary professor, and the author of the book, Systematic Theology, listed three questions based on the Scripture that a person could ask of oneself to see if he or she can have real assurance of salvation.
#1. Do I have a present trust in Christ for salvation?
This is about examining whether you presently have faith in Christ for your salvation. It doesn’t matter if you thought you had faith in the past. The Scripture is clear that those who continue in the faith to the end are the ones who are saved. (Col 1:23, Heb 3:14, Heb. 6:12). So, do you presently trust in Christ for salvation?
#2. Is there evidence of a regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in my heart?
There are various evidences to look for in your life. Do you sense the leading of the Holy Spirit in paths of obedience to God’s will (Rom. 8:14)? Are there character traits the fruit of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 2:22-23)? Do you believe and accept the sound teaching of the church? Is there a relationship with Jesus through prayer and worship? These would be some of the places where you could find evidences of a regenerating work of the Spirit.
#3. Do I see a long-term pattern of growth in my Christian life?
If the first two questions were about the present faith and present evidence of the Holy Spirit at work, this question is about whether these traits are continuing to grow (2 Peter 1:5-10). This implies that our assurance of salvation can be something that increases over time in our lives. Although young believers can have strong confidence in their salvation, that assurance can increase to even deeper certainty over the years in which they grow toward Christian maturity (1 Tim. 3:13).
So, if you can confidently answer “yes” to all three of these questions, then you are truly blessed. You can know for certain that nothing can take away the salvation that you have. This doctrine, called the perseverance of the saints, should be tremendously comforting.
On the other hand, if you are unable to say “yes” to any of these three questions (i.e. if you are backsliding and straying away from Christ), then this should cause genuine worry and even fear. As Dr. Grudem puts it,
Such persons must clearly be warned that only those who persevere to the end have been truly born-again. If they fall away from their profession of faith in Christ and life of obedience to him, they may not really be saved – in fact, the evidence that they are giving is that they are not saved, and they never really were saved. Once they stop trusting in Christ and obeying him (in terms of outward evidence) they have no genuine assurance of salvation, and they should consider themselves unsaved, and turn to Christ and repentance and ask him for forgiveness of their sins.
Dr. Grudem’s words may be hard to hear, but it is the bare truth without any sugarcoating. If you feel like you are on shaky grounds in your faith, make today the day of true repentance and turn to the Lord for forgiveness. Turn your way of living for yourself, and live for God. If you’ve been leading a life of disobedience, repent and start obeying. If you are rejecting the Lord’s call to go on missions, make today the day to repent and sign up to go. If you are rejecting the Lord’s call to engage in the body of Christ, the church, and its ministries, repent and engage in church ministries. Make Christ your everything.
Pastor Daniel Kim