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"I have anxiety attacks when I don't read [my Bible] and when [the attacks] come up, I feel like if Jesus were to come back I'd be stranded here and it all has to do with assurance of my salvation.  I struggle with it soooo much.  It's a constant thing."

I received the previous text message from a young man recently.  After reading it, I knew
exactly where he was coming from: I was there myself until a couple of weeks ago when something happened that gave me complete assurance of my salvation.  I will attempt to work through some of these events below in the hopes that others would be encouraged and assured, so that we all might persevere to the end!

What is salvation?
It is, first of all, very important to know what salvation means and why every human needs salvation.
Salvation is synonymous with the words "deliverance" and "rescue."  This is exactly what we as humans need: rescue from death which was the result of sin (see Genesis 3).

The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians chapter 2, does a fantastic job of summarizing the problem and the answer of humanity:
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:1-10, English Standard Version).
In summary, here is what Paul is saying: The bad news is that because of sin - and we all do sin (Romans 3:23) - we have been cut off from the life source; namely, God.  As a result of sin, all our lives will ever amount to is death.  On the other hand, the good news is that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13)!  This is the joy of salvation!  When you repent (turn from your wicked ways) and proclaim Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you too have entered into the joy of salvation.  God chooses to save us, giving us life, even life eternal (Romans 10:13)!  This is the mystery and the joy of salvation: that God would quicken sinners from death to life through the new birth (Ephesians 3; John 6:44) - even the angels long to look into such things!

How can I be sure I am saved?
But the next question is: how can I be sure I am saved?  Some would say, "why does it matter?"  It most certainly does matter, however.

Jesus says in John 15:11 that "these things (abiding in Christ, bearing fruit because you have been given His seed, etc.) I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."  It is to the Christian's joy that we know the seed which has been planted in us, to bear good fruit, and so prove ourselves to be His disciples.  Elsewhere, Peter declares, "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities [I previously mentioned] you will never fall" (2 Peter 1:10).

Furthermore, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you fail to meet the test!"  It is beneficial and necessary to discover if we are in the faith or not.  If we live our lives in uncertainty, we run the risk of falling away or deceiving ourselves - that we might not be saved in the first place.

Just quite recently, God opened my eyes and filled my heart with immense gratitude - to the point of tears - as He showed me that I am His child and nothing can ever change that.  What I graciously experienced was the great assurance of salvation that we all long for as believers.

Follow me as I take you on a similar path through the same Scriptures God took me on a few weeks ago.

In John 10, Jesus says: "'Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens.  The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.'"  Later Jesus explains this parable: "'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly....  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them. And they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  I and the Father are one'" (John 10:1-5, 7-10, 27-30, ESV).

There are a few things that are important to note in this first passage.  First of all, Jesus (as He commonly did) compared people to sheep.  He also names Himself the Shepherd.  What is interesting is that only the sheep who hear His voice will follow Him.  If you have heard God's voice and are following Him, you are saved.  On the other hand, if you think you have heard God's voice, but are not following Him (i.e. walking as He walked, doing as He did) you are not saved.  This is why Paul calls us to self-examination.  It is vital to determine if we are in the faith or not; if we are consistently living according to His Word or not.

Interestingly enough, the parable in John 10 was based on a very real occurrence.  Shepherds in Jesus' time gathered many separate flocks from many different shepherds and herded them into one giant coral at night.  When the time came in the morning to separate their flocks, each shepherd would call aloud to his sheep.  The sheep would recognize the voice of their shepherd and follow him out into the pasture.  What a beautiful picture Jesus uses to show us the event of being called unto salvation!

From where does assurance come?
Finally, from where does the assurance for a believer - or a hearer of Jesus' voice - come?

John 6:37 reads: "'All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.'"  What a promise!  Jesus says that He will never cast out any who come to Him!  We have assurance in the promise of God that once we are saved, we are saved forever!  Let no one tell you differently - God's Word is truth!  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, "It is not your hold of Christ that saves, but His hold of you!"  Apart from God's hold on His people, none would pass the test and all would fall away.  As the great hymn reads:
"O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter (chain),
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above" ("Come Thou Fount", Robert Robinson, 1758).
What inspired words, rooted in Scripture and the Sovereign grace of God!

In closing, perhaps the most difficult part of Jesus' teachings is found in John 6:63-66, which states: "'It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.'  (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)  And he said, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.'  After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him."

Whew!  Initially, I felt like turning back as well.  How could a loving God - a God who sent His own Son to die on a cross for sinners! – seemingly predestine some for heaven and some for hell?  Why would He call some and not others?  Why is God closing some people's ears and opening others?  This does not seem fair.

But here's the catch: the question isn't why doesn't God save all people, but why does God save any at all?  All humans are under the wrath of God by nature, for we hate the King.  Since He is the Creator of everything, that makes Him the Ruler as well.  Because of our rebellion, we are worthy of His wrath.  However, out of the same condemned lump (Romans 9:21), God has taken some to save for Himself.  What right has the lump to say to the Potter, "Why have you made me like this?"  Our lives were made by God and they are for God.  We have no rights.  (And all the Americans cringe....)

The term “predestined” has been thrown around in Christian circles for many, many decades.  However, it is very important to note that “predestined followers of Christ” only makes sense when viewed from eternity.  Since we cannot see the future, we do not know who is going to be saved or not, but God does!  It is something that we have a very difficult time understanding because, as I said, we are finite beings and can only reason so far.

Indeed, this does not change what we are to do: As believers, we are still commanded to spread the Good News of Jesus to all people, regardless if they accept it or not.  For by the foolishness of preaching, the Gospel calls the sheep of Jesus to obey Him.  Praise God for His sovereign grace!

All in all, after God took me through this study (first taught to me by Terry Miller at our Tuesday morning Bible study group at 5:30 in the morning), I felt such gratitude and thankfulness toward my Father in Heaven for calling me by name and opening my ears to hear His call.  I am now His child.  And just as I can never have a new biological father on earth, neither can I have a new spiritual Father in Heaven.  Praise the Lord!

Lastly, I know now that my salvation is assured, not because of my faithfulness, but because of His.  I hope you, too, find joy and gratitude in God for the salvation you inherited from Christ Jesus!

Assurance of salvation rests in Jesus - the one who died, and now lives forevermore (Revelation 1:18)!