(Image courtesy of http://kenyanavigators.com.)

"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, but something happened that gave me complete assurance of my salvation, sealed in the living Lord.

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 needed (and still 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 call many to repentance and eternal life (Ephesians 3; John 6:44).

But the next question is: how can I be sure I am saved?  Once this question is answered, there is nothing but freedom in the believer's life.

How can I be sure I am saved?

Humans desire assurance.  We want to be reassured that we are loved.  We want to be reassured that what we are buying is truly the best product.  And, among others things, we want to be reassured that we truly have been saved and are in right relationship with God the Father.  But how can we have this assurance of salvation?

Assurance’s chiefest enemy is doubt.  So the question remains, how can we have complete assurance – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that we are saved when we call upon the Name of the Lord (Romans 10:13)?  

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.  That is 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 you are saved.  Likewise, if you are saved, you have heard God's voice.  And on the other hand, if you have not heard God's voice you are not saved (and vice versa).

Interestingly enough, the parable 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.  When the time came for the shepherds to separate their flocks, each shepherd would call aloud to his sheep.  The sheep would recognize the voice of their shepherd and follow accordingly.  What a beautiful picture Jesus uses to show us the event of being called unto salvation!

But what about the sheep that do not hear the Good Shepherd's (Jesus') voice?  Is God condemning them to hell because He has not called all people?  Certainly not!  God condemns no one - sin does that from birth (John 3:18).  Jesus calls all people, but only those who repent and choose Him will hear His voice.  From a limited, human perspective, then, the choice to hear God or not is up to us.  In addition, I Timothy 2:4 says that God desires none should perish.  Yet just because God desires none should perish does not mean some will not perish.  Desires are not automatically guaranteed to come true.  Additionally, God speaks through the Apostles in Acts 17:30, saying: In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

So then 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!

In closing, perhaps the most difficult part of Jesus' teachings is written in John 6:63-66: "'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: we are finite beings.  God is eternal - Ephesians 2:10 says that God already has our works prepared for us in advance.  In other words, He knows what we will do before we even do it.  This is just one example showing that God is not constrained by time.  He was here at the beginning of time, He is here now, and He will be here at the end of time.  We cannot fathom it.  It is impossible.  But that's the way it is.  Therefore, since God is not governed by time, He already knows who will hear His voice and who will not.  Out of respect and fear for God's sovereignty and His "sovereign choice," however, we will not go deeper into this issue.  All we know is that some will hear Jesus' call of salvation and others will not.

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.

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, but now lives forevermore (Revelation 1:18)!