I am quite certain that there are many people in the church today, because of bad teaching and theology, who struggle with issues surrounding assurance of salvation. In fact this is not a new phenomenon, but is as ancient as the rambunctious Apostle, Peter. Remember the emphasis of the “Last Supper,” and Jesus’ prediction that one of His disciples would deny any relationship to, or knowledge of Himself. And we all know what happened, Peter most certainly denied any knowledge of or relationship with Jesus (see Mk. 14:66-72, amongst the other synoptics and the Gospel of John); and of course his response was one of sheer horror, and remorse. I think at that moment, and the immediate time following this incident, Peter was most unassured that he would have any further part in the “Kingdom of God.”
But you see, his relationship with Jesus was not dependent on his faithfulness to any kind of commitment or “covenant” that he may have made with God, and His Son; oh no, rather the relationship was completely dependent on Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to His people (in fact all of humanity, objectively speaking). Let’s go back to the Old Testament for a moment to further substantiate Yahweh’s faithfulness, indeed Jesus’ faithfulness to humanity. In fact there are so many examples of this throughout the Old Testament, that we have our pick, so to speack; lets quickly look at Ezekiel 36 verses 22-32 (click on citation for full text). Here we come across Yahweh speaking to Israel, and coming to them in a time of great, great, sustained unfaithfulness, on their part. He admonishes them, and makes clear His intention to bring judgment on them (per the Levitic curses, Lev. 26; Deut. 28–30); but, and this is the hopeful part, He shows Himself faithful to them, inspite of their unfaithfulness to Him. In fact He promises to bless them beyond belief, at His initiation, and because of who He is, in Himself, inspite of their own unbelief and outright disobedience. Let’s just get a sampling of Yahweh’s staggering, and gracious nature towards an unbelieving people:
Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. 23. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. The then nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord God, when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. 24. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. . . . (Ez. 36:22-26ff)
Notice the “I–you” pattern, in the section above; this pattern continues on through verse 32 of this chapter another seven times. This is an important pattern, and is used for emphasis in this passage. It is a movement, a unilateral one, where Yahweh is seen to be the One who is always faithful, and does everything because of His love (which we know defines His nature as Father loving Son, Son loving Father, and Holy Spirit loving both bringing communion amongst the three); which we creatures partake of as He showers us with His surplus and super-abundance. So then, when we come to Peter and Jesus we should not be surprised that Jesus responds just as graciously to a fearful Peter, cowering in remorse and sheer angst of soul. Notice the response, and special notice paid to Peter in Mark 16:7 (this is the angel’s message, just after Jesus has resurrected):
. . . But go, tell His disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you. . . .
and Paul in his first epistle Corinthians also makes this special distinction of Peter:
. . . and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; . . . (I Cor. 15:5, 6)
The point to take away from this, is that even though Peter denied Him, Jesus remained faithful in His love for Peter. This is illustrated by the pin-pointed pursuit by God to single out a desperate despairing Peter. The LORD pursues us, and He keeps us as His, no matter what. This relationship between Peter and Jesus was presupposed by who Jesus was (in relationship to the Father and Holy Spirit), and is for us; instead of who Peter (and we are) was and is for Jesus.
What this incident further illustrates is that “assurance of salvation” is not even a scriptural category. In other words, we don’t see this ever communicated as a viable situation in the scriptures. The scriptures presuppose Yahweh’s faithfulness, as well as humanities’ unfaithfulness; which is the point of the cross. It is the cross that reverses the curse and the subsequent doom and gloom of humanities’ fallen situation. Our response to the Father, is firmly located in Jesus’ response to the Father on the cross, “. . . Father into thy hands I commit my spirit. . . .” It is not until much later, within church history that “assurance of salvation” becomes a doctrinal “pastoral” category. The next post will further touch on the system of theology (esp. as developed in English Puritanism) that brought us this deplorable teaching on “assurance.”
Stand firm today in the confidence that it is not our faithfulness, but His faithfulness, and LIFE, that is the source of our confidence and hope!