Last week’s sermon on hell leads naturally to our next question; how can I be sure that heaven is my future and not hell? How can I have assurance of my salvation? There are doubts that can nag a Christian, one of which is “what of I’m just not good enough? What if I am still a sinner when I die?”
Most of us will read with some consternation these words of John:
No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him . . . Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.” 1 John 3:6,9 (NRSV)
I don’t know about you, but having been a Christian for thirty plus years I still sin and if you ever have the opportunity to watch me doing home renovations, you’ll see and agree. Do these verses throw our relationship with God and our salvation into doubt? They might throw the strength of our relationship with God into doubt, in fact perhaps they ought to, but if you are a believer in and follower of Christ your salvation is another matter altogether.
When we read verses from the Bible we can so easily pull them out of context and read them as isolated truths without the appropriate background. We should read a verse with the verses immediately before and after in mind, with the book from which they are taken in mind, and in fact with the entire Bible in mind. In this case, we might want to point to John’s words in this very same letter:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2 (NRSV)
John is eager in this letter to counter a heresy which was causing some Christians to say things like “it does not matter if we sin,” and so there are strong words pointing out that a life of sin is inconsistent with being a Christian. But,“If anyone does sin,” there is an advocate, a Saviour. So despite John’s clear instruction to deal with sin and grow in Christian maturity, there is no pretence of the possibility of moral perfection. Despite their best efforts, and despite the ministry of the indwelling Spirit, Christians will still sin . . .and will be forgiven.
Then there is 1 John 1:7 which says
but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (NRSV).
From “all sin” includes “all sin” as in past, present, and future as is pointed out through the present tense of “cleanses us.” It does not say “the blood of Jesus cleansed us at one point from sins committed in the past and so now any sins committed are on our own heads”! Rather the point is the blood continues to cleanse as we continue to live in Him. Assurance of our salvation is not based on our ability to achieve sinless perfection this side of eternity, though indeed we can and should strive to mature in that. To the glory of God it is based on what He has done at the cross.
Does this forgiveness mean that we should be unconcerned about the sin in our lives? Indeed not, for as we have already learned from John “Those who have been born of God do not sin” (1 John 3:9 NRSV), which means the Christian does not live a life of willful and habitual sinning. Imagine as a child being adopted into a loving family, with a very generous father, and a warm safe home around which are all kinds of wild and dangerous animals. Would you refuse to live in the home and pitch a tent outside instead? Many people do precisely that with regards to faith in Christ. They respond to the call “believe and receive forgiveness” yet they fail to really join the family through entering the house and experiencing the change God brings now through repentance. We should never think of God’s forgiveness as license to sin, it is instead an invitation to come in out of the dark. But if having entered the home and drawn close to the Father we do sin, He will forgive.
To the glory of God, the assurance of our salvation does not depend on our ability to achieve perfect sinlessness this side of eternity. Rather it depends on the love and power of God. So are you good enough? No, and neither am I, but when we stand before God in glory we will be!