From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 21 – Assurance of salvation
Being sure of your own salvation, i.e. justification, is not arrogance. It would only be arrogant if you thought that it depended on you matching up to a certain standard. That is not what Christianity is about. Justification is not based on our own good deeds, or merit, or anything else that we could boast about.
Ironically, it is the genuine believer who confidently puts all his trust in what Jesus did on the cross, rather than on his own merits, who is actually being humble. Such assurance is the opposite of being arrogant, because we are not puffing ourselves up or relying on ourselves. Neither are we claiming to have any kind of merit. Conversely, the man who even hopes that his own deeds might be good enough to ‘earn’ him a place in heaven is both conceited and deluded.
I raise these points because over the years I have met many people who are involved in Roman Catholicism or Islam or cults such as the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. These groups share one common feature. They do not have any assurance of salvation i.e. that they will go to Heaven. They can only ever hope that their behaviour “might be good enough”. That’s because they all wrongly believe that salvation is earned by being a “good person”. Hopefully you will agree with me, by now, that there is no such thing as a good person. Even the very best person is still just a sinner.
Thus, I can feel a genuine assurance that I am forgiven and will go to Heaven when I die. I know that I really have repented of my sins and have turned away from them. I know I have sincerely trusted in Jesus Christ alone, rather than in my own merit or virtue, and that I have been forgiven. I also know that I am deemed to have all the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is what justification is all about. I know that all of my sin has been transferred on to Jesus Christ instead of me and that I have His righteousness. I can know those things because I believe the promises that the Bible makes, not because I am good.
In believing those promises, I am not showing any presumption or arrogance, because I am not claiming to have any merit whatsoever. Imagine that I was to put my trust in the Bank of England and to believe that it was and solid and could be trusted. That would not be arrogance on my part, because I am not putting any trust in myself, but rather in the Bank of England. Likewise, the certainty that I have of my own salvation (justification) is not based on me, but on Jesus Christ Himself and on His faithfulness. In other words, I am trusting that His Word is His bond and that He will never let me down or lie to me. I am not trusting in myself at all.
Only a person who knows that they are forgiven and that they have eternal life can really want to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ and serve Him for the rest of their lives. A person who doubts that, or who has no basis for such confidence, is crippled. They are unable to properly follow the Lord Jesus as a disciple, even if they want to.
Let me just clarify this point. When I speak about being a disciple and following the Lord Jesus Christ I do not mean that salvation (justification) is dependent upon you being a good disciple or upon following Him in a sufficiently impressive way. Neither does it depend upon always avoiding sin in your life.
That is not how it works. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ as a disciple and we obey Him, because it is right and proper to do so. It also enables us to grow in holiness or sanctification. However, being an effective or successful disciple is not, and never will be, the basis for obtaining justification or forgiveness.
As explained earlier we are justified by God’s grace and mercy through our faith, not by doing good works for Him. That also applies to the good works we will do later on, as we learn to be disciples. They are good and worthwhile things to do, and they have a direct bearing on the rewards that we will later receive. They also indicate what our heart is like and whether we are genuine or false. However, they are not, in themselves, what justifies us or what gives us forgiveness or eternal life.