No Doubts About It
Dr. Jim Denison
Sometimes God must wonder about the human race, and for good reason. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Compaq computer company is considering changing the command “press any key” to “press return key” because of the flood of calls asking where the “any” key is located. A Dell customer called to say his computer would not fax anything. Turns out the man was holding a piece of paper in front of the monitor and hitting the “send” key. A confused caller to IBM reported that his computer could not “find” the printer, even though he turned the monitor to face it. And a person called technical support for help with fixing the computer’s “cup holder.” The caller put a cup on the CD-ROM drive drawer and broke it off.
God wonders about us, and we wonder about him. The most common question I have been asked across my pastoral ministry is “How can I know that I am a Christian?” In recent weeks, very serious and urgent church members have come to me with this very issue. I struggled with assurance of salvation for more than a year after my own conversion. How can you know that you know? How can you help those who have their own doubts?
Don’t trust in religion
First, don’t trust in religion. That sounds strange in a religious service, I know. But it’s exactly the warning Jesus gives us today: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 21).
These are the right words; “Jesus is Lord” is the first and central affirmation of the Christian faith. We find it written in Greek on catacomb walls in ancient Rome. Those who are baptized in our church say first, “Jesus is my Lord.”
Many will say the right words, calling Jesus their “Lord.” They will have the right urgency, repeating their affirmation of faith.
And they will have the right works:They will “prophesy” or preach “in your name,” representing Jesus, claiming to speak his words and carry his message.They will “drive out demons and perform many miracles.” Religious works of the highest magnitude and worth.
We can say the right words and do the right works, and still hear the most terrible statement in all of eternity: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (v. 23).
“Knew” means personal, intimate knowledge, a personal relationship, not just a performed religion. As we will see shortly, this is the only basis for admittance to heaven, for assurance of eternal life. God must know us.
It’s not enough that we know about God. If Cowboys coach Bill Parcells were to walk into the sanctuary this morning, you’d know him. But would he know you?
Jesus makes clear the fact that performance is not the basis for assurance. Saying the right words and doing the right works are the essence of religion. And yet they are not enough to know that you will be in heaven, to be sure of your faith and eternity.
I once read of a 90-year-old preacher who became a Christian.
A new pastor drove by his church one evening to see a crowd assembling. He stopped and asked someone what was happening. The man said, “They’re meeting to pray for the conversion of their new pastor.” The man went to the meeting, and came to saving faith in Jesus.
No seminary degree can give assurance of salvation. No words preached or works performed are enough. Don’t trust in religion—it will fail your soul.
Trust in relationship
How can you be absolutely assured that you will “enter the kingdom of heaven?” Only in one way: “only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). So it is imperative that we ask, what is this will?
“My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).
“This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).
Then our words and works will reflect our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We will bear the “fruit of the Spirit” as a natural result of branches connected with the vine. We will walk on the road to abundant life, and our words and actions will witness to that life. We will serve Jesus with sacrificial commitment, repentant hearts, and transformed souls. And one day, instead of hearing “I never knew you,” we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21), the most blessed words in all of eternity.
So let us be sure that we know Jesus in this intimate, personal way. For many years I wasn’t sure. I thought God had a scale, with the good at one end and the bad at the other. I hoped I was good enough for the scale to tip in my favor. Millions of Americans still think the same way: I’m good and believe in God, so hopefully that will be enough.
Bruce Wilkinson, in his new book The Life God Rewards, explains salvation this way. Draw a line in your mind. Write “totally evil” on the left end, and “totally good” on the right. Put an X to mark how close to “totally good” a person would have to be to get into heaven. Where did you put your mark?
Let’s say you put the X at 70%. What if God requires 71%? You’d be lost. Where does he put the X? At 100%. His heaven is perfect, and can only stay that way if only perfect people are admitted. The pack of gum I stole at the age of five was enough to keep me out. Romans 3:23 includes every one of us: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All.