2. The assurance of the Spirit. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

As Christians we sometimes struggle with questions about where we stand with God. And perhaps even you have asked at some point, “Am I really a Christian?” Sometimes it’s because God seems far away. Or perhaps you simply don’t feel saved. Maybe you are going through a very difficult time in your life. Or it could be that someone is telling you that your beliefs are wrong and to be truly saved you need something else. Or maybe you are struggling with a sense of failure and guilt.

This is real life. We go through these things. And this is why we are taking time for a series of teaching on this topic, the assurance of our salvation, or ‘how I can know I’m saved.’

Let me reiterate that I believe that you can know for sure that you are saved, even with these things that might make you question it from time to time, and that you can and should have confidence in your relationship with God.

As we saw last week, John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. We can know. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

Last week, we looked at the first of three bases for the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of God’s word. Today we focus in on the second basis, the assurance of the Spirit. And the Spirit, I believe, does this in two ways. First,

The very presence of the Spirit in our life gives us assurance

 The reception of the Spirit is one of the key promises that God gives us in the gospel, as we saw last week. And so, to put it simply when we see the Spirit in our lives, we know we have received the promise of salvation; we know that we are saved.

The connection between having the Spirit and being saved is so central that Paul can say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The reverse of this, of course, is that if we have the Spirit we do belong to Christ; we are saved.

As John says in 1 John 4:13 – “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” We “know” we are in right relationship with God – because of the Spirit in our lives.

Paul uses a couple of images that make this point. And I want us to look at these. The first is “sealed” with the Spirit. He says, “you . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” – Ephesians 1:14 (also 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).

Now this metaphor is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we are, as it were, locked up in a box and can’t get out even if we wanted to; that we are sealed in. (Sometimes appeal is made to Matthew 27:66, where the same word is used. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” In this case the tomb was made secure in two ways: 1) the guards who kept watch over it, and 2) the seal. The seal by itself would not keep anyone out. It could easily be broken. Rather, it secures the tomb in a different way. If it is broken it shows that someone got in. It means that the tomb has been tampered with. It is no longer “authentic” or preserved intact. In this case it is meant to keep Jesus’ disciples from getting in and taking the body so that they could claim he was raised from the dead – Matthew 27:62-65. It secures the tomb not as a lock (or a guard) would, but it secures it’s integrity; that it hasn’t been tampered with.) But this is a wrong understanding. The word used here refers to a mark denoting ownership and authenticity.

The background has to do with sealing documents in the ancient world. How do you know that a letter is truly from who it says it’s from; that it hasn’t been tampered with? The writer would take an engraved object, like a signet ring, distinctive to them, and press it into hot wax that has been placed on the folded or rolled up letter. This is the letter’s seal. So the seal is meant to confirm ownership (who wrote it) or here authorship and authenticity. (Again, the seal doesn’t prevent the letter from being opened, it simply shows that if it has been opened before you get it that its authenticity can’t be established)

The seal in our case is the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Which means that those who have the Spirit are truly owned by God; they are authentic. They are the real thing.

A second image from Paul is the “down payment” of the Spirit. After talking about the resurrection that is to come, Paul says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing (that is, the resurrection) is God, who has given us the Spirit as a down payment.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (Also, 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14.)

The word for “down payment” means an initial payment given as a pledge that the rest of the payments will be made. It is sometimes translated simply as a “guarantee” or a “deposit.” The Spirit here is the down payment from God to us. So the Spirit’s presence in our lives is an indicator of our present salvation; that we have already received the first installment of what is to come from God. And, as long as we have the Spirit, we have God’s pledge to give us the rest of what God has for us, in this case the resurrection. So the presence of the Spirit in our lives gives us assurance of our salvation both now and for the future.

This raises the question, how can you know if the Spirit is present in your life? There are a number of ways to answer this but our focus today is on the relational part of God’s Spirit within us:

  • The Spirit guides us in everyday life – Romans 8:14
  • The Spirit helps us to pray – Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18
  • The Spirit teaches us things and reminds us of what Jesus said – John 14:26
  • The Spirit is grieved when we sin – Ephesians 4:30. And we can sense this.

So in all of these examples we see that when the Spirit dwells within us, we have a relationship with the Spirit. There are various kinds of interaction. And through these interactions we can know that the Spirit abides within us. And when we know this, we know that we are saved.

But even more specifically –

The witness of the Spirit gives us assurance

 Paul talks about this in Romans 8:15-17 – “. . . you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

This is how it works. 1) We receive the Spirit. He says in v. 15 – “You have received the Spirit.”

2. The Spirit “bears witness . . . that we are children of God.” In other words, the Spirit tells me, deep in my heart that I am a child of God; that I am a Christian. [As John Wesley put it, this is “an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ has loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”]

And we ought not think of this as a one-time thing, maybe something that happens just when we are first saved. “Bears witness” is in the present tense. This is seen as ongoing. The Spirit will, from time to time, affirm our standing as a child of God, deep in our heart.

3. The Spirit enables us to cry “Abba! Father!” This is why it says that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. We both bear witness that we are saved. We hear what the Spirit tells us, and then we concur – “Yes, God you are my father. I am adopted into your family. I am one of your children.” And as Paul goes on to say in v. 17 – “. . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” Heirs of the salvation that God has for his own.

So if you feel insecure in your relationship with God, in addition to the assurance that comes from standing on God’s word, look to the assurance of the Spirit.

Examine your heart  

Examine it today and this week. Are there evidences of the Spirit’s activity in your heart? Are you in relationship with God, interacting with God by the Spirit who dwells within you?

And then, as a part of this relationship, does the Spirit testify to you that you are a child of God?

Perhaps you would say that you don’t know what it means to have the Spirit dwell within you. You have never experienced this. Well I invite you to put your faith in Jesus and to turn from your sins so that you can know what this means. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Ask and you can know what it’s like to have God’s Spirit live within you.

And if you would say, I have experienced the Spirit, but not really anymore. Ephesians 5:18 teaches us that we are to continue to be filled with the Spirit. It is not a one-time thing. So invite the Spirit to fill you again and continue to do this. And don’t go through life ignoring the Spirit. Cultivate your relationship with God by the Spirit. And then you will know the powerful assurance of salvation that comes from having the Spirit in your life.

 

1. The assurance of God’s word. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

Saul’s foolishness (pt 2). 1 Samuel 14:36-46

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:36-46

Well, it has taken us a number of weeks but we’re finally to the conclusion of the story that started in chapter 13. Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul then went to Gilgal, but disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come and give him instructions. Then, while facing a massive Philistine army, Jonathan once again, in faith, took the initiative to bring about a great victory.

But as they were chasing the retreating Philistines, Saul made an oath that his men couldn’t eat that day. This caused Jonathan to stumble, because he didn’t hear the oath and ate a bit of honey. And it caused the army to stumble. They were starving and when they could eat they ate meat with the blood in it. And the victory was diminished because of the army’s weakness.

We saw how Saul’s relationship with God was broken due to his unrepentant sin, and so he’s just making decisions based on what he thinks is right; that is he’s not following God; he’s making foolish choices.

Our story today picks right up where we left off with Saul’s continued foolishness. Let’s see what God has to teach us in this.

1 Samuel 14:36-46

36Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”

His army has now eaten and is refreshed. So he makes a proposal to continue to pursue the retreating Philistines. He wants to fix what he messed up with his oath; he wants to bring about a total victory.

But he doesn’t seek God about this. He’s all ready to go –

But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.

The priest has to stop him to seek God’s guidance. But, then no answer is given.

38And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today.

Saul interprets God’s silence as a sign of judgment. There are grounds for this in Scripture (e. g. 1 Samuel 8:18). But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it can just mean keep doing what you’re doing, or you don’t need further instructions, or you are in a time of testing when God chooses to be silent. In any case, here it does mean that something is wrong.

When he says, “this sin” he specifically means who broke the oath and ate food when they weren’t supposed to. Remember, an oath means that you call on God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. And here Saul put this oath of not eating on his men. And we saw last time how Jonathan unknowingly broke this oath.

Saul then swears another oath –

39For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.”

He doubles down on his previous oath, even though he saw how it backfired and caused trouble for his people. He now swears to kill the person who broke it, even if it’s his own son. It would have been wise to just move on.

One has to ask, ‘Why so extreme?’ ‘Why death?’ Especially since we know that in Jonathan’s case it was inadvertent.

This is not a good decision. This is foolishness on top of foolishness.

But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.

Many, if not all of the army knew what happened with Jonathan. But no one said anything. They are protecting him.

40Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

41Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Urim and Thummin were most likely dice-like objects, perhaps different colors that were cast to discern answers. It’s possible that you had to get the same answer several times in a row for it to be clear. And perhaps when God didn’t answer Saul that’s what happened.

Here he asks a simple question, ‘Is the guilt with this group or that group?’ Urim likely means accursed and Thummin acquitted.

Jonathan and Saul are taken. One of them has sinned. The rest are acquitted.

42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.

So this process accurately picks Jonathan. He is, in fact guilty of breaking the oath, even though he didn’t know anything about it. Frustratingly none of this process addresses Saul’s own knowing sin. And how it was his foolishness that led to Jonathan’s unknowing sin. He keeps the focus on the failures of others, not his own – a sin with no technicalities involved.

43Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.”

Jonathan’s response highlights Saul’s continued foolishness. He says, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die.” This last phrase may well be a question, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die?” It points out the harshness of the situation. The sentence is way out of proportion to the offense.

And it certainly contrasts with Saul’s decision when he was walking in God’s ways. In 1 Samuel 11:3 when some men had questioned his role as king and the crowd said they should be killed, he said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” Like in our story, they had just won a battle. But here Saul is ready to kill his own son.

And then, as if Saul is unable to learn, he again swears an oath, tripling down on his first oath.

44And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

Notice Saul’s complete lack of empathy or concern about his son. He should have commended Jonathan for his faith and bravery.

Is he jealous of him and his faith and boldness and how he was the one God used to deliver Israel? Clearly Saul is being out-shined. Is he trying to secure his son’s death? This certainly foreshadows how Saul will later treat David (his son in law) in similar circumstances.

But then our story, thankfully, takes an unexpected turn –

45Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die.

The army has some wisdom and courage to challenge the king. If the priest stops him before to seek guidance, the army stops him here from killing his own son. They counter Saul’s oath with an oath of their own.

They point out that God’s use of Jonathan to bring the victory is much more important than his unknowing breaking of a foolish oath. Clearly they respect Jonathan more than Saul.

46Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Our story began with pursuit and here the pursuit ends once and for all.

All you can say after reading this is –

What a mess!

Because of Saul’s oath the victory over the Philistines is diminished. And Jonathan and the army are led to stumble into sin.

And then, because of his refusal to back away from it, he makes an oath to kill whoever broke his first oath and Jonathan is almost killed.

The story ends with him being alienated from his son and the army. And with him under the condemnation of his two oaths in this story. He said in v. 44 – “God do so to me and more also” that is, if he didn’t kill Jonathan. And he didn’t kill him.

How much better if he had sought the Lord in the first place. How much better if after his foolish oath he had acknowledged this and let it go. How much better if when God was silent, he took responsibility for causing the army and Jonathan to stumble and sought forgiveness. What a different story this would have been!

What do we learn from this?

Did you know that we are not to swear promises? Oaths are certainly allowed in the Old Testament, but Jesus raises the bar when he says in Matthew 5:34, “Do not take an oath at all”; and James 5:12 says, “But above all, brothers and sisters, do not swear . . ..” If you haven’t looked at this before, I invite you to study it for yourself.

The key lesson however is that if you are walking in foolishness, stop! Foolishness is not following God, but making our own choices based on what we think is right. This is what Saul was doing.

And today we learn that if you are walking in foolishness, don’t cling to it. When you see if for what it is, stop. Don’t be too proud to admit it and then move forward. Don’t double and triple down like Saul here. When you are in a hole of your own making stop digging – as the saying goes. You just go further and further down. You have to put the shovel down and crawl out of the hole.

Take responsibility for your foolish choices. Don’t put the focus on others or make excuses. Set aside your bad choices, and begin to follow God and walk in his wisdom.