Editors Note: This is a new series on sanctification designed to help our readers understand what sanctification is and how to grow in Christ.

****************

I have a checkered past with the doctrine of assurance. I was born into a Roman Catholic home and was baptized into that church. Within a few years my parents had met the Newmans (now life long friends) who shared the gospel with them. My parents trusted Christ and believed in the promises of God. I made a profession of faith at four years old and was baptized. The rocky road begins.

In the circles I ran, the gospel was preached, but they missed the overarching tone of the good news. The gospel reminds us what Christ does for us then reminds us how we should live because of those truths. When God creates the world, his first command is be fruitful and multiply. Think about it. God’s first words to mankind is “Enjoy your spouse and do it a lot so you can fill the world”. Next he tells them the entire world is their’s to enjoy except one tree.

What tone is conveyed in the beginning? It’s one of delight. It’s one of pleasure. It’s one of “Yes! It’s all yours to enjoy as a gift from your Father who you image.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this: “Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” From the beginning, God says glorify me and enjoy me through all of this good creation.

But man sins. The creation including man falls prey to the consequences of sin. Still God is gracious and loving with us. Christians sometimes have a negative view of the Pentateuch, but God never gives law without first giving us a gospel foundation (God acting for us). All through out the Old Testament the ethical imperatives are go and do this because I rescued and redeemed you out of Egypt. Christopher Wright notes that the first command to have no other gods besides I AM is given because any other god creates a perverted ethical impetus. We see this through out Israel’s history. They worship Baal and they start perverting justice and mercy. They start killing. They start sacrificing children. The complete opposite of love God and love neighbor. The commands of God are never bare–they’re always connected to the rehearsal of the gospel.

This pattern holds true in the New Testament. Consider Paul’s letters. Nearly all of them start off with robust treatment of Jesus’ new exodus work on our behalf then the letters transition into the ethical imperatives. It’s something like: “Christ did this so you are not condemned. You have new life. You have the Spirit working in you–so love your neighbor, treat your wife as Christ did the church, stop stealing, etc.”

At this point, you may be asking what’s this have to do with assurance? Most of my formative years I was hearing the imperatives to do, do, do. Work towards personal holiness. Strive for Christ-likeness. All things Scripture speaks of, but something was missing. The tone was off. It was do, do, do so you can really know your saved. The foundation for assurance was my work, not Christ. While the major tenor of Scripture seems to be saying, “Christ has marched you out of Egypt and so do because you are new man in Him. Work out your salvation because He works in you.”

The foundation of our assurance then isn’t our works. It’s that we have been irrevocably redeemed from slavery from the body of sin and been made new in Christ Jesus. That doesn’t mean we do not consider our works at all. You can read the stern warnings in Hebrews 6 and James 2. Irrevocably redeemed Christians always produce fruit in their season, but the fruit is nourished through the root of the tree and the perseverance of branches. The two, root and branches, though aren’t so easily distinguished. That’s because when we are redeemed we are made one with Christ. We are united with him. So as He works in us as we work, strive, and persevere.

Take heart then weary saints. It’s not your striving, your effort, or your work that saves you. It’s Jesus Christ who took us from the land of slavery and walked us through waters of baptism, and into new life by the Spirit. It’s He who leads us by a pillar during the day and fire at night. It’s He who is the right hand of the Father and is able to save to uttermost. He is our assurance. He is our hope. He is our horn of salvation.

We must not miss the tone. It’s always “Look what I’ve done for you. Look at all this. It’s yours–all yours in Christ. You are sons and daughters. Live in this world. Work because you are made in my image and the image is being remade because of my Son.” God is not a slave master. He is the prodigal sons and daughter’s Father who leaps, runs, and feasts when his children return.