Assurance of Salvation: An Examination of Works in a Christian's Faith

By Eric Schumacher

A few years ago I had a great struggle in my faith. I began to question quite deeply whether or not I was saved. It caused me deep sorrow, depression, etc. as I wondered whether or not I would spend eternity with Christ or in the pits of hell. I found great joy in Romans 8:30 states, "those whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." From this I gained assurance in God's sovereignty and the fact that He did not only choose to bring me to faith in Him, but He will also cause me to persevere in my faith. If He brought me to faith (justified me), He will bring me to heaven (glorify me).

A second verse that gave me great peace was 1 John 1:9. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". It gave me hope to know that if I confessed my sin, I would be forgiven.

However, as I began to consider these things the question came to my mind: ‘Since it is God who works salvation in me, and since He will bring to eternal life all those who have faith in Him, then does it really matter how I live my life? Can't I pursue and enjoy sin and not worry about it, since I'm assured of going to heaven?' This is false assurance and an example of the fact that true theology and right doctrinal statements can kill if wrongly applied and misunderstood. Right theological thinking requires right understanding and right application to be helpful.

We need to look at these verses in context to understand what they mean. To gain assurance from 1 John 1:9 we need to understand what it means to ‘confess our sins'. To gain assurance from God's sovereign promise to glorify those who are justified, then we need to understand all that our predestination entails.

Let's look first at the passage in Romans. Verse 30 assures us that all those who have faith in Christ (justification) will endure to the end (glorification). A verse earlier Paul points out and describes what a justifying and glorifying faith looks like. He says in verse 29 that we are ‘predestined to become conformed to the image of His son'. That is, we are predestined to be sanctified (conformed to the image of Christ). Jake talked in depth last week about what sanctification entailed. He said, ‘Sanctification is the definitive mark in a person's life when a break is made with sin...[and] Sanctification is the progressive and continual act of putting sin to death and bringing righteousness to life.' This verse stresses that this is true of all Christians. We have to be sanctified. A faith that justifies us before God is a faith that sanctifies.

This is consistent with the context of 1 John 1:9. Verses 6-7 state ‘If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 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.' These verses work as a definition for what true confession or repentance involves. It not only involves recognizing our sinfulness, feeling deep remorse over it, seeing the severity of it, and confessing it; but also turning from it, fighting it, and walking, not in darkness, but in the light.

So then we see from these passages that being saved means that we are becoming conformed to the image of Christ and that we are walking in the light. These are things that are necessary, according to these scriptures, to evidence salvation. But, wait a minute! Aren't we free from the law and under grace!? Aren't we saved by grace through faith... not a result of works!!! What happened to Ephesians 2:8,9!? This is quite true. We are saved by grace through faith. So then, why do these verses we've examined put such emphasis on ‘walking' and being conformed? Just what is the importance then in our works? Should works be used in gaining assurance of our salvation? I hope tonight to give a clear understanding of the role and place of works and how they can give assurance when correctly understood.

We need to understand the role of works for two reasons. First, a wrong understanding of works can give a person a false assurance or false hope. Secondly, a correct understanding of works in a Christian's life can spur them on to giving God more glory and give assurance of His saving work in one's life.

First, we should define the false view of works, or what works are not:

Works do not earn us salvation or the grace by which we are saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, ‘It is by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.' This is such an important aspect to understand. The grace given to us is not earned by the works we do. To earn something means that the giver of what is earned owes you what is given. It also means you rightfully deserve what you receive. Earning means that the works done are of corresponding value to that which is earned. As if I worked for ten-hours for a person doing a job that is worth $5 an hour. The person I worked for is obligated to pay me $50; they are indebted to me. I rightfully deserve that $50; I did works corresponding to that value. As is stated in Rom. 3:23 ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' We are not worthy of God's glory. We do not rightfully deserve heaven or God's grace; we rightfully and only deserve eternal hell. If God's grace could be earned it would cease to be grace. If our works made us deserving of heaven then God's grace would not be a gift. God would be indebted to us and owe us something.

Faith is given by means of God's grace. Hebrews 11:6 states that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God'. Therefor all our actions before coming to faith God hates. It is completely impossible for us to have done anything that would warrant receiving faith. By having sinned, we have committed deeds that have attacked the glory of God. As we studied in the talk on hell, any offense against an infinite God deserves an infinite punishment. Likewise, heaven is of infinite glorious worth. For us to earn a place in heaven it would mean that we have done enough works to pay for the infinite punishment we rightly deserve (which is impossible for us); none of our works, regardless of how many we do, will ever be of corresponding value to the worth of God's name. Likewise, it would also mean that once we paid that penalty we would work ourselves to a state of value that is worthy of a place in heaven.

Just as works do not earn us salvation, works do not improve the grace or righteousness granted to us in faith. It is often stated that Christians believe we are saved by faith alone, while Catholics believe man is saved by works alone. This is not an entirely true view of Catholicism. As Christians, when we are transformed by grace and given faith we are justified before God. We are clothed in Christ's righteousness; we are completely and finally righteous before God's eyes. This is what it means to have imputed righteousness. Christ's righteousness is given to us to be clothed in and on the cross He was clothed in our sinfulness.

The Catholic view states that through faith Christ's righteousness is infused with mans nature, or it is attached to man's nature; half righteous-half natural. But man is still not completely righteous. They believe that man must improve that righteousness and make it complete with our works; thus, we are finally saved by the works we complete. This is not true.

When we come to a true faith in Christ we are made wholly and finally righteous in Christ and are becoming transformed to the image of Christ through God's grace not our own efforts. Romans 5:18 states that just as through ‘one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life for all men.' Note the verse says one act of righteousness... not Christ's act and then completed by our many acts. But one act, by Christ, on the cross. We are saved by faith in the obedient life of Christ, His suffering, death, and resurrection. We believe that Christ paid the penalty for us and that by trusting in His grace to pay our penalty and to uphold us forevermore we are saved. The essence of faith is believing this promise and savoring all that God is for us in Jesus, as promised in the scripture. Regardless of how many times you come to Crusade, go to BASIC, go to church, read your Bible, pray, help people, not tell lies, do missions work, wear Christian T-shirts, or WWJD bracelets, you are not saved unless you have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. Quite certainly there will be a number of people who have done a great deal of deeds and works on this Earth and yet are not saved. Christ describes this in Matthew 7:22-23 that many will come to Him saying, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And He will say to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.' Regardless of how great our works are on Earth, if they are not produced by faith we will not be saved.

So, what then is the place of works in a Christian's life? Let us look to James 2:14-24 for the answer. [READ TEXT] Did I just find a passage to contradict all that I've said? Note first verse 21, ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?' Now many would want to say that this is old testament and therefore doesn't apply it to new covenant Christians. However, James is using this example as one we should model our faith after, we cannot cast it aside. Verse 24 states that ‘man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.' Wow! What does this mean!?

James is referring to the Old Testament when God commanded Abraham to take his only son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice on the alter. At the moment Abraham is about to slay Isaac God stops him, provides him a ram to sacrifice, and Abraham is stated to have passed the test. So the questions we need to ask are: Is Abraham (and therefor we too) made righteous by faith or works? And, what about Abraham is ‘justified' by his works?

A clue to the beginning of the meaning comes in verse 22. It states that ‘faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."' The text is very clear it is Abraham's belief, or faith, that is reckoned to him as righteousness. This is consisted with being saved by grace through faith, not of works. Abraham savored the promises of God, as we savor the promises of Christ, and was reckoned righteousness through faith, just as we are.

So what does it mean that Abraham was justified by his works? We have already seen that Abraham was made righteous by his belief, or his faith. James 2:14-26 is a passage regarding the evidences of a saving faith. It begins by posing the question of what sort of faith saves and it ends by concluding faith without works is dead faith, or unsaving. Preceding verse 21 is a question urging the reader to understand that faith without works is dead. Following verse 21 he is explaining to the reader that a faith that has works is complete, or perfect. So the context is stating that this sort of ‘justification' was an evidence of Abraham's faith, not a means for becoming righteous. That was done through faith. But Abraham's faith was evidenced by its fruit, its works. Simply put, Abraham was justified by faith before God, and his faith was evidenced (justified) by his works.

This term justification in the Greek means ‘to render (show or regard as) just or innocent'. This means that his faith was shown or regarded as just (or true) by the works it brought about. This is the same Greek word used by Christ in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:35, where he states: "Wisdom is vindicated (justified) by her deeds (or all her children)." This means that in this context to vindicate or justify means to take an action which demonstrates or evidences the worth or authenticity of something. We are rendered righteous before God by faith and our faith is shown true by its fruit.

That is how our works function in accordance with our faith. Works are the evidence that our faith is real. They are not the currency with which we purchase our place in heaven, but works are the receipt, or the evidence that Christ has purchased it for us and given us faith. Many people say I look like my father and sound like my father. Is this what makes me my father's son? No. I am my father's son because I am born of him. Looking like him and sounding like him are evidences that have occurred which bear testimony to the fact that I am his son. In the same way, talking like God, living Godly, laboring for God do not make us children of God. However, they are evidences that bear testimony to the fact that we have been born of God. [Example of King Solomon-1Kg 3:16-28]

Righteous works will result from every true faith, they are a necessary evidence. Christ spoke often about the necessity of this evidence. He stated in Matthew 7:17-19: "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, not can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." The good fruit doesn't make the tree good, but evidences its goodness.

So for us to have assurance that we are a good tree producing good fruit we must be able to recognize in ourselves the good fruit, so that we might produce more, and the bad fruit that remains from sin, that we might prune it away.

The first fruit of a Christian's faith is an inner-work, resulting in a changed heart. Galations 5:22-23 lists an example of these fruits: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control...' Second Peter 1:5-7 gives another similar list: ‘In you faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.' Peter even goes on to say in verse 10 that Christians should ‘be diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing of you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.' Peter is saying that we can be certain about His calling of us (our salvation) when we see our faith producing these attributes and that it is such a faith that is supplied entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

As is eluded to in the end of Peter's list, the fruit of the Spirit that changes the heart and produces new desires will spill out into our life. Peter's first five fruits are inner-qualities. When these are present we see the next two outer-qualities, brotherly kindness and love. This principle that works are evidence of a true faith is found all over Scripture. Here are just a few example of this being taught or demonstrated:

John 5:36; 10:25- Christ teaches that the works He does bear witness to who He is.
Acts 26:19-20- Paul says the things he did/does are appropriate for repentance.
Acts 9:36- abounding deeds of kindness and charity are evidence of Tabitha's faith.
1 Tim 2:10- states there are good works that befit a woman's claim to godliness.
John 3:19; Mk 7:21-22- deeds reveal an evil heart.
James 3:13- James states that we show wisdom by our deeds.
Titus 1:13- Paul says some people profess to know God, but deny Him by their deeds.
Titus 2:14- We are redeemed zealous for good deeds. A true faith is zealous to do good.
1 Tim 5:25- Good deeds are evident and other deeds can't be finally concealed.
Col 1:21- We were formerly engaged in evil deeds-(thus, we aren't now!)
Rom 15:18- Christ's work results in obedience by word and deed.
Ps 14:1- Deeds reveal corruption.
Prov 20:11- a lad is distinguished by his deeds.
Jer 7:3-7- Deeds reveal true repentance.
Jer 18:11- Turning from evil means turning from evil deeds.
Hosea 5:4- Deeds correspond with the spirit.
Jonah 3:10- Deeds reveal repentance.
Heb 10:36- True good deed endure to the end.

So we must learn to recognize what good fruit is and learn Biblically how to produce it. Likewise, we need to learn what bad fruit is and how to rid ourselves of it. Scriptures list constantly what such deeds are. Galations 5:19-21 lists the deeds of the flesh as: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. Paul goes on to say that ‘those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God'. Elsewhere Paul list such deeds and say also that those who do them won't go to heaven. Christ Himself taught in Matthew 6:15 that ‘if you do not forgive men, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your transgressions'.

What if you are a Christian but just aren't seeing the fruit you want to see or are struggling with a habitual sin. Realize and take comfort that one inner-fruit is sorrow for and over sin. A Christian should feel deep remorse over having infinitely offended the Almighty God. There are times in Christian's lives when outer-fruit isn't always as evident. However, don't sit! Take steps to produce fruit.... read, study, memorize, and meditate on the scripture, pray for God's grace, get accountability, grow in fellowship... but don't sit in your sin and think you're okay for feeling sorry. Recognize the sin, repent of it, and flee it!

So then, is there really any assurance for us? There is a great list found throughout scripture of what the fruit of repentance looks like. There is are many places where we are told that those who practice certain sins won't go to heaven. Can we have hope in these circumstances? Yes. As Jake said last week, being sanctified means that we are continuing to put sin to death in the body and to bring to life righteousness. This means that Christians do not passively sit and abide in (or practice) sin. Instead, the Christian fights sin. As Christians we prize Christ more than we prize sin. We trust that God is most satisfying. Therefor we examine ourselves to be sure that we are producing fruit, by faith. At the same time we examine ourselves to see what sin is present in our lives and get rid of it! The issue is not necessarily that the saint succeeds flawlessly, but rather, that the saint is resolved to fight sin with faith even to death. Next week we will discuss how to bring to life righteousness and put to death sin.

So, as we seek assurance of our salvation one place we can look is to our lives. But this must be done within the context of Scripture. I want no one to presume that they can live an outerwardly ‘good' life and have peace about eternity. You can't! You must have faith to be saved. One assurance that this faith is exists is the fruits we discussed. But this is not our greatest hope. Our greatest hope digs deep into the foundation of salvation to the soveriegnty of God. Our greatest hope in our assurance is that it is the work of God and that He is faithful and able to save us. This is what Dr. Bob will be speaking about in a few weeks.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.

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