Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend who seems to worry, despite being a Christian, about whether he will be in heaven when he dies. I said, “You know it’s not about how much good you do, or how much bad you do, right?”
“Then what is it about? You can’t just go around doing all the bad you want, and still expect to go to heaven.”
“Well,” I replied, “that’s a good question.” I was stunned. This is one of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity, and also one of the most frequently misunderstood by the public. Therefore, it should be one of questions I’m most prepared to answer. But on the contrary, I felt stuck.
The reason is, I have tried desperately to put away all the cliches and pat answers that I was raised with. Some of them were genuine and correct, and others were not, but all of them have essentially lost the ability to communicate the gospel meaningfully to my generation. So I couldn’t say it was because you say a certain prayer, or make a one-time surrender to Christ, or simply trust him as your Lord and Savior. My friend had already heard these things a thousand times, and apparently they had not done the job.
After a few false starts I said, “I believe that God judges us based on whether we’re looking at ourselves, or looking at him. Often the people we consider to be the best of the best are actually the most guilty, because they are always looking at themselves, and how they can measure up, and how proud they are of their spiritual or moral accomplishments. What are the main statements people make about their spirituality? “I am doing my best” “I really screwed up” “I need forgiveness” “I am getting better” “I believe in xyz.”
When all our sentences start with “I” we are looking at ourselves. It’s not till we put all that misplaced focus on God that we are opened up to his salvation. “I” will never cut it. “He” is the only one who can make me who I’m designed to be, and it’s only going to happen when I trust in what Jesus has done for me.
And someone who is living this way is not going to just go around doing all the bad they want. It can’t be simply about a one-time decision, but it also can’t require daily surrender without fail. And despite the fact that I feel like I gave a relatively good answer, I still don’t know exactly. If we can’t fall back on the salvation prayer we prayed long ago, and we can’t wake up every morning with our hearts in the right place, where is our assurance?
I know I’m running the risk of rambling at this point, but maybe assurance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. At least not in the sense that it’s always been used. Maybe God is not interested in our self-assurance; the confidence that I’m going to go to heaven no matter what. Maybe all our assurance should be placed on him… once again, to look at him, and not at ourselves.
Because, for all my doubts, I really don’t doubt God. I doubt myself, I doubt the Bible, I doubt the will of God in my life. But God will ultimately do the very best thing, and he is so full of love and mercy and justice that he can do no other. I suppose you could say that’s my Blessed Assurance. So long as I latch myself onto the one I trust, there’s no need to worry.
Reminds me of something… “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I can’t change. But he can change me.