The Uncertainty Principle

By Stan Nelson

In 1927, German physicist Werner Heisenberg proposed what is known as "the uncertainty principle." It says that both the position and velocity of a subatomic particle can't be precisely measured at the same time. Measuring either one of these interferes with measuring the other.

Certainty and Eternal Life

Life is filled with certainties and uncertainties of varying degrees of importance. Obviously, having certainty regarding one's eternal salvation is in the category of supreme importance.

According to the Bible, salvation is by God's grace, not by our works (Eph 2:8-9). If we believe in Christ for eternal life we are immediately given that life and can know we have it right now (John 6:47). Looking to one's own works for assurance of salvation necessarily interferes with looking to Christ and trusting Him alone for that salvation.

As the perfect and eternal Son of God who has made the perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, the Lord Jesus Christ can and does offer eternal life to everyone. Assurance results from trusting Christ to give the salvation He promises (John 3:16).

A Doctrine of Doubt

Lordship Salvation theology commonly teaches that certainty of salvation is not possible—perhaps not even desirable—in this life. Regular self-examination of personal works to determine if one is saved is considered important and is encouraged in this view. Of course, this looks in the wrong place for assurance.

Consider the question, "Am I saved?" Logically, three different answers could be given—Yes, No, and Maybe.

Although the apostle Paul and others in the Bible were sure they were saved, a "yes" answer really isn't possible in Lordship Salvation. This is because of the personal performance inherent in the system. The continual self-examination required by this teaching negates assurance. It also voids any comfort given by the doctrine of eternal security. After all, how comforting would it be to know salvation can't be lost but not know if you have it? Conversely, why should someone who believes in eternal security further engage in such self-examination if he once considers himself to be saved?

If "No" or "Maybe" were the response, what could be done to gain salvation and assurance? Under consistent Reformed Lordship Salvation theology, absolutely nothing! For in this system, salvation is not a gift that's offered and then received through faith in Christ. Instead, it's a sovereignly bestowed gift that comes as a package which includes, among other things, faith, works, and perseverance—but not certainty of salvation. In theory, the recipient does nothing and can do nothing to receive this gift; not even believe, because faith (whatever that may mean in this theology) is an item in the package. As such, faith couldn't be a channel or vehicle through which salvation is received. For how could "the gift of faith" be given through faith?

Reformed Lordship Salvation theology also traditionally teaches that Christ didn't die for everyone's sins but that He died only for the sins of those who actually enter heaven. This can compound uncertainty because an inquirer might think it possible that Christ didn't die for him and that he can't ever be saved. It's not too much to imagine someone under this teaching examining his works to see if Christ died for him!

Although a saved person can lose assurance (though not salvation itself) by looking away from Christ alone for salvation, such doubt is practically a requirement under Reformed thinking.

Christ Is the Source of Certainty

Self-examination to see if one is living in a way pleasing to the Lord is important for all believers. But self-examination of personal works to see if one is saved tends either to ignore Christ's saving work or to question the willingness of the Savior to save, or both. It's neither correct nor humble to say we as Christians can't know we have eternal life when God wants us to know and says we can: "These things I have written 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).

Most of us can surely live comfortably not knowing the exact measurements of subatomic particles. But once having trusted in Christ to save us, we no longer need to agonize with uncertainty about our salvation: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).


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