You don’t have to talk to many people in churches today to soon discover that the majority of them do not know if they will “go to heaven” when they die. It is common to hear people say things like “I hope so,” or “I am trying.”
GES has been in the forefront of the battle to point out that this is a tragedy. Jesus promised that all who believe in Him has (right now) eternal life. Once a person has eternal life, he can never thirst for it again (John 4:14; 5:24). The absolute assurance of our eternal salvation is based upon the words of the Lord Himself, and He cannot lie.
The reason, of course, so many churchgoers doubt their salvation is because they think they must work in order to get eternal salvation, keep it, or prove to themselves that they have it. Since we don’t know how many works we must do to make it to heaven or if we will keep doing good works in the future, we can never have assurance that we will be in the kingdom of God.
Many have suggested that we can have “some” measure of assurance. If we are doing good works now, we can be relatively sure we are OK. The present good works we do are an indication that God is in us, accomplishing His work, and that we are His children. Of course, that can change in the future, and we know it. We must be content with whatever comfort our present good works give us and praise God for that.
But is “some” assurance really assurance? Of course not. There is no such thing as relative assurance. It is a semantical game theologians play. Such an explanation of assurance provides no assurance at all. Even a person doing good works in the present has no assurance that he is a child of God. How could a person know that the works he is doing are sufficient, even in the present? Those who want to be certain they will be a part of a future kingdom will never find that certainty if they must do good works for the rest of their lives in order to have some measure of assurance. None of us know what the rest of our lives will be like or how we will perform.
Looking for assurance in our works can be a very elusive thing. I was reminded of that recently when I was studying the account of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27. He was a young man through whom, according to his religious beliefs, God was working. The Jews believed that riches were a sign of God’s blessings upon one’s life, and he had plenty of riches (v. 22). Everybody looked at him and said that he was good to go!
But he had even more going for him. He also had a lot of good works. In his mind, he had never broken the commandments of God since he had become an adult (v. 20). Of course, that was not true, but it is how he saw himself. He looked at his good works and the blessings of God in his life and was very pleased with himself. If anybody could have assurance, at least in the present moment, it should have been this guy.
But he didn’t. When he approaches the Lord, he has a very strange question. He wants to know what he must do to gain eternal life. What? A guy who believes that he keeps all the commandments of God concludes he hasn’t done enough? God had poured out His blessings on this man, and he was concerned he would not be in the kingdom of God? If a guy like that cannot have assurance, what kind of hope can I have, even in the present. I know I don’t keep the commandments!
Here is a NT example for all of us. A person who looks at his works to find assurance of eternal life will never find it. There is no way to be certain you will be in the kingdom except by believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life. You must receive it as a free gift, apart from any work, based upon faith in the promise of Christ.
Don’t let any theologian fool you. He may teach that you can look at your works and have some kind of assurance. But that is a mirage. Assurance based upon anything but the grace of God in Christ will prove to be an elusive thing.