blessed assurance in Jesus

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5:6-12; NRSV

I can’t help but think of Fanny Crosby’s great hymn, Blessed Assurance. In fact that was what I was thinking of when I entitled this post. We have blessed assurance in Jesus that our sins are forgiven and that we have new life in him. And a number of other passages in Scripture, and specifically in the New/Second Testament confirm this.

This helps us through the difficult, dark places. We are assured that God is with us in Christ through thick and thin, in the hard as well as enjoyable spaces. And we’re promised that the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us. So that this promise is not only for the life to come, but also for now, for this life.

A truth in our hearts that we need to hold on to. Seeing anything contrary to that as simply not being true as long as we are meeting the other criteria John lays down in this letter like obeying God’s commands, and loving others, along of course with believing in Jesus. In large part why this letter was written.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:13; NRSV

In and through Jesus.

Note the correction on yesterday’s post: what if we’re not meant to tie up all the loose ends? See last footnote there.

faith for doubt, rather than certainty

The hymn many of us older folks grew up with, “Blessed Assurance,” is certainly in line with what we read in scripture, and specifically in the New Testament. There is no doubt that by faith in Jesus we are assured of forgiveness and eternal life. But what if faith is at least as much for wrestling with God over our doubts and problems, as being assured that everything will be taken care of?

In scripture we find this again and again, even beginning with the father of our faith, Abraham, and most notably in characters like Job and Habakkuk, and reflected time and again in the psalms. I am convinced that faith is for struggle over life as it is, and perhaps even over just what God’s promises really mean. If such is not the case, then we could judge faith as superficial and unconcerned about the world right in front of us, to the ends of the earth. It could actually tend toward a heretical mindset, for example, that the material world doesn’t matter, when in fact God became human because it does. Humanity so to speak, in the center of that blessing.

Wrestling with God, and taking everything to God in prayer ought to be at the heart of what is characteristic of believers. But also at the heart is the good news in Jesus which directly and indirectly addresses everything, God at work in our lives and in the world through that. And the church, consisting of all believers in Christ somehow involved at least in much of that outworking.

God will help us to be at rest in Jesus, even in this life. But a rest born in struggle, because faith inherently is not just about rest in God and in God’s promises, but it faces reality with that, so that it’s a case of going through the real world, rather than escpaping it. Even as we look forward to the new world to come, present already in the new creation, in and through Jesus.

the idolatry of certainty

In recognizing and dismantling the idols of my life (and lifetime), one particularly subtle one which has come starkly into the light lately has been the idol of certainty. I’m not referring to the assurance we have by faith through the gospel. But the idea that we can be certain about this or that apart from God. In more practical terms where I live, it’s the idea that somehow I can rest secure because I have all the ducks in line in a row, everything done right and well.

In the first place in this life, we can only do the best we can. By nature, existence and all that goes into it has too many variables to be assured that all is or will be well. And we humans are marked by our limitations every bit as much as our abilities. It is hit and miss with us, and we might as well accept that, and again, just do the best we can.

But central to all of this for me is to know and acknowledge God as God. The God who made all things, and is making all things new in and through Jesus. I do the best I can which in part can be struggling to arrive to some decision, but all of this in prayer, because I don’t want to rest in certainty, but in God.

In God we do have certainty about the outcome of everything in the end, and of God’s goodness to the end. If all was well in this life, we would surely too easily lapse into a lack of dependence on God like the Laodiceans of old (Revelation 3). Not that we can’t worship God when things are going well. Of course in this life under the sun, not all is well in the human community at large, and sooner than later in our own households and families, either. Even with ourselves.

But a breakthrough I’m experiencing is to recognize my own inclination to want certainty above anything else. When what I really need is God, and God’s promise to us in and through Jesus.

faith when we can’t see

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

Sometimes in the midst of life, we feel like we’re in a place in which we’re not sure what is going on, or the exact outcome. Perhaps this is during a time of significant changes. And life always includes difficulties which result from living in an incomplete, broken world, our own limitations and shortcomings contributing to that.

That is when we need to grasp and hold on to the same kind of faith our father Abraham had. We continue faithful as best we know to the calling God has given us, to what’s in front of us, obedient to the Lord, even when we lack the kind of certainty most of us would like. We can learn to rest assured in God’s promise, confident in his protection and care, and ultimately of a good outcome, honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

The United States and us fearful Christians

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

….All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

….Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrews 11-12

July 4 is upon us, this being the holiday weekend preceding it. And if there’s one thing for sure, so many of us, and I’ll include myself, are hardly past the election fervor, caught up in a presidency which may turn out to be the most polarizing in US history, aside from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during those tumultuous and horrific Civil War days. Hardly any of us like what is going on in US politics, many for similar reasons, others of us for different reasons, some of the concerns being the same across the board. It is a difficult time for a good number of reasons in a nation which is not only polarized, but threatening to be on the edge of being torn apart.

The question on this post is this: When push comes to shove, just where does our confidence lie? What do we think will win and save the day, and why? And just why are we so upset and fearful?

This is not meant to be a critique of the United States, but there’s no doubt there have been seismic changes in society, and that the liberal, progressives have been all but dismissive of the conservatives. And there’s no doubt that the conservatives themselves have written off the liberals. You have few moderates, who by many would be seen as wishy washy and weak kneed. As far as I’m concerned, while I do have opinions about US politics, and especially concerning issues of the day, none of that matters in comparison to the main point of this post. While those things have an important and provisional place, they are not at all on par with what now follows.

We as Christians, and especially the older generation of us, which includes myself, and I plead guilty, we have lost our focus and therefore are weak in our faith, and weary, in danger of losing heart. Oh yes, there will be some who will fight to the bitter end either for the Democratic Party, or for the Republican Party, or their version of what they think America needs, and won’t seem to have lost any heart at all. They have a lot of hope for good, and to avoid what isn’t good through the federal, state and local government. And again, it’s not like that has no value at all. But we in Jesus are actually called to something else, even while at the same time we pray and humbly participate according to our convictions for the good of the state.

Our goal is something better, something much more. It is to be a follower of Jesus in whatever culture we’re placed, to announce and live out the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus, in the truth that Jesus is King with the hope that follows. We should be those who are commended for our faith in God, both confident and assured that God will fulfill his promises come what may. And that includes whatever we may face in coming days, years, or generations, should the Lord tarry.

We need to quit thinking and from that acting as if all depends on what is happening or not happening in Washington, D. C., as hard as that might seem to us, for some of us for different reasons. Our eyes need to become fixed on Jesus, period, who shows us the way as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and of course, is the way. Faith, plain naked faith, and I mean the faith that is in the God revealed in Jesus, that is what we live for, and if need be, die for. While at the same time we faithfully pray for those in government, and hope for the best for the nation, and the world.

That is our calling. This is what we Christians in America should be known for. In and through Jesus.

See Andy Stanley’s compelling message, Fix Your Eyes, which inspired this post.

 

kept in faith

I am not of the persuasion that a Christian cannot lose their salvation (therefore I would be termed Arminian, given the rest of my theological understanding). Jude teaches us that we are both to keep ourselves in God’s love, and that it is God who keeps us.

Our salvation is grounded in God. If God is real and his revelation in Christ is true, the resurrection of Christ, etc., then we can be sure that our faith is grounded in something, or more precisely someone more than ourselves, and more than just something psychologically satisfying.

Yes, we must choose to exercise faith. It can be as simple and weak as when the man cried out to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”  But that is when Jesus took over, and that is what happens in our own lives as well when we sincerely turn to the Lord, however weak our faith might be.

For me this is one of the strongest “proofs” for the truth of Christianity. It is that God seems to keep me keeping on. If it was a matter of me needing to keep on keeping on, it would be different. I’d perhaps bail out if something seemingly better came along. To imagine this is to try to imagine something that is unfathomable, since it simply isn’t true to the experience of any Christian.

And that includes the dark night of the soul. Especially, we might say, during such times. Why do we cling, and hold on in faith, when nothing makes sense to us, and we are groping in the darkness? Again, because we are keeping ourselves in God’s love, the love which is keeping us.

This is the only reason I am in the faith today, and by grace I hope to be in the faith at the end of my present life. Yes, the faith I have entered into and now experience surely has more depth than years back, even if not more joy (although I think in a settled sense there is more joy, better put, more like a consistent joy). It is because God keeps me in and through Jesus and by the Spirit. While at the same time I am active in keeping myself in God’s love.

And so that is our confidence in this life concerning our faith. A confidence that is a witness through us in Jesus to the world.

the element of uncertainty in faith

Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins has brought to the fore a number of considerations, the nature of faith being one of them. Rob Bell’s message to many seems to be at heart lacking the certainty that scripture says is descriptive of faith, in some translations faith seeming to have a life of its own in that in itself it holds proof, or even is proof. While I don’t agree with that assessment concerning Rob and the book itself, it does raise an important issue.

There is existentially, or in our experience a sense in which faith indeed does carry an element of uncertainty. Faith by nature requires trust in the midst of what can bring doubt. One question often asked: Is doubt a part of faith? It would seem on the surface not so. Certainly living as though God’s promises in Jesus are not true could be living out of a doubting that has nothing to do with faith, lacking indeed the commitment that faith requires.  However it indeed can be an exercise of faith to struggle through the doubts that one has in life. Akin to Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, just before he was to meet his brother Esau, who had wanted at a certain point to kill him. Jacob according to the account and scripture became a different man afterward.

God has given us enough to live, but not enough to live on our own. The nature of his revelation given to us in scripture through Jesus does not answer all our questions, nor does it eliminate all danger. God essentially tells us in his word to simply trust him in the midst of all the possible wrongs which may occur. And when those possibilities overtake us. And when questions remain unanswered (see the Book of Job).

God’s promise in Jesus is not that he’ll take us out of trouble, but through trouble. Of course we in Jesus will be spared from his judgment to come. But more characteristic is the promise:

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

And we are told that no evils in this life, including death itself, will be able to separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. And we pray not only for us, but for the world:

your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

So faith requires a trust which in this world can indeed seem to be a leap in the dark. But a leap into the arms, the everlasting arms of our God. Which we receive for ourselves, and seek to live out together in Jesus for the world.