Thursday, July 23, 2020

Letters to My Grandchildren: Assurance

My Dear Grandchildren,

Time for another letter, or as your mother has labeled them, another epistle. And this time I’m, again, writing about something that she thought would be helpful. The topic is assurance.

So, do we start with a definition? Well, not exactly. One reason that I stress the need for good definitions is because so much depends on clarity. This time I’m not going to offer a definition of assurance but rather a different way of talking about it, a way that will clear up some things.

Assurance is all about this question. Has Jesus really saved me? That makes it a personal question instead of a theological question about assurance. (Now, I’m all for theological questions - and their answers - but only if they ultimately deal with personal issues.)

So, that is a step in the right direction. But I want to go a step further and say that anyone who struggles with that question - Has Jesus really saved me? - isn’t going to be completely satisfied with just an answer to it. And that’s because what we all want is something more.

Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden, back before anyone sinned. What do you supposed was going on? Genesis doesn’t exactly tell us. But I think that we can make some educated guesses based on what other parts of the Bible say.

I think that it’s fair to say that Adam and his lovely wife, Eve, took walks with God ‘in the cool of the day’. And I’m also thinking that they were talking as they strolled through the Garden. I suppose that they talked about questions that Adam and Eve asked God, like how to take care of the pomegranates, and about some curious thing that had happened earlier in the day. I think that it would be fair to say that they walked through the Garden enjoying a conversation together as those who cared about each other. If what I’ve described is close, I think that we can say that Adam and Eve had a feeling as they walked and talked with God, and that feeling felt good. Now, the theologian in me wants to label this ‘communion with God’. But I think that it would be better for you if I call it ‘friendship’. Adam and Even enjoyed friendship with God.

Seeing things in this way explains Jesus’ mission in coming to our world. He came to restore this friendship between God and His human creatures, a friendship that has those good feelings of being close.

And that is actually what all of us want. We want to feel close to God, like good friends walking and talking together. It’s what we were created for. And assurance is having that feeling that God really is a good friend. That’s what Jesus has saved us to even as He saved us from our sins.

Now, how are we to get to that place of enjoying such a friendship with God? The very first step is, of course, believing the Gospel. This brings us back to the first three letters that I wrote you: sin, believing in Jesus, the obedience of faith. Now - and this is important - once you believe the Gospel, even just a little bit with a timid faith, God becomes your friend. That is simply a fact. The person with the weakest faith in Jesus has God as his friend. Done deal. That doesn’t mean that this person will necessarily feel what Adam and Eve were feeling in the Garden. But even if he doesn’t feel it, it’s still true. And that’s so very important. So, when you don’t feel that God is your friend, you can still tell yourself that He is. Jesus has made that happen.

Now, your friendship with God grows. It won’t grow for God. It’s already fully grown for Him. But it can grow for you. And as this friendship grows so will the feelings of friendship.

But this isn’t automatic. As with any friendship, this one has to be nurtured. It has to be fed. But doing that is not complicated. What you need to do is hear from God and speak back to Him. The main tool that God uses to speak to us is the Bible. This doesn’t mean that God only speaks using the words that we read. In a mysterious (magical!) way, the Spirit will use what you read - the words, the ideas, the concepts - to speak to you. You speak back to Him by prayer. And please understand that prayer is discussing life with God. Sometimes that will sound formal and other times it will sound anything but. In every way it happens, prayer is a discussion with God where you let Him know what you’re thinking about - the good, the bad and everything else. So, Bible and praying results in a growing friendship with God.

Now, you will need two other things for your friendship with God to blossom. One is patient endurance. You will face obstacles. Remember, the devil hates you. The very last thing that he wants is for you to have a growing friendship with God. So, he will pull his tricks to stop this. And the way that you are to respond to his schemes is simply to continue getting more Bible into you and to continue discussing life, including the devil’s ploys, with God. The other thing that you will need is hope. Remember the definition of hope: waiting for God to keep a promise. The goal of the Gospel is the restoration of the good things of the Garden of Eden, things like friendly conversations in the cool of the day. That is what we are all looking forward to because that is what God has promised. Having a lively hope in this promise of His will fuel your patient endurance. And that will result in a beautiful, growing friendship with God.

Now, as you may know, I love theology. I love reading the thick books and thinking those complex thoughts. I love all of that because I am convinced that doing those things makes a difference in how we can live. These letters are the fruit of many years of my loving theology. But theology alone is never the goal. The goal is always a growing friendship with God, Father, Son and Spirit. And that is what I want for each of you.

As always with my love,
Grandpa B

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