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It seems that people are increasingly in search of assurance, of certainty, of validation. From seeking affirmation through the harvesting of “Likes” for our Facebook posts, and agreement with our opinions shared on social media, to heartfelt cries to be heard, to be valued, to have our worth confirmed, the search for assurance pervades our culture. Be it the accumulation of wealth, our legacy to the next generation, or some published memorial, we want to be assured of our worth. At the end of our days, as we face eternity, what assurance do we have that our life was not in vain? Is there any assurance of recompence, justice, validation or reward, and will we even be there to appreciate it? Assurance is tied to two other aspirations; hope and satisfaction. A life lived without hope of improvement, either for ourselves or for those who follow, is empty. Satisfaction enables us to enjoy the fruits of this life, being content with what we have instead of always seeking after more. Satisfaction is set in a context, not only of this life, but of or prospect for eternity. If this life is all there is, then satisfaction rests entirely in our comfort and achievements in this life, rather than in a quiet confidence of a better future and a gratitude for what we do receive now.

The seemingly foolish Gospel is not about self-assurance, in the sense of relying on ourselves and our achievements. Of ourselves, we can generate no assurance or hope for the future. That is the irrefutable legacy of human sin and corruption. Yet, the counter-cultural Gospel provides tremendous, rock-like assurance of our ultimate acceptance, vindication and eternal destiny, a far greater assurance than anything this fickle world can provide. Let’s take a walk with the Apostle Paul through his letter to the Christians living in first century Rome and see what assurance the Gospel provides.

First, the bad news. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ). Since human beings rejected God, seeking to be our own masters, we have descended into the corruption that sin inevitably brings. All the evils and injustices we see in the world today rest with us, corporately, as members of the rebellious human race. We suppress the truth about God, and make our own “truths.” God is rightly angry about this, because he is a just and good God. Individually, we may not necessarily contribute much to the weight of human suffering, but we are all tarred with the same brush and part of the wider rebellion against God. The same sins corrupt every human heart; selfishness, greed, unwholesome thinking and so forth. “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1). All sin is sin, and all sin comes from the same root, the human heart. "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom 3:10-12). Of ourselves, we can have no assurance of salvation; even the “best” of us by human standards have the same corrupt tendencies.

Now, for the good news (which is what the word “gospel” means, by the way). God did not leave it as that. He saw our desperate need, our inability to save ourselves and he stepped in to our very human nature to redeem it. He did what we were, and are, powerless to do for ourselves. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested... through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:21-24). Just as God’s wrath falls upon sinful humans without partiality, so his undeserved kindness falls on any who acknowledge their need and turn to him in faith; without partiality. The “righteousness” of God spoken of here means right relationship with God, being counted as right-living, or just in his sight. This is exactly the same as being “justified.” God is willing and able to remove our sin and count us as just/right/good in his sight. Note the basis of this justification; “through faith in Christ Jesus.” Not, through good works, or through any of the usual means by which we might seek assurance, vindication, justification in this life, but by faith in the one person to have lived as God intended and who is able to take our sins away, permanently. We are justified freely, as a gift of grace, undeserved kindness. Paul explains in chapter four, using the example of the Jewish patriarch Abraham, that God will credit righteousness to those who believe in Jesus. “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). Jesus died for our sins (he had no sin himself) and in doing so destroyed our sins on the cross, and by being raised from death opened the way for us to be raised too. This is the assurance we have of resurrection and eternal life. It is not based on our achievements, but those of the Son of God, which is the greatest assurance we can have.

What does it mean to have this assurance, to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ? Here’s where it gets really encouraging. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:1-2). In Christ, God has no more wrath against us, we are at peace with him. More than this, we have access to God now. We have relationship with him and assurance of sharing his glory. It means that the trials of this life, which can rob us of assurance, no longer do so; they become steppingstones of hope, not despair.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:3-10).

But there’s more! As a reality-check, Paul explains that we will still continue to sin in this life. We will still fail, we will still disappoint ourselves and others. But this does not detract from our assurance. Firstly, because God’s forgiveness is ongoing; it’s a second chance that continues, it’s not a one-off deal that we can use up. Secondly, God gives us a new heart, a new motivation, an new perspective and, importantly, a new empowerment. He enables us to begin to resist sin, and promises that ultimately we will be totally freed from it. In chapter 6 of Romans, Paul explains that our “old self” is effectively crucified on the cross with Christ, destroying the power that sin has over us, “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). Sin no longer “reigns” over us (verse 12) and God gives us the help we need to throw off its reign. Chapter 7 presents the dilemma of the person who wants to do the right thing but consistently fails; “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-19). This culminates in an anguished cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” immediately followed by the answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

Romans chapter 8 is the great Assurance chapter of the Bible. Building on the argument Paul has carefully developed in chapters 1 through 7, it beings with the astonishing statement: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). Think about that. There is NO condemnation. None! No condemnation for those who have accepted God’s gracious forgiveness and been joined to him. The reason for this assurance lies not with ourselves, but with the all-sufficient work of God through Christ. That’s why we can have total and complete assurance, because it is a work of God. It’s not up to our efforts. If we want to get a job done, say, by a tradesman, our assurance that the work will be done satisfactorily lies in the trustworthiness and skill of the tradesman. Now, no tradesman is perfect, but Jesus Christ is. His work is absolutely reliable, 100% guaranteed. Who gives that assurance? Who certifies or underwrites and backs up that guarantee? God himself!

Paul explains that Christians aren’t relying any more on the weakness of our human nature (also called “the flesh”). The mind working according to sinful human nature can’t please God and is bereft of assurance. Human effort at “being good” can’t underwrite the guarantee. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him... If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:5-11). God himself, as Holy Spirit, actually dwells within the Christian, infusing life and empowering us. Elsewhere, Paul specifically describes the Holy Spirit (also called the Spirit of God and Spirit of Christ, because they are all one God) as our guarantee. The Holy Spirit, God himself, underwrites the assurance of eternal life that we have in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:21–22; 2 Corinthians 5:4–5 and Ephesians 1:13–14). The Holy Spirit does this by a direct work in our hearts. He makes us children of God. we are, literally, adopted by God when we accept Christ.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons [and daughters], by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:14-17).

“Abba” is an ancient term of endearment, similar to “Papa” or even “Daddy.” Such is the relationship of Christians to God! Not, it must be stressed, because Christians are better than anyone else, but because God has graciously adopted us, warts and all. It’s always all about what God has done for us, not about our own achievements, and that is precisely why the Christian’s assurance is so powerful. The Spirit not only seals our adoption and guarantees our inheritance, but, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:26-27). God does not leave us in our weakness and inability to combat the sin which drags us backwards, but empowers us to overcome it. Furthermore, God works everything that happens in our lives, both “good” and “bad,” pleasant and unpleasant, even in the uttermost depths of suffering, synergistically for our ultimate good. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). So even if this life is unsatisfying, difficult, unfair and permeated with disappointment and suffering, it will not always be so. The individual ingredients of life are combined by God and directed in such a way that ultimately, eternally, good will come, guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit himself. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Jesus appeals to those who are thirsty for fulfillment, for assurance, for hope and ultimate satisfaction, to come to him to drink, as from a well of living water (John 4:13–14; John 6:35; 7:37–39). Water that will never fail and will always satisfy. There is nothing that this world or our human efforts can offer that will ultimately satisfy, provide hope or give us assurance that we are loved, that we are of inestimable worth or that we have a greater destiny. But in Christ our worth is measured by the costliness of the price God paid to adopt us and secure us as his own. This is the greatest assurance if we will only believe God at his word and accept his offer (Romans 8:35–39)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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