How to Have Assurance of Salvation, According to the Apostle John

An illustration of John the Apostle from the Book of Kells, circa 9th century

“How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (Job 25:4)

Questions like this have been plaguing human beings since the beginning of time. Those who believe in a righteous God naturally wonder, “Am I righteous as well? Does He approve of me? Will I escape judgment? Does He love me?” This desire for assurance has sent people on lifelong journeys, many of which fail to provide them with the clarity they lack. Some conclude that it simply isn’t possible to know if God approves of us.

While scripture tells us that, “There is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3b) it also promises hope of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Moreover, it teaches that it is possible to be assured of one’s salvation, and that those who are truly in Christ will persevere to the end. Sadly, not all Christians cling to these scriptural truths. Instead, they spend their lives chasing any number of things that they hope will grant them some measure of assurance: the sacraments, good deeds, church attendance, etc. It is not difficult to see how this changes the Christian life entirely. Those who put their trust in these things have only a false hope, and many who try find their confidence ultimately shaken.

The Apostle John wrote a letter to address this very problem. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” he said. (1 John 5:13) Not a hope that you have eternal life. Not an attempt to gain eternal life. No, he said that we can know that we have it. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: A New Era

Inside the dome of the Pantheon in Rome (Author photo)

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

Welcome back to this series of essays on baptism. I am currently focusing on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thanks for hanging around. I know it’s not as much fun as Wonder Woman.

In the last essay, we saw that the Old Testament prophets predicted two things: 1) a righteous ruler on whom the Spirit of God would rest, and 2) a general outpouring of the Spirit upon all God’s people. Both of these predictions went against the grain of the Old Testament experience. First, while plenty of rulers had God’s Spirit placed upon them, none of them exhibited the kind of righteousness and saving perfection predicted for the Messiah. Second, the idea that all of God’s people would receive the Spirit individually, regardless of status, was a development without precedent.

We must now take a look at how these two things came to pass, and how they reveal to us the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Prophecies

Michelangelo’s portrayals of (L-R) Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

This is the latest in a series of essays on baptism. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

In the previous essay, I began examining how the Spirit worked prior to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to help determine what is meant by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We saw that the Spirit was always at work in the Old Testament, but that He was only “placed” on a specific set of people: those entrusted with spiritual leadership of the nation of Israel in one form or another. This Spirit could be given or taken away at any time, according to the will of the Lord. When the covenant relationship between God and His people broke down and the covenant curses were enacted, God promised to restore a righteous remnant to Himself. How would that occur? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

A New (Old) Commandment

Depiction of Christ washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

Depiction of Christ washing Peter’s feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

This is the ninth in a series of article on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I sincerely hope by this point that the biblical imperative regarding reconciliation has been well established and that it has been made clear just how vital of an issue this is: the most vital, really, for within the concept of reconciliation all the things that pertain to salvation are encompassed along with our purpose on this earth. We have also taken a look at the underlying heart attitudes that can make or break reconciliation. The conversation has for the most part centered on relationships between two individuals, or between the individual and God. By focusing on big concepts rather than specific circumstances, it is possible that I have even made it this far without seriously offending you. Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

It is necessary that we move beyond this limited scope and begin to examine reconciliation on a corporate level. Here it is worth noting that every Christian has relationships with two kinds of people: those who are Christians and those who are not. Reconciliation is needed in both areas, but I am going to begin by examining reconciliation among Christians themselves, for if we cannot get our own house in order, we have little hope outside the walls, so to speak. Continue reading

The Cross of Hate

Michaelangelo's famed Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

Michaelangelo’s famed Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

This is the fourth in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the others articles at the bottom of this page.

In the cross of Christ, the love of God is most apparent. For what more can a person give for another beyond their very life, or what more could they suffer than the ultimate agony of death on a cross? Yes, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and rightly so, for He loves us beyond measure.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet

Sorrow and love flow mingled down.

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?[1]

Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, verse 3

Yet, we must not be satisfied with this explanation alone, for the cross was not only an act of love. The cross is equally a symbol of God’s hate. We do not always see hate in Christ’s actions that day, His words offering forgiveness to His enemies and His last breaths dedicated to helping others. That the world hated Christ is not difficult to accept, but what of the hate of Christ Himself? Have we made ourselves blind to this? Continue reading

Two Overlooked Biblical Heroes

Martha and Mary Magdalene, 1598, Carvaggio

“Martha and Mary Magdalene”, circa 1598, by Michelangelo da Carvaggio

 

Both Martha and Thomas are often viewed negatively by Christians, but when we look at their lives more comprehensively, there is a lot to be admired.

For those of us who have grown up in a Christian family, Bible stories have been drilled into us from birth.   Children’s Sunday school classes are often filled with a colorful cast of biblical characters who become examples of virtue and vice.  These stories, brought to us in full-color flannelgraph (the prime storytelling medium for evangelical Christian children prior to the advent of Veggie Tales), introduced us to heroes such as Joseph, Moses, David, Esther (her story doesn’t mention God by name but is still much beloved for its entertainment value, practical lessons, and female protagonist), and Daniel.  They also brought us a wide array of villains: Pharaoh, Goliath, Ahab, Judas, etc.

These Bible stories can be a double-edged sword for the people included in the narrative.  Only a small portion of a person’s life is actually recorded in scripture, with the majority happening “off stage”.  However, since we are talking about the Word of God, whatever details show up in the text are sure to be highly valued and endlessly repeated.  It could be that your best day gets immortalized, but it is also possible that the biggest mistake of your life will be the thing for which you are forever remembered. Continue reading

Why Did Jesus Live?

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A stained glass window depicting Christ calming the storm at St. Giles’ High Kirk, Edinburgh, Scotland.

On January 24, 2012, the noted British theologian N.T. Wright spoke at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan as part of the “January Series”.  The title of his lecture was “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels”.  It was almost a year later that I finally heard a podcast of this talk, which captured my attention almost immediately with a simple question: “Why did Jesus live?”

The point that Wright was trying to make by asking his audience this question was that when most of us consider the purpose of Christ’s incarnation, we tend to focus on his death.  Christmas songs are filled with lyrics declaring that the baby Jesus would one day become the savior of the world by dying for us all.  Indeed, the final days of Christ’s life and his execution are the main focus of all four biblical Gospels, and Church teaching has mirrored this approach throughout history.

This raises the question, if the whole purpose of Jesus’ life was to die, then why did it take around thirty years to get to that point? (Scripture never gives an exact number, but estimates tend to be around this mark.) What was all of that in between time intended to accomplish?  This question made me curious, and I proceeded to create the list you are about to read. Continue reading

Thus Spake Francis

Pope_Francis_among_the_people_at_St._Peter's_Square_-_12_May_2013

Photo by Wikipedia user Edgar Jiménez

With a single question, the newly minted Pope set off a worldwide media reaction – and raised some important questions about the state of the papacy in the 21st century.

I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about the papacy.  Smarter people than I have devoted their lives to the subject and still been left with profound mysteries.  However, there is one thing of which I am fairly certain: popes do not give impromptu, unrestricted press conferences aboard the papal plane. (Fun fact: the plane, hereafter to be known as Pontiff One, does not run on destructive fossil fuels, but is instead carried  invisibly by angels.)

Yet, that is exactly what Pope Francis did earlier this week during his trip back from a successful outing to Brazil, going where the Queen of England still fears – or at least refuses – to tread: in front of a group of reporters.  Fortunately for the assembled media, the Q & A session proved to be newsworthy for more than one reason.  When one of them asked the Holy Father a question about the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican that has so fascinated the Italian press, Francis gave a surprisingly nuanced answer. Continue reading

Ironic Prophets

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Tourists inspecting the interior of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Sometimes the wrong person says the right thing – and humanity is better for it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These words are familiar to most Americans, despite the fact that they may fail to remember whether they come from a) the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, b) the Bill of Rights, or c) the Declaration of Independence. (If you guessed “c”, you’re right.) Whenever an American feels their rights are being violated, they’re likely to make some mention of this universal claim to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, the holy trilogy that tends to define our sense of individual dignity.

Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was a true believer in the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment.  Historians debate the primary inspirations for Jefferson’s text, but one person commonly mentioned is the English writer John Locke.  In his classic work, Two Treatises of Government, Locke argued that government exists to protect the individual’s “life, liberty and estate”, or more generally “property”.

Similar language also existed in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, authored by George Mason, which was adopted a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence and seems to draw heavily on Locke’s themes.  It spoke of a person’s “inherent right”, which it specified as “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety”.  It seems likely that one or both of these documents influenced Jefferson, though we may never know for sure why he chose not to emphasize “property” or “estate”, opting instead for the “pursuit of happiness”. Continue reading