Assurance and Boldness
How counter-cultural! Normally people say “I hope all will be o.k. when I die”, but they may feel assurance of salvation can only indicate spiritual pride. And this confidence cannot be found in any other religion. Other faiths and often even secular culture assume that our eternal future depends on our own good or bad deeds, so our future and God’s judgment are determined by what we are and what we do. With the background of that sort of understanding, assurance of eternal life would seem to be boasting of our worthiness and merit. In the biblical Christian faith, however, the cross of Jesus carries all the penalty of our sin and we are granted eternal life entirely by his grace, his totally undeserved love. Our part is merely to accept this free gift as we come to believe in him and enter into union with him in his cross, resurrection and ascension.
When talking about our assurance of eternal life, I often look back with repentance to an occasion when I preached on this subject in a small village church in Indonesia. Unknown to me, a leading young lady was excited to hear what was for her a totally new teaching. She went back to her home and read the whole of the Bible without stopping to eat or sleep. She needed to check whether my sermon was indeed true. If she died, could she really be assured of being eternally with her beloved Jesus? Finding the Bible confirmed that for a believer death leads to true glory of life with Jesus, she took poison and committed suicide! She so longed to be with Jesus in glory. The poison took four hours to work and during that time she went round the whole community, telling everyone that she was on her way to heaven. “Three more hours and I shall be with Jesus face to face”; “Two more hours and I shall be in glory”; “One more hour and I shall be in heaven” – and then she died. As a result of her assured witness concerning eternal life, about a thousand people came to believe in Jesus and were baptised.
When I heard what had happened after my visit to Seberaya, I had to repent – but also praise God for using my failure to bring multitudes to new and eternal life in Jesus. I realised that I had not adapted my European Christian approach to our Indonesian situation. In Europe people are generally not in a hurry to get to heaven and to be with Jesus eternally! So in Britain we can preach about the sure certainty of eternal life for believers without teaching that we all need to be patient and wait for God’s perfect time. In that sermon therefore I had failed to say that assurance of eternal life should not move us to commit suicide.
At the end of a Christian conference someone said to me, “I hope we may meet again. But if we don’t see each other again here on earth, we shall surely do so in heaven”. I replied, “Yes, we shall certainly meet again in glory – hasten the day!” He looked shocked as if he didn’t want the day to come quickly. Let us rejoice in the certainty of being with Jesus eternally in his glory – but without poison and suicide!