God wants us to be watchful people. The Bible bleeds with cautionary words that are intended to widen our spiritual eyes so that we pay careful attention to the condition of our hearts. The author of Hebrews issued strong warnings to believers about the perils of failing to pay close attention to the message we’ve heard (Hebrews 2:1), the deadly nature of an unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12), and the wrath that will come upon us if we willfully persist in sin (Hebrews 10:26-27). These words of caution are jolting and frightening, but they are actually one of the means by which God graciously keeps us fastened to Christ by faith. The Christian who heeds these warnings is a Christian who continuously strives to distance himself from evil and nurture the faith God has given him. A healthy fear of sin’s heart-hardening nature propels him away from the filth of this world and toward Jesus.
However, the Bible is not merely or even mainly a book of warnings. It is a book that bursts at the seams with confidence-inducing, hope-anchoring, and joy-quickening assurances for the follower of Christ.
I know some of you reading this article today are unceasingly anxious about your spiritual condition. When you read the Scriptures, the frightening warnings about inauthentic faith and apostasy seem to be illuminated with a fluorescent glow—you can’t pull your attention away from them. And in some cases, this may be a good thing. If you are someone who claims your citizenship is in heaven while your life is set on fire by hellish debaucheries, it is good you cannot escape the terror of God’s warnings. Your doubt and fear is actually a gift meant to lead you back to a faithful pursuit of the One who purges his people’s hearts of doubt and fear when they abide in him.
But there are many of you who truly love Christ are striving to be obedient to him, yet you still tremble when you think about your standing before God. You feel like God’s acceptance of you hinges, moment-by-moment, on your ability to keep your faith alive—but you aren’t even sure the faith you possess is genuine! The Bible is indisputably clear that God wants to smash your fear to pieces and perfect you in his love (1 John 4:17-18). He wants to usher you into the peace of knowing you possess the irrevocable gift of eternal life. He doesn’t want you to endure the trials and tribulations of this life while only being 68% positive that you are actually saved and will finish the race—he wants you to be so certain of your immutable position in Christ that you plow through the sufferings of this world with undefeatable hope and fiery joy.
Jesus spoke the following words (and many similar words) so that his followers would know they are forever secure in his saving grip:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” – John 10:27-28 (emphasis mine)
Do you hear the voice of Jesus? When you read the biblical writings, do they resonate with you as the very words of God? If they do, you do hear the voice of Jesus, and he knows you. Do you draw near to Christ often and seek to obey his commands? If you do, the eternal life of God really does abide within you. You will never perish—no one (not even you) will snatch your soul out of Jesus’ hand.
The apostles continued Christ’s mission to infuse assurance into the hearts of his people. When writing to the faithful saints in the Philippian church, Paul was so bold as to say, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The evidences of faith in these Philippian believers’ lives—the same evidences that are likely present in your life—gave Paul all the reason in the world to assure them that God had truly saved them and would surely sustain them in his grace.
Peter elaborates on God’s invincible work of grace in the lives of those who love and strive after Jesus:
“According to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” – 1 Peter 1:3-5 (emphasis mine)
If you possess a sincere faith that expresses itself in affection for Christ and progressive obedience to his commands, it is not because you, in your own strength and natural capabilities, mustered up this faith—neither do you sustain it by your own will and power. If you trust in Christ today, it is because God has graciously caused you to be born again and gifted you this saving faith (Ephesians 2:8)—and he is guarding you through it. The protective power of God, working through your grace-wrought belief in Jesus, is keeping you united to the one “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24).
If you are doubtful about your salvation today, follow the apostle Paul’s command: examine yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do you see, even dimly, the beauty of Jesus and love what you see? Though your flesh is still infested with vile desires, do you also desire to live in obedience to Christ? Do you strive [imperfectly] to do so? If you answer yes to these questions, you have good reason to rest assured that you are eternally safe in the impenetrable fortress of God’s grace. Yes, you should work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)—but not the kind of fear and trembling that leaves you perpetually unsure about God’s love for you and his faithfulness toward you. Work out your salvation with reverence and awe, knowing “it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).