We can’t know for certain what happens after death. We just have to accept some things by faith. Some knowledge God has reserved for Himself and is off limits to earthlings. We ought to close our mouths and humble our hearts when we come to sacred matters. Whether we are saved and what happens when we die are up to God.
God has revealed Himself in His Word, the Holy Bible. Scripture says, “We know that we know Him.” As with any good parent, God wants His children certain of their relationship with Him. It is possible to know you are saved, to know Jesus Christ personally, and to know that when you die you go straight to Heaven. It is not presumption if God revealed it.
Most church members subscribe to one of these two views concerning salvation and eternity. Is one right and the other wrong?
Recently, as I was preparing a sermon on this subject, I checked my library for anything pertinent. Two books in particular have kept me thinking ever since.
“The Myth of Certainty” by Daniel Taylor (Word, 1986) and “In Search of Certainty” by John Guest (Regal, 1983) came at the subject of assurance and certainty from opposite poles. Taylor is listed as a professor at a Christian college in Minnesota, while Guest pastors an Episcopal church in Pennsylvania. The reader does not get far into these books before he is convinced they are each committed followers of Jesus Christ.
Daniel Taylor watches television preachers and is puzzled. He does not begrudge them time on television, for “it is the highest hill around.” He does not complain about the money they raise, because “he has many barns to build.” What perplexes him is, “….where does he get this brimming confidence?” He adds, “Not his confidence before men and women—the psychology of that I can understand—but this confidence before God.” He asks, “Did he talk to a burning bush? Is he certain his sacrifice is not a stench in God’s nostrils? Why are there no signs of ashes on his head?”
Taylor writes for those who make commitments to Jesus Christ, “with varying degrees of confidence,” but who have been “blessed and cursed with minds that never rest.” Such people are “dissatisfied with superficial answers to difficult questions, willing to defend faith, but not its misuse.”
John Guest writes for Christians who want to live confidently before a skeptical world. He says our culture is afflicted with the epidemic of uncertainty. Accordingly, a truth that works for one man will not work for another. There are no absolutes. “You have your religion. But I have my own God.” Guest takes solid aim at such relativism and vagueness.
Guest says confidence is the birthright of every Christian. It is possible to know that God loves us personally, that Jesus died for us personally, that He indwells us personally, that He will never let us go and that our home is Heaven. Far from being presumptuous, God fully intended His children to know Him personally and to live outrageously here and eternally beyond. The Savior who said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom I reveal Him,” offers a certainty available nowhere else in the universe.
Daniel Taylor wants the people of God to be humble as they approach sacred matters. No argument here. However, he seems to want us to deny the solid assurance that Scripture posits as standard equipment for believers. I keep remembering where the psalmist said, “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a solid rock making my footsteps firm….” (Psalm 40:2)
John Guest imagines a modern church member—who has caught the influenza of uncertainty—“sharing his faith” with a neighbor. “Far be it from me to lay my trip on you. I’m not trying to be dogmatic and I know everyone has his own point of view….I’m not wanting to come off as fundamentalist, and the last thing I want to do is lay on you a Christianity that is narrow and literal. But, well, it’s up to you. So long as you keep coming to church and trying to be good you can’t go wrong!”
Paul cautioned us about vagueness. “If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for the battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8) An indefinite gospel touches no heart, appeals to no soul, and awakens no mind.
“We know that we know Him if we keep His commandments.” (I John 2:3). Not only do we know Jesus, but we know that we know Him. How? Not from a baptismal certificate yellowing with age, but by our personal devotion and obedience to Him today.
Not only is it crucial that we know where we stand, Jesus went a step further and said the people around us ought to be certain of our salvation. “By this shall all men know you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
Granted, not everyone calling himself a Christian should have assurance of salvation. Those who walk out on their faith, who marry the world and its ways, should question their salvation. Those who had an “experience” decades ago, with no fruit or evidence since, would do well to question their salvation.
When David committed adultery—followed by a long list of cover-ups to hide it—he rightfully lost confidence in his salvation. Later, he prayed the Lord to “take not thy Holy Spirit from me” and “restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” (Psalm 51)
A woman sat in my office one day. A stranger, she had come to tell me about her ex-husband, who attended our church. I did not know him. “He’s the meanest, lyingest man on the planet,” she said. “But when I ask him how he expects to get to heaven with such behavior, he says, ‘Because I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.'” She looked at me firmly and said, “Pastor, I go to my church almost every day of my life. I read my Bible and pray. But it appears to me that I may be working too hard. If that hypocrite can pray a little prayer and be saved, then live a life of ungodliness and still go to Heaven, show me this in the Bible. I’d like to find an easier way.”
I knew only her side of the story, but I apologized for such a warped interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That day, I found myself wishing for her former husband—and all who claim salvation but do not live it—a healthy dose of uncertainty about his salvation, one that would humble him and bring him to repentance in order that he might come to know the life-changing power available only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Once he truly knows Jesus, he will still be certain of his salvation, but this time he will have the evidence to back it up.