How do we know we’re in? How do we know that God loves us and will preserve us to the end?
It’s got nothing to do with Bourbon, before you get too excited.
There are three ways that we know that we know him. I’m talking about what we commonly call assurance, the certainty that you are a Christian, you do know Jesus, and that you’re in. That’s what you need when your back is against the wall and you desperately need to know that death is beaten, that sadness will wither, and that Jesus wins. You’ve been taught it, you’ve read it, you declare it, but you just need to know. That’s assurance.
The first way is what I would call ‘deductive’, what we typically call logic. This is when we read in the Bible that if we trust Jesus and follow him then God will not count our sins against us, and instead considers us as though we were his Son. We then think through whether or not we trust Jesus and are trying to follow him—”yes, as best I can, but a long way from perfectly.” Therefore, I must be one of Jesus’ followers and I can trust that God will be true to his word. We know with our heads that it’s true.
The second way I’d call ‘inductive’. This is where we infer things from what we observe. We see progress in our lives since we met Jesus and continue to see that progress. We keep changing for the better in ways that we couldn’t make happen ourselves. Sometimes this requires the long view, but this is proof that what we think is true is true. Therefore, we must be one of Jesus’ followers and God is already being true to his word. We know with our lives that it’s true.
The third way I’d call ‘direct’. It’s not based on logic, but on experience. It’s when we meet with God in a powerful way and know—just know—that he loves us, is for us, and counts us as his children. It proves that everything I’ve read that is true in general, and that everything I’ve seen that seems to be true in my life, is specifically, intimately, individually true for me. Therefore, God loves me, so he is true to his word. We know with our hearts that it’s true.
This direct assurance I’ve written on recently: the feeling of joy that proves the ‘knowing’ of hope to be true.
We need all three: the head, the life, the heart. Each one proves the others. The direct heart experience is the one that does the heaviest lifting in hard times. It’s the one that is most fitted to carrying us through life, but it needs the other two to authenticate it.
If you’re missing deductive assurance, then go back to the Bible, ask Jesus, do you really believe this stuff? If you’re missing inductive assurance, then go to Jesus in prayer—ask him to show you how your character is developing and your faithfulness increasing. Ask your church family too, our friends often see us clearer than we see ourselves.
If you’re missing direct assurance, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t part of Jesus’ family, but there is something more for you. This is what the experience I would call ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is for, providing this direct experience that means you know that he loves you. Not that he loves everyone, but that he loves you.
Though, it needs to be said, most Christians I know who disagree about my understanding of receiving the Spirit clearly experience the direct assurance of God’s love in their own lives. I would hope they agree with me that this direct assurance is to be cherished and sought after, even if we call it something different. We receive the Spirit so that we know who we are. We can see this in action in John 14-16, 1 Corinthians 1 and 5, and especially in Ephesians 1.
In Ephesians 1 Paul describes this with the metaphor of a seal and a guarantee.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
When Paul talks about a seal, he’s thinking of something like the sort of wax seal he might have seen on products at the market, which served both to show who owned something—”this one’s got my seal on it, so it’s mine”—and to show that something was authentic, “this one’s got my seal on it, so you know I made it.” Sometimes seals would also be used to show that someone hadn’t tampered with the produce before it got to you.
It was a sort of first century cross between the name labels that your Mum sews into your school PE kit, the sort of mark you see on the bottom of a mug or a plate showing you who made it, and the vacuum seal on the top of a jar of pasta sauce.
What Paul’s saying is that God has branded believers as his, putting his mark on us; made it clear that we’re the real deal, and guaranteed our protection in transit to the age to come. The Spirit is God’s maker’s mark on us. It shows us that he is committed to us, and that his promises are reliable. For this to be helpful, it has to be visible to both you and others that you have been sealed.
He also talks about the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, another legal term from the first century marketplace. It was the amount of money that someone who wanted a service done paid to ensure it would be done, or it was the commitment from the service provider that they would follow through on the contract. It’s the equivalent of putting down a deposit on an expensive item you’re hoping to buy, or a legal contract that requires you to fulfil your part of it.
From God to us, the Holy Spirit both serves as the down-payment of our inheritance, the first portion of what is to come, and as the legal contract from the Father that proves he will follow through.
In Romans 8 Paul describes what this in turn feels like,
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, 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.
The Spirit, acting within us, tells us that we are children of God, sons and heirs. He is a Spirit of adoption who causes us to cry out to God that he is our Father. Being assured, sealed, by the Spirit feels like knowing who your Dad is.
The experience of being sealed, and of constantly being reminded of our sealing is supposed to cause us to be noisy and full of joy. It’s an experience of ‘sonship’, which means sharing in everything Jesus gets as the God the Son. By the Spirit we’re all sons in the Son, whether we happen to be sons or daughters ourselves.
As Paul leads on, because we’re children we’re also heirs. The Spirit lets me experience this so that I know that it is true. It’s the love of Christ shed abroad in my heart in charismatic experience, in feeling, that gives me assurance of joining Christ in his victory. This is vital to making progress while following Jesus.
Drink deeply, friends.
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