Because I Belong to Christ

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 8:31-39

Our salvation is unloseable, unshakeable. If God is for us, who can be against us?

The program on televison was about an assisted suicide center in the country of Switzerland. People who were ill or depressed or just tired of living could come there, and after an interview with a so-called “counselor,” could end their life. Everything was very well-organized, as you would expect from the Swiss. There was a nice hotel-like room with a bed for the “patient,” helpful staff to provide the lethal drugs (with instructions for their use) and to manage things afterwards. It was all very chilling. But the thing, I think, that bothered me the most was an interview in the program with a German man who was planning to commit suicide the following day. At one point the interviewer asked this man what he expected to experience after his death. He looked up and said very deliberately, “Nichts.” “Nothing.” That’s what stuck with me.

How utterly bleak and empty a life can be! It made me think of the apostle Paul’s description of non-Christians as those who are living without God and without hope in the world. And what a total contrast that is with Christian faith and Christian hope!

Christians have an assurance that when this life is ended, we will enter the everlasting glory and joy of eternal life in the presence of God. This assurance is more than just a pious wish. It is a rock-solid expectation, built on the firm foundation of gospel truths. The Heidelberg Catechism rehearses those truths in its opening question and answer, which progressively unpacks the Christian doctrine of assurance.

Our supreme comfort or source of strength is that we are not our own but belong, body and soul, in life and death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. We know that we belong to him because he has bought and paid for us with his precious blood. By this sacrifice of his own life Christ has atoned for all our sins and rescued us from the dominion of the devil. Since we are his, we also know that the Lord watches over us always, to ensure that nothing will ultimately harm us. Finally, says the Catechism, “Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life, and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

The Christian’s Assurance

Listen to that conclusion again. Because we belong to Jesus Christ in life and death, two things follow. The first is that we are assured of eternal life. Some Christians argue that such assurance claims too much. The best we can do, they say, is to hope for salvation at the end. Anything more than that is presumption. It is arrogant and, moreover, dangerous to believe you are saved without the possibility of being lost.

But while we would never want to make casual assumptions about eternal life, we must humbly assert that it isn’t presumptuous to have an assurance of our salvation. It is not presumption to believe in the promises of God’s Word. Assurance isn’t a false overconfidence in ourselves; it is the gift Jesus Christ gives to those who are his. “My sheep hear my voice,” said Jesus, “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). And Christ gives us this assurance through his Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that it is the Spirit who teaches us to call God “Abba, Father;” “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit,” wrote Paul, “that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17).

Later on in that same 8th chapter of the book of Romans Paul reaches the climax of his exposition of the gospel with a passage that rings the changes on the believer’s eternal security.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . .

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39, niv

Here’s a whole series of rhetorical questions, all of which serve to underscore one conclusion: that our salvation is unloseable, unshakeable, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). Here’s the gospel good news: God is for us! He is on our side, and he’s proved it in everything that Jesus has done. And if God is on our side, what does it ultimately matter who or what else may be lined up against us? “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen . . . Who is he that condemns?” (vv. 33-34).

Sometimes I think about what’s going to happen when all the bills for my moral failures come due. What if the voices of my accusers drown out all other sounds and condemn me everlastingly? But that can’t happen because God is the Judge, the very one who justifies, who declares to me, “Not guilty for Jesus’ sake!” And who can condemn the person whom God has acquitted? “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (v. 35).

What if something shakes my hold on God? What if I fall away from him? What if I lose my faith? Can’t happen. Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. The point isn’t simply that we’re holding on to God by faith, but rather that in Christ God is holding on to us. And what is there that can break his grip? Paul looks around for an answer to his own question. He searches backwards and forwards in time and eternity; he considers heaven and earth, powers and principalities, dangers and calamities and death itself, and he concludes that it’s just not possible. God loves us and won’t let go. Nothing has a chance against God, and that means nothing has a chance against us.

Living for Jesus

I said earlier that two things follow from the fact that we belong completely and forever to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. The first of those is just this assurance of salvation and of eternal life. Nothing can separate us from God. The second is that we are motivated because we belong to Christ to live our whole life for Christ and his kingdom. “Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

One of the commonest criticisms of the Christian doctrine of assurance that I’ve been outlining for you is that it could lead people to live careless lives. Many think that the idea of “Once saved, always saved,” as it is sometimes put, is going to result in spiritual laziness and immoral living. After all, if nothing absolutely nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ, why then, I could do anything I want! What’s to stop me from sinning if I don’t have to fear any judgment?

But here’s the thing, you see. It’s true that if I belong to Christ I can do anything I want. But because I belong to him, what I really want to do more than anything else in the world is to live for him. I want to please the Lord. I want to give, in the famous title of Oswald Chambers’ devotional reflections, My Utmost for His Highest.

Because I belong to Christ then with all my heart I’m going to abhor sin and flee from the very thought of it and strive to do what is right and love God with my whole heart and love my neighbor as myself. And if I don’t do those things, then I had better examine whether I do really belong to him. What unites us to Christ and makes us his is faith. And the only faith that really unites us to Christ is sincere faith, and the only faith that is sincere is faith that changes our attitude towards sin, faith that gives us a new heart to desire God, faith that changes our behavior and leads to holiness. “I appeal to you,” says the apostle a little bit later in the book of Romans, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices.”

In other words, what motivates us to live for God with all that we are and all that we have is not the hope that we can earn salvation if we do obey God or the fear of punishment if we don’t, but rather pure gratitude for the salvation God has already given us. When Paul writes in Romans 12:1 about “the mercies of God,” he is referring to the whole gospel message of justification by faith in Christ’s blood and peace with God as a result, the gospel message that Romans 1-11 so fully proclaims. Believing that message is what saves us, but also makes us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Jesus Christ.

It is precisely the people who have been freed from nagging guilt and doubt and fear – who no longer worry about their spiritual state or are constantly taking their spiritual temperature to see if they are still saved – precisely those people, I say, who have a robust confidence in God and an assurance of his saving love, who are thereby set free to live lives of daring abandonment to the will and work of God in the world.

Paul Harrison was just such a man, a man who spent his life wholeheartedly living for Christ in service as a medical missionary in the Arabian gulf. Many years ago he explained to a group of young pastors just what it meant to live by faith. “Living by faith in Christ,” said Dr. Harrison, “means that nothing must be too high to be attained, or too good to be hoped for, or too hard to be endured, or too precious to be given away.”

You know, if you and I truly do belong to him, we will say the same.