How man ultimately knows he is accepted by God
We ask the question to ourselves or to others in different forms. Are you saved? Will you go to heaven when you die? Have you been forgiven of your sins? Have you made peace with God? Those questions are trying to probe the most important issue of life. Is man accepted by God?
Of course, God has made a way for sinful man to be accepted, but not because we have earned it. Our sin is a vulgar assault against the holiness of our Creator and contrary to His nature. Our will motivates our actions to live in opposition to His best. And yet, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ paid the sin debt for all who willingly submit to His atonement and Lordship. None of us should be reconciled to Him, but grace performs, not out of expected obligation, but rather out of unanticipated mercy.
However, the questions above are not aimed at understanding the problem corporately, but personally. It's one thing to know that God has paid the sin price for the whole world. It's quite another to have the assurance that my sins are forgiven and I am personally accepted by God ... especially in light of my ongoing sin dilemma. I still commit sins.
Most people reply with a "Yes," a "No," or an "I don't know" response. But what's behind that answer? Have you ever thought that the justification for a positive (or negative) response to those questions is just as important as the answer itself? What justifies your answer to those questions? Some reflect back on a time when they asked God for salvation, often called by some a "sinner's prayer." Others might point to a feeling of relief as sin's curse was lifted. Still more might point to their obedience to do what God has instructed from His Word.
A better response would be one that doesn't look back in time, but that looks at the present. Surely a gospel so radical in its claim to transform an individual from death to life should have ongoing effects. That was John's purpose for writing his first letter. Some forty times John writes that believers would intellectually and experientially understand the knowledge and assurance of genuine fellowship with God. "...That ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the son of God" (1 John 5:13).
Still deeper, I believe there is a greater primal confidence that undermines even John's tests of true faith. The presence of the Holy Spirit, God Himself, constantly abiding in an individual is the ultimate test of reconciliation. Wasn't that John's aim? "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3, emphasis mine).
This concept of "God in us" was the paramount test of the first century church. It was the qualification for water baptism (Acts 10:47). The indwelling Holy Spirit was the promise of the Father (Acts 2:33). It was the invitational alter call after the first post-resurrection sermon (Acts 2:28). It was the divine purpose behind Saul's conversion blindness (9:17).
Probably the most notable proof that the abiding of the Holy Spirit is essential within converted individuals is seen in the Gentile controversy at the Jerusalem council of Acts 15. Some of the apostles had claimed that God had forgiven the sins of Gentiles ... and all the while without them submitting to the strict guidelines of Judaism or the men embracing the covenant sign of circumcision. Heretofore one had to become a Jew to be God's child. Now, as never before, non-Jews were being considered God's children! Is this blasphemy or blessing? To what proof did the apostles turn to judiciously convince themselves as to the authenticity of these Gentile submissions to Jesus Christ. Was it their prayer? Their heritage? Their synagogue attendance?
It was the evidence of the Holy Spirit granting Himself access to take up residence with them. "And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us" (Acts 15:8)
And here lies the need of our current sermon series, Genuine Salvation. What exactly does it mean, or what experience do we understand, for the Holy Spirit to be living in us. There are more concrete answers than the subjective answer we throw out when backed into a theological corner. We can know He is in us (or not) categorically. Without Him, we are still lost in our sins, but with His presence comes confidence and assurance that we are among the accepted ones.
Join us as we walk through the theological confidence of the first century church each Sunday morning to understand what it means for God's Spirit to live in us and ultimately for us to be saved. Only then can you answer our introductory questions confidently.