One of my favorite old hymns that we sing is “Blessed Assurance,” by Fanny J. Crosby. Crosby speaks of the confidence we have in Jesus. When we are born of water and the spirit, washed in the blood of Christ, we become heirs of God. We have a foretaste of eternity. This is our story. And it is certain! It is assured!
Yet, so many of us lack certainty in our salvation. We have talked about this before, but particularly based on some recent conversations in our Book Club, I am convinced we cannot talk about it enough. Why is it that so many of us do not have that assurance?
I think there are several things in play. We have a misunderstanding of God’s nature. We fail to appreciate his actions on our behalf. And there is an imperfect realization of what it truly means to be in Christ. I want to think through those things, beginning with the first, over the next couple of weeks, with a view to instilling more confidence in Christ in us.
One of the things I believe we need to be more aware of is the metanarrative of Scripture: all these small stories make up one big story about who God is and what he has done and is doing in the world. Let’s think about that in broad outline form. To begin with, God’s love motivated him to create the world; we must never forget that is at the core of who he is. With love comes a relationship, and so God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. But the relationship changed when sin entered the picture, resulting in expulsion from paradise. And the story of the fall does not really end there, as humanity continued to degenerate until God cleansed Creation and established a relationship with a new representative in Noah.
That is what we see repeated over and over again in Scripture: it is the story of God’s efforts to restore the broken relationship and to seek people who will represent him in the world. Ultimately, God established a lasting relationship with one of Noah’s descendants, Abraham, promising him a land, a great nation through his descendants, and most importantly, that all nations would be blessed through him. Abraham became God’s special representative, and God maintained a relationship with his family: Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Even when the Israelites found themselves slaves in Egypt, God stepped forward as redeemer. He delivered them from their enemies. He then established a covenant relationship with them at Mount Sinai. Much like in the Garden, God walked with the Israelites because they were in a covenant relationship with him. Despite this blessing, Israel rebelled against God—even while Moses was on the mountain, receiving the terms of the covenant!
To make a long story short, the history of Israel shows a pattern of rejection in their relationship with God, from doubting God on the doorstep to the Promised Land to rejecting him in favor of idols in the days of the kings. He sent the prophets to call them back to communion with him, but they didn’t listen. So finally, God turned them over to their enemies. They were taken into exile by Assyria and Babylonia.
But the prophets looked to a day when God would establish a new covenant with a righteous remnant of Israel:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
There is a bond here between relationship and forgiveness: everyone will know God, for he will forgive iniquity.
What we see in the OT is a God reaching out to his Creation. He acts on humanity’s behalf so they might enjoy his blessings, but the people’s sin keeps getting in the way. The story of Scripture is of God acting on behalf of humanity to restore that broken relationship. That means that John 3:16 is really the thread that runs all throughout Scripture: the big story is about God working to restore the right order. We must not ever lose sight of that and what it reveals to us about God’s nature and his heart for us.