How confident are we? Are we masters of the grill, gifted at our professions or perhaps certain of our flair for gab? Yet, who among us has not experienced an unexpected curve ball? The dinner turned out disappointing. A work project did not go well. We stood speechless.
What we expected slipped between our fingers. In such instances we discover our earlier confidence did not deliver. Just because we felt confident did not guarantee the results.
So what about really important things, like heaven? Can we surpass mere confidence to know for certain we are God’s forgiven people? Yes we can!
I imagine joyous exclamations: “by faith” and “by grace!” To be sure, these principles are intrinsically involved. Yet, throughout scripture a more fundamental principle exists.
When we sift through the Bible asking the question, how does God identify his people, a single word consistently appears – covenant (Gen. 17:7; Ex. 19:5,6; Deut. 29:10-15; Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:6,10). In grace, God chooses to enter into relationship with people by promising to be their God! How wonderful it is not based upon our own goodness!
This is also true for how Jesus made it possible for us to become God’s children (Jn. 1:12). Jesus’ blood created the new covenant empowering God’s promises to forgive us and claim us as his people (Lk. 22:20; Mt. 26:28; Heb. 8:6,10,12; 9:15-18; Eph. 1:7; 2:12,13). Once again, God initiated a relationship without taking into consideration our history or prior virtue.
Understanding God uses covenant as the means of identification answers only half of our earlier question – how can we know for certain that we are God’s forgiven people? We still need to learn who is in this covenant relationship. Does God automatically embrace everyone in covenant? Or is there a prescribed way to enter into, that is, to receive this promised relationship?
Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that to become God’s children, we must receive Jesus, that is, we must choose to rely upon him and his blood (John 1:11-12; Rom. 3:24,25). The language of believing and faith describes this reliance upon Christ.
Are we to understand that this language of believing and faith provides us an exhaustive explanation regarding how to rely? Specifically, are we being instructed to just believe? Or are these verses focused upon asserting we must trust in Jesus, without explaining all of the details about how to rely upon him?
After all, if I say, “Believe in me” to a scared child seated on a tree limb as I stretch my hands upward, I am not telling the child to sit there believing I could catch him. Rather, I am calling for trusting action, namely to believe in me by dropping into my arms. In this scenario, to just sit there convinced I am capable of providing rescue does not constitute faith in me.
So what about how the New Testament uses believe/ faith? Are we to just believe in Jesus or does a saving faith require trusting in Jesus through some prescribed manner(s)? Scripture responds.
When people receive Jesus, they enter into covenantal relationship with God. Through stories as well as teachings, we can discover when people receive those promises of the new covenant and thus know when they received Christ. What we find is that people enter into salvation and become God’s new people by believing in Christ, confessing Christ and being baptized into Christ (Romans 10:9,10; 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16; 2:38,41). In fact, just as the blood of the covenant was applied to Israel that they might enter the old covenant, so too Christ’s blood of the new covenant is applied to our hearts when our bodies are washed with water (Ex. 24:6-8; Heb. 9:19,20; 10:19,22).
What can we conclude? Galatians 4:9 provides a clarifying digression. Paul shifts our perspective away from our confident claims in order that we might focus upon the perspective that matters, namely God’s. God knows those who belong to him. Can we know whether we are among these people?
If we believe what scripture tells us about Jesus, have confessed him and been baptized, then the New Testament affirms we have God’s approval as his people. Such an affirmation surpasses merely feeling confident. We can know.