I’m reading Matthew 13 tonight.
In one parable Christ describes people who hear about the Kingdom and genuinely, joyfully believe — but they fail to bear fruit and persevere to the end. In the next parable He says that not everybody in the church is His, but we won’t see who’s who until the final Judgment. Elsewhere He says there will be people who are surprised on the last day, thinking they had a relationship with Jesus but discovering they’re strangers to Him. (Here. And here.)
Seems to me an “assurance of salvation” is an arrogant, dangerous thing. It might be better — and a little more humble-minded — to consider that our love of pleasures and self-will, the shallowness of our faith, and our lack of “preparing the way of the Lord” in ourselves might just make us the shallow, rocky weedy soil in which the Word is born but never bears fruit; that we might be the ones just going through the motions of religion and headed for a terrible shock when we’re called to give account.
But that meditation ought to lead us to hope, not to despair. In Jeremiah 4 and again in Hosea 10 we’re called to “Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” The hard, stony, weed-choked soil of the heart is not incurable: By grace we can break the hard heart, soften the soil, and “prepare the way of the Lord.”
My namesake, Silouan of Mount Athos, heard the Lord tell him “Keep your mind in hell and do not despair.” He learned that the safest, most hopeful and joyful place for the human soul is the assurance that we are unfit for Christ, that we are “sinners, of whom I am first,” that our personal failings and lack of love for God are evidence we have not even begun to repent.
Why is this a good place for the soul? Because it puts the soul at the mercy of the One who delights to show mercy. When we are assured of our unfitness for life in Christ, we quit thinking about justice and put all our trust and confidence in His mercy – then we “receive power to be His witnesses.” We return to the place where we are empowered by Grace: “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”