I think if we are all really honest with ourselves, we will admit that we don’t like religion. Even the most religious people—who go to church and read religious books and constantly do great things in the name of religion—I think, deep down, don’t like religion and feel exhausted from it. I think deep down there are massive insecurities, fears, and wars of self-righteousness below the surface of an allegedly admirable religious persona.
Why do I say this? Because I know it personally. And all too well. But hang with me.
It seems that at the heart of most religions is fear. Underneath all the good deeds, there exists this heart-felt subtle pain that something isn’t right, and I think it expresses itself in the worried question, “is God for me?” You can’t rid the anxiety of this big question, regardless of how good you are. And accordingly, you need justification and resolution to this problem.
Judaism, Islam, Animism, Hinduism, and moralistic Christianity—I think—all fundamentally relate upon this question as their common denominator. “Is God for me?” is probably the biggest question… Ever. Think about it. In fact, scholar A.W. Tozer famously quotes, “What comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important about you.” Indeed, “Is God for me?” is an important question, yet because it often goes unanswered, it yields rigid strains of insecurity, fear, despair, and exhaustion.
And as a way to provide justification, resolution, and alleviation to this insufferable question, it seems natural to assume that doing good deeds becomes the solution. It becomes the transaction-based way of appeasing this God and ensuring that you are on his good side.
Thus, good deeds exists as the currency of peace, security, hope, and confidence. Good deeds become the inevitable, functional savior.
But still—like I have discovered myself—regardless of all the good deeds, you still don’t feel totally assured that God is for you.
And that’s when the questions come: So how much ‘good deeds’ is enough? How good is good enough to be ensured? Is it a matter of how gracious God is? Then everyone will be let in. Or is it a matter of how holy and just God is? Then no one will get in. So how do you know exactly? Will you ever come to a point in your life where you feel completely, totally ensured of your standing before this deity?
Yet, some say you can find assurance. But how? Mainly, by measuring yourself up against everyone else. The classic bell-curve of life. But how trustworthy is this methodology to gain assurance anyways? Let’s take a look.
For one, this is admittedly a very self-righteous thing to do. Especially because you really don’t know other people as much as you think, and additionally, everyone concurs that outward behavior isn’t the only barometer of moral goodness. Motivations, intentions, and attitude are incredibly important to morals. So is finding assurance of your salvation through the self-righteousness means of comparison a moral way of finding your moral assurance? Certainly not. Truly, as soon as you start comparing, you inevitably fail yourself morally.
In addition, this a also a very judgmental thing to do. For as soon as you become the judge of how much better you are than others, are you not assuming the role that only God has the authority to ultimately determine? Truly, as soon as you start comparing, you inevitably fail yourself morally—twice over. In essence, therefore, to find assurance of your moral standing by comparison to others is to lose assurance of your moral standing altogether.
What do major religions say about assurance for salvation?
Islam and Hinduism says that you can’t be totally ensured. And it is this fear of uncertainty over your salvation that motivates you to do more and more good deeds (to escape levels of spiritual purge or to escape levels of bad caste karma). This is the same ideology of moralistic Christianity, too. You just do better and better to give yourself an advantage in God’s eyes.
This is an age-old problem of all religions, too. Even in the New Testament, a young, rich ruler who claims to have kept the law perfectly since birth still comes to Jesus asking for how he can really, truly be sure if he is saved. Jesus’ response? Whatever is the most valuable thing in your heart is what indicates your functional savior.
Jesus says a rather counter cultural thing—religiously speaking.
In essence, he declares that true Christianity is radically and totally altogether different from every other religion when it comes to assurance of salvation. He says that any currency—especially wealth in god deeds—is not sufficient for salvation. Why? Because any currency before God that is not currency of God can never give you assurance with God.
The God of Christianity is totally holy and just—which means no one gets salvation because we are all too sinful and He is too holy. But the God of Christianity is also totally gracious and loving—which means he has made a way for everyone to be saved.
On the cross, Jesus paid our debt for sins before God, satisfying the just requirements of his holiness, but Jesus offers us his perfect righteousness as a gift of grace to all who would receive. Through Christ, God did not compromise his holiness or his grace. The intersection of the cross was the penultimate and perfection expression of them both.
Christian salvation, then, is radically different: because while major religions say salvation is achieved, Jesus says it is received.
Achieving salvation seems an impossible feat, and never alleviates the pang of whether or not you are assured that God is for you.
Receiving salvation, however, seems an impossible gift, yet always guarantees that God is for you.
The heart of true Christianity, therefore, is not fear, but gratitude and confidence. Unlike every other religion, it proclaims a Savior better than our good deeds—Jesus—whose righteousness was perfect and becomes our own through faith in his perfect life, his death in our place of punishment, and his resurrection, which proves that his righteousness was indeed sufficient for our salvation.
Christianity boldly proclaims that God is for you. And it doesn’t let you doubt it. Its motivation for living a life of good deeds is not by the elusive bait of spiritual gain, but by the concrete gift of obtaining all that is ever to be gained in Christ.
As such, having God’s full acceptance, approval, and love in Christ—not by our deeds—Christians are motivated to live in light of this reality, being grateful for such a salvation and boasting in the Savior who loved us and gave himself for us.
Indeed, we don’t live in fear, because our Savior took our punishment for sin. And we don’t love in un-assurance, because our object of assurance, Jesus, is surely alive and reigning over all things. And we don’t live as judges, because no one is better or worse before God in our own merit. Rather, the motivations for our living are confidence, gratitude, and humility, for we are constantly humbled by the truth that in Christ, God is indeed for us.
If God is for us, who can b against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The bigger question is, therefore is not how do you feel about God?, but how does God feel about you?
Indeed, how God feels about you will inform how you feel about God. And how can we know how he feels about us? “He loved us and gave himself up for us” (Gal. 2:20-22); “God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); and “We love because God first loved us” (1 Jn. 1:19).
God is indeed for us, and we can be assured of that most ultimately through Christ.