During a recent sermon at North Point Community Church, Andy Stanley confessed that in his youth he had prayed the “sinner’s prayer” on multiple occasions just to make sure he was saved. When he asked if anyone else had done that, hands went up all through the congregation, including mine.
When I was very young I came to faith in Jesus Christ. I didn’t understand all there is to understand about that faith. During my youth and into my college years, whenever I felt as though I didn’t live up to God’s standards, I would have doubts about my salvation. Had I merely accepted Christ as a way to escape eternal punishment? Was my acceptance of Christ as my Savior adequate for God to consider it to be sincere?
I had learned the passage in Ephesians 2 that says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” But my understanding of this passage was this … Because I decided to have faith in Jesus Christ, God extended His grace to me and saved me. I knew I could not earn my salvation by doing good works. But if God’s grace and his gift of salvation depended upon my decision to have faith, how would I ever know if my faith was adequate to receive God’s grace?
We often use the word “faith” in the context of "our decision to believe something". We philosophize the if we believe something strongly enough, i.e. "if we have enough faith", our belief will produce a desired result. But we can believe something without having a basis for our confidence or trust in that belief. I can believe with all my might that I will open my mailbox and find a check for a million dollars, but my belief does not make that check appear. I have nothing to assure me that the check will be there no matter how diligently I assert my belief. Belief can also represent mere mental assent that Jesus was a real, historic person. But the passage in Ephesians 2 does not say “For by grace you have been saved through your belief that Jesus was real.” It says, "by grace you have been saved through faith."
Hebrews 11:1 explains that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This clarifies the meaning of the statement in Ephesians 2 as follows, “For by grace you have been saved through the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
How do we receive this assurance or conviction? Is there something deep within us that we must summon to the surface so we can have faith? According to Paul in Ephesians 2, until God makes us alive in Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Our physical body is alive, but spiritually we are dead. There is no life, no assurance of things hoped for, no conviction of things not seen.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, is given to us by God. By His grace, we are saved through His assurance that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who gave Himself as payment in full of the penalty for our sin. Because He has made us alive and given us faith, we are able to truly believe in Him with full confidence and assurance that He will keep His promise that all who believe in the Son has life. We have the promise that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Our faith and our salvation is not a result of anything that we can do. It is the gift of God. The faith that God gives is the assurance that He has fulfilled His promise of a Redeemer through Jesus Christ. Because He has given me His assurance, I can trust in His promise. I know I have been saved, without a doubt!
“… for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV)