If you’re like me, then you have had times in your Christian life when you have struggled with a lack of assurance. Many times, we wonder, “Am I really a Christian?” “Do I really believe this?” “Am I truly saved?”
In such times, many people will look back upon their conversion. And in fact, having a dramatic conversion story is sometimes treated as coin of the realm—it’s the most valuable thing you can have, because it’s how you know you belong. The worse you were before your conversion, the more assurance you can have that you are now saved.
When I worked in youth ministry, I served a lot of students who didn’t grow up in Christian homes and therefore came to faith later. My ministry partners and I taught them how to succinctly share their story of how they became Christians and what their lives were like afterward. We had to help them fight the temptation to focus on or exaggerate their pre-Christian life.
This tendency to wallow in our depravity may make for a good story, but it fails to do justice to the work of God in and after our conversion. Just look at what Paul says in Ephesians 2:1–10. He spends three verses talking about the natural state of his Gentile readers (“you,” v. 1) and how they, and the Jews as well (“we all,” v. 2), were under the just condemnation of God for their rebellion and wickedness (“by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” v. 3). But then he spends another seven verses extolling the work of God in acting to raise them up to new life (v. 5), sanctifying them (v. 6), and glorifying them (v. 7), by His own free grace alone (vv. 8–9), that they might glorify Him with their lives (v. 10). Clearly, the “after” receives more emphasis than the “before” in Paul’s reckoning.
Besides, it’s not enough to have a dramatic story. Even people who have such a story will occasionally struggle with assurance. One reason why is because many of them have not jettisoned an insidious and poisonous notion: the idea that the Father and the Son are at odds.
The thinking goes that the Father was angry with sinners and wanted to destroy them all, whereupon the Son had to step in and assuage His Father’s wrath. In this conception, there is a conflict within the Trinity, a clash of wills: the Father wants to destroy while the Son wants to save. Given this idea, it’s no wonder when people have a great love for Jesus, for He has rescued them.
But what of the Father? How is He to be regarded? Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the Father to be viewed warily or to be almost ignored. After all, He was against us—He wanted to destroy us. Only the intervention of the Son prevented Him from doing so. The Father is thus conceived of as a reluctant Deliverer whose wrath was diverted against His will.
This is unfortunate, and it robs us of the assurance that we seek. Look again at Ephesians, this time in 1:3–14. In these verses, Paul exults in the great salvation that the Ephesian believers have obtained through faith in Christ and the blessings they enjoy through union with Him. One important thing to note is the fundamentally Trinitarian nature of this salvation.
In verses 3–6, Paul looks at the Father’s role in salvation. The Father “blessed us in [Christ],” “chose us in him before the foundation of the world,” and “predestined us for adoption as sons,” and all “according to the purpose of his will.” The Father was no reluctant Savior; in concert with the Son and Spirit, He planned our salvation from the beginning, and out of His great love for us, He sent His Son to effect that salvation.
Next, Paul examines the role of the Son in our salvation in verses 7–12. The Son has purchased “redemption through his blood,” which is “the forgiveness of our trespasses,” and through Him the Father “lavished upon us” “the riches of his grace,” “making known to us the mystery of his will.” In the Son also “we have obtained an inheritance” according to the Father’s election that guarantees that our lives will be “to the praise of his glory.” The Son accomplished the will of the Father, obtaining salvation for us and making known to us the Father’s will for our lives and for our glorification.
Finally, in verses 13–14, Paul looks at the role of the Spirit. The Spirit acts as a seal, a “guarantee of our inheritance.” His presence and work in our lives assures us that we truly have peace with God through the work of Christ, according to the counsel of God, and therefore that we have nothing to fear.
We can have assurance because the three persons of the Trinity were united in planning, procuring, and applying our salvation. There was no conflict. The Father loved from eternity past, and so He sent His Son that we might be reconciled to Him. And together, they sent the Holy Spirit as the down payment of the glorious inheritance we will receive in the consummation. The Spirit’s presence witnesses to the surety of our salvation—to our being lovingly elected by the Father and purchased by the Son, to the praise of our triune God.
Kevin D. Gardner is resident adjunct professor in great works at Reformation Bible College. He is associate editor of Tabletalk magazine and earned his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.