One word stood out among the writings of John Calvin. It was “certainty.” Today, we’d probably call it “assurance.” The Roman Catholic Church held out no certainty to its people. You could never be certain that you were saved, though you could almost be certain that you’d go to purgatory (after all, supposedly, there were Popes there who were still working their way out of that non-biblical half-way house) if you didn’t go to hell. Because salvation ultimately depended upon your works and the church’s ceremonies, rather than the finished work of Christ, everything was up in the air. Uncertainly prevailed.
When the Gospel was recovered from beneath the rubble of Roman accouterments, men rejoiced in the fact that there could be certainty. People no longer were to be held in the church by the cold grasp of fear; they now adhered to the Church, and to its Lord, by the bond of love. Gratitude replaced despair; thankfulness dispelled confusion. Certainty of salvation made all of the difference.
How is it that a believer can be certain of his salvation? He can be certain because, unlike the “salvation” touted by Rome, it no longer depended on him-it was solely the result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All the believer need do is trust in what Jesus had already accomplished by dying for his sins on the cross, and by rising from the dead. That, truly, is good news. Congruism—the Roman doctrine that man and God jointly effect salvation—was exposed for the gross error that it was. When speaking of salvation, Reformation men and women were no longer taught to say “Me.” Indeed, they were warned to no longer say “We.” The old, newly-unearthed teaching of the Scriptures, instead, called upon them to say “He.” Everything in the Bible pointed to Him, and to Him alone as the Savior. Salvation comes through faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross. There is nothing more to finish—by either the church or the congruent. When Jesus said “It is finished,” He meant that He had completed the work of salvation for guilty sinners, once for all.
Why wouldn’t we expect a good father, who (as Jesus said) would give his child an egg rather than a stone, to assure his children that they are truly members of His family? What cruelty to keep him dangling on a string, wondering whether or not he was a genuine child of God? No, God is no such Father. He is the One who taught us to pray with unbounded assurance, “Our Father, Who is in heaven . . .” Were we to be uncertain about our place in the heavenly family, He would have been teaching us to pray that which we had no right to pray. Indeed, the whole prayer would have been a farce, a terrible joke that He was playing upon His unsuspecting creatures.
But God was not joking when He said, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” He was not lying when He said that we can have “life abundantly,” here and now (John 10:10). He was not playing cat-and-mouse with us by assuring us of salvation on the one hand, and taking away that assurance on the other. He is a good God Who is reliable. His Word never fails. “He,” not “me” or “we” is the message of the Bible. Believe it, if you never have before, and you can have assurance that depends upon Him not upon yourself. That’s what makes it possible!