I had the following exchange earlier today and know that a lot of people wrestle with assurance and how we get it, especialy of our connection to God and our safety in his heart. Since this young man asked me what I thought I responded. Religion really wires us to appeasing God by our good works and if you’re groping to know you belong to him that’s the last place you want to look. Here’s what he sent me:
I was speaking with a co-worker the other day about our assurance in God. Since I have been away from weekly gatherings, I have become more in tune with what the Father is doing. I seem to hear him speak so much clearer these days. As we were having our conversation, he began to talk about having assurance we are God’s children. I told him that there are days I feel like there is only one set of footprints in the sand. I don’t always feel like I am close to the Father but I believe by faith he is still there. He compared it to the prodigal son by saying that while the son was away from the Father he didn’t have the assurance. It was only when he came back into the Father’s house that he had that assurance. He went on to say that we need that assurance in our lives and we get that assurance by following God’s law and obeying his commandments. I couldn’t really object to what he was saying but I felt like he was speaking from a performance based way of life. I was wondering if you could elaborate on this if you have the time.
My response: I like most of what you wrote, except the last bit. Not sure you heard God clearly there or didn’t insert your own religious training into what he was wanting to show you. Remember, we all see in part. None of us hear God perfectly, which is why we have Scriptures and others to bounce things off of like this.
The prodigal did not have a connection with is father. He had cut it off. He didn’t gain it by obeying the law, but by coming home to the father’s house. Assurance does not come from law or obedience to it. Romans is really clear on that, as is Galatians. Assurance comes from knowing how loved we are by God. It’s in his character and his promise, not in our performance. So you and him might need to rethink that.
I don’t know if you’re thinking John 15 in that, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.” If so, rethink that verse a bit. His command was to love each other, not keep the law. And he’s not saying we are loved by the keeping, but rather where we follow his ways we’ll derive the benefit of his love. He loves us anyway, but when we’re off doing our own thing we miss the benefit of that love. The prodigal is no less loved in his sin, but he doesn’t get the benefit of that love. I would think the assurance of his Father’s love would bring him home, not make him earn it. When he comes home he gets to live in the reality of that love because he’s not running from it…
Assurance is grounded in his character, and knowing we are loved is the basis of the transformation he does in us so that we can learn to live in his ways. And we know we belong to him by the presence of his Spirit in us. He is the firstfruits and the pledge that God is at work in us to will and to do of his good pleasure, even when we give into temptation or struggle to follow him.