Faith is certain. We read this truth in Hebrews 11—the great “heroes of the faith” chapter. It’s also repeated in our Lutheran Confessions: “Faith is certain that God for Christ’s sake is reconciled to us, according to Romans 5:1, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace.’ This is because justification is only a matter freely promised for Christ’s sake. Therefore, it is always received before God through faith alone” (Ap V.96).
There are three enemies of faith, enemies of God: The Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. All three will aim to destroy faith in two complementary ways:
1) By downplaying sin. You aren’t really all that bad, these false teachers will say. There’s some spark of good in you. As long as you do your best, God will accept you. So you must rely on your works in even some degree (which are always uncertain).
This steals glory from Christ.
2) By downplaying grace. God is merciful, sure, but how much forgiveness can he actually be giving? There are some who aren’t saved, after all, and why not? Isn’t it that there was something lacking in them, and so how do you know you don’t have that same lack? How do you know you will be saved? So you must rely again on your works to make yourself worthy (again, always uncertain).
This again steals glory from Christ.
Jesus told Nicodemus that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14, 15). We read about that event in Israel’s history: “If a snake had bitten anyone, if that person looked at the bronze snake, he lived” (Num. 21:9). It’s that simple, and it’s that certain.
Be aware of this fact as you live your life. I know many members of Our Savior’s, due to concerns about the pandemic, have been watching or listening to services from other churches instead of attending in person. I appreciate and am thrilled at the fact that you are seeking to nourish your soul with God’s Word. I only offer this word of caution: there is a reason we in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod are not in fellowship with other denominations (e.g. ELCA, Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, non-denominational). At one point or another, each of those churches holds to and teaches false doctrine. You may not hear it outright in the sermons, but false teaching is always a sinister matter, seeking to deceive the believers in Christ.
What this will often come down to is precisely this attack on certainty. In the history of the Reformation, the Catholic Church famously undermines the certainty of faith by requiring a person to make satisfaction for his own sins, to show enough sorrow over sin, and to demonstrate the truly repentant life. But a person can never be certain of this.
Other denominations undermine certainty in other ways. You only know you’re saved if you feel it in your heart, they’ll say. But then your feelings change and the next day you’re not as sure.
You only know you’re saved if you’re living a good life. But then sin grips you and you backslide like an alcoholic and you wonder if you were ever really saved.
You only know you’re saved if you can make sense of what the Bible is saying, in the context of scientific knowledge, history, and your own feelings on morality and justice. But as soon as you read in the Bible something that conflicts with your social morality, is it really such a good source of saving knowledge anymore?
You only know you’re saved if you can see the blessings overflowing with abundance in your life! But suddenly you’ve lost so much, so is God punishing you?
You only know you’re saved if the efforts you and your fellow members are putting forth are making the congregation split at its seams. But suddenly the pews are empty and you’re not sure where everyone has gone, and most of the people sitting there are getting older, so has this congregation lost the Gospel?
You only know you’re saved if you aren’t tied down in rules and regulations, if you’re not concerned about calling something sin, if you recognize that everyone is just doing their best to get to God, and God will approve their efforts. But then you discover that you don’t really know anything about God, only that you’ve created some fuzzy picture in your mind.
All these lies, which are believed by many Christians in the world, lead you to conclude that it is your responsibility to find God. In at least some part, it is your responsibility to save yourself, to get yourself to heaven, to join yourself to God. Ultimately, each and every one is a worship of yourself, and it is building on sand.
But your faith, and the Church that Jesus establishes, is founded on the rock of who he is: “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Against that Church, against your faith, which is a gift placed in your heart by the Holy Spirit, even “the gates of hell will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). In other words, you can be absolutely certain of your eternal life, because it all depends, not on you, but on Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose to life, all for you.