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Assurance

Perhaps my experience is different than everyone else’s. Perhaps the thing that my heart longs for more deeply than anything else is utterly unique to me. Perhaps my need for a sense of belonging that transcends my ability to “stay in the club,” is an utterly singular desire. But, perhaps I’m not alone. And perhaps, while we express it in different ways and we seek it in different places, that sense of belonging is something that, deep down, we all desperately need.

Some people find that sense of belonging within their families, and my own family is no exception…the Groseclose’s are warm and loving and welcoming to all sorts of characters. Growing up, my parents’ home was always one of the places that friends congregated and whoever happened to be around at 6:00 was always welcome to stay for supper. My extended family is also a warm and happy bunch of folks who will go out of their way to make you feel like family…even if you are not nor ever will be. It’s a good place to find belonging, but I am the consummate loner in that sense and have spent much of my life looking for belonging outside of this body.

Some people find belonging amongst their friends. And, as far as friends go, I have had some of the best. The group of guys that I grew up with used to define friendship as someone with whom you could trust your car, your credit card, and your girlfriend. And with them, I could and did. And, during my awkward and downright strange years, they just rolled with the punches and pursued me even when I wasn’t pursuing them. But, in most of those cases, the heart of our relationship centered around things we did together and over time, most of us have drifted in different directions.

Others perhaps find their sense of belonging in a job or amongst co-workers. I have been blessed to taste a little of that, but I have also bounced between jobs so much over the years that I have never really been in one place long enough to grow roots that deep — though it certainly appeals to me. A story is told of the relationship that Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, and Doc Severinsen had not only while working together on the “Tonight Show” but off-stage and after they retired and moved on. They had worked together so long that their lives and families had become intertwined. A love had been built that transcended their common working relationship. I do think that sense of belonging would be wonderful, but so far, I have not stayed put long enough for that to develop (though perhaps, in God’s providence, I would like to see that change).

In the end, though, all of these connections that bring people a sense of belonging pass away with time. We live and we die and many of these connections do not and cannot transcend death. Perhaps that sense of belonging that I sought for so long can never be found in these temporal relationships. Perhaps that sense of belonging can only be found in one place: God himself.

In Biblical terms, that idea of belonging is typically referred to as an “Assurance of Salvation.” In other words, it is the assurance — the absolute conviction — that I find my belonging in Christ himself and, as it relies on Christ’s work and call, and not on me, that it can never be lost either on this side of eternity or on the other. It is truly a permanent and assured belonging in the courts of God that cannot be lost, stolen, or even given away. 

The Heidelberg Catechism words this idea this way: “For that reason, he assures me of eternal life by His Holy Spirit.” The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: 

“The Spirit himself confirms in our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, then also heirs — even heirs of God and sharing an inheritance with Christ, if it is true that we suffer together in order that we may be glorified together.”

(Romans 8:16-17)

The promise to believers is two-fold. First, if we are Christians we find our assurance coming from the Holy Spirit. This does not come from our works, our church membership, our genealogy, etc… it comes directly from God himself. Second, if we have this assurance, then we are not simply children of God, but as children we are heirs of the Kingdom. Yes, we will suffer together (think the way the church should engage alongside of one another) and we will face challenges, but there is a promise that we will be glorified together, in this case, at the second-coming of our Lord. And, as God is Truth and as God is unchanging, this testimony from God the Holy Spirit is one that cannot be lost or forfeited. To suggest otherwise would make God a liar and that is a dangerous accusation. 

And so, we can be assured. That need for belonging can be found not merely in temporal things, but eternal things. And for me, perhaps much of my struggle with finding that sense of belonging in family, friends, and work was brought about by my desire to flee from God — something I did for many years, that is until God, like a master-fisherman, permanently set his hook in my lip, regenerated my sinful soul, and brought me to my knees in faith and repentance. And so, though my connection to earthly belonging has grown weaker over the years, the assurance that I have of my belonging in eternal things has grown deeper and more profound. And, this is the promise that God gives to every born-again believer in Jesus Christ.

I Belong

As human beings, it is normal to crave that sense of belonging. We feel comfort in the knowledge that there are people with whom we identify that will claim us as their own and who will not leave us utterly alone. Of course, on the most basic level, this ought to be found in one’s family, though with so many dysfunctional and broken families in our world, people often have to look elsewhere. In principle, too, this ought to be found in the church, but again, churches are made up of fallen and sinful people who sometimes fall into a group of cliques. For much of my adolescence and into my adult years, belonging was found in a small group of friends. Yet, for many youth in America, this need for belonging finds its expression in destructive and violent forms like gangs, secret societies, and the like. This drive to belong to a group is so profound and cross-cultural that the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, referred to mankind as “the political animal” (people deriving their identity from life in the city).

The Heidelberg Catechism, question 1, presents another response to the matter of belonging. It asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” — in other words, if we draw comfort from our sense of belonging…to whom do we belong? The first part of the answer is, “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

In other words, while your friends will fail you and your church will fail you, while even your friends will fail you, there is one who will never fail you. And the one who will never fail or abandon you is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we are believers, we belong to him body and soul, in life and in death.

With this, though, comes an important reality. You see, belonging to Christ is not quite the same as belonging to a group of friends or to a civic organization. With a civic organization, one picks and chooses in what they will participate; with a group of friends, sometimes the bond of friendship is conditional or just for a season. When it comes to belonging to Christ, it is permanent and Christ has the right and power to make demands on your life. It is not a voluntary association, but it is a bondage akin to slavery. In fact, that is what the Apostle Paul calls his relationship with Christ (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22-23; Galatians 1:10; Ephesians 6:6).

Many people struggle with the idea that the Christian is a slave to Christ, but as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians (above), we were bought at a price. But think about it this way, we never were truly free in an autonomous sort of way. We were born as slaves to sin (John 8:34). Paul goes further than that and says that you are slaves to the one whom you obey (Romans 6:16) and the author of Hebrews makes it very clear that Jesus delivered us from our lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:15). So, we can think of it this way…we were born into this world as slaves to sin but Christ bought his elect, making us slaves to himself. Absolute and autonomous freedom is a myth. The real question is not whether you are a slave, but “to whom do you submit your obedience?” 

The irony of it all is that if you submit your obedience to Christ, you will find true freedom — not autonomous freedom, but freedom to a God who will lead you down a path that will offer true and eternal satisfaction and joy. In the Old Testament, slaves who had served a truly benevolent master could choose to remain his slave rather than to be set free (see Exodus 21:1-6). This is the kind of relationship we have with Christ as our benevolent master. Yes, that means he can make demands on our lives. Yes, that means he will command us to do things and go places that will stretch us out of our comfort zones. Yes, that means sometimes he will call us to sacrifice our earthly lives for the building of His kingdom. And yes, that also means there will be times when the cost of being Christ’s disciple will be greater than you can dream. Nevertheless, across the scope of eternity, despite the costs that might be experienced on earth, in Christ there is eternal joy…and in that, Heidelberg reminds us, we will find our true comfort.

And by the way, in light of this and what Paul is discussing in Romans 6, if you are not sacrificing to live for Christ, if you are living for yourself, or just playing lip-service to Jesus and then no being intentionally obedient to his Word…then you are still a slave and you are a slave to sin…repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ.