The French army had every reason to be confident. They were facing an enemy whose ranks had been halved due to a siege, a forced march and rampant dysentery. In addition, they would have the advantage of fighting on their own soil with an army now six times the size of the enemy. They were so confident of the outcome they spent the night before the battle in comfortable tents drinking wine and eating from their plentiful provisions.
In contrast, their enemies spent a sleepless night, out in the open field, eating from their meager rations. The eventual outcome, the humiliating French defeat at the Battle of Agincourt, was on of the greatest military disasters of The Middle Ages.
* * *
As a denomination, Seventh-day Adventists pride themselves on possessing both theological and spiritual advantages. They are very confident in their position. And, they appear to have every reason for their confidence. Like the French Army at Agincourt, they consider themselves, from a theological perspective, to be both superior and invincible. After all, they see themselves as the real students of the Word and because of that they know they possess the “Truth”. They are armed with what they consider more accurate interpretations of scripture, especially as it relates to eschatology. Their confidence is further fortified with the unique gift of Ellen White and the Spirit of Prophecy which they see as a special advantage to their understanding of the Bible.
So why is it then, that so many Adventists, like the French Army, suffer humiliating defeat when it comes to the confident assurance of their salvation? Why is it that many Seventh-day Adventists, in spite of their numerous theological advantages, lack the confidence that the apostle John so clearly espouses? How is it that one can have the “Truth” and yet be so unsure of one’s salvation and standing on the Day of Judgment?
For many years I have taught an adult Sabbath School class. If the right questions are asked it is usually easy to engage a lively discussion. Members of the class are usually very anxious to exchange what they have learned from their study of the Bible. There are, however, very few questions that will cause a more uncomfortable silence for a group of Adventists than the question regarding the assurance of their salvation. After the initial, often uncomfortable silence wears away, the responses will vary from “Yes” (often those not raised SDA) to “I hope so” to “I don’t know”.
In 1 John there are some very specific verses regarding the assurance of our salvation and the Day of Judgment:
1 John 3:19 “It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before the Lord”.
1 John 4:17 “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world”.
1 John 5:13 “I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.”
Why is it that Adventists seem to ignore, or overlook, these verses? How tragic that Adventists, armed with all of their theological advantages, should be so unsure of the confidence of their salvation. Why might this be so? There are at least 3 factors which I believe have contributed to this uncertainty, to this lack of confidence in God’s promises.
1. Emphasis on avoiding, or overcoming sin – There is a definite confusion on the part of many with regards to the issue of salvation and victorious living. Salvation is not synonymous with victorious living. The breaking of a commandment does not obliterate our salvation. Our salvation is never based on anything we have done or ever can do. If we confess our sins and acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Savior we are saved at that very moment. This fact is a theme that is woven throughout all of scripture. That does not mean however, that we will necessarily live a fully victorious Christian life. The degree of how victorious our life as a Christian will be depends on how we respond to the gift of salvation. The book of Joshua has a great portrayal of the relationship between salvation and victorious living. The twelve tribes were all “saved” and yet they responded differently to God’s promise of victory as it related to the expansion of their territory.
2. The investigative judgment – This doctrine, more than any other Adventist doctrine, has contributed to the fear and uncertainty about our salvation. As it was taught to many of us in Adventist schools, Jesus was depicted as going through “The Books” where each living individual was judged on the merits of their deeds. You could never know when your name would come up but you were led to believe that you better be doing the right things when that moment took place. If not, the result was simple – you would be lost for eternity. There may be a change in emphasis of this doctrine, but for generations of Adventist students there was the hopeless fear that you would never be good enough to stand when your name was called.
3. Our relationship to God – in John 15:15 Jesus tells the disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn’t confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me”. This text makes it clear that a servant does not share Jesus, or God’s, confidence – but a friend does. Is it possible there is a connection between confidence in our salvation and whether we conduct ourselves as a servant or a friend of God? The servant unquestioningly does what he is told, in order to be seen in a favorable light by God. The friend is interested in the relationship and as such is more focused on getting to know God. Friends of God end up obeying his rules often without even thinking, or knowing, about them. By contrast, the servant often blindly follows what he sees as a long list of things he must do to win acceptance and hopefully, salvation.
God’s desire is that we live our lives in the peaceful confidence of our salvation. Jesus left us with this promise in John 14:27. “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” This text must to be referring to the confidence of our salvation. How can we ever expect to have the peace of mind Jesus promised us if we are anxious about our salvation?
(All scripture is from the New Living Translation)
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1820