We like guarantees. We like people to keep their promises. We like to be certain that our insurance will cover the cost of health-care or repairs on a car. One would hope that the same is true about our eternity. We can’t buy insurance that guarantees we will be in heaven, but we can have assurance of our salvation. Assurance of salvation begins with recognizing that it is possible to lose our salvation but ends with God’s promises of forgiveness of sin and life.
Unique to our Lutheran understanding of salvation is the belief that we can indeed lose our salvation. This belief is in contrast to two notions popular in religious culture. One position believes that God predetermines who will be saved and who will be eternally dead so it is then impossible for the saved to lose their salvation. The other belief is that God’s “love” is so all encompassing that only the truly evil (if even they) will suffer the eternal consequences of sin. In a discussion about how God actually works salvation for us, the Apostle Paul warns us about telling God how He should do things. He reminds us that God’s own people are like branches of a tree that have been pruned off because of unbelief. He says, then, to us: “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:20b-22 NASB). God does not spare the unbeliever, either of His own people or of us who have been grafted into His tree.
Balanced and in paradox with a healthy humility and fear of God are His promises. One such promise is found in Romans 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (1, 2). God in His mercy and grace came to us in Jesus. Jesus in His mercy and grace became the perfect sacrifice to buy us out of slavery to sin and death. He forgives our sins and gives us the gift of salvation. When we in faith live in Christ and He in us, we can be sure that our sins do not condemn us. Yes, we will sin. We will be disobedient and rebellious though that is not the desire of our new nature. If we continue in our sin and fall into unbelief because of our sin, we will become slaves again to sin and will reap the consequences, eternal separation from God. But when we continue in faith to humble ourselves, confess our sins, and live in the freedom we have in Christ, we can be absolutely sure that there is no condemnation.
The same promise, in other words, is found in the first letter John the disciple wrote. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (5:11, 12). God sent the one and only Jesus to give us eternal life. That’s a promise. The warning is that those who do not have Jesus do not have life. However, when we have Jesus, we can be sure that we also have life. Jesus gives us fullness of life now and eternal life. That’s a promise.
Believers, those who live by faith in Jesus, can be sure they have salvation. Though it is possible to lose our salvation, we don’t have to be afraid of death because God has promised forgiveness of sin and life to those who have Jesus, the Son. There is life, there is no condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus, our Lord.