One morning, giving worship at the General Conference, I decided to open with something funny.
“You know,” I said, “after all these years, I finally understand what it means to be a true Seventh-day Adventist. That’s because I’m doubting my salvation!”
It bombed. No one laughed, or even moved. That’s when it hit me: many Adventists really do struggle with assurance of salvation.
Why? Probably because as children and adolescents they were beaten over the head by well-meaning adults with a selective barrage of Ellen White quotes designed to scare them into obedience. I don’t know how well it worked in terms of getting them to obey, but it certainly succeeded in leaving many without any assurance of salvation.
Of course, I can’t imagine any serious Christian—unless believing in once-saved-always-saved (and even then)—who does not at times question their commitment, love of the Lord, and yes, even salvation. Who, seeing the immense gap between the character of Jesus and themselves, or who, reading a text such as “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:14), doesn’t have moments when they wonder if they are going to make it?
And it’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5), because even the lost can be fooled into thinking they’re saved. As Jesus warned: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matt. 7:22, 23).
These people made two fatal mistakes. First, despite whatever great things they had done in the Lord’s name, they weren’t doing the Lord’s will, which was to obey His law. Jesus didn’t say, “Away from me,” you who were “not sinless,” or you who were not “without fault,” or who were “not perfect.” Instead, He described them as “evildoers” (KJV: “lawless,” an accurate translation of anomian, “without law”).
Second, notice their emphasis on themselves and on what they had accomplished: Didn’t we do this in Your name? Or: Didn’t we do that in Your name? Or: Didn’t we do this other thing, and all in Your name too? Please! How far removed from Christ must they have been to point to their own works in an attempt to justify themselves before God. The only works that will save anyone are Christ’s, credited to us by faith.
You want assurance? Obey God’s law and rest only in the merits of Christ’s righteousness, and you will have all the assurance you need.
Or, as the late Adventist evangelist George Vandeman said: “When I look to myself, I don’t know how I can be saved. When I look to Jesus, I don’t know how I can be lost.”
Had I used those lines, instead of my joke that bombed, morning worship would’ve gotten off to a much better start.