Ignatius of Antioch has now started a letter to the Philadelphians. He says the same stuff in that letter. He has some new interesting insights, but I want to sit down with him and explain to him how he can know he is God's elect in his impending execution. In times like these, you have many doubts and rethink things. However, if I was to comfort him, I would read to him from R.C. Sproul's booklet about "How can I know that I am saved?"
People doubt their salvation sometimes because of Jesus's words in Matthew 7:21, "Not all who say 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven." People go to church, sing on the choir, participate in charities, help people, and even die for the faith. It does not mean that they really belonged to Jesus. How can Ignatius know he is not among those people as he faces martyrdom?
Roman Catholics echo Ignatius's concerns: They believe that assurance of salvation is not possible apart from some special act of revelation.
Then there are Protestants who don't follow the Reformed tradition such as Methodists. They believe we have assurance but for a limited time. We may mess up tomorrow and have our salvation cancelled, thus we can't know our ultimate state.
Then there is the comforting Reformed tradition which is the one the Bible teaches. We can have full assurance that we still will be in a state of grace at the time of our deaths. The Romans almost have it right - it is not possible apart from a special act of revelation. However, God has given us that revelation in Jesus. His words still live in the Scriptures and are preached at church. We have the revelation, so we can know we are saved.
When Jesus preaches the parable about the sower and the seeds in Matthew 13, he does so after his brothers and mother tried to get him to come home because he was at least embarrassing his brothers with his closed-mindedness. He said, "He who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother."
Then in the parable, the soil that grows the seeds is the one that produces much fruit that lasts, sometimes to one hundred fold. Those who are genuinely saved, who have taken the seed of the Word and it grew without interruption, prove themselves to have fruit, to be doers of the Word.
We know Christians by their works. They are not saved by the works but people such as Martin Luther explain that we are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.
Any Catholic reading this is free to correct me, but traditionally, they believe in faith that leads to justification, but not faith alone. Faith + works = justification.
Protestants also believe in works. However, the equation is Faith = Justification + works. If you have true faith, it won't be because of works, but works will be a natural result of that. Works are a consequence, a manifestation of the state of grace we are in. Faith alone saves because of works - not ours but Christ's. If there are no works on one side of the equation, then there is no faith on the other side. If there is no faith on one side, then there is no justification on the other side with the works.
Sproul then talks about four kinds of people: 1) those who are saved and know it, 2) those who are saved and don't know it, 3) those who are damned and know it, 4) those who are not saved but think that they are because of bad theology.
The people in the second group can have their comfort from following 2 Peter 1:10-11. "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
For the fourth group, there are at least three reasons for false assurance of salvation.
1) Universalism - the believe that people will go to heaven just because God is so loving and merciful and because they have died. This is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that Christ gave his life not for all people without exception, but for his elect. We are not all God's children unless Christ has given his life for us.
2) Legalism - you can be saved by joining the Rotary Club or singing in the choir or giving things to the poor or feeding the hungry. Those are good things, but they do not save you. Only faith in Christ saves.
3) Sacerdotalism -- you can be saved because of membership in a church and your interaction with the pastor/priest. This not only applies to Romans but to even Lutherans and Continental Reformed people who think that they are saved because they have been baptized. They are saved because they take communion. You can't base your salvation on that. Those people cannot see what goes on on the inside.
Paul talks about the true assurance of salvation in Romans 8:29-30: "
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." Not people he knew would respond with saving faith. There is nothing in the people that caused God to elect them. God elected people from his own pleasure and for his own glory.
Sproul: "If the calling Paul mentions...has reference to the operation of the Holy Ghost on the soul that prepares us for faith and justification, and if we know that we have received this call, we know we are elect."
So how can Ig know he is elect just from what Paul said? He still wonders if he is reprobate. Ephesians 2 mentions how people were once dead in their sins. After Christ saved them, they became alive. Now, their sin is not more important to them than following Jesus and they care if they sin.
Regenerate people genuinely love the Scriptural Jesus. Not Jesus the activist, the great teacher, the kind Teddy bear in heaven who loves all people, or even the great spiritual leader. They love the Jesus of Scripture who speaks with a two-edged sword, whose blood cleanses the elect and who will judge all people one day. Do you love him? Then you are saved. I can't tell if you really love him or not, but you know if you genuinely love him. If you do, then you are saved.
Regenerate people respond to the Holy Spirit. He causes people to be able to obey him and to reach the world for Jesus.
Regenerate people have the earnest of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." You must believe in assurance of salvation, that you cannot lose it, simply because you need to believe God's promise. He won't say yes and then say no. He gave you the Holy Spirit who know helps you love and obey Jesus. He won't go back on his promise. You are secure because God is secure.
And that, Ignatius, is why you can know you are saved.