Why would a person want assurance of salvation? That seems like a silly question. If having salvation means going to heaven when you die – and not having salvation means an eternity in the other place, the unquenchable fires of hell – it’s easy to imagine why a person would want to know they’re destined for the one rather than the other. If by chance one knew oneself to be destined for hell, one could, perhaps, do something about it.
So, it seems, one wants assurance for peace of mind. Ok, we like peace of mind. But let’s keep asking why? What’s the point of having peace of mind about our eternal destiny? Or, put differently, what are the consequences of having peace of mind, of having assurance of salvation?
For some people, assurance of salvation will function as a tether. They will take themselves to be tethered to God in such a way that they are safe. Being safe, some might further reason, means one doesn’t need to worry or attend to such things any more. When we have insurance we worry less about the things we insure. When our eternal life is insured, we don’t have to worry. In fact, we can even trust God to keep us out of any really serious trouble at all. If we start getting too close to the edge, either of falling into hell, or something really destructive, we can trust God to yank on the rope and pull us to safety.
Over the years when the topic of wise dating comes up, I’ve heard teenagers ask, “How far can I go?” What they mean by this is, “How far can I go in this relationship without getting into trouble with God, my parents, the church, or morality?” Or, put more crassly, “What can I get away with?”
When we view assurance as a tether connecting us to God it becomes easy to think this way. We want to get on with our lives. We want fame, success and happiness. We want money and all the things it offers. But we also want to be safe for eternity. So we tether ourselves to God, saying something like, “Ok, God, you’ve got me. Now I’m going to go out and live my life. I’ll check in on Sunday – well, at least some Sundays. If you see me doing something really bad, reel me back in so I’ll be safe again.” Assurance functions as a sort of life insurance. I have life insurance. The bills are paid automatically and I pay no attention to it. It’s just there in the background. It makes no difference in my daily life.
Clearly, if this is the way we think of assurance, we are missing the very nature of salvation. If salvation is nothing more than having a the status, “Going to heaven when dead,” then maybe we could conceive of assurance on the tether model. That’s not the salvation I see pictured in the New Testament, however. What I see there is an ongoing relationship with God beginning now, and, because God is eternal, taking us into eternity. If salvation is an ongoing relationship, something God intends for us to enjoy daily, just what might the role of assurance be?