On many occasions I have asked Christadelphians, both young and old in the faith, whether they knew they would be in God’s Kingdom for eternity; whether they were confident they were saved. Typically, they will hedge, with comments about it being up to God, and not being sure they are “worthy.” How tragic, and how opposite to the “full assurance of faith” that Scripture promises! This is not admirable humility, it is doubt, and it is born of unrelieved guilt. It is nothing less than a denial of the power and willingness of God to save.
To suggest that there is any doubt of a Christian’s acceptance by God is to doubt the efficacy of Christ’s work, to suggest that our weakness is somehow stronger than his strength, that his purposes can be thwarted; that when he says our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west and that we are fully justified now, he can’t possibly mean that. But this is to completely miss the point of grace. None of us is worthy! No one is righteous, not even one, says Paul (Rom 3:10) and it is certainly impossible to achieve righteousness by any effort on our part!
The final judgment figures very large on the horizon for Christadelphians. Robert Roberts, a Christadelphian pioneer, described it as an assembly “for the one great dread purpose of inquisition. Not until they hear the spoken words of the King will they know how it is to fare with them. All depends upon the ‘account’ (which we have to give of ourselves).” Certainly, Scripture tells us we must all appear before Christ’s judgment seat, the books will be opened and the secrets of our hearts will be judged. We will give account of our idle words and our works will be tried by fire to see what they are made of (Matt 12:36, Rom 14:10, 2 Cor 5:10, 1 Cor 3:11–15). Notice that Paul says the fire will judge the quality of the Christian’s work, which will be destroyed if worthless, but he himself will be saved.
In contrast to fearful uncertainty, the New Testament epistles encourage a great confidence that what God has promised he will deliver. 1 John 4:17 speaks of confidence in the very day of judgment! Those who are Christ’s can be assured of his love and that he will finish the work begun in them (Phil 1:6). There is no room for doubt. The reason is, it is God upon whom we rely, not on ourselves but on the finished work of Christ. Salvation is not of human works, but is all of God.
John 1:12 states that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Jesus himself said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:37–40).
So how do we come to Jesus? Is there a complex list of things to do, that we have to get right before we can begin to consider ourselves a Christian? Paul suggests no such thing. Instead, he states,
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Rom 10:9–13)
Christadelphians tend to underplay the grace of God, and the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. They talk a lot about faith (a prescribed set of beliefs to which one’s thinking must conform) but very little about the grace which saves through faith. Because they view Christ as a man whose divinity is derived, and not as God incarnate, he is seen merely as a representative of fallen humans who was aided by the Spirit to remain sinless. The perspective therefore shifts from the all-encompassing and undeserved grace of the Father and the completed work of Christ, to the effort of the sinner in believing a set of doctrines and his or her subsequent conforming obedience. Even baptism is not a sign of the covenant already established, the outward sign of grace already received, but a work by which forgiveness of sins and adoption into the body of Christ are obtained. It is not a response of the redeemed, “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Pet 3:21) but the means of salvation. Rather than good works and obedience being the response of the redeemed sinner to God’s inexpressible gift, they are the means of securing and maintaining his favour.
As a consequence of their devaluing the person of Christ, Christadelphians devalue his work. By denying Christ’s divinity, Christadelphians cannot accept a substitutionary atonement such as Isaiah 53 clearly portrays. Because his work is seen as only representative, not substitutionary, it is incomplete and conditional; it requires the believer to conform to what Christ represents. It is adding to Christ’s work, declaring it to be insufficient without human effort. Paul disagrees:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8–10).
“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim any thing as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God . . . for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:5–6).
Paul’s argument is that humans cannot achieve righteousness by their own efforts, so God provided a righteousness that comes from him, apart from law. It comes through faith in Jesus to all who believe; free justification by his grace.
“Justification” is a term with strong legal connotations. It refers to the verdict of a judge in a law court and is the opposite of condemnation. “It is God who justifies — who is to condemn?” Justification and condemnation are juxtaposed as opposites (Rom 5:18). Justification is the process by which God bestows on us a righteous standing in his eyes, imputing to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This can never be of our own doing, for our own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6) and no one is truly righteous, that is, in right standing before God, in and of themselves (Rom 3:9–12). Righteousness is apprehended through faith in Jesus Christ and unequivocally comes from God (Phil 3:9, Rom 1:17).
The words “Justification,” “justify” and those related to them actually carry the same meaning as “righteous,” “righteousness” and related words. They are all derivatives of the Greek root word dikai, as a scan through any concordance or Bible software program will readily reveal. The declaration of righteousness is a “not guilty” verdict which is given to those who have faith in Christ. Christ’s own righteousness has been imputed to them and they stand uncondemned in God’s sight. Those who should be under his wrath and stand condemned have been declared to be in right standing with him, through the blood of Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4–5). Jesus assures his followers “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
The work of God in the sacrifice of Christ occurred on the cross in one complete and final act; “It is finished!” (John 19:30). There is nothing that needs to be added to it to make it effective. Therefore, in God’s eyes, it is guaranteed to be completed in the individual saint:
“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). It’s as if it has already happened! We reflect God’s glory in only the tiniest way now, but God will complete the work begun in his people and secure their salvation for eternity.
So this means every reason to be confident on the day of judgment because it’s all about what Christ has done, not what we have done. The result is “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Cor 1:20–22)
This confidence in our salvation does not abrogate the need for repentance, nor our responsibility to live as Christ would have us live. A godly life is our response to the grace bestowed, enabled by the indwelling of God’s Spirit and subject to the merciful provision of on-going forgiveness when we fail (1 John 2:1–2). This is not arrogance, it is not permissiveness, it is a simple faith in God’s ability to grant what he has promised. Such assurance of salvation belongs rightfully with its Author. If we did have to add something to Christ’s work — if it was up to us to prove ourselves “worthy” then, agreed, it would be impossible to have assurance.
Unfortunately, by denying the all-sufficiency of Christ’s propitiating, reconciling, justifying, redemptive, substitutionary work of atonement this is the position in which Christadelphians find themselves. Would that they might reconsider the Person of Christ and the power of his death and resurrection, who has achieved all that is necessary, and be able to say with the conviction of the Apostle Paul:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:31–39).
Praise God, because that’s Christian assurance.