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When Self-Confidence Is Lethal

Editors’ note: 

This is an adapted excerpt from Greg Gilbert’s new book, Assured: Discover Grace, Let Go of Guilt, and Rest in Your Salvation (Baker, 2019).

I have a teenage son who plays basketball. Recently, his coach recommended that he start going to the gym and lifting some light weights. So occasionally my son has been accompanying me to the gym where I’m a member and doing workouts with me. But here’s the thing: My son isn’t a member of the gym. When we walk up to the desk, I’m the one who calls up the membership information on my smartphone and buzzes us into the gym. And when I do, I point to my son and explain that he’s with me, and the attendant nods and waves us through.

Once that’s done, though, my son is free to do anything I’m free to do in the gym. Whatever equipment I’m authorized to use by virtue of my paid membership, he’s authorized to use because he’s there with me. Whatever privileges I have—to use the locker room, the pool, the weights, the basketball court—he shares them all because he’s with me. I have access to the gym by right of a paid membership; he has access to it not at all by right but by virtue of his relationship with me.

What does all this have to do with your assurance of salvation? Everything in the world.

Confidence in Christ

Take a look at Hebrews 10:19–22:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

This passage is all about having access to God’s presence—that is, having a right to stand before him. Thus, the author of Hebrews writes that we as Christians should “have confidence” to enter into God’s presence, and we should “draw near” to him, not with an “evil conscience”—that is, with fear that we don’t belong or that we’ll be cast out—but “in full assurance of faith.” That’s the goal—to stand in the presence of God and enjoy his blessings with full assurance and confidence that we belong there.

Our confidence and assurance that we can enter God’s presence . . . are actually created by recognizing that our access to him is based not at all on anything in us or about us.

But did you see how that kind of assurance and confidence is created? It would’ve been easy enough for the author to write, “We draw near with the confidence of a paid membership, with the full assurance that we’ve done what’s necessary to earn access to the presence of God.” But he didn’t write that. Instead the author mentions three reasons why we can have this kind of confident assurance to stand in God’s presence without fear. First, we have this confidence “by the blood of Jesus”; second, “by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain”; and third, because “we have a great high priest over the house of God.”

All three of those reasons for confidence—Christ’s blood, the torn curtain of the temple, and Christ’s role as great high priest—have to do with Jesus’s death in the place of his people. Do you see the point the author of Hebrews is making? Our confidence and assurance that we can enter God’s presence—that we can in fact stand before him with no fear of being thrown out—are actually created by recognizing that our access to him is based not at all on anything in us or about us, but rather on Jesus Christ’s work for us.

Full Assurance

This is a critical point to grasp in our fight for assurance. Most Christians would readily affirm that our right to enter the presence of God, to draw near to him, was won for us by Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. That’s not what causes our problems.

Our trouble begins when we ask, “Well, okay, but how can I draw near to God in confidence, with full assurance?” And for many of us, the answer that lurks in the back of our minds is that even if Jesus has brought us into the presence of God, we dare not enjoy being there, or have any assurance of the appropriateness of our being there, or have any sense of the safety and rightness of our being there unless we now earn it ourselves.

Jesus may have gotten us here, we think, but now we need to prove we belong.

But do you see how these verses from Hebrews 10 cut hard against that way of thinking? Jesus doesn’t barely sneak us into the presence of God; it actually gives us every right in the universe to be there—and to be there with confidence and joy. And therefore the work of Christ on our behalf actually creates confidence and assurance; it is a source of assurance. The more we understand it, embrace it, and cherish it, the greater our sense of confidence and assurance will be.

Our confidence that we belong in the presence of God is not self-confidence; it’s Christ-confidence.

The fact is, our minds and hearts will always look for a way to find self-assurance. More than anything else, we desperately want to justify our presence before God’s throne, to show the universe and maybe even God himself that even if we’re saved by grace, God ultimately made a good choice. We want to make it clear that we belong, and then we’ll stand in God’s presence with confidence. But the author of Hebrews rules that kind of thinking right out of bounds.

We should stand in God’s presence with confidence and assurance, he says, but not because we’ve paid our own dues or proved our own mettle.

We stand there with confidence solely because of what Jesus has done for us. Our confidence that we belong in the presence of God is not self-confidence; it’s Christ-confidence.

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