I’m not sure when the tradition began, but years ago I brought a small white book to the dinner table called, The Book of Questions.
Now, when the family sits down for our evening meal it is expected that we will open the little book and read a question that each of us is expected to answer.
- If someone gave you a million dollars, what would you do with the money?
- If you could only eat three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?
- Would you prefer the weather to be over 100 degrees for three months in a row or below freezing for three months? Why?
Sometimes my response is a no-brainer. Other questions are more penetrating and require sincere reflection and intellectual sobriety.
While the question we are going to face in this post is not in the little white book, it nevertheless may be the most important question any human can ask.
The question: How can I know that I am truly saved?
Okay, I know. I can see you rolling your eyes. “C’mon McKay, can we talk about something real and practical? Something about the here and now?”
Trust me, there is no more real question. No more practical question for the here and now.
When the Titanic struck the iceberg, it would be quite a while before the ship actually sank. But the most pressing question for every passenger and crew was the same.
How can I know that I am truly saved?
In Genesis 3, the Titanic of humanity struck the iceberg and there has never been a more important, eternally significant question for us to answer.
But what does it mean to be saved? Saved from what?
When we talk about being saved, we talk about it as…
- Being rescued from distress, such as from a fire, a flood, or a collapsed cave.
- Being delivered from an impending disaster, such as a major hurricane.
- Being exonerated from criminal charges and freed from imprisonment and execution.
In the biblical narrative, salvation is the need for rescue, deliverance, exoneration, and freedom from the distress, disaster, imprisonment, and execution that the cosmic moral law of God demands of those who have willfully demonstrated treason against the King — treason that the Bible calls sin.
As theologian R.C. Sproul was famous for stating, “Sin is cosmic treason.” It is not just breaking the rules; it is shattering a relationship.
This means that whether you are a professing Christian, a skeptic, a Hindu, or whatever your religious affiliation or lack of it, the issue of assurance of salvation is relevant for each of us because we all have a subconscious awareness that there is a God and we are in desperate need for restoration of the relationship we have severed.
How can I know that I am truly saved? How can I be rescued from the consequences of my treason and reconciled to God as a fully forgiven, unreservedly beloved son or daughter?
The Gospel of Luke 7:1–10
We find our answer in the Gospel of Luke 7:1–10, which takes place in the late 20s A.D. in a town called Capernaum, which was located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which actually is just a really big lake that feeds the Jordan River, which flows south past Jerusalem and into the Dead Sea (which is another big lake).
While Jesus regularly traveled from village to village, he spent a great deal of time in Capernaum, having moved there after growing up in Nazareth, which is about 40 miles southwest of Capernaum.
Upon arriving back in Capernaum, Jesus receives a request from a centurion, which is the title of a professional Roman military officer who had been given command of one hundred men. Century is 100. Thus, centur-ion.
This unnamed centurion would have known of Jesus, whose fame was spreading rapidly.
Three Essential Factors
The encounter that unfolds in Luke 7 reveals three key factors for knowing whether or not I am truly saved.
Let’s begin in verses 1–3, where we discover the first factor in having assurance of salvation is…
1. Making a Confession of Total Inability
1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.
In his life and career, the centurion had been competent and capable. Being endowed with gifts of leadership, he didn’t rise to his position by accident. He would have been known for his determination and strength.
But no amount of self-determination and strength could heal his servant.
Maybe for the first time in his life, he was facing an obstacle beyond his ability to overcome.
We need to understand that the dying servant was a man whom the centurion valued deeply — a man whom we assume had shown him great loyalty and devotion. Possibly the servant was a trusted confidant and friend. Maybe his only trusted confidant.
We don’t know.
What we do know is that the centurion comes to a place where he makes a confession of total inability.
We see this confession in verse 3, where through Jewish ambassadors, he asks — begs — Jesus to heal his friend.
This capable, competent, determined, resourceful, strong leader had come up against a problem he could not solve. A challenge for which he — in himself — had no resources.
The resource he needed was outside of himself in the person of Jesus.
Being in such a state of desperate helplessness and inability may seem like that last place you’d want to be.
- In a marriage that feels broken beyond repair.
- Living in a dorm where you don’t know anyone and are so lonely you cry yourself to sleep every night.
- Having an adult child whose behavior and decisions you can’t control.
- The besetting sin that just won’t die, exposing my moral inability.
What I want us to see is that the place of helplessness is an opportunity for grace.
In other words, it is at the point of total inability that we finally are in a posture where we can be desperate enough to look to Jesus and ask for help — the kind of help that can only come from outside of us and from above.
Making a confession of total moral inability is the first factor in knowing that I am truly saved. Kind of counter-intuitive, isn’t it?
The second factor in having the assurance of salvation is…
2. Taking a Posture of Genuine Humility
4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.
Did you notice the difference between the centurion and the Jewish elders?
When it comes to meeting the centurion’s need, the elders make the case to Jesus that “this man deserves to have you do this.” After all, look at what he has done. He singlehandedly contributed the funds and/or the manpower to build a new synagogue for the Jews in Capernaum.
The elders claim the centurion was deserving.
Yet the centurion has a different perspective. Rather than being deserving, he considers himself totally undeserving.
In their New Testament letters, both Peter and James quote from the Old Testament book of Proverbs when they write, “God opposes the proud (the self-entitled/deserving) but gives grace to the humble.”
That statement turns the tables on a principle that is universally assumed in religion, which is this: If I do good for God, God is obligated to do good to me.
I deserve to be healed. I deserve to receive the grant. I deserve to have perfect weather on my vacation and for my car to be protected from mechanical problems. I deserve a good life.
That is how all man-made religions work. “Look at what I have done.”
But in verses 6–7, the Centurion shows us a different way.
“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.
Remember, this is a powerful and wealthy Roman military officer speaking to a relatively poor, itinerant Jewish rabbi.
The centurion was accustomed to demanding, commanding, and receiving prompt obedience. He was a teller, not an asker.
But facing his total inability to heal his friend had emptied him of social pretense and self-honor. A man of unfailing ability had been reduced to a man of undeniable inability.
The hymn Rock of Ages was written in 1863 by an English pastor, Augustus Toplady. The lyrics are based on an incident that took place as he was walking the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England. Traveling along the gorge, he was caught in a terrible lightning storm and found shelter between a large rock outcropping.
Burrington Combe where Augustus Toplady found shelter from a storm in 1863.
From that experience, he wrote these words:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While Toplady certainly feared for his physical life during the storm, that is not the death of which he speaks in the 3rd stanza.
The raging tempest was just a parable of his spiritual need.
He knew that far greater than his need for physical protection was his need for spiritual refuge. All the health, wealth, comfort, and success in the world was meaningless compared to the rescue of his soul through the cross of Jesus.
From the cleft in a rock, Augustus Toplady discovered that there is grace at the end of the rope.
This is the grace that he needed. This is the grace the centurion and his servant needed. This is the grace that you and I need.
Maybe you are at the end of the rope now.
Maybe you have always been competent, resourceful, and able, but now you face a problem you can’t fix. A child you can’t control. A medical condition you can’t heal. A sin or addiction that you can’t manage.
But there is grace at the end of the rope.
In fact, what if the end of the rope is the beginning of opportunity, where maybe for the first time, with genuine humility, you are in a place where you finally have to look up to Jesus… and ask.
It is the asking that leads to the final factor in having true assurance of salvation, which is…
3. Believing the Declaration of Jesus
7b But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
With an unqualified affirmation of Jesus’s power and authority, the centurion recognizes that no human ruler can do what Jesus is able to do.
The healing of the servant will not require a process. No hocus pocus or special herbal mixture.
The mere declaration of Jesus will make it so.
“Just say the word.”
Notice how Jesus responds in verses 9–10.
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
What was true for the healing of the servant’s body is true for the healing of our souls.
Salvation is not a process. It is a declaration based on an act of substitution— an act which is at the very heart of the Christian message.
We see substitution depicted in stories like The Lion King.
In an unforgettable scene, the young cub, Simba, is lured to his death by his evil uncle, Scar, who has set the young cub up to be trampled by thousands of stampeding wildebeests raging through the valley. Seeing his son in danger, Simba’s father, Mufasa, rushes in to rescue his son but is, himself, trampled in the stampede instead of Simba. Only later would the cub learn that his father had willingly given his life to save the life of his son, whom he valued above all.
This is what Jesus has done.
He was sent into the valley of this world to rescue the Father’s own sons and daughters from the stampede.
Through death on a cross, Jesus became the suffering servant who is not healed. He was not saved so that we could be. Or as Peter would say, “It is by his wounds that we are healed.”
As we say here all the time, Jesus endured justice so that we could receive mercy.
And with his final breath, he utters the declaration we need to hear and believe. It is a word that is recorded for us in the Gospel of John 19:30, where just before Jesus bows his head in death, he cries out, “Tetelestai!” which in English is translated, “It is finished!”
When God forgives and restores, it is done. Being saved is not a process. There are no hoops through which to jump and no rituals to fulfill.
To be saved and reconciled to God is to hear and believe Jesus say the word: “Tetelestai!”
For with that one word, Jesus ratified every promise of grace in the gospel.
There is nothing left for you to do except to receive all the benefits of the cross with a simple trust that what he did, he did for you.
For the servant, Jesus would declare, “You are healed.” For the sinner, because of the cross, he has declared, “You are forgiven. You are rescued. You are delivered. You are valued. You are loved, and you are free.”