Assurance for Prodigals Like You

By Coleen Sharp –

Coleen Sharp is a wife and mom to four boys. She co-hosts the Theology Gals podcast on the Bible Thumping Wing Nut Network, where she also blogs. She is Reformed in her theological perspective and brings a different perspective to our sometimes homogenous theological world. I hope you enjoy this guest post.

As I worked through a study on assurance, I read a book called Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace by Scott Keith, which was sent to me for review. Dr. Keith uses the Prodigal Son as an encouragement for a dad’s relationship with his children, as demonstrated in God the Father’s undeserving love for us. He says, “The beauty of this parable is that we can so easily relate to it. We can see ourselves as either the hateful younger son or the petulant self-righteous older son.” There’s a tendency for us to play out both parts in our relationships with ourselves and others, offering both condemnation and self-righteousness.

Dr. Keith says, “Our sin is what causes us to believe that the solution to every problem, or any problem, is to throw just a little more law at it.” Isn’t that the temptation for many of us in our attempt at assurance? Instead of going to the cross, we believe that a little more obedience will somehow secure us. This is no surprise, as it’s the message we’re often given. Instead of the guilt, grace, and gratitude found in the Heidelberg Catechism, the message is Law, Gospel, and then more condemning Law. Instead of looking to the Gospel and Christ’s righteousness for our assurance, we participate in constant self-examination to be sure that we are Christians and worthy of salvation. The realization that we fail to obey perfectly results in utter despair.

In his recent article, Dr. R. Scott Clark says, “The fruit of faith strengthens our assurance but it is not the basis of it. The sole basis/ground of assurance is Christ’s righteousness for us and his unshakable promises to us.” There are good works displayed in the lives of believers.  It’s not about whether we do good works.  Of course we do. Rather, it’s about why we do those good works. And because our motivation for obedience is not to obtain or maintain our justification, it’s not for our assurance either.

The real news here is the Gospel. Dr. Keith quotes Gustaf Wingren’s The Living Word: “The gospel always breaks into a world that has already got law, and for which law is not news, not a novelty.” Dr. Keith goes on to say, “It is the gospel that goes against the norm. It is the gospel that is novelty. It is the gospel that is not only “news” as Wingren says, but “Good News.” This is true also in the story of the prodigal son, grace when condemnation was expected.

Dr. Keith explains, “The parable of the prodigal son is as powerful as it is because it is a word of forgiveness spoken into a world rightly expecting law. Just when we think condemnation is what is needed, the father steps in and hands out only forgiveness. This is the picture of the Father that Christ paints…” In our struggle with assurance, we are like the disobedient, rebellious younger son, knowing what we deserve, and it’s surely not our inheritance.

We should know better. While the prodigal son could only hope for grace and forgiveness, it has been promised to us. Our salvation was secured while we were yet sinners, while we were disobedient and rebellious. The story of the Prodigal Son demonstrates a powerful picture of our Heavenly Father’s love for us. While we condemn ourselves and think the answer to our problem is a little more Law, a little more obedience, remember that the Father has given us grace, mercy, and forgiveness because of Christ alone. His perfect obedience, death and resurrection, all for us, is the only ground of our assurance.

Romans 5:1-3: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”