Q. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.
(Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 36)
Many of us take for granted how wonderful it is to place our heads on the pillow at night and know deep down inside that it is well with our souls. There are other times when our minds are much noisier and we cannot sleep. Life’s troubles seem like they will overwhelm us. There are those frightening moments when doubt comes rushing in like a flood. We question whether or not we are Christ’s, or ever were. At other times we worry that we may have done something that will cause Christ to cast us away.
The good news in all of this is that because of the finished work of Jesus Christ (the message of the gospel), it is always well with our souls, whether we feel that way or not. While the benefits of our salvation are always secure, it is our ability to grasp these benefits and then live in the light of them that is one of the most difficult struggles of the Christian life.
Even though God saves us through the doing and dying of Jesus (objective, historical, and not at all dependent upon how we feel), our feelings about ourselves at any given moment (whether we have peace or turmoil) is too often the basis of our own understanding of the assurance of our salvation. Our emotional state and personal circumstances then become the standard by which we evaluate our progress in the Christian life. Our gaze shifts from the cross to our own navels, and the benefits of what Christ has accomplished for us seem to be lost, even though our Good Shepherd will never let us slip from His grasp (John 10:27–29).
This unfortunate disconnect between what God promises to all who trust in Christ and our own sinful doubts about these promises is a real problem for many. Although this is not the primary point of Question 36 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, nevertheless the Shorter Catechism addresses this pressing matter in a very helpful way.
What people who are saved, but who don’t feel saved, need to know is that their salvation does not depend upon how they feel but upon what Christ has done for them. What Christ has done is summarized in the thirty-sixth question of the Shorter Catechism. The assurance of our salvation, the love of God, and our progress in the Christian life are depicted as the fruit of God’s work on our behalf. We must look outside of ourselves to what Christ has done to rest assured in these benefits. This particular question and its answer reminds us of the precious truth that the work of Jesus Christ is the ground of our assurance, the proof of God’s love for us, and the sure sign that God intends to finish that good work that He has already begun in us (Phil. 1:6).
That the basis of our standing with God is not how we happen to feel about God (or ourselves) at any given moment becomes clear when we are reminded in the Shorter Catechism to turn first to the doctrine of justification. As Paul puts it in Philippians 3:9, those who are justified through faith do not have a righteousness of their own, but a righteousness that comes from God. As Paul states in Galatians 2:16: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Therefore, anyone who trusts in Christ has already been reckoned as righteous because Christ’s righteousness has been credited to our accounts (so to speak) through faith.
In addition to this, those justified have been given the status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. In Romans 8:15, Paul reminds us that we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” God unites us to Christ through His blessed Holy Spirit so that we now have the most intimate relationship to God. He is not only our creator and redeemer, He is also our sanctifier and our “Father.” As if that were not enough, Paul reminds the Corinthians: “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).
In Christ, we are justified, adopted, and sanctified. And out of these remarkable acts of God flow the benefits of the “assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.” I don’t know about you, but this is about the best list of benefits anyone can give me. This is what I need to know before my head hits the pillow at night.