Define: affirmation [ < Latin affirmāre, < ad- (toward, to) + firmāre (to strengthen)] To support, cheer on, side with, strengthen. Verb: to affirm
In its best sense, affirmation means supporting the value of something or someone. It is a 'Yes' in both attitude and deed.
In case you had any doubt where God stands concerning you and the rest of us, God affirmed us:
by making us at all, then
by making us in the Divine image, then
by making us free, then
by keeping us alive and allowing us to expand over the earth, then
by coming as a human person (Jesus) to live among us, then
by Jesus' dying and returning from death, to start a whole new future, then
by sending God's Spirit to guide us.
Jesus calls His followers to affirm our selves, each other, and other people, in much the same way as He has affirmed us. (Thus, when we cut people down with biting words and backstabbing deeds, we are not following Jesus. So why are we so quick to do it?) The Spirit affirms us by putting into us gifts to build others up; the successful result is what is meant by 'spiritual fruit'. Affirmation is a positive act that helps to to give confidence and a sense of being supported. It gives voice to goals and hopes, and it strengthens resolve. Christians often affirm someone or something at hand by saying words like "Amen!" or "Hallelujah!", or by praying a blessing on them. We can affirm others when it most matters just by being there for them, in whatever capacity lifts them up. In its worst sense (far too common in some circles), affirmation is a moral sop in which being nice is seen as more important than giving people real help, which involves(at some point) helping them face the hard truth about the situations they face or the consequences of what they've done. 'No' has great value when it is held within the context of Christ's larger 'Yes'.
Can we affirm the meaning found in the dictionary? Affirmative!
There are some who say that anyone who speaks of being sure that they are saved, they're expressing a kind of religious arrogance. After all, only God is privy to such things. Besides, what if we're deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us? It's quite possible, given our sinful nature. We can hope we're saved, but what right do we have to say that we know it or are secure or assuredabout it?
A game question. Lip service is not service at all. The people of today have learned how to con ourselves and each other in ever better ways. Our ability to 'know' anything for sure is quite limited. In a fractured world like ours, it takes a lot of trust to know even 'hard facts' such as those of science: trust in the source, trust in how they were found, trust in how they're measured, trust in fact-checking, trust that they're communicated right, trust that we understand what's communicated. Many Christians forget how much we material beings depend on trust, and lapse into talk of 'certainty' and 'absolute knowledge'. No. We do not have unqualified 'certainty' about anything. We're not God, we're just people. Yet, it is possible to have 'assurance', when defined as a confidence that is so aware and so secure that we can base our actions and our lives upon it without fear.
For a Christian, assurance comes by trusting the Source:
Perhaps it's not right to act as if the case is closed merely because the authors of Scripture, the church leaders, or the Reformers wrote about it. Their world was different than ours today, in no small part because of what they did in their eras. But still, they did speak and write. One of their main purposes (especially for Luther) was to assure us. They cared that we be bold in what we do, and dare to take risks to follow Christ. They didn't want us to hesitate to live a Christian life by being afraid of sinning, that God would disconnect us from God's grace. They didn't want anyone to be afraid to follow Christ, even when others in the Church and in government wanted people to have that fear. They wanted us to have enough assurance to dare to take action. Their concern for our confidence was not pulled out of thin air.
Building Confidence From the Bottom
In those days, as now, the Spirit was opening their eyes to see people living under the heavy burden of their own sin and that of the world. Christ took this weight off of us, gratis. Christ is for losers, even for the bottomest folks. Shame has no place where there is Jesus. So we can't stoop low enough to duck His forgiveness. Do I believe in this Christ? Yes!! Then what do I have to be afraid for! If God (not me) reconciled me to God, even with this burden, even with this blindness, what on earth can I do to separate me from God? Perhaps if I don't care anymore; the Spirit won't work within me if kicked out. But even then God will not give up on me. God is the father keeping his eye on the horizon down the road, looking for a lost son who may well choose to live and die with the pigs at the swill and never return home. Perhaps we can wreck ourselves, but even then, in effect, Christ said on a Friday long ago, 'you'll have to do it over My dead body'.
This is about as secure as one can get. So we need not quiver in fear like Luther did back when he was a monk. We can be bold. We can even be real jerks. Not that God wants us to be jerks; when we are, we often hurt others and undermine the truth. God wants us to be as responsible as we can be. But we all are irresponsible at times. We're error-laden and self-deceived, easily tricked by flim-flammers and promotion and emotions and brash ideas and ego trips. God knows this better than we do, and can count the countless times we didn't remember it. And God saves us anyway. If our worst didn't stop God, what are we afraid of? If that leads some of us to be so confident that we're smug, well, God's seen much worse from us than mere smugness. And God tries to break that smugness through the work of the Spirit within us. Our attitudes don't change the fact of what God has done. God handles smugness in the context of setting us right again, not vice-versa.
Full of What?
"Living life to the fullest" isn't a matter of getting a steady stream of thrills, achieving your 'bucket list', traveling the world, or becoming rich, or accomplishing some big task. It's a matter of doing what you're here to do, taking care of what you're responsible for, giving love at each opportunity, and trusting the Spirit to lead you through it. When it comes to having a 'full life', it matters what your life is full of.
It's true of all of us. We dodoubt that Christ has saved us, even when we have no cause to. God has vowed, even sworn, not to abandon His own. God's Yes keeps on yessing. God is trying to teach us to live confidently in the gift of our rescue even when we are doubting it. Seekers of God can trust in the God who seeks us. We can be confident in a way that stills us so we can trust that God is there: "Be still, and know that I am God."
I'm In It!
Where are you in this? The world just keeps getting more complex, and no matter how complex you get you can never keep up. You just keep seeming like a ever-smaller speck in the big picture. But God chose to become the same kind of speck you are - that's what Christmas was all about - and proceeded to show us just how meaningful and powerful a 'speck' could be, through Jesus, and then through Jesus' followers. You're no speck to God. You're a colleague, or at least a potential colleague, in the reshaping and rebirth of all that exists. You're like the son who left and returned, or like the son who stayed; you're part of the family. You can have the assurance that God has you in mind in all of this. You're intended to be part of the whole whom Christ calls His bride. This is the Big Picture, and you're in it!
There's more: God has made some promises that we can have confidence in.
"You, who grieves over your sin: know that no fire can burn straw as fast as the grace of God and the blood of Jesus can take your sins away."
--------- Christian Scriver, *The Soul's Treasure* (transl.)
"The Holy Spirit is no skeptic. He has written neither doubt nor mere opinion into our hearts, but rather solid assurances, which are more sure and solid than all experience and even life itself."
--------- Martin Luther, to Erasmus
"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD"
--------- Jeremiah 29:11-13
"The existence of grace is prima facie evidence not only of the reality of God but also of the reality that God's will is devoted to the growth of the individual human spirit..... We live our lives in the eye of God, and not at the periphery but at the center of His vision, His concern."
--------- M. Scott Peck, *The Road Less Traveled* (Touchstone, 1978), p.312
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones. And when you have finished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
--------- Victor Hugo
"All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us."
--------- Eugene Peterson, *A Long Obedience In the Same Direction*
"I am like a child who awakes
At the light, so safe and secure
Free from night's fears when dawn breaks,
In Thee I am ever secure."
--------- Rainier Marie Rilke (transl. J. Lemont)
"This is what gives Him the greatest glory - the achieving of great things through the weakest and improbable means."
--------- Thomas Merton
Questions About Assurance
What is the difference between 'certainty', 'assurance', 'trust', 'knowledge', and 'wisdom'? How do (or don't) these words apply to faith and spirituality? (A page of dictionary-type stuff might help -- but use it as something to think about, not as an 'answer'.)
What assures you about your life? What do you trust that makes you so secure? How did you develop that trust?
How do you picture what a life of 'bold' faith would be like, within a situation where there is political and religious freedom?
Rejecting God's work in restoring the relationship between us and God is often equated with the one sin that the Bible says will not be forgiven, blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32). Why do you think that would be so? A decision of God? A requirement of justice? Is it that such resistance blocks off the way which we are forgiven? And can it be undone once it is done?
Perhaps there was a time when you took action on what you believed. Were you confident about it? How much fear was there? What (if anything) overcame that fear? How often do you take the opportunity to act on your beliefs?
Check out what John says. Why is he assured? And what does it mean for what he did with his life?