Is it possible to be 100% certain that you have eternal life?
This is one question that had to be rephrased a bit so that I could get meaningful answers from LDS and JWs. Christians think of eternal life in terms of "going to Heaven" when they die. For Mormons and JWs, it's not quite that simple.
For Mormons, everyone is going to Heaven, sort-of. They believe there are 3 different Heavens, and that even non-Mormons go to the first, the lowest, Heaven. This, actually, is what they call "salvation" and they believe that this is a grace gift. Everyone goes there. However, there are two Heavens above the first, and the ultimate is the "Celestial Kingdom" or "3rd Heaven". they call this "exaltation." Since Heaven is ultimate salvation for us, I'm interested in their views on ultimate salvation for them, not the salvation that everyone gets. So my question to the LDS missionaries was:
Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will enter the 3rd Heaven?
The Watchtower also has a different understanding of "Heaven". They actually believe that most JWs alive today will not go to Heaven. They believe that Heaven was reserved for only 144,000… basically the first 144,000 JWs. So those seats are already taken. The rest of JWs hope to be resurrected after they die to rule and reign with Jesus Christ (whom they believe is the archangel Michael, not God) here on Earth. So ultimate salvation for them is this resurrection. The alternative is simply annihilation… you cease to exist. So for the JWs, my question was this:
Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will be resurrected?
Now let's compare answers:
Latter-Day Saints (Mormon):
According to the LDS missionaries who visited me, it is not possible to have 100% assurance that you'll enter the Celestial Kingdom because there’s always a possibilty, however remote, that a person will fail in faith and obedience before the time that they die. Now ask yourself this question: If the person might fail in faith and obedience before they die and thus lose out of ultimate salvation, then on whom does their "exaltation" depend? Does it not depend on their own ability to persevere in their faith and obedience?
The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses):
According to Watchtower doctrine, it is not possible to have 100% assurance that you will be resurrected, and this is demonstrated clearly by this quote from the witness I spoke with via telephone and e-mail:
It is possible to be 100% certain that God will save us if we continue serving him whole souled and meet his righteous requirements.
This is an odd answer because there's quite a blatant contradiction in there. "Yes, it's possible to 100% certain if you continue serving him, etc.…"
Well okay, so I guess the question becomes "Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will continue to serve God whole-souled and meet His righteous requirements?" Clearly, the answer to this is "No" because the witness used the conditional "if". So they claim certainty, and then promptly revoke that certainty because they can't be sure whether they'll continue to do the things they're supposed to do. Once again it's important to notice on whom the person's future resurrection depends: Does it depend on themselves, or does it depend on God?
According to popular Lordship teachers, it is not possible to have 100% assurance of salvation.
No Christian can be sure that he’s a true believer. -John Piper
There’s no valid assurance of election and final salvation for any man apart from deliberate perseverance in faith. -Robert Shank
The question is, why don't these Lordship teachers believe they can have 100% assurance of salvation? Unless you believed that your salvation depends upon your own performance, (as the LDS and JWs do) what reason would there be to doubt it? If a person had the understanding that their salvation depends upon God and not on themselves, what reason would this person have to doubt their salvation? Is God not trustworthy? Is He not faithful? Can He fail to keep His promises?
This lack of assurance seems to point toward a reliance on self for salvation, which is totally consistent with a salvation that is based on works and not God's grace.
If you ask the same question to a proponent of Free Grace, you will get an answer which is 180 degrees out-of-phase with the other three views. The Free Grace answer is that it most certainly is possible to have 100% assurance of salvation. This assurance comes from the promises of God and the work performed (and completed) by Christ on the cross. The Free Grace view relies totally and completely on God, who is absolutely faithful and will keep His promises. There is simply no reason whatsoever to doubt my salvation because my salvation depends upon Christ, and not upon me.
For the first question, we see that the Lordship answer is indistinguishable from the answers given by LDS and JWs, two 'cults' that teach that salvation is a product of works. Why, then, should I not conclude that the Lordship teachers are also teaching a works-based salvation? Because they claim not to be teaching a works-based salvation? Well… the LDS and JWs claim this as well, yet these Lordship teachers would agree that these cults teach a works-based salvation!
The only view of the four that gives a distinct answer is the Free Grace view.
We have seven more questions to go, so stay tuned.