This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Purpose: To address the theme of grace and assurance of salvation in Christ by asking the question of whether we can know for sure that our name is written in the Book of Life.
Sermon prepared by Pastor Jack Van de Hoef, Guelph, Ontario
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ:
Randy Alcorn, in his book entitled Heaven, tells this story**:
Several years ago, Ruthanna Metzgar, a professional singer, was asked to sing at the wedding of a very wealthy man. According to the invitation, the reception would be held on the top two floors of Seattle’s Columbia Tower, the Northwest’s tallest skyscraper. She and her husband, Roy, were excited about attending.
At the reception, waiters in tuxedos offered luscious hors d’oeuvres and exotic beverages. The bride and groom approached a beautiful glass and grass staircase that led to the top floor followed by their guests.
At the top of the stairs, a maitre d’ with a bound book greeted the guests outside the doors. “May I have your name, please?”
“I am Ruthanna Metzgar and this is my husband, Roy.”
He searched the M's. “I’m not finding it. Would you spell it please?”
Ruthanna spelled her name slowly. After searching the book, the maitre d’ looked up and said, “I’m sorry, but your name isn’t here.”
“There must be some mistake,” Ruthanna replied. “I’m the singer. I sang for this wedding!”
The gentleman answered, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did. Without your name in the book you cannot attend the banquet.”
He motioned to a waiter and said, “Show these people to the service elevator, please.” The Metzgars followed the waiter past beautifully decorated tables laden with shrimp, whole smoked salmon, and magnificent carved ice sculptures. Adjacent to the banquet area, an orchestra was preparing to perform, the musicians all dressed in dazzling white tuxedos.
The waiter led Ruthanna and Roy to the service elevator, ushered them in, and pushed G for the parking garage.
After locating their car and driving several miles in silence, Roy reached over and put his hand on Ruthanna’s arm. “Sweetheart, what happened?”
“When the invitation arrived, I was busy,” Ruthanna replied. “I never bothered to RSVP. Besides, I was the singer. Surely I could go to the reception without returning the RSVP!”
That story begs the question for us: Do you know for sure that you will be going to the great wedding banquet in heaven when you die or when Christ returns? Is it possible to know for sure that we are saved and going to heaven? Can we know whether or not your or my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
Does it matter? Is it necessary to know if I am going to heaven? Can I not live my life to the fullest here on earth and wait and see what happens in the life to come?
What is life like if we do not have some idea of where we are going? What is life like if we do not have hope or confidence for the future? On what is that hope grounded?
In the Bible we read about a book that God has with names recorded in it. This book with these names has something to do with our confidence of going to heaven.
There is an interesting development in Scripture regarding this book. In Exodus 32 we read of God’s comments to Israel, through Moses, in response to the worshipping of the golden calf. God made it unmistakably clear: “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.” Somewhere God has a book with the names of people in it. If you are in God’s book, you have a place in His presence and a promise of blessing. If God blots your name out of His book, you are separated from God and removed from His blessing. Can we know if our names are recorded?
God says to His people Israel that whoever has sinned against Him will have their names removed. That doesn’t give anyone much hope. It was a clear message to Israel that they must trust the Lord and honour the commands of the covenant. They could not take for granted their privileged place as His chosen people. They must honour the will of God in their lives or they would lose their identity as God’s people.
But then we read from Psalm 87. There we see how the story progresses. In that psalm, the Lord talks about the glory of Zion, the central city of His people. He talks about those who live within her walls, which is to say, those who are part of His people. This is not a reference to the population of a specific city. Zion is a symbol of those who belong to the Lord.
The psalmist goes on to list Babylon and Philistia and Tyre and Cush or Egypt. These were the enemy nations around Israel. These were the Gentiles, who were outside of the identity of the covenant people of God. They had certainly sinned against God because they tried to destroy God’s people. Why would they have a place in God’s city? Why would God include their names in the register of the people?
Because God is a God of grace. His intention is that people of all nations would be part of the people who are in a relationship with Him. The Lord is saying to the people of Israel, through this psalm, that they do not have a monopoly on being loved by God. The relationship with God is not strictly one that is made possible by one’s birth parents. We are in a relationship with God because of His gracious love.
Jump ahead to Philippians 4:3. The apostle Paul writes, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
The apostle Paul has a distinct name for this book: the book of life. He believed that his name was written in that book, along with his co-workers. We know that Paul considered his co-workers to be those who believed in Jesus Christ and were living the truth of this gospel faith.
There are at least six references to the book of life in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. In the letter to the church in Sardis in chapter 3 the Lord says, “Those who are victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out their names from the book of life, but will acknowledge their names before my Father and His angels.”
You mean that my name might be in the book of life but God might blot my name out? Does this mean that I cannot know for sure if I am saved? How do I know whether my name is in the book of life or not?
One thing that we come to understand from all the references to having names written in the book of life is that this is, from start to finish, the unmerited act of God. We do not earn our place in that book. We cannot buy our place in that book. We do not get our names in that book because of some family connection or heritage. God writes our names in the book of life or He doesn’t. The thing that matters is the sovereignty of God. Salvation is God’s work and He does it in His way.
At the same time, we read throughout the Bible an equally strong statement of human responsibility. We can know that our name is written in that book of life. That is, we can know that we are saved, but that does not give us the right to become slack or lazy in living out our faith. We cannot take that attitude that “I’ve arrived. I’ve got my ticket to heaven. I can coast the rest of the way.”
The Heidelberg Catechism states this in a very direct way: The question is asked whether or not the teaching of being saved by the grace of God alone will make people indifferent and wicked. The answer is a clear ‘No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude” (Lord’s Day 24, Question & Answer 64).
God saves us by His grace. He chooses to write our names in the book of life. We live in thanksgiving and obedience as an expression of this new life of grace in our hearts and to show our praise and thanks to God for His grace.
That is one very obvious clue to the assurance that our names are written in the book of life: are you living for God? Do you love God? Is the Spirit of God living in your heart and moving you to live a life of thankfulness to God? Is the love of the Lord central to your being and action? Only someone who is alive in the Lord, who belongs to the Lord, will live in such a way. Your actions will not earn you a place in heaven, but they can be a sign already now that you will be spending eternity with the Lord you love. Be sure of that!
Then we also read in Revelation 20 about 2 sets of books. The first books are opened and people are judged by what they had done. This seems to parallel the parable Jesus told about the final judgment in Matthew 25. All the nations of people gather before the King who separates them as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. To those on the left, facing judgment, the King says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (Matthew 25:41-43).
How do I know that I did enough to honor the will of the Lord and King? Did I care for people properly? What about when I walked by that person on the street and didn’t throw any coins into his cup? What if I’m not the kind of person to make a lot of visits in hospitals or I’ve never been in a prison? Will God hold that against me on the day of judgment? Will this come back to haunt me?
It’s a very stark picture. The first books to be opened are the record books, containing all the evidence that the court needs if people are to be judged by their deeds. If. But the judgment is no automatic affair. It’s not something that could be carried out by any angelic clerk with enough arithmetic to recognize who had a credit and who a debit account. What the record books contain is determined by what God decides to remember and what He decides to forget. Keep in mind the words of Jeremiah 31:34: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Then, even before the ledgers are scrutinized by the auditors, another book is opened, whose contents must be thrown in the balance. This is the book of life. In Revelation 17:8 we are told that the names in this book have been written there from the foundation of the world. In Ephesians 1 we read that “He (God) chose us in Him (Jesus) from before the creation of the world.” This book belongs to the Lamb. The Lamb is the One who has been slaughtered for the forgiveness of sin for all of God’s chosen people. Therefore, into the scale in our favour are set the gracious, predestining purpose of God and the redemptive love of Him who died to ransom people for God.
Although believers are responsible for their actions, we are forgiven through Christ. For believers, God’s grace goes hand in hand with human responsibility. Paul exhorts his readers to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:12a-13). Scripture puts divine election on the one hand and human responsibility on the other, but it refrains from solving the mystery of where these two meet. God has graciously chosen His people through Christ, which is evident in the names of His people recorded in the book of life. They keep the Word of God and live by the testimony of Jesus, and they love God’s commandments and cherish His precepts. They are the Lord’s faithful witnesses even to the point of death, and they perform good works to show their thankfulness to God, so that His name is honoured and praised.
What about the idea of having one’s name blotted out of the book of life? How do we know that this hasn’t happened? Let me try to explain it in this way: Those whose names are not in the book of life are those who have no interest in God or have lived in opposition to God. There are people who deny God or work against the love of God. They have no desire to be with God or to experience the presence of God in their lives. About such people the Lord says in the Bible that they will receive what they desire: they will live an eternity without God.
Having said that, let us be careful that we do not stand in judgment over anyone, to declare the eternal fate of anyone. Let us not predetermine someone’s final fate. The final decisions lay in the hands of the Judge. With the apostle John, we can be content to leave them there. We may have a great confidence in the wisdom and justice of those decisions and not accuse God of undue severity.
Having said that, anyone who is concerned with whether or not their names are written in the book of life is obviously someone who has a desire to be in a living relationship with God. Anyone who is concerned about whether or not they have offended God or have fully obeyed Him is obviously someone who has a desire to live in the love and grace of God. Such a desire can only be evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart. Consider the words of Jesus, recorded in John 6:37: “All whom the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
What if I sin? There is forgiveness. Acknowledge and recognize the love that is in your heart and know that this is God at work in you.
That brings us back to the question with which the sermon began: Do you know for sure that you will be going to heaven when you die or when Christ returns? Is it possible to know for sure that we are saved and going to heaven? Can I know whether or not my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
The answer is a resounding “Yes.” Is that being presumptuous? No. We can know for sure because it is God’s work. God has saved us. God has written our names in that book. I know my name is there because I love the Lord. It is only His renewing work that could make it possible for me to love Him. God would not work in me if my name was not in His book of life.
I know that I am not perfect. I know that I do not obey the Lord perfectly. I do not know where my life will go or what I will do in the future. But I know that God is gracious and forgiving. He will forgive my sin, again and again, as He has done so already. That is not a permission or license to sin, but a comfort that I belong to Him, in life and in death.
This is something worth living for. We know that we live in the presence of God and in the assurance of His love every day. We know that we have a glorious eternity in His presence waiting for us. We do not have to live our lives on this earth in uncertainty and fear. We may live in the fullness of joy and confidence, for this is God’s work of grace. We may live our lives to the fullest, overflowing with joy, because of God’s work of grace.
Do you know the Saviour? Amen.
(**opening story taken from Heaven, by Randy Alcorn, (Tyndale, 2004), pp.31-32)
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
- Gathering Song: #63:1, 2, “O LORD, My God, Most Earnestly”
- Call to Worship (based Isaiah 55:2,11-12; John 4:24)
- Let us worship God, for whom our souls thirst and our bodies long.
Listen, listen to me, says the Lord, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
- Let us worship God in spirit and in truth.
Then we will go out with joy and be led forth in peace;
- Silent Prayer, conclude with “Be Still and Know That I Am God”
1. Be still and know that I am God. (3x)
2. I am the Lord who heals your life. (3x)
3. In you, O Lord, we put our trust. (3x)
- *God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
- *Greet one another saying, “The peace of Christ be with you.”
- *Song of Praise: #253:1,2,4, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”
WORSHIP THE GOD OF GRACE
- Song of Salvation: #495:1,2,3, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace”
- Prayer of Confession and Trust
- Song of Grace: #462:1,2,3,4, “Amazing Grace–How Sweet the Sound”
- God’s Word of Grace: Ephesians 1:3-14, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (from The Message)
- *Testimony of Faith: Apostles’ Creed
- *Song of Joy: #479, “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” (edited)
I will sing of my Redeemer and his heavenly love for me;
he from death to life has brought me, Son of God, with him to be.
I will praise my dear Redeemer, his triumphant power I’ll tell:
how the victory he gives me over sin and death and hell.
WORSHIP THE GOD OF HOPE
- Prayer for Illumination
- Scripture Readings: Exodus 32:30-35; Psalm 87; Revelation 20:11-15
- Text: Revelation 21:27
- Message: “Can I Be Sure of Going to Heaven?”
WORSHIP THE GOD OF BLESSING
- *Song of Response: #497, “How Vast the Benefits Divine”
- Morning Prayer (consider adapting the words of #475 or #499 )
- Honouring the Lord with our offerings for the Lord’s work
- *Song of Dedication: #296, “We Give You But Your Own”
- *Words of Thankful Dedication and Obedience: Romans 12:1-2 (or 1-8 or 9-21)
- *Blessing from God: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
- *Closing Praise: #632, “To God Be the Glory”