Sean’s post, as always, is excellent.
In answer to your question of being 100% sure of salvation, you’ve hit the nail right on the head. God does not ask us to clean ourselves up morally first before coming to accept the gift of Salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9)…
In speaking to a pastor about the subject of sinless perfection vs continuing to gradually become more like Christ over our lifetime. Sinless perfection will not happen in our life time and this pastor noticed that when some people get saved, sometimes a sinful character trait such as habitual swearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain just stops instantly, and in this same person it took them years to be able to stop smoking.
The whole book of 1 John is excellent starting with this promise in 1 John 5:13-14
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
It does not say ‘to you who believe in the name of the Son of God and are free from addictive sin or having reaching some level of morality by a certain stage of life, you then know that you have eternal life’. It’s unconditional - and the story of the Prodigal Son and the Father shows this as clearly as anything, our Heavenly Father loves us and always has his arms outstretched ready to receive us.
I liked how John Lennox made it so clear in the debate with Peter Atkins (video will play slightly before the quote because he gives an excellent analogy about an entrance exam at university)
… the gurus cannot guarantee acceptance at the final judgment.
Christianity is not a religion for a very simple reason; In Christianity the acceptance comes at the beginning, not the end. This is the spectacular difference between Christianity and religion, I’ve not reached the final judgement, but I know that I’m accepted; Why? because I’m very good? No no no, it’s because of what Christ has done, the absolute essence of what it is to be a Christian, that I have trusted Him, and what he did on the Cross… because of what He did there I can be accepted at the Beginning of the journey…
It has helped me only recently to understand the difference between ‘judicial forgiveness’ and ‘relational forgiveness’.
When Christ died, he took our punishment for all past / present / future sins: that is judicial (legal) forgiveness, and we are then adopted into the family of God as Sean explained so well.
Relational forgiveness is sin we’ve done recently and we need to try and keep a short account with God with confession as we are aware of sins in our lives, otherwise the relationship goes cold. Just like a human father / son relationship, the relationship is still legally there, it’s just estranged temporarily, and confession is agreeing with God that we have sinned. If we are a Christian who has sinned, we don’t go and hide from God and try and get ourselves clean by doing some good things to outweigh the bad and then we can come back to our Heavenly Father and hope he’ll accept us back - that’s works based assurance of salvation.
For me, I’ve gradually come to realize that being concerned over one’s sin and wanting to confess and repair the relationship is actually a sign that you ARE a Christian. Doesn’t matter if it’s a single sin such as anger, bitterness, envy, hatred, lust or whatever - or if it’s an addiction of these (many people struggle to deal with bitterness over a long time but we don’t call that an addiction??). I’ve noticed personally over time that it feels like only one area of sin is obvious in our life at a time - and it might take years to gradually become more Christ-like in a certain area. I’ve also noticed the closer you come to Jesus, the more you realize just how sinful you are and how much more precious the Cross is, if we live at a distance from the Cross, we can potentially become a little cold in our relationship.
I hope this is helpful post, sorry if it’s a bit long - I liked the ‘Holiness’ video showing that it’s Jesus, who is God, that has reached out to us ‘while we were yet, sinners Christ died for us’ in Romans 5:8
A couple of my favorite verses (I believe that no man includes ourselves because we did not rely on ourselves for salvation, and we also do not rely on ourselves for eternal life)
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
30 I and my Father are one. (John 10:28-30)
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)