Thursday, December 13, 2012

Illustrated Summary of Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur


When editing this book for Pastor John MacArthur, I poured over his sermon transcripts on the key biblical passages dealing with Assurance of Salvation, and decided to arrange this vital topic in three parts:
  1.  IS IT A DONE DEAL? What the Bible Teaches  About the Lasting Nature of Salvation
  2.  IS IT REAL? How You Can Tell Whether You Are Truly a Christian
  3.  IS IT SOMETHING I CAN FEEL? How You Can Experience the Assurance of a Secure Salvation
A friend who grew up in a church that denies Assurance told me this was the best book he ever read on the topic. I hope you read it as well if this summary captures your interest (order information is at the end of this post).

Pastor John MacArthur begins, "It's a heartache to me as a pastor to realize that so many Christians lack assurance of their salvation. They lack the confidence that their sins are truly forgiven and their place in heaven is eternally secure." He found himself wondering how a person could take the monumental, life-changing step of becoming a Christian, yet not be assured of the results. On the other hand, some people have assurance who have no right to it. To quote an old Negro spiritual, "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't goin' there." Some feel all is well between them and God when it isn't. They don't understand the truth about salvation and their own spiritual condition.

Some people, however, believe no one can have real assurancenot even a true Christian. They reject God's sovereignty in salvation, thereby destroying the theological basis for eternal security and assurance. That is the historical Arminian view (named after a Dutch theologian). It asserts that if a Christian thinks he is secure forever, he is apt to become spiritually negligent. That is also the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The Council of Trent declared it anathema to say "that a man who is born again and justified is bound to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined" (canon 15 on justification). What does the Bible say?

The Apostle John says, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of god, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). The Prophet Isaiah writes, "The work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever" (Isaiah 32:17). Where God grants righteousness, He also adds the peace of assurance. It is true that someone can be saved and doubt it. One may go to heaven in a mist, not knowing for sure he's going, but that's certainly not the way to enjoy the trip. God wants you to enjoy that trip.

What the Bible Teaches About 
the Lasting Nature of Salvation

We will examine the classic biblical texts affirming the forever quality of salvation and the objective grounds for assurance, but will not ignore the troubling passages that seem to indicate otherwise.

A Collective Work

Arm locked in arm, deep in concentration, united in purpose, and falling to earth at almost 100 miles per hour, formation sky divers experience the exhilarating rewards not of luck but of hard work, preparation, and teamwork. The inherent dangers of formation skydiving require that each member work in harmony with the other members. Each individual must look out for the good of the group and not merely his or her own well-being. That kind of commitment enables the team to achieve graceful, awe-inspiring unity. There's no greater illustration of teamwork in the spiritual realm than the work of the Holy Trinity in securing our salvation. I believe Scripture makes that abundantly clear. In it we see no less than a collective work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on our behalf.

Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My Word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). That may be the most monumental statement in the Bible relative to the security  of salvation. In addition Jesus says, "All whom the Father give Me shall come to Me" (John 6:37). All whom God the Father sovereignly chooses will come to Christ. What the Bible teaches regarding divine election, however, should not restrain anyone from coming to Christ, for our Lord goes on to say in the same verse, "The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."

Further on Jesus says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29). Perhaps you think that while God holds tightly onto us, perhaps we can wiggle or fall out of that heavenly grasp? Not so. God made an oath toward that end. Since He "could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself....For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as a confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that...we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:13-18).

God's direct Word about our security should be sufficient for us, but in His graciousness He makes His promises even more certain in that we were sealed "with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession" Ephesians 1:13-14). When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his or her life. He remains within to empower us and equip us for ministry. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Advocate. He protects and encourages us. He also assures us of our inheritance in Jesus Christ: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16-17). Saint Augustine well concluded that being assured of our salvation is not arrogant stoutness. It is faith. It is not presumption. Rather it is confidence in God's promises.
Those Troubling Verses

No Christian would deny that the promises regarding our secure salvation at the hands of our Triune God are indeed encouraging. Perhaps, however, you have been troubled by other sections of Scripture that seem to undermine those promises. What about Paul's statement to the Galatian church that some had fallen from grace? What about a passage in the Book of Hebrews that speaks of those once enlightened who cannot be renewed to repentance? What about Jesus' frightening statement in John 15 that those who don't abide in Him are thrown away as dead branches, gathered up, and burned? What about perhaps His most frightening statement of all, in Matthew 12, where Jesus says there's such a thing as an unpardonable sin?

 Galatians 5 and Falling from Grace

The Apostle Paul writes, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by Law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness" (Galatians 5:1-5). Who is being addressed, and in what sense had they fallen from grace? 

All the people to whom Paul wrote had made a profession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord or they would not have been part of the churches of Galatia. Many came from a Jewish background emphasizing legalistic self-effort to please God. At first they responded positively to the Gospel message of justification before God through faith in Christ alone, but some of those individuals, known as Judaizers, began teaching that what Moses began in the Old Covenant and Christ added in the New Covenant had to be perfected by one's own efforts (circumcision being the centerpiece as a symbol of spiritual merit to this group). Paul combated that heretical notion by explaining that any attempt to be justified by Law is to reject the Gospel of grace. A person who falls from the concept of grace is a person who never was a true Christian and remains in need of salvation.

Hebrews 6 and Those Once Enlightened

It is possible for people to go to church for years, hear the Gospel over and over again, and even be faithful church members, but never commit their lives to Jesus Christ. We meet such people in Hebrews 6. The writer was specifically talking to churchgoers similar to the legalistic Galatians, but this warning applies today just as well: "In the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have ... tasted the good Word of God and ... then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way" (verses 4-9). The warning, therefore, is clearly addressed to unbelievers with a church background, not true believers.

John 15 and the Burning Branches

We see Jesus giving the same warning in John 15:1-6: "I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it that it may bear more fruit....As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me....If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up. Then the harvesters gather the dried branches and cast them into the fire." It is the essence of the Christian life to bear fruit: "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). The fruit of salvation is good works for "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (James 2:17). Good works don't save a person but they show that his (or her) faith is genuine.
Matthew 12 and the Unpardonable Sin

Picture a man who hears the call of salvation and responds. He starts reading Christian books. His mind, excitable by nature and undisciplined academically, begins to be fearfully disordered. He becomes preoccupied with religious externals, spending an inordinate amount of time in religious activities and feeling obligated to give up every innocent earthly enjoyment. He begins to look for miracles to confirm his faith. Things become darker still: He's now convinced he's committed the unpardonable sin mentioned by Jesus. That leads him to envy the beasts of the field, the birds in the air, the stones on the street, and the tiles on the roof, for they are incapable of the blasphemy his conscience so searingly accuses him of.  At length the clouds break and he comes to enjoy peace and assurance in the mercy of God. You can read his story in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. His name is John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim's Progress, one of the most popular books of all time.

Now imagine Jesus' ministry going on for over two years and all the miracles He performed, clearly proving that He is God in human flesh. But the religious establishment essentially concludes the opposite. They state that His power is satanic. Jesus gives a dry response to that claim: "If I'm casting out Satan with Satan's power, what do you think Satan is doing?!" Obviously, the devil would be destroying his own kingdom, which makes no sense at all. The religious leaders' hatred and jealousy drives them to twisted logic. Therefore Jesus says to them, "Any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:31-32). Concluding that Christ's miraculous worksaffected by the Holy Spirit to prove Christ's deitywere actually done by Satan showed they were in a hopeless state of rejection. The religious establishment had concluded the opposite of what was clearly true, and they had done so despite full eyewitness revelation. Focus on the key point: The great news that unregenerate people can be forgiven anything if they are willing to repent and come to Christ.

What Happens If the Lights Go Out?
During World War II, an American naval force in the North Atlantic was engaged in heavy battle with enemy ships and submarines on an exceptionally dark night. Six planes took off from a carrier to search out those targets, but while they were in the air, a total blackout was ordered for the carrier to protect it from attack. Without lights on the carrier's deck, the six planes could not see to land. The pilots radioed a request for the lights to be turned on just long enough for them to come in. But because the entire carrier, with its several thousand men as well as all the other planes and equipment, would have been put in jeopardy, no lights were permitted to be turned on. When the six planes ran out of fuel, they crashed into the freezing water and all crew members perished into eternity. There comes a time when the lights go out, when further opportunity for salvation is forever lost. One who rejects the full light can have no more lightand no forgiveness. May that strike terror into the hearts of all who now reject Christ, but not those who have embraced Him as Savior and Lord.

The Ties That Bind

If the preservation of salvation depends on what believers themselves do or do not do, their salvation is only as secure as their faithfulness, which provides no security at all. According to that view, believers must protect by their own human power what Christ began by His divine power. Arguing against that view, in Romans 5 the Apostle Paul presents six links in the chain of truth that binds all true believers eternally to their Savior and Lord:
  1. Peace with God (Romans 5:1)
  2. Standing in Grace (verse 2)
  3. Hope of Glory (verses 2-5)
  4. Possession of Divine Love (verses 5-8)
  5. Certainty of Deliverance (verses 9-10)
  6. Joy in the Lord (verse 11)
Romans 5:1 Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Perhaps nowhere outside of Scripture has this deepest level of Christian joy been expressed more beautifully than in these stanzas by Charles Wesley:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumps of His grace!

Hear Him ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come;
And leap ye lame for joy!

The Inevitable Glory

Many texts in the Bible discuss the security of the believer, but none are as pointed as Romans 8:28-30. There we find God's firm purpose that everyone who has been redeemed by Jesus Christwithout exceptionwill be glorified: "We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son....And these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified."

God is completely sovereign:  He is free to make whatever decisions He wants. You are a Christian not because of something you did, but because of something God decided. Much of contemporary evangelism leaves people thinking their salvation is predicated on their decision for Christ. Actually it is based on God's decision for them. After all, an unbeliever "does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Also, "the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the Gospel" (2 Corinthians 4:4). There is no way we can muster up enough of whatever it takes to turn around and accept Christ as Savior and Lord.

God's purpose is to redeem an eternally holy, Christlike, glorified community of people. Romans 8:29-30 outlines five elements in God's sure process of bringing His people to glory: Foreknowledge, Predestination, Calling, Justification, and Glorification. The first two mean more than simple foresight into the future because both are used to describe Christ's crucifixion as a predetermined act (Acts 2:23-28). God's call reaches us through the Gospel, which convicts us of sin and draws us toward the Savior. To be justified is to be made right with God. How does that happen? The sin in our lives must be removed. Specifically, God "has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14). "Whom He justified," Paul concludes in Romans 8:30, "these He also glorified." Our glorification or ultimate perfection as God's people is so secure, God's Word speaks of it in the past tense!

How You Can Tell Whether You Are Truly a Christian:
Eleven Tests from the Apostle John

Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you'" (Matthew 7:21-23). Many people are and will be deceived about their salvation. That is why the Apostle Paul says, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5). How can you tell whether you really are a Christian? How do you know if your faith is real? The Apostle John wrote his first letter to address that issue, saying, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). Throughout John's letter is a series of tests to determine whether you possess eternal life. If you don't pass these tests, you'll know where you stand and what you need to do. If you do, you'll have reason to enjoy your eternal salvation with great assurance.

Test 1: Have You Enjoyed Fellowship with Christ and the Father?

John begins, "We have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you eternal life...that you may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:2-3). We might be tempted to think, Well, good for John and his fellow apostles, but theirs was not an isolated experience, for John declares, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the Son begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1). It is characteristic of any Christian to love God and Christ. Have you experienced communion with God and Christ? Have you sensed Their presence? Do you have a love for Them that draws you to Their presence? Have you experienced the sweet communion of prayerthe exhilarating joy of talking to the living God? Have you experienced the refreshing, almost overwhelming sense of grace that comes upon you when you discover a new truth in His Word? If you have, then you have experienced the fellowship of salvation.

Test 2: Are You Sensitive to Sin?

"God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all," declares 1 John 1:5. Light and darkness do not coexist. One drives the other away. "If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7-9). God's Word declares that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Since unbelievers are so insensitive to the reality of their condition, human sinfulness is the right starting point in sharing the Gospel. True believers, on the other hand, have a right sense of sin. They come to Christ for the one-time cleansing of salvation, and keep the relationship fresh through periodic cleansing as needed. 

Test 3: Do You Obey God's Word?

First John 2:3 couldn't be clearer: "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." This echoes  Jesus' last words before ascending to heaven: Make disciples by "teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded" (Matthew 28:20). If you desire to obey God's Word out of gratitude for all Christ has done for you, and if you see that desire producing an overall pattern of obedience, you have passed an important test indicating the presence of saving faith.

Test 4: Do You Reject This Evil World?

"Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15): This love speaks of our deepest constraints, our most compelling emotions and goals. Jesus said that those who follow Him are not of the world just as He was not of the world. We still move about in it to do His will as long as we are alive, but we are not of it. Do you reject this world's false religions, godless living, and vain pursuits? Instead, do you love God, His truth, His Kingdom, and all that He stands for? That doesn't come naturally since the human tendency is to love darkness rather than light to mask evil deeds (John 3:19-20) and mirror what the devil desires (John 8:44). If you reject worldly vanities and devilish desires, that indicates new life in Christ. And since that new life is forever, settle into it with an abiding sense of assurance.

Test 5: Do You Eagerly Await Christ's Return?

John, the gentle church father that he is, writes, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him just as He is. Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3). Do you love Christ so much that you eagerly await to see Him face-to-face at His return and be made like Him? Such  hope has ethical power because saving faith instructs "us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of...our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13). This is a sensible hope, leading to sensible living. It compels you to act more like Christ in reaching out to others and fulfilling all that God has sent you to do. If you have such holy longings and affections, you've passed an important test indicating the reality of your eternal salvation.

Test 6: Do You See a Decreasing Pattern of Sin 
in Your Life? 

First John 3:4-10 spells out this next test in detail: "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness because sin is lawlessness. Christ appeared to take away sins and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him continues in sin....Let no one deceive you: the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared that He might destroy the works of the devil.... By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God." To experience salvation is to be saved from something, and that something is sin. Christ's sinless life and sacrificial death for His people served the very useful purpose of taking away not only the penalty of sin, but also the pattern of sin in their lives. John's defining sin as lawlessness means living as if there were no divine Law. A person who rejects God's authority doesn't care what God thinks about his habits, and is obviously not a Christian. A Christian, however, has a drastically different way of relating to God. If you are not all you ought to be but certainly not what you used to be because you are experiencing victory over sin, you show important evidence of having eternal life.

Test 7: Do You Love Other Christians?

First John 3:10 mentions two obvious facts: that "anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God" and neither is  anyone "who does not love his brother." Jesus went so far as to say, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Do you honestly care about other believers or are you cold, uncaring, and indifferent? It is natural for the Christian to "do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10). Your love for fellow Christians is a benchmark of the Christian faith, and solid grounds for assurance.

Test 8: Do You Experience Answered Prayer?
Another source of confidence and assurance is this: whatever we as believers ask of God "we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22). In fact, "this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:13-15). God always answers prayers that are according to His will. Obedient believers know His will as stated in His Word, and tailor their prayers accordingly. The answers that result bring confidence and assurance.

Test 9: Do You Experience the Ministry 
of the Holy Spirit?
First John 4:13 states, "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." John, speaking of the Spirit, says, "The anointing which you received from Him abides in you and...teaches you about all things" (1 John 2:27). When you read the Bible, is its meaning illuminated to you? Do you understand what it says? In fact, do you sometimes understand it so well you wish you didn't because of the obvious implications? Ask yourself, Does the Word convict me when I'm sinful? Does it make me rejoice when I'm worshiping God and seeking to advance His Kingdom? Those are signs of the Spirit's illuminating work in your life. Let's look at other ministries of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5:19 Paul explains that the filling of the Spirit leads to "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." What about the fruits of the Spirit, which Paul in Galatians 5 describes as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control"? Those attitudes are spiritual graces. Have they graced your life as a whole?

Test 10: Can You Discern Between Spiritual Truth and Error?
So far we've taken nine tests for determining the presence of saving faith. In the tenth is the one time John actually uses the word test: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God" (1 John 4:1-3). Every false religious system in the world violates that test. From the moment of your salvation, there's one thing you're clear about and that's who Christ is and what He did, or you wouldn't be saved. It's the Holy Spirit who made that clear to you. This test is not moral or experiential but doctrinal. It is good to be a believer but it is also good to be skeptical. As John says, "Do not believe every spirit." The Christian learns to think biblically, which is a rigorous, ongoing examination of whatever and whomever you expose yourself to. You don't have to be a seminary graduate or an expert on cults and world religions to distinguish truth from error. If you aren't swayed from the basic truths of Christ's divine person, work, and Word, that's evidence of genuine saving faith.
Test 11: Have You Suffered Rejection Because of Your Faith?
This eleventh and last test is painful: "Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). Have you experienced  hostility, rejection, bitterness, alienation, ostracism, prejudice, or outright persecution from representing and advocating what is right? If so, that's a sign you belong to the One who suffered the same way for the same reason. The people of the world "are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you" (1 Peter 4:4). You're a threat to their belief that this world is all that's worth living for. Now if you're hated because you're obnoxious, there's no virtue in that "but if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God" (1 Peter 2:20). Part of that favor is being assured of your salvation.  

How You Can Experience
the Assurance of a Secure Salvation

Here we examine the subjective grounds for assurance to see what God's Word says to the many believers who struggle emotionally with being assured of their salvation.

Dealing with Doubt
One reason people lack the assurance of their salvation is that many of them aren't saved. As we have seen, one of the reasons the Apostle John wrote his first letter was to help people in that position to  do something about it. But what about Christians who lack assurance? Here are seven basic reasons for that, but the first thing to notice is not all of them are bad:
  • Strong Preaching: Some lack assurance because they are under strong preaching on God's holy standard, which forces people to see their sinfulness and acknowledge that the holiness of God calls them to a lofty standard of living. Now that kind of preaching is both biblical and necessary to prevent the problem John was dealing with about people in the church with a false sense of security. The pulpit is supposed to create anxiety but it should also give comfort and assurance to people who exalt Christ and desire to be more like Him. Good biblical preaching maintains that balance.
  • Guilt: Some Christians lack assurance because they allow themselves to be tyrannized by their emotions and feel they are too bad to be forgiven. Be warned: Satan is "the accuser of our brethren" (Revelation 12:10). He will do all he can to obscure the  graciousness of God. If you allow Satan to crush your head with the holy requirements of God stripped of the love of God, you will doubt.
  • Ignorance: Many Christians lack assurance because they do not understand that salvation is an utterly divine, sovereign operation. Assurance is built on the historical reality of what Jesus Christ accomplished. You will never have the subjective feeling of assurance until you comprehend the objective truth of the Gospel. "Come now and let us reason together," says the Lord engagingly. "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18). When God forgives you, it is complete.
  • Uncertainty: Some Christians lack assurance because they don't know the exact time of their salvation. They can't remember when they believed the Gospel. Some can't remember ever not believing. Because they can't pinpoint the exact moment, they doubt whether the moment actually occurred. But if you didn't know the date of your birth, you wouldn't wonder whether you were alive! I don't look for a past event to make my salvation real to me: I look at the present pattern of my life.
  • Temptation: As Christians who dwell in this fallen world, we are new creations incarcerated in unredeemed flesh. In fact we "groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for...the redemption of our bodies" at our Lord's return (Romans 8:23). Until that day of liberation comes, we will occasionally be drawn into the Romans 7 battle between flesh and spirit, doing what we don't want to do and not doing what we want to do. It's easy to read Romans 7 in an imbalanced way. If you focus on the flesh, you'll be overly negative about your spiritual condition. If, however, God's will has become your highest joy, and submission to His lordship your greatest delight, you are indeed a child of Godno matter how strong the pull of sin.
  • Trials: Some Christians become spiritually unstable because they can't see the hand of God in all their trials. People who think like that not only sentence themselves to doubt, but also miss what is actually the strongest source of assuranceproven faith. Remember Romans 5? We "exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint." We're to rejoice in our trials because they produce hope and assurance.
  • Disobedience: The most obvious reason for lacking assurance is disobedience. Hebrews 10:22 makes that strong connection: "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water." High degrees of assurance cannot be enjoyed by those who persist in low levels of obedience. To live in sin is to live in doubt. Here's a practical way of dealing with sin: Eliminate a major sin in your life and the rest will follow. When the general is killed, the troops scatter.
 Adding Virtue upon Virtue

The Apostle Peter was very concerned that his readers enjoy assurance, which is why he began his second letter with vital teaching about salvation. Experts tell us that the most exploited victims of cults are insecure Christians who consistently doubt their salvation. But to those who are confident in their salvationconfident in their true knowledge of the Savior and the spiritual riches He has endowed them withfalse teachers have nothing to offer. Second Peter 1:1 mentions the source of salvation: "the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ" and verses 3-4 the sufficiency of our salvation: we have "everything pertaining to life and godliness." Verses 5-8 proclaim the certainty of salvation that comes from putting to good use all the spiritual resources we have by adding virtue upon virtue:

"Applying all diligence, add to your faith moral excellence; and in your excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance; and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness; and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Gaining Victory
These verses from Romans 8 have given me great assurance through the years: "Brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the fleshfor if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (verses 12-13). Have you noticed a pattern of bad news then good news in understanding God's revealed truth? You can't accept the good news of salvation until you deal with the bad news of sin. Likewise, you can't experience victory in Christ until you deal with the residual sin in your life. As we've been noting all along, some believers become so confused by the bad news of the internal struggle that's part of being a Christian, they doubt their salvation altogether. They need to see the good news: We can win the struggle! Here's how:
  • Don't Sugarcoat Sin in Your Life: The first step to victory in warfare is identifying the enemy. If you don't know what to shoot at, how are you going to hit it? That's why David prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me" (Psalm 139:23-24). Deal with whatever sins you find debilitating your life. Look for them to manifest themselves in anger and bitter words, unkind thoughts, excessive criticism, self-conceit, lack of understanding, impatience, weak prayers, immoral thoughts, and even overt sins.
  • Be Consistent in Dealing with Sin: "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed" said David (Psalm 57:7). That speaks of undivided devotion to God in every area of life. If you have that kind of attitude, you won't be satisfied with cleaning up sin in one area of your life, but leaving it alone in another.
  • Use the Word to Poison Your Sins: The way to kill sin in your life is to feed it Scripture. It's a foolproof poison against the weed of sin. Whatever dominates your thinking will dominate your behavior. Victorious, Spirit-filled living requires that you give yourself to the Word. Saturate yourself in it. Hear it preached and taught. Learn it yourself and meditate on it day and night.
  • Use Prayer to Expose Your Hidden Sins: You can confess a few sins here and there but until you pray, "God, show me all the sins of my life, and may they become as detestable to me as they are to You so I  never repeat them," your prayers will be lacking a spirit of repentance. A way I test my heart in prayer is if after saying, "Lord, please forgive me for that sin," I  willingly add, "And Lord, may I never do it again." That keeps me honest before God. I would feel like a hypocrite asking forgiveness for something I fully intend to repeat. Honest prayers are a preservative against sin.
  • Relentlessly Move Forward: A good description of the Christian life is, as Peter said, "obedience to the truth" (1 Peter 1:22). If you want to engage in a real battle with sin, just set your course day by day, moment by moment, and step by step on a path of obedience to God's Word. At first it will seem hard and progress will seem slow, but if you stay with it, obedience will become habitual.
  • Do a Personal Inventory: Ask yourself a few basic questions: 1. How is your zeal for the things of God? 2. Do you love the Word? 3. How do you regard prayer? 4. How do you regard sin in general?  Recognize that as a believer, you're not under any obligation to sin. The Spirit of God has already bent you toward life and given you the means to kill the residual sin in your life. Tap into those means so  you will have a life of virtue, joy, peace, and usefulness to God. If you deal confidently and consistently with the sin in your life, you will experience the effect of righteousness, which Isaiah 32:17 defines as everlasting assurance and security.
Persevering Through It All

A man who had been deeply moved by the death of a friend spoke to the minister who conducted the graveside service. The man expressed his desire to become a Christian but added, "There's just one thing that makes me hesitate: I'm afraid I won't be able to hold out. I work with a pretty rough group. They're hardly what you would call religious. I don't think there's a real Christian in the bunch, and I know they won't take kindly to there being one." The minister stooped down to pick up of the flowers at the grave and commented, "Take a good look at this flower: it grew in the mud and slime and decay of the earth, yet see how clean and spotless it is. That's because God kept it. And He can keep you too!" The theological label for that encouraging reality is the perseverance of the saints.
  • The Happiness Endurance Brings: When preaching through the Book of James I became enthralled with the doctrine of perseverance when I came to this verse: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12). James later reiterates the same thought: "Behold, we count those blessed who endured" (5:11). People who successfully endure trials are truly happy. One of the main reasons is the sense of assurance that endurance or perseverance brings to the faithful.
  • Perseverance as Proof: Some people come to church, profess Christ, and even get baptized. Yet when trouble comes into their lives, they're gone. "They went out from us," says John, "but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us. But they went out in order that it might be shown that they are not of us" (1 John 2:19). If you truly love God and His people, you will stick with them through thick and thin. And Peter says you'll have reason to rejoice when you do: "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold...may result in praise and glory and honor at the return of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and...greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible" (1 Peter 1:6-8).
  • The Human Equation: The perseverance of the saints is the human response to the predestinating work of God. You reveal you are kept by God if you don't abandon your faith in the midst of a trial. We as Christians are energized to endure by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Continuance in the faith is an ongoing theme in the New Testament. Jesus said repeatedly to those "who had believed Him, 'If you abide in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine'" (John 8:31). That was the main point the author of Hebrews tried to drive home to his churchgoing audience: "We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it" (Hebrews 2:1). "Let us hold fast our confession" (4:14). "We are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" (10:39). Whenever trials come into your life, look at them as opportunities to persevere and thereby prove the genuineness of your faith. Having persevered, you can look back and say, "Yes, I know I belong to the Lord." Look at life that way and you won't have any trouble being assured of your salvation.
  • The Crown at the End: Paul said to fellow believers, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Just before his execution he wrote, "I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day....In the  future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 1:12; 4:8). Peter wrote, "When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). And John recorded this promise from the lips of Christ to the persevering church: "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). Perhaps the course laid out before you is rough. Maybe, like the man I spoke of at the beginning of this section, you're afraid you won't be able to hold out. As the minister assured him, let me assure you: you will hold out if you're God's child. He will see to that for sure.
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  1. Thank you, Allacin. One thing for sure, if I were training to be a publications editor, I would want you for my trainer. Blessings, sister.

  2. You're heartily welcome, Dennis, and thanks for being the friend referred to in this post's introduction. That encouragement strengthened me then and now.