Thursday, August 19, 2010

Biblical Assurance

So one thing I’ve been thinking a lot on lately is the doctrine of biblical assurance. That is, “Does the bible say there is a way we, as believers, can be sure of our salvation?” What does the doctrine of biblical assurance look like? What are some ways we can examine our lives, as Paul exhorts us to do in 2 Corinthians 13: 5-10, to see if we are truly His children? The apostle John speaks most clearly to the subject.

Let’s start in 1 John 5:13. We read “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” This is a powerful statement by John when you actually think about it. This implies that there actually is a way to be sure of salvation. John’s exhortation is not only to be treated as an instruction to the church, but as a revelation, and more importantly, a confirmation of the grace which God poured out upon the letter’s readers. And be mindful of the context here: John is writing to believers.

Hopefully everyone agree in its entirety: salvation is a GIFT from God. A reading of Romans 1-3 makes it very clear that the bible teaches that men are dead in their sin. And by dead, we mean dead. Why do you think Paul uses such strong language when he explains our natural spiritual condition? It is to truly show our inability to choose God or His way. Natural man is not only born in sin, but is conceived in sin, and has the freedom to do only according to his nature. Since his nature is morally corrupt, he will always choose the things of the flesh. Thus, our fallen condition requires that we are rescued by something or someone outside of ourselves. This is God’s gift of grace through faith.

Realizing that salvation is gift from God, an outpouring of His saving grace, we see that God does the seeking and saving (Luke 19:10). And since it is entirely God’s work, God promises that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). God will always finish his work; ALWAYS. And the omnipotent God of the universe cannot fail in his work. We are created, finite beings; and no created thing can thwart the will of an eternal & sovereign God. How our free wills work together perfectly with God’s unchangeable will is a topic for another discussion.

But let’s look at another passage that addresses this issue of the God’s perfect work of saving and sanctifying us, through faith in Christ:

John 10:27-30 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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. I and the Father are one.”

Now we have to be very discerning as to how we treat the concept in assurance. It does not mean that we can continue to live in sin because we “know that God is merciful.” I’ve heard someone say that “it is an absolute, no second question, no explanation, no hearing of your life story, impossibility for you to be saved and yet live in a continual state of worldliness.” That’s a powerful statement.

We read in Romans 6 Paul addressing exactly this issue. In verse 1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can he who died to sin still live in it?” After a brief explanation of what it means to have ”died to sin” he concludes his point in verse 14, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but grace.” I would ask all of you to read the entire chapter to more fully understand the argumentation and process of thought Paul uses. But the words written here, that sin will have NO power over you because of God’s grace in your life, should cause us to very carefully examine our lives.

I’m immediately taken to Hebrews 12, and the words written there “If you are left without discipline...then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” What the author is trying to convey here is that if you are living your life in a state of pervasive and continual sin, and you feel no conviction from the Holy Spirit of that sin, through the chastisement of God Himself, then you seriously need to examine your heart and call to question the genuineness of your salvation.

So in reflecting on your life, can you see God’s omnipotent hand stirring your heart to desire to be more like Christ? Increased conviction, growing in repentance, and maturing in faith are a few marks of God’s grace in your life. This does not mean you won’t continually struggle at times. But if we truly believe in Christ’s accomplished work on the cross, the conviction and sorrow we have when we do sin will not result in a somber attitude, but will humble us yet again before throne of Grace, and cause us to cry out for forgiveness and mercy. During our lives we will continue to recognize our need of God and our total dependence on Him. HE IS ALL WE HAVE.

In all of this, I encourage you to pray for a heightened sensitivity to sin. The prayer that the psalmist prays in Psalm 139: 23-24 is a good place to start. We all need to continue to develop a very high view of God and very comprehensive knowledge of what sin is and what its consequences are. R.C. Sproul calls even the smallest sins “cosmic treason” against God. Read through the book of 1 John and take the tests John lays out for us to use to examine our lives in the light of God’s truth.

One thing that I’ve realized as I’ve studied historical theology is that the Christians that are the most devoted are the Christians that know the most of their depravity. We see throughout history that the men most used by God are those that prior to conversion, lived lifestyles of heinous sins. And without the recognition of who we truly are apart from Christ, we will never appreciate God’s gift. Knowledge of what we are being saved from, makes our appreciation of grace all the greater.

By His Grace, For His Glory

- Keith Bence

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