The Gospel & The True Christian

Recording from the conference “Back to the Word of God” at Holmavatn Mission Center in Rogaland, Norway in January, 2014.

Paul Washer:

Introduction:
Paul Washer preaches from 1 Timothy 3:14 – 4:16 about the importance of preaching the gospel. The gospel is the only message that both saves and sanctifies us, and he warns us not to change our focus to something else in the message we proclaim.

Translation into Norwegian by Bjorn Storm Johansen. Recording from meeting at Vigrestad Misjonshus on January 20, 2014.

The gospel should be the main focus of our preaching:

1. The power of the gospel – Romans 1:16

2. Preach the gospel – 1 Tim 3:14 – 4:5

3. God’s holiness and man’s depravity – Romans 3

4. The Gospel of justification and redemption – Rom 3:23,25

5. The power of regeneration – 2 Cor 5:17-18

6. Assurance of Salvation – 1 John 5:13

The Cure for a Lack of Fruit

who called the Protestant doctrine of assurance “the greatest of all heresies.” What, after all, could be more offensive to a works-based and priest-imparted system of salvation than the possibility that assurance could be attained without either? If Christians can attain an assurance of eternal life apart from participation in the church’s rituals, what possible outcome could there be other than rampant antinomianism (the belief that God’s commandments are optional)?

But what exactly did the Westminster divines mean when they implied that our assurance is “founded upon” inward evidence? Behind this statement lies a practical syllogism:

(major premise) True believers demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.
(minor premise) The fruit of the Spirit is present in me.
(conclusion) I am a true believer.

It should be obvious that the subjectivity of this argument is fraught with difficulty. While the certainty of salvation is grounded upon the (objective) work of Christ, the certainty of assurance is grounded upon the (objective) promises God gives us and the (subjective) discovery of those promises at work in us. And it is this latter consideration that gives rise to one or two problems.

Theologians have made a distinction between the direct and reflexive acts of faith. It is one thing to believe that Christ can save me (direct act of faith). It is another thing to believe that I have believed (reflexive act of faith). Apart from the first consideration (that Christ is both willing and able to save) there can be no assurance of faith. Indeed, it is pointless to move forward with the discussion about assurance apart from a conviction of the truthfulness of this statement: “Christ is able to save those who believe.”

Assuming, then, that there is no doubt as to the ability and willingness of Christ to save those who believe, how may I be assured that I have this belief? The answer of the New Testament at this point is clear: there is an “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). True faith manifests itself in outward, tangible ways. In other words, the New Testament draws a connection between faithfulness and the enjoyment of assurance. True believers demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, and this fruit is observable and measurable.

Four Ways of Knowing

The Apostle John addresses this very issue in his first epistle: “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” (1 John 5:13). Apart from belief “in the name of the Son of God,” there is no point in furthering the discussion about assurance. The question at hand is, “How can I know if my belief is genuine?” And John’s answer emphasizes four moral characteristics of the Christian life.

First, there is obedience to the commandments of God. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2–3). True faith is not and can never be antinomian.

Second, there is practicing righteousness: “You may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29). Those who have a genuine faith will display a life of faith, a life molded and shaped by the obedience of faith. They demonstrate a desire for godliness.

Third, there is a radical breach with one’s former life. John expresses it radically (by employing a relative contrast in absolute terms): “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (1 John 5:18; cf. 3:6, 9). The explanation of this admittedly difficult language requires more space than is allotted here, but it is clear enough that a true and genuine faith is incompatible with a continuation in the pattern of sinful behavior that characterizes the life lived in unbelief.

Fourth, there is walking in love: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death … whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 3:14; 4:7). Loving our brothers and sisters is something dear to the Apostle John’s heart. After all, according to tradition, the elderly Apostle in Ephesus, carried by the arms of his disciples, was heard to repeat, “Little children, love one another.” And when asked why he kept repeating it, he answered: “It is the Lord’s command. And if this be done, it is enough.”

These four marks then collectively contribute to an assurance that our faith in Christ is genuine. But what if I cannot discern these outward evidences in myself and wonder if they are lacking? Should I then conclude that my faith is hypocritical or insincere? Yes, that is a possible conclusion. But it is not necessarily the correct conclusion, because our assessment of the evidence of outward faith in these four marks may be faulty. We may be too hard on ourselves. We may doubt what others can clearly see. Satan may cloud our thinking. The lack of consistency may lead us to conclude that no evidence at all is present. And personality and disposition may lead us to negative assessments when a more objective scrutiny deduces a different conclusion. But the possibility exists that our faith may be insincere. What then?

Faith in Evidence or Faith in Christ?

And it is here that differences of counsel appear. A predictable counsel might be, “Try harder.” It is a comment I most remember from annual school reports—“Could do better.” A person who doubts the genuineness of his faith due to inconsistency of behavior would then be urged to “be more consistent.” Read more Scripture, pray with greater fervency, love with greater altruism, and so on. But what would such counsel achieve? First of all, it is doubtful that someone predisposed to read the presence of fruit negatively would fare any better in his evaluation simply by increasing effort. But more importantly, such counsel is predisposed to commit the fatal error of viewing the fruit of the faith as the root of faith. It is fundamentally predisposed to appeal to self-justification—something for which we are all hardwired.

The counsel to “do more” in the belief that works provide the ground of assurance rather than the evidence of assurance is the path to legalism—and legalism in its proper sense. In his book The Whole Christ, Sinclair B. Ferguson urges a “gospel logic” to the effect that “there is no assurance of faith that can be experienced apart from faith.”

And it is here that one perceives a counterintuitive counsel that must be given to the one lacking assurance. To look to works (and the counsel to “do more works”) as a means of gaining assurance is essentially counterproductive and pastorally deadly. Only Christ can save us, and assurance, when lacking, must be found by looking to Him. Apart from faith in Christ, no work on our part will assure us of anything except Pharisaism.

Far from being a counsel to laxity, what this counsel intends to secure is an understanding that faith gives rise to obedience rather than obedience’s giving rise to faith. And the difference is crucial. One gives rise to legalism; the other to evidentiary, evangelical (gospel-based) works.

Abiding in Christ

Is not this counsel (to look first to Christ) precisely what Jesus said in His final word to the disciples in the Upper Room?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4–5) Bearing fruit, something that Jesus identifies as keeping His commandments (15:10), is intimately related to abiding in Him. It is in the sphere of abiding in Christ and not apart from it that fruit emerges.

There is only one cure for a lack of fruit in our Christian lives. It is to go back to Christ and enjoy (yes, enjoy) our union with Him. The “love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). The Greek verb translated here as “controls” is elsewhere rendered as “surrounds” and “hems in” (Luke 8:45; 19:43). That’s what the experience of abiding in Christ does—it hems us in to obedience. From such gracious love, compliance with His commands emerges. Disobedience drives Him away. But when we enjoy His presence, we also desire to “please him” (2 Cor. 5:9). And as we bear the fruit of this union, assurance grows.

“Make Your Calling and Election Sure” Predestination and Assurance In Reformation Theology

hortonArticle by Dr. Michael Horton

According to the most lengthy of the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:

The godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh in their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God. And yet, the study of the subject has most dangerous effects on the “carnal professor.”1

Speaking of the doctrine of election as “a comforting article when it is correctly treated,” the Formula of Concord (Lutheran) offers a similar caution:

Accordingly we believe and maintain that if anybody teaches the doctrine of the gracious election of God to eternal life in such a way that disconsolate Christians can find no comfort in this doctrine but are driven to doubt and despair, or in such a way that the impenitent are strengthened in their self-will, he is not teaching the doctrine according to the Word and will of God…2

During the magisterial Reformation, the doctrine of election was regarded as a corollary to justification, the nail in the coffin of synergism (justification and regeneration by human cooperation with grace). Pastorally, election was used to drive away despair and anxiety over one’s salvation. John Bradford, an Edwardian divine who was martyred under “bloody Mary,” wrote that this doctrine was a “most principal” tenet since it places our salvation entirely in God’s hands. “This, I say, let us do, and not be too busybodies in searching the majesty and glory of God, or in nourishing doubting of salvation: whereto we all are ready enough.”3 As we will see, all of this is carefully expounded by Calvin as well.

Did Calvin Invent Predestination?
More than anything else, Calvin and Calvinism are known for this doctrine. In one sense, that is quite surprising. First, the doctrine held by Calvin–namely, predestination to both salvation (election) and damnation (reprobation)–was insisted upon by many of the church fathers. Augustine took it for granted as the catholic teaching, in opposition especially to Pelagius. Aquinas wrote,

From all eternity some are preordained and directed to heaven; they are called the predestined ones: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children according to the good pleasure of his will” [Eph. 1:5]. From all eternity, too, it has been settled that others will not be given grace, and these are called the reprobate or rejected ones: “I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau” [Mal. 1:2-3]. Divine choice is the reason for the distinction: “…according as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.”… God predestines because he loves… The choice is not dictated by any goodness to be discovered in those who are chosen; there is no antecedent prompting of God’s love [Rom. 9:11-13].4

Lodging the cause of election in the foreknowledge of human decision and action, says Aquinas, is the fountainhead of Pelagianism.5 Thomas Bradwardine, the fourteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, recalled his discovery of this great truth:

Idle and a fool in God’s wisdom, I was misled by an unorthodox error at a time when I was still pursuing philosophical studies. Sometimes I went to listen to the theologians discussing this matter [of grace and free will], and the school of Pelagius seemed to me nearest the truth… In this philosophical faculty I seldom heard a reference to grace, except for some ambiguous remarks. What I heard day in and day out was that we are masters of our own free acts, that ours is the choice to act well or badly, to have virtues or sins, and much more along this line… But every time I listened to the Epistle reading in church and heard how Paul magnified grace and belittled free will–as in the case in Romans 9, “It is obviously not a question of human will and effort, but of divine mercy,” and its many parallels–grace displeased me, ungrateful as I was… However, even before I transferred to the faculty of theology, the text mentioned came to me as a beam of grace and, captured by a vision of the truth, it seemed I saw from afar how the grace of God precedes all good works… That is why I express my gratitude to Him who has given me this grace as a gift.6 Continue reading

Many Hear the Gospel with Joy but Don’t Continue in the Faith

“Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You” (Matt. 12:47, NASB). But Jesus answers, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” (v. 48, NASB). Then, indicating His disciples, He says: “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (vv. 49–50, NASB). Jesus says that His true brother is the one who does the will of the Father, not one who simply makes a decision to follow Him.

We should always keep in mind that nobody forced Judas to become a disciple. Judas chose to follow Jesus; he made his own decision to enter the school of Jesus, and he stayed with our Lord during His earthly ministry for three years. Yet we are told that he was a devil (John 6:70). It wasn’t that Judas was genuinely converted and then fell out of grace and was lost; rather, although he was close to Jesus, he was never a converted man. That ought to give us pause as we consider the states of our own souls.

A little later in the book of Matthew, Jesus gives an explanation of His parable of the sower. It is one of the rare times in the Gospel accounts where we are given an explanation of a parable. That explanation is most helpful because this parable differs from normal parabolic instruction. Most parables have just one point. It is generally dangerous, therefore, to turn parables into allegories, which tend to have symbolic meanings sprinkled throughout the story. But the parable of the sower approaches the level of an allegory as Jesus makes several points of application.

Jesus begins His explanation by saying: “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path” (Matt. 13:18–19). The first group He is talking about is represented by the seed that fell on the path. In antiquity, at planting time, a farmer sowed his seed first, then plowed the ground. But any seed that fell on a roadway or pathway was not plowed under. Lying on the hardened path, it had no way to take root, and was devoured by birds. Jesus likens the birds to Satan. Many people are like this seed. They hear the preaching of the gospel, but it makes no impact on them. It does not take root in their lives.

Jesus continues, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (vv. 20–21).

If you go to an evangelistic meeting or watch one on TV, you may see huge crowds thronging to the front of the church in response to the call of the gospel. In fact, I once saw a report about a massive international evangelistic campaign in which millions of people supposedly had made decisions for Christ. When I read that, I wondered how many of those decisions for Christ were true conversions and how many of them were spurious. People like what they hear at these events and can be emotionally moved to make a decision to follow Christ. However, it is an established fact that many of those who come forward at evangelistic meetings soon abandon their commitments altogether. Their spur-of-the-moment responses are often groundless.

I don’t want to be too harsh in my response to reports about the successes of evangelistic events. I recognize that all outreach ministries face the problem of measuring their effectiveness. Churches generally do it by reporting the number of members in their congregations and how much they have grown over a period of time. Evangelistic ministries often do it by reporting the number of people who come to the front, raise a hand, sign a card, or pray a prayer. These ministries want to have some kind of statistic to measure the response people are making.

But how does one measure a spiritual reality? Anyone who has been involved in evangelism knows that we cannot see the heart, so the next best thing is to count the number of decisions that people make. But Jesus warns us about that here in the parable of the sower when He says that many people hear the gospel with joy—but they don’t continue in the faith. This second type of seed falls on stony ground—ground that is so shallow the seed cannot put down roots, and as soon as the sun comes up, the seedlings begin to wither. The result is that they die away and never bear fruit. Jesus tells us that these people fall away because of the tribulations and persecutions that inevitably arise in the way of faith.”

Explaining the third type of seed, Jesus says, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). This seed represents a category of people who also hear and receive the Word, but who are overwhelmed by the cares of this world. Like thorns, worldly cares “choke the word.”

Lastly, Jesus says: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit” (Matt. 13:23a).

Clearly, then, there are many who respond to the message of the gospel with joy but ultimately do not continue in the faith. Not everyone who hears the Word of God is saved, and the same is true for many who respond to it initially. Those who are genuinely saved are those who prove themselves to be doers of the Word. When the seed takes root and grows, there is fruit.

The Struggle For Assurance

How can I know I am one of the elect? It is a question many have grappled and struggled with, and rightfully so. How do any of us reach right conclusions on this? This sermon seeks to answer this question decisively.

Text: Romans 8:28-39

Lacking Assurance?

anchor1Eric Davis is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. In an article entitled “When Assurance is Lacking” at the Cripplegate website he the possibility of certainty (“Can I even know for sure that I’m saved?”), or something else. Whatever the case, know that this is a common battle. You are not alone.

I understand a bit of what that is like as I battled with the darkness of doubt for a time in seminary. The source of my doubt was multi-faceted. On the one hand, it arose from a sudden realization of previously unseen sin. I claimed to believe in the gospel, but my “new” sin seemed to eclipse the cross. My excessive self-analyzing exacerbated the problem. The deeper and longer I beheld my thoughts, the more assurance fled (as it often will). Maybe you are experiencing doubt for those reasons. Or maybe it’s Satan, your natural temperament, or something else. I don’t know.

So, I want to share with you a few things that I have found helpful in battling the darkness of doubt.

A quick-fix approach probably is not helpful.
Certainly you are aware that there is no pixie-dust solution to doubt. If you’ve been like me, you’ve probably tried them. And more dangerous than trying them is taking comfort in them. Steer clear of the pixie-dust.

As difficult as it may be, the goal here is not to swiftly soothe the discomfort of doubt. Rather, the goal is to please Christ by understanding and embracing truth. Perhaps your assurance will be quickly restored. Perhaps not. Either way, avoid worshiping the “not-feeling-doubt” god. He’s an insufficient savior.

Also, some may counsel you along the lines of, “Oh, quit doubting. Of course you are a Christian! Remember back to moment A or B, when you did Y or Z? Just look at all the great Christian things you have done in your life.” Resist the urge to settle there. Looking at ourselves is not the best approach.

Perhaps because you are looking at what you have done, you are doubting. I know it was that way for me. And that advice was not helpful because I needed to do the exact opposite; look outside, not inside, myself. On the topic of God’s work in assurance, Burk Parsons writes, “He assures us not by giving us confidence in ourselves by bringing us to the end of ourselves so that we might know and love him.” This brings up the next point.

Our assurance is first outside, not inside, of us.
I am not going to encourage you to look to your decisions or deeds in the past. Instead, let’s look to something outside of ourselves in the present. I am going to spend extra time on these since I have found that the lack of assurance can be the product of not bathing our souls in gospel truth; the bedrock of our faith.

First, consider Luke 18:9-14. Continue reading

Foundations of Assurance

Many Christians base their assurance of salvation on false premises. This Scriptural guide reveals the certain hope that is provided in Christ himself.

HANDOUT SERMON NOTES

Someone might well say “There’s no way anyone can know if there is life after death or if there is a heaven or hell, and there’s certainly no way to know whether you are going to one of those places or the other.”

In to the quagmire of human opinion steps a man called Jesus Christ who makes audacious claims – claims that if not true make him less than a good teacher, symptoms but either a liar who has deceived billions of people, a lunatic (madman)… or else, He is exactly who He claimed to be.

Text: John 14:1-6

Assurance is built in much the same way as a house, brick by brick, laying one truth upon another.

THE EXISTENCE OF GOD – Romans 1 – God does not believe in atheists! God has made the evidence of His existence known to man – all know it but many suppress it.

GOD’S REVELATION – THE BIBLE – It is not a scientific text book as such but when Scripture makes claims that can be attested by science, it stands the test of time in a remarkable (supernatural) way. It is centuries and millennia ahead of its time.

Earth – a circle (Isa 40:22), hung on nothing (Job 26:7) – the moon a reflector of light (does not shine (Job 25:5) – the fact that air has weight (Job 28:24, 25) – time zones (a moment in time that will be night time for some and daytime for others – Luke 17:31-37) – the number of stars “cannot be numbered) Jer 33:20-22) – the water cycle (Ecc 1:6, 7) – Life is in the blood (Lev 17:11) – strict hygiene and sanitation laws (found in Leviticus 13:45-59)) that kept Israel from the spread of disease millennia before germs were discovered (its only in the last 100 years that the regular washing of hands became standard practice in hospitals) – atoms and molecules (things unseen) (Heb 11:3) – ocean currents (Isaiah 43:16; Psalm 8:8) – archaeology – fulfilled prophecy… (Christ, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, His cross and resurrection (Psalm 22; Isa 53), etc. etc.)

JESUS CHRIST – HIS PERSON AND HIS WORK – He existed in history – In a communist Russian dictionary, Jesus is described as “a mythical figure who never existed.” Of course, no serious historian could hold to that position today. The evidence is overwhelming as to the fact that Jesus existed, not just from the Gospels and other Christian literature around the first century, but also from non-Christian sources.
Well respected historians of the day, including Tacitus (a Roman) speak of him, as well as the noted Jewish historian Josephus. He writes

“Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him, both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians so named after him, are not extinct at this day.” Josephus: Antiquities XVIII 63f

Of course, a whole book is needed to cover all the evidence regarding the existence of Jesus. In fact, Josh McDowelI has already written one, called “He walked among us.” Suffice it to say that there is overwhelming evidence to say that Jesus was a real historical person. Continue reading

Assurance of Salvation

In an article entitled “The Privilege of Assurance” theologian Roger Nicole which is secured by the work of Christ for His own and which is properly undergirded in the Reformed faith, is damaged or even destroyed in certain other theological structures.

I. When justification by faith alone is not duly proclaimed and the good works of the believer are presented as participating in the ground on the basis of which salvation is secured, the assurance of faith receives a fatal blow. The prime example of this distortion is found in the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church as prevalent in the time of the Reformation and codified at the Council of Trent (1545–1563).

In this view it is not denied that Christ has accomplished a saving work for humanity, but justification is envisioned as the total process by which the redeemed are brought to perfection by the Holy Spirit. To say, then, “I am justified” is equivalent to a claim of having achieved perfection. Who can realistically make such a claim? Nobody! Those who venture to do it are adjudged to be arrogant and presumptuous. The best that can be said is: “I am in the process of being saved; I hope that at the end of my life I may be in a state of grace and therefore not cast into hell; I am diligently seeking to take advantage of the means of grace (sacraments) and to refrain from sinning, but God only knows whether I am going to make it.”

It is this uncertainty that drove Martin Luther almost out of his mind before he came to understand the great truth of justification by faith alone. At last he perceived that salvation is not secured by dint of good works, fastings, alms, and other disciplines, but that it has been purchased in full by the saving work of Jesus Christ with whom we are united through faith alone. The fact of this union brings with it assurance just as an authentic receipt brings complete release from the burden of a debt.

It is to be noted that the Roman Church is not the only offender in this respect; many groups and individuals have also clouded the pure doctrine of justification by introducing an element of human merit in the process. Even many Lutherans, otherwise orthodox, have shown reluctance to confess the perseverance of God with the redeemed, and thus made a present assurance no guarantee of an ultimate salvation.

II. This problem also burdens the Arminian view. In keeping with Arminian principles, a believer may properly say, “I am saved now,” for by virtue of the work of Christ God confers salvation to any and all who repent and believe. Yet this blessing is not a basis for complete confidence that a change of disposition may not occur. There are many tragic examples, they say, of people who after having been saved have turned away and lost out altogether. The apostle Judas is a notable case in point, and Hebrews 6:4–6 surely provides a solemn warning in this respect:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace.

If salvation once experienced is not secured by the grace of God so as to be a permanent blessing, the momentary assurance of it is of relatively small significance. Even those who, in Arminian terms, have experienced “Christian perfection” are not immune from the danger of falling from grace and being lost.

Although Arminians seldom reason it this way, it would appear that for them the best thing that could happen would be to die as soon as they have accepted Christ. To continue to live is to expose oneself to the risk of losing salvation. This is certainly not Paul’s outlook in Phil. 1:22–26: Continue reading