“The Doctrine Of Assurance”                                                        April 7, 2013

1 John 5:13

 

SI:  For next few Sundays we will jump around a bit sermonically.

Today and next week I’m going to address a particular topic—

   which I’ll get into in just a moment. 

 

And then, on the third Sunday of April, the 21st

   Eastside Baptist is going to worship with us, in our service,

   and Pastor Ken Allen is going to preach.

That will be Eastside’s official goodbye to us.

   They will be here for a few more weeks, and then move into their new building.

And then, the Sunday after that, the last on in April,

   I’m going to come back the topic I introduce today and finish up.

 

I don’t normally preach topical sermons. 

My training and preference is to preach through a book of the Bible

   or through an extended portion of Scripture and let those passages

   determine the topics. 

But sometimes it’s helpful for a preacher to focus on a particular topic

   that has been brought to his attention through conversations with

   church members.

 

About a year and a half ago, I preached on death, judgment, hell, and heaven.

   That was prompted by a conversation I had with one of our college students.

And the subject we’re going to study today was also prompted by some recent

   conversations with two different church members.   

 

It’s a topic of perennial importance for Christians,

   something that I’m sure every one of us has wrestled with at some time.

 

Let’s read one verse to introduce this topic.  1 John 5:13

   “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God

   so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

 

How do you know you have eternal life?

 

 

 

INTRO:  I occasionally get phone calls from strangers who have urgent spiritual

   questions.  These are odd calls that come out of the blue and I usually never hear

   from these people again.  When I ask them why they called me, most of the time

   they just looked for churches in the Yellow Pages and started calling.

 

Once a woman called out of the blue and asked me if I thought Jesus was coming

   back soon—as in, is he coming back some time in the next few months?

I asked her why she wanted to know and she said that her husband claimed

   Jesus was coming back very soon, and he had cancelled all their insurance

   and had quit his job.  She wanted to know if he was right.

That was an interesting conversation. 

 

My most memorable phone call from a total stranger went like this.

I said:  Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church.

   And a man shouted:  Are you the preacher?

I said:  Yes, I am.

   He said:  “Preacher, how can I be saved?”

 

I wondered for a split second if this was some kind of test that the PCA was

conducting—a test to see how our to see how ministers would answer that question. 

   So I just stuck to the Bible.  I said: 

   “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

 

He said:  “I’ve done that, but I don’t think I’m saved.”

   I asked:  “Why don’t you think you’re saved?”

He said:  “Because I don’t feel like I’m saved.”

   I asked:  “Why don’t you feel like you’re saved?”

“Because . . .” then he told me that a year earlier he had made a profession of faith

   in Christ, but recently he had fallen back into some old sinful habits.  

 

And I realized that it was going to be a long phone call.

Because this man was not really asking, “How can I be saved?”

   Which is an easy question to answer.

He was really asking, “How can I know that I am saved?”

   That is a harder question to answer. 

   It deals with a subject that theologians call the doctrine of assurance.

 

It’s harder to answer for several reasons.

For one thing, different branches of church have very different views of the subject.

The Catholic Church teaches that ordinarily you cannot know you are saved,

   or more specifically, you cannot know that you will be saved in the end.

According to the Council of Trent (an important summary of Catholic doctrine):

   “If anyone says, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great

   gift of perseverance unto the end—unless he has learned this by special revelation; let him be

   anathema.”

In other words, unless God actually speaks to you supernaturally

   and tells you that you are going to be saved in the end, then you can’t be certain.

   And if you say you are certain, then you are anathema—cut off, excommunicated. 

 

But even among Protestant churches, there are different views about assurance—

   mainly differences about what you base your assurance of salvation on.

There are some churches that place great importance, even primary importance,

   on identifying a specific day and hour when you prayed a salvation prayer. 

And if you can recall that day and hour when you prayed to receive Christ—

   then you can be sure you are saved.  If you can’t name the day and hour, trouble.

 

On the other hand, there are other churches that say basing your assurance of

   salvation on a conversion experience alone is unbiblical and dangerous—

   that it can lead to presumption and false faith.

They say that assurance must be based on promises of God

   and evidences of grace in your life.

 

The other thing that makes this question hard to answer

   is that assurance is largely experiential.  It’s about how you feel.

That man who called me said:  I don’t think I’m saved.  When I asked why?

   He said:  Because I don’t feel like I’m saved.  That’s the big question.

How can I feel that I am saved?  How can I have experiential certainty I’m saved?

 

And because this is a matter of your feelings, everybody will experience differently.

   Also, because it’s a matter of feelings, it’s not something you resolve once.

   This heartbeat of Christian life is knowing Christ’s love, feeling it, growing in it.

We’re going to start with the assumption that you can know you have eternal life.

   1 John 5:13 says you can know.  If you can know, it’s possible to feel.

Let’s lay the groundwork with three points.  I’ll give them to you as we go.

 

But before I begin, I want to give credit where credit is due. 

Got tremendous help from a series of sermons on assurance by Dr. Robert Rayburn,

   pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington. 
MP#1  Assurance of your salvation is separate from your salvation itself.

In other words, a person can be saved, but not think he is saved or feel he is saved.

   A person can be certainly bound for heaven, but be afraid and doubtful he is.

I want to tell you a story that I’ve told you before. 

   It’s actually a parable helpful for understanding this point about assurance. 

 

Many years ago, a traveler in the far north

   was going by foot from one small town to another. 

It was winter, and as evening fell he came to a frozen lake and he could see

   the twinkling lights of the town over on the far side.

The road went around the lake. 

   He could stay on the road but that would take him many hours,

   or he could just cut right across the frozen lake.

 

So he started across the lake.  But the longer he walked, more worried he became

   about the ice.  Everybody knows that ice thinnest in middle.

So he got down on his hands and knees to distribute his weight.

   But even crawling, he started to worry the ice was too thin,

   so he stretched out on his stomach, pulled self along with fingertips.

Finally, when he reached the middle, so frightened ice going to break,

   he just stopped—but he was too afraid to turn around and go back.

 

As he was laying there, he heard a sound—he heard bells.

He looked up and saw in the moonlight a horse-drawn sleigh with two couples.

   They were laughing and singing.  Obviously completely confident in the ice.

   They whizzed past the man, on their way to the town on the other side.

 

In this parable, the town on the far side of the lake is heaven.

The ice—thick, strong ice—able to easily support horse and sleigh—is salvation.

   It’s the work of Jesus Christ, it’s the strong arms of the heavenly Father.

And the travelers are different believers.

Some Christians are fearful and just crawling along spiritually, afraid that they

   aren’t going to make it, that they will be lost.

Others are singing confidently with the eyes of their hearts on the lights of heaven.

   But here’s the thing—Although one is fearful, one confident, both equally saved.

Because salvation does not rest on how Christians feel, but on what is under them.

 

Charles Spurgeon used a similar example. 

   He said that the Christian life is like a great ship, a great ocean liner.

All the passengers on that ship are going to the same port—heaven.

   They all have the same Captain—Jesus Christ.

   They have all put their faith in the Captain to guide safely across sea.

But the experiences of each passenger on that ship can be very different.

   One passenger dines at the Captain’s table every night—

   But another passenger trips while coming on board, breaks his leg—

   and spends the entire voyage in the infirmary.

 

Unlike salvation, assurance be shaken and practically lost.  Unlike salvation, assurance is something that a Christian can grow in and have more of. 

   That is implied in 1 John 5:13—

“I write these things to you that you may know you have eternal life.”

   Assurance something that John was helping these Christians gain more of

   through his letter to them.  He wanted them to get more assurance.

 

That means that Christians can have vastly different levels of assurance.

One of the famous historical examples of this was the friendship between

   John Newton and William Cowper.

You know John Newton—Anglican minister who wrote Amazing Grace.

   Slave trader before he became a Christian—a violent, evil man.

   He was transformed by the Gospel.

William Cowper is a name you might not recognize, but look in any hymnbook:

   There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood, God Moves In A, Sometimes a Light

 

Cowper lived in the church manse with John and Mary Newton.  Close friend.

   Wrote hymns together.  Newton had strong assurance—never doubted, knew.

   Cowper didn’t.  Many times, he was convinced he was not a Christian.  Lost.

Newton would encourage him, point him to Christ.

   Would point out evidences in Cowper’s life of regeneration.

Cowper—yes, of course Christ has saved me—then a relapse, afraid again.

   During times of assurance, would write those magnificent hymns.

As look at Cowper’s life, some clues as to why he struggled with this.

   We’ll talk about those things in a few weeks.  Are some common threads.

 

But important thing to note—assurance varies tremendously among Christians

   because the assurance of your salvation is separate from your salvation itself.

Your salvation does not rest on how you feel or on the absence of certain doubts.

   That should be an encouragement to those of you who are crawling and shaking.

   But you shouldn’t be content to stay in that position—brings us to second point.


MP#2  Assurance of your salvation given by God, and he wants you to seek it. 

One Christmas morning when I was a boy, I found a card on the tree with my name.

   A string was tied to card, the card said to follow the string, that Santa Claus had

   something for me.  So I followed the string, out of the room, out the front door,

   around the house in the frosty grass in my pajamas, to the garage.

And inside were my parents, laughing and grinning,

   and there was a new, green three-speed bike. 

 

God gives assurance.  Every good gift is from him. 

   He gives it to Christians at different times and in different degrees.

But he never expects Christians to be passive in this matter—wants you to seek it.

 

Once again, this implied by John.  “These things are written that you may know.”

   What things?  His letter.  1 John.  Whole letter about getting assurance.

Only way know what is in letter is to do what?  To read it, study it, think about it.

   That takes some looking.

2 Peter 1:10 says, “Be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.”

   Once again, there is that matter of seeking assurance.

 

My Christmas morning illustration is not a good one. 

   Because you normally don’t find assurance once and then say, ok, what’s next.

Assurance is not something that you find and then move on to the next thing

   in the Christian life—check assurance off the list.

 

Westminster Confession of Faith says: 

   “It is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that

   thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and

   thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience.”

It’s your duty to pursue assurance, to do all you can to be sure.

 

Dr. Rayburn says:  “Assurance is not simply a matter of being sure, for the right reasons,

   that you are saved.  It is also a matter of living in the active confidence of God’s love and

   forgiveness, of the near approach of the glories of heaven, and of the presence of the Holy

   Spirit . . . Assurance is, at the last, the sense of God’s love kept on the soul, the joy of

   salvation, and the hope of eternal life.”

 

“The sense of God’s love kept on the soul.”

   That is something never stop seeking, to know more deeply. 

Assurance is really the great quest of the Christian life.

   Synonymous with growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

This is a good place to mention something that you are sure to run across

   as you seek assurance—those Bible passages that warn against false assurance.

Any serious reader of the Bible will notice that the Bible is just as concerned

   about removing assurance from people who shouldn’t have it as it is to give it

   to people who need it, have a reason to have it.

We read two examples of these warnings earlier in the service.

 

Amos 5 is typical of what you find in many of the prophets.

   They often warned the Israelites—don’t think you are saved—you aren’t.

   The Israelites were saying, We can’t wait for the day of the Lord.

   We want the Lord to come.  He will rescue us and destroy our enemies.

Amos says, Why do you want the Lord to come? 

   You think God will deliver you from your enemies?

For you day of the Lord will be like fleeing from a lion and running into a bear,

   like running into your house for safety, being bitten by a snake.

   You will be judged on that day because your faith is false.  Think saved.  Not.

 

Then there are Jesus’ words in Matthew 7

   “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.

   Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your

   name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never

   knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”

 

How do these warnings fit in the search for assurance?

Do you read them and say:  Oh, no!  I can’t ever know for sure. 

   If I think I am a child of God, I might just be fooling myself.

You could have that reaction, but that doesn’t make sense. 

   Clearly, God wants Christians to know.  “These things have I written . . .”

 

The warning passages are not to discourage you from seeking assurance,

   but to encourage you to seek it more diligently, and to look for it in right place.

As we get deeper into this, will see that these warnings contain very practical

   instructions for seeking assurance.

If these warning passages about false faith bother you—that’s a good thing.

   Because the nature of false faith is to think warnings don’t apply to you at all.

True, saving faith is alarmed by these warnings. 

   But that does not undermine you, instead it pushes you toward Christ.

   The way you can tell, is the effect it has on your life. 

Leads us to last point.

MP#3  Assurance of salvation enables you to live as God intends for you to live.

The Lord doesn’t want you crawling through life on the way to heaven,

   worrying the ice is going to crack and you are going to sink into hell.

He wants you to ride, joyfully singing his praises with your companions on the way.

   He doesn’t want you in the ship’s infirmary. 

   He wants you dining at the Captain’s table.

 

There are branches of the church, theological systems that say that you can never

   have complete assurance in this life.  Or they say—you can know right now

   that you are saved, but you could lose your salvation next Friday night.

They often argue that the only way to keep you serious is the uncertainty.

   If you knew for certain it would ruin you as a Christian.

   It would make you presumptuous and lazy.

 

There are a number of places you could turn in the Bible to refute that—

But I’d like us to consider the way the Bible says that marriage is a picture

   of Christ’s relationship with his people.

He is the groom, the church is his bride.

 

Just one question:  What happens in a marriage when the man is always communicating his love to his wife—

   not only telling her he loves her—but making clear in many ways

   that he is delighted with her and that she is the object of all his affections?

Remember Garrison Keilor talking about Minnesota farmer in one of his

   Lake Woebegon stories—man never told his wife he loved her.

She carried sorrow for years.  Finally, when old and gray she confronted him.

   He said:  I told you I loved you on our wedding day.

   I haven’t changed my mind.  Didn’t see any reason to keep repeating myself.”

 

What happens when she knows he loves her, because always communicating that?

Assurance in a marriage causes love to grow deeper and more passionate.

   There are exceptions—hard-hearted spouses.

But usually assurance produces a marriage as marriage is intended to be—

   a powerful bond of pleasure and delight between a man and a woman. 

Instead of ruining a Christian, assurance enables him to live as God intended.

 

How does Christ, the groom, speak to us, his bride?

Is he like the Minnesota farmer?  Leave us wondering—are things right here?

   I want to give you a list of the different ways the Bible talks about salvation.

I’m going to read a Bible verse with each.

What I want you to listen to the absolute certainly with which Lord speaks to you.

   You will not hear one hint that your salvation could crack, break.

Twelve ways Bible talks about your salvation.

 

1.  The Bible talks about salvation as God’s love for his people.

Romans 8 “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

2.  The Bible talks about salvation as Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.

Hebrews 10  “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

 

3.  The Bible talks about salvation as Jesus the shepherd keeping his sheep.

John 10  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

 

4.  The Bible talks about salvation as Jesus praying for us.

Hebrews 7  “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

 

5.  The Bible talks about salvation as Jesus ruling over all things for our good.

Ephesians 1  “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be the head over everything for the church.”

 

6.  The Bible talks about salvation as our adoption into the family of God.

Isaiah 49  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you.”

 

7.  The Bible talks about salvation as justification (declared right in God’s eyes). 

Romans 8  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

 

8.  The Bible talks about salvation as sanctification (being made holy and good).

Philippians 1 “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 

9.  The Bible talks about salvation as God’s promises.

2 Corinthians 1  “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘yes’ in Christ.”

 

10.  The Bible talks about salvation as a divine calling.

Romans 11  “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

 

 

11.  The Bible talks about salvation as God’ covenant faithfulness.

Hebrews 13  “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

 

12.  The Bible talks about salvation as a place for you in heaven.

John 14  “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

 

That’s a short list.  We could go on and on. 

But isn’t it clear that the Lord doesn’t want you crawling through Christian life,

   on your way to heaven but worried that the ice will break and you will sink.

He wants you to ride through life, joyfully singing his praises—

   with your eye on the lights of heaven, and his strong salvation holding you up.

 

Assurance enables you to live as God intends for you to live.

   If you have it, you need more of it.  You already know that. 

   Can never have enough of the love of God brought home to your soul.

 

If you don’t have much, remember—the most important thing in our study—

   your salvation rests on Christ, not your assurance—

   but set out to get it, God wants you to have it—

“These things are written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,

   so that you may know you have eternal life.”