“Attaining Assurance”                                                                       April 28, 2013

Matthew 7:7-11

 

SI:  This is the final Sunday in a 3 week series on the doctrine of assurance.

The question of assurance is not:

   How can I be saved?  It is . . .

   How can I know I am saved?

   How can I feel that I am saved?

As I heard someone put it once:

   I know the promises of God are true, but how do I know they are true for me?

 

1 John 5:13 says:

   These things have I written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God

   so that you may know that you have eternal life.

It’s very clear.  You can know.  God wants you to know you have eternal life.

 

2 Peter 1:10 says:

   Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.

You can be sure that you have been called and elected by God.

 

Last time we looked at the various reasons why true believers sometimes

   struggle with the assurance of their salvation, or even lose it for a time.

For our last study of this topic, I want us to consider how you get assurance,

   or how you regain it after you have lost it, how you strengthen it when weak.

I’ve touched on this in the past two sermons.

   But this morning we’ll look at it in more detail.

 

Let’s look now at Matthew 7:7-11.

This passage not explicitly about assurance, like 1 John 5:13—

   but it shows us the way we are to get it.

 

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  9Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

 

 

 

INTRO:  All of you who are parents understand what I mean when I say that

   little children are terrible lookers.  They don’t know how to look for things.

   You say:  “Put on your shoes.  We’re leaving in 5 minutes.”

   They say:  “But I can’t find them!”

You’re in a hurry so you go look for the shoes and where do you find them? 

   They’re in the middle of the floor!

 

One of our children was particularly bad looker.

   Once this child asked me to help him find something. 

   (Oops!  Now you know who I am talking about!)

Anyway, he couldn’t find this particular object, was frustrated

   So I walked into his room and there it was.

   You’ve heard the saying:  “If it was a snake it would have bit him.”

 

I said, I see it but I’m not going to tell you where it is. 

   That frustrated him a little bit.  He wanted me to tell him.

   But I said, No—you have to look. 

So he started shaking his head back and forth.

   I said, You’re not looking.  Just shaking your head.  Look at the floor there.

   Now, look slowly all the way across it.  Keep looking—no, don’t get upset.

   You haven’t looked in that corner, over that way, keep looking . . .

Then he found it.  And he was very pleased with himself.

 

The Lord wants you to look for the assurance of your salvation.

   If you aren’t looking for it, you aren’t going to get it.

But as you begin to look—in the places and ways God instructs in his word—

   he will, in his time, make sure that you find it.

   And you can be assured that when you find it, it is the real thing.

 

Finding assurance is not like finding a pair of shoes.

   You put them on and you are done and move on to the next thing.

Assurance is not something you find once and then you are done looking for it.

   In a sense, assurance is a continual quest in the Christian life.

It is something you get more and more of as you grow.

 

Do you remember how Dr. Rayburn put it:

   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 . . .

What a great definition:

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

 

That is something Christians should never stop seeking.

A wife never gets tired of the assurance of her husband’s love.

   She wants to know, and keep knowing, that she is the object

   of his delight and affection.  Do you love me?  How do I look?

Assurance in a marriage enables love and intimacy to grow deep and strong.

   Assurance is the life blood of married life. 

 

Assurance is also the life blood of the Christian life.

   Knowing that you are forgiven and loved by God in Christ,

   causes you to seek him more and hate sin and unfaithfulness more.

Looking for assurance is really synonymous with growing in the grace and

   knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

So where does God want you to look for it?

The Bible teaches us that God wants his children to look for the assurance

   of their salvation in three places. 

These three are not independent.  They support and correct each other.

 

This will become more clear as we go along.

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

   Sermon series on this subject by Dr. Robert Rayburn a great help to me.

 


 

MP#1  The first place you have to look for assurance is in the promises of salvation God has made to those who believe.

This is literally the first place you have to start looking—both for yourself,

   and if you are helping a fellow believer who is struggling with assurance.

 

Do you remember the parable I told you three weeks 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.

   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.

 

How do you go from being a crawling Christian to being a sleigh-riding, singing

   Christian?  You have to become confident in the thickness of the ice. 

 

The place you start is with God’s promises to those who believe

   Particularly those promises that connect faith to the righteousness of Christ.

Romans 8:1  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 10:19  If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that  

   God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

John 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to

   become children of God.

John 6:37  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never

   drive away.

John 10:27-28  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.

 

You confess, you believe, you receive, you come to him, you listen to his voice,

   you follow him—all of these different ways of describing faith in Christ. 

And through faith God promises union with his Son.

   So that all the benefits of his life and death are extended to you.

Yes, you are by nature a rebel.  Yes, you deserve judgment and hell.

   Yes, you deserve to fall through the ice and into darkness.

God’s promise is that if you trust my Son Jesus and follow him,

   then I will count his perfect life for your life, and his death as your punishment.

And I will keep you safe and bring you home to heaven. 

 

There was a famous Scottish minister named John Duncan.

   Nickname was Rabbi Duncan, because a missionary to Hungarian Jews.

   A man of very deep faith and learning, but struggled all life with assurance.

This is what he once said about assurance:

When the push comes, nothing but imputed righteousness will stand the day. 

   Ultimately, where are you going to get assurance?  Not by looking at yourself.

   When push comes, the righteousness of Christ imputed to you.

 

Imputation is the great doctrine that the perfect life and death of Jesus Christ

   is credited to me.  It’s put on my side of the ledger. 

So Jesus’ death counts for me.  I still have to die.  But no judgment, no wrath.

   And, Jesus life counts for me too.  His perfect obedience is my robe. 

Rabbi Duncan finishes up this way: 

   It was there we began, and it is there we must end, with God as a sin-forgiving God

   through the obedience unto the death of his only-begotten Son. 

You’re on the ice.  You’re fearful going to fall through.

   But here is the beginning and end of the matter.  It has nothing to do with you. 

   You are resting on the perfectly obedient life of Jesus Christ.

There is no way that you can enjoy true assurance of your salvation unless you look

   for it in the promises of salvation that God gives to those who believe.

If they have become mundane and stale to you—start by repenting.

   Ask Lord to forgive you for taking Christ and salvation for granted.

   Ask him to forgive you for not being amazed at imputation of his life.

Then look at those promises, read them and rest in them.

 

But sometimes, a person will say:

   That’s well and good, but these promises are conditional.

   They are conditional on faith in Christ.

And that’s the very thing.  How do I know my faith is real?

   How do I know I’m not fooling myself?  That I’m not a hypocrite?

 

Brings us to the second point. 


 

MP#2  The second place you have to look for assurance is in the evidence of God’s grace at work in your life.

You always start with the promises of God to those who believe.

   You always start by looking at the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

   Then you have to look at yourself. 

 

The Bible says over and over that saving faith in Jesus Christ reveals itself

   in godly thoughts, words, and deeds.

And as you examine your life, and as you see that your life is characterized

   by godly thoughts, words, and deeds, then you are able to draw the conclusion

   that you have saving faith, that you are one of the elect, that you are born again.

 

Jesus says it a number of times.

   “By their fruit you will recognize them.  A bad tree bears bad fruit, a good tree good fruit.” 

   “If you love me you will obey what I command.”

In his Parable of the Sower, the only seed that produced fruit was one on good soil.

   The Lord’s point is clear.  When a person is truly born again, that new life will

   show itself in ways that can be seen.  Obviously, we are to look for those fruit.

 

All of the apostles use this argument:

James “Faith without works is dead.”

   Good works are a result of and evidence of saving faith.

   James wastes no time spelling out those evidences in particular, calling us to do.

Peter “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.”

   Tells them next that you make your calling an election by certain qualities

   that are added to your faith—goodness, knowledge, brotherly-kindness, etc.

 

John  “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers.”

   From 1 John, whole letter about how you know.  If you see genuine love in

   your heart for fellow Christians, then that is evidence you have been born again.

Paul “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.

   There it is plainly.  It’s by self-examination you know if in the faith.

 

But there’s a difficult with this basis of assurance.

What happens when you examine yourself and you don’t like what you see?

   Instead of giving you assurance that you are a child of God, wonder if you are.

You see the sinful things you’ve done, the people you’ve harmed,

   the horrible things you’ve thought and said.

And more distressing, you see deeper sinful motivations of your heart.

 

You realize that there is not one good thing you have done in your life

   that is not tainted in some way with your sin.

Even your good deeds are done with mixed motives.

   Sometime you get a glimpse at your pride and selfishness and it stuns you.

 

Remember Rabbi Duncan?  By the account of every person who knew him,

   one of the most godly, warm-hearted Christians of his time.

Near the end of his life he said:

   Alas! I have never done a sinless action during it all; I have never done a sinless action during  

   the seventy years.  I don’t say but by God's grace there may have been some holy action done,

   but never a sinless action during the seventy years.

He also said:

   “Nobody’s perfect” may be the hypocrite’s couch of ease, it is the believer’s bed of thorns.

 

Part of that is personality.  Talked about that last time.

   There are introspective Christians whose temperament affect assurance.

   But it’s a sobering observation.  What about the deep sinfulness we see inside?

When the Bible speaks about the fruit that comes from saving faith,

   it doesn’t mean sinlessness.

Throughout this life, even the good deeds of real Christians are profoundly

   marred by sins of every kind.  Read the Bible.  Not a saint who is sinless.

 

When you examine yourself, and when you see even good deeds marred by sin,

   and are distressed, that should encourage you, because one of the evidences of

   God’s grace in your life is this very recognition. 

See, the hypocrite says:  I may have done some bad things, deep down,

   I’m a good person.  That’s very important to them.  I’m a good person.

But only a true Christian can say:

   “All my righteous acts are filthy rags.” 

There’s a lovely old Puritan prayer that says: 

   “I need to repent of my repenting.”  “My tears need to be washed.”

Only a Christian can feel that. 

 

Of course you aren’t going to like what you see when you examine yourself.

   But the most important thing of all—and this is the absolute key to assurance

   in this area—is that you should see that you are striving to put sins to death,

   and doing all you can to walk in obedience to Jesus.

And if that is happening, then you really are changed, and growing in grace.

 

No one is ever more sure of his salvation or of God’s love for him

   than a person who is working out his salvation with fear and trembling. 

 

Even Paul, the great Apostle Paul wrote,

   “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others,

   I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Think about that.  The man who wrote “Nothing can separate us from love of God”

   also knew that to be assured of his salvation, he had to continue to live a faithful,

   committed life. 

 

How do you know your faith is real?  How do you know if really trusting Christ?

   Examine yourself for evidences of God’s grace. 

Not the least of which is a growing, spiritual sensitivity to your sin,

   and a desire to put it to death and walk in obedience.

 


MP#3  The third place you have to look for assurance is in the witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God.

 

Romans 8:16  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we children of God.”

What does that mean?  Means simply that there are times when the Holy Spirit

   communicate a sense of God’s love to the heart of the believer.

Paul says that when this happens it leads us to cry out, “Abba, Father.”

   In other words, when this happens, you are so filled with assurance

   that you are a child of God that you speak to him with utter confidence.

 

How do you look for this assurance? 

This is different from the first two.  You can look in the Bible for God’s promises.

   You can look at yourself.  Look into your own life for evidence of grace.

   But how do you look for and find this mysterious work of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus says that the work of the Holy Spirit is like the wind.

   It blows where it will, you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it

   comes from or where it is going.

That applies to everything the Holy Spirit does. 

   Why does he save one person and not another?

   Why does he bring revival to one church or nation and not others?

 

When it comes to this matter of assurance, clearly, the Holy Spirit works

   whenever and wherever he wants. 

Christian history is full of stories of believers in most dark places, in prisons,

   facing death, who were filled with this assurance by the Holy Spirit. 

Dr. Robert Rayburn tells the story of a young Vietnamese man named Hien Pham.

   He was a Christian, served as an American military as a translator during the war.

When South Vietnam fell he was arrested, subjected to communist indoctrination.

   After months, he began to doubt that there was a God.

Finally, he decided to abandon his faith.  He decided to quit praying. 

 

His work in the prison was to clean the latrines. 

   That day he saw in trash a crumpled sheet with English words, stuck in pocket.

Against rules, but being fluent in English, couldn’t contain his curiosity. 

   That night, quietly got out—very first thing saw written across top—Romans 8.

   He literally began to tremble.  And he read:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life...will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

This was the day he was going to quit praying.  Give up believing in God and Christ

The Holy Spirit works in those exceptional ways to assure us.

   Maybe you’ve had similar experiences.  I have once.  Come like bolt out of blue.

 

But the Bible tells us that there is a time and place where the Holy Spirit

   most often and regularly gives this assurance—

   it is when God’s people are gathered together in worship.

We read Psalm 27 earlier in the service. 

 

Why was it that David wanted above everything else to dwell in house of Lord

   all the days of his life, gaze on beauty of the Lord, seek him in his temple?

Because in the temple, the good news of Christ was pressed home on his heart.

   Worship in the temple pressed home David’s great sinfulness,

   God’s grace, forgiveness through the blood of a substitute.

 

There are other places in the Psalms in which God’s people, struggling with

   doubts, fears, come to the temple, their faith and love suddenly restored.

This has been true of believers throughout ages—still true today, should be of us—

   assurance often comes in the house of God and the worship of God—

   because there the Holy Spirit presses home the truths of the Gospel.

The irony is that often, when Christians are in a spiritual funk,

   they want to stay away from church.  What they need, feel they can’t handle.

 

Every Lord’s Day we make a pilgrimage through the Gospel in worship.

   Read, sing, hear of the holiness of God, his greatness and love.

   We confess our sins to him.  We receive the assurance of his pardon.

   We hear his loving instruction from his Word.  Commune with him at Table.

You ought to come to church every Lord’s Day morning with a prayer:

   “Holy Spirit, shed your love abroad in my heart.”

 

No matter how you feel, especially if you feel full of doubt, ought to pray:

   “Holy Spirit, I beg you to bear witness with my spirit that I am a child of God.”

And often gently, but sometimes like a flood he will hear your prayer

   and pour out assurance. 

It happens.  The Holy Spirit bears witness. 

 

CONC:  Most of you know the famous hymn, Rock of Ages.

   Written by an Englishman named Augustus Toplady.

   He was a man of deep theological knowledge.  He said this about assurance:

 

Faith is the hand by which we touch the garment of Christ’s righteousness. 

   Such a soul is undoubtedly safe.

Assurance is the ring which God puts on faith’s finger. 

   Such a soul is not only safe, but also comfortable and happy. 

A wife may lose her wedding ring.  But that does not dissolve the marriage relation.

   She continues a lawful wife still.  And yet she is not easy until she find her ring again.

 

And you can find the ring.  But you have to look for it.

God’s promises to you. 

   Promises of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to those who believe.

   Get your eyes off yourself and look at Christ.

 

But then you do need to look at yourself.

   Look for evidences of grace in your life.  Not the least of which is a growing

   sensitivity to your sin, and a desire to live a holy life.

 

And finally, worship him.  Join with the congregation on the Lord’s Day—

   for it is here that that Holy Spirit often speaks to the spirits of believers,

   and assures them that they are children of God.

 

We’re little children.  We’re often bad lookers. 

   But God wants you to look.  He wants you to know that calling and election sure.