Posts Tagged ‘Assurance’
I know that my Calvinist brethren see the doctrine of unconditional election as a beautiful doctrine. Some of them believe that we Arminians oppose the doctrine because we either A) believe in good works to save us (or at least we add to the work of Christ) or B) want some credit for our salvation instead of the glory being upon God.
In reality, I oppose the doctrine of unconditional election because I see it as repugnant to the grace of God that He has offered us freely in His Son. I believe the doctrine does not measure up to the character of God as He has revealed in the BIble, mainly that He is loving, compassionate, merciful, and good. When you compare the call of God for all to come and be saved (John 3:14-18; Acts 2:38-39; 1 Timothy 2:4) with the doctrine of unconditional election, one is left doubting the love of God since His love is only for the elect and the “good” He does for the non-elect (whom He reprobated) is not very loving and good at all. In the words of Roger Olson, “It is the character of God that Calvinism presents that we Arminians have a problem with.”
The doctrine of unconditional election leads to despair. How so? Because one can never truly know that one is part of the elect. It is possible that if you are saved right now (or at least think you are), it is possible that you are a false convert. You do not have saving faith and are not part of the elect. Your sins show that you are not part of the elect. Your doubts show that you know that you are not part of the elect. You, my friend, are a false convert and are not saved. You will prove this in time (1 John 2:19).
The despair is then that God does not accept you in Christ. You believe in Christ. You seek to honor Christ. But the reality is that God did not choose you before time begin and thus you are not part of the elect. You think you are now but you are not. You will “fall away” and prove you were never saved to begin with.
This is known in church history as the assurance controversy. The controversy, ironically, only appears among Calvinists. Arminians have assurance because we teach that if you abide in Christ through faith and remain true to Him in faith (John 15:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23), one need not fear. If you are in Christ, there is no condemnation against you (Romans 8:1). All can come and have this salvation and this assurance before God (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 8:51; Acts 14:22-23; Romans 8:38-39; Galatians 3:26; 1 John 2:24-25). Our assurance is based on continued faith in the Lord Jesus and not on our works nor our righteousness (1 Peter 1:5).
2 Peter 1:10-11 reminds us:
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
How do we affirm the calling of God upon our lives? How do we know we are part of the elect? Because of Jesus. Jesus is the focus of our election. We are elect because of Him (Ephesians 1:4-5). We are not elect because of our goodness or our power but because of the work of Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Through faith in Jesus we are forgiven of our sins and become children of the living God (Acts 13:38-39; Colossians 1:13-14). We are justified by grace through faith (Romans 5:1) and we are kept by grace through faith (2 Corinthians 1:24).
The cure then for doubt is to look to Jesus and what He has done (Hebrews 12:1-2). The cure for sinning is to look to Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:13). The cure for cleansing from our sins is the precious blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7). The cure for salvation is to always look to Jesus alone to save us and keep us (Ephesians 3:17).
Paul the Apostle reminds us with strong words in Romans 11:20-22:
20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
Our salvation is dependent on faith in Jesus. Our election, standing before God, righteousness, etc. all depends on Jesus. Jesus alone is the one that we look to for salvation and for Him to keep us saved. May He be the one that we adore, praise, worship, hunger for, and are zealous for (Revelation 17:14). In this way, our election stands secure for God will choose us in His Son (1 Timothy 4:10).
Have you ever noticed a little word tucked away in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8:
7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Notice that Paul the Apostle uses the word “obey” in verse 8 for those whom God will pour out His wrath upon. It is not enough to hear the gospel to be saved. It is not enough to even have believed the gospel at one time to be saved. Rather Paul says that God will pout out His wrath on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Obedience is necessary for salvation. Those whom God saves through Christ must obey Him as Lord. While we don’t “obey” to be saved, we do “obey” because we are saved. The reason that we are baptized in water is because we are obeying the Lord Jesus who commanded that we be baptized (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Baptism flows from our believing the gospel and proving our trust in Him as Savior and Lord of all.
Ironically, such preaching about the requirement of obeying Jesus as Lord is rare today. People want a cheap gospel that presents Jesus as Savior but not Lord. They want to divide the Person of Christ. They read passages about obedience to Jesus as Lord and see this as “works-righteousness” despite them coming from the very lips of our Lord. For example, Jesus said in Luke 6:46-49:
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Jesus said in Luke 8:21:
But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
He said in Luke 11:28:
But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Jesus said in John 14:15 about how we prove our love for Him:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
He said in Matthew 7:21-23 that only those who obey the Father are saved:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Jesus tells us in John 8:31-32 how we prove we are His disciples:
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
James the Apostle tells us how we are to abide in His teaching in James 1:21-25:
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
And John the Beloved tells us in 1 John 5:1-4 about our loving obedience to Jesus as Lord:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Obedience and salvation go hand in hand. We are saved to obey Jesus as Lord. We submit to His authority in our lives and we adore Him for taking away our sins. He alone is our salvation and our obedience to Him is natural since He has set us free by His grace. 1 John 2:3-6 makes it clear that our obedience proves we are saved by His grace:
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Praise God for His grace and praise God for His power that works in us to help us to obey. As Charles Wesley wrote, “My God assists me to obey.” He truly does assist us to obey Him as Lord and what a joy it is to serve the King of kings.
On a follow-up post from the previous post, I wanted to address the issue of false conversions. I first heard of this term when I first became familiar with Ray Comfort. Comfort preached hard about false converts and how so many people in the visible church were not truly saved. He said that false conversions are the result of a faulty gospel message. I looked around and I agreed. So many people in the Church seemed to have been through a ritual whether prayer or baptism or church membership but their lives were marked with sin and lack of faith in God. They showed no zeal for the Lord, no passion for God, no hunger in prayer or for God’s Word, and lived in rebellion against God. They said they loved Jesus but they showed through their lives that they really hated God (Titus 1:16).
I do believe there are many in the Church, whether Arminians or Calvinists, who do not know Christ as Lord. They believe they are saved. They would confess that they are saved but their lives show that they are lost (1 John 2:3-6). Their life of sin shows that they are still in rebellion against God (1 John 3:6-9).
The key difference I would have with Ray Comfort would be over apostasy. Brother Ray would say that a true child of God is saved forever and if a person falls away from the faith, they were never saved to begin with. His teaching is that true children of God will persevere in the faith. Those who do not prove they were not regenerated by the Spirit (1 John 2:19). He would point to people such as Judas as proof or the false disciples of John 6:60-71. Another example could be Simon in Acts 8:18-24.
The Arminian reply is that while there are false converts, this does not negate the fact that there are warning passages given to believers. The entire book of Hebrews would be a case in point. Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:6-19; 4:1-20; 5:8-9; 6:4-20; 10:19-39; 11:13-16; 12:1-29 – all these warn believers. One must stretch to prove that the writer is not writing to believers in Christ. Of course there are many more than the book of Hebrews but my point is that we must do something with the warning passages. I believe they are there to warn us of a real possibility of personal apostasy so that we might avoid this (1 Corinthians 10:1-12). 1 John 2:24-25 (NKJV) says:
24 Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.
Eternal life is found in Christ Jesus. None dispute this point. I would argue that the gift of eternal life is given to us in Christ Jesus and only in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). To be outside of Christ is to be lost (John 15:1-11). Jesus is our salvation from beginning to end (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Our salvation and our security are found in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).
So the final verdict would be that yes there are certainly those among us Arminians who are not saved. I don’t doubt that. This is true of all Christendom. Yet I would also preach that true Christians must be on guard and must remain focused on Christ alone for our salvation. I would preach that our eyes must remain fixed on Christ alone to save us (Hebrews 12:1-2) and not our good works nor our own wisdom. Christ is our life (Colossians 3:1-4). Remain in Jesus by faith (1 Peter 1:5) and make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11). Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The issue of assurance has never been a major issue among any of the Arminians that I associate with nor with any of the Arminian churches that I have attended on a regular basis (and Arminian churches are all I have been to on a regular basis since the Lord saved me in 1992). I have heard a few teachings on it but very few Arminians that I know struggle with the assurance of our salvation.
And why is that? In fact, in the history of Calvinism there has even been an assurance controversy. Hyper-Calvinists have often said that one cannot know that one has assurance of their salvation. None can actually know they are the elect until the day of judgment. One can seek to have assurance and one should look for evidence of assurance but it is possible for a person to live their entire life believing they are the elect of God but then die and be cast aside because they were in fact non-elect (Matthew 7:21-23).
Arminianism has always placed great emphasis on the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our salvation and Arminianism has always stressed that the work of Christ alone accomplishes our salvation. Further, we maintain that a person is justified through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9) and that our salvation is found only in Jesus (John 14:6; 15:1-11). To be outside of Christ is to be lost. There is only one way to eternal life and that is in Jesus Christ, through loving Him and blessing Him and being faithful to Him (Colossians 1:21-23). The Arminian then takes the Word of God about salvation (that Jesus shed His blood for all) and applies that to all who place their total faith in Him (1 Timothy 4:10). Those who reject His blood are lost and condemned for their own sins (John 3:14-18). The believers hope lies not in their election but in the elected one, the Lord Jesus Christ who gave His life so that we might have life in Him. We recognize that eternal life is found only in Jesus and this life begins the moment of salvation and continues only in Christ (John 8:51).
This is why Arminians don’t struggle with our assurance. We know we are the elect of God through faith in Christ. We know that Jesus shed His blood for us. We don’t doubt for one minute that Jesus didn’t die for us (1 John 2:2). We trust the Word of God that says that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13). That would be me. I am saved not by my works but through the grace of God given to me in Christ Jesus. I have done the work of God for salvation (John 6:29; Romans 4:5). My hope, my assurance, my reward is Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)! I realize that apart from Him, I am lost (Romans 6:23). I know that I cannot overcome sin by my power but only in Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:16-17). I recognize that if I sow to my flesh, I will reap destruction (Galatians 6:7-9). My entire life is focused on the Lord Jesus alone. He only is my defense (1 John 2:1).
XXI. ON THE PERSEVERANCE OF SAINTS
1. QUERIES. — Is it possible for true believers to fall away totally and finally:
2. Do some of them, in reality, totally and finally fall from the faith?
3. The opinion which denies “that true believers and regenerate persons are either capable of falling away or actually do fall away from the faith totally and finally,” was never, from the very times of the apostles down to the present day, accounted by the church as a catholic doctrine. Neither has that which affirms the contrary ever been reckoned as a ; nay, that which affirms it possible for believers to fall away from the faith, has always had more supporters in the church of Christ, than that which denies its possibility of it’s actually occurring.
XXII. ON THE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION
1. QUERIES. — Is it possible for any believer, without a special revelation, to be certain or assured that he will not decline or fall away from the faith,
2. Are those who have faith, bound to believe that they will not decline from the faith?
3. The affirmative of either of these questions was never accounted in the church of Christ as a catholic doctrine; and the denial of either of them has never been adjudged by universal as a heresy.
4. The persuasion by which any believer assuredly persuades himself that it is impossible for him to decline from the faith, or that, at least, he will not decline from the faith, does not conduce so much to consolation against despair or against the doubting that is adverse to faith and hope, as it contributes to security, a thing directly opposed to that most with which we are commanded to work out our salvation, and which is exceedingly necessary in this scene of temptations.
5. He who is of opinion that it is possible for him to decline from the faith, and who, therefore, is afraid lest he should decline, is neither destitute of necessary consolation, nor is he on this account, tormented with anxiety of mind. For it suffices to inspire consolation and to exclude anxiety, when he knows that he will decline from the faith through no force of Satan, of sin, or of the world, and through no inclination or weakness of his own flesh, unless he willingly and of his own accord, yield to temptation, and neglect to work out his salvation in a conscientious manner.