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On the Relationship Between Assurance and Perseverance

16 Dec

Here’s a helpful, encouraging, and challenging talk on the relationship between assurance of salvation and the necessity of perseverance by Tom Schreiner of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Part 1

Part 2

[HT: Resurgence]

How to Lovingly Guide Those Who are Struggling with Condemnation as a Result of Doubts

18 Oct

A few introductory remarks:

First, this topic is very near and dear to my heart because this is something that I personally experienced. That is, over a year ago, I experienced what many have called the “dark night of the soul” (coined by John of the Cross in the 16th century). I went through an intense season of intellectual/spiritual doubts (though, I have learned since then that they’re more connected than one might think). The reason I mention this is because this post is birthed from personal experience, not simply theoretical knowledge.

Secondly, this entry has been the product of much reflection (and mistakes made). In terms of reflection, I have filled nearly two entire Moleskine notebooks on the subject ever since I started going through it, making note of my thoughts and reflections on some resources I had come across. But more than that, I have made many mistakes, as well, in that when God put several others who were struggling with doubt in my path, I made some serious blunders in an attempt to “help” them – for which I am still having to remind myself of the Gospel for.

Thirdly, I know that this entry is not – by any stretch of the imagination – a completed work. And so, therefore, I invite any correction and constructive criticism (grounded in Scripture) that would help bolster this – for lack of a better word – “guide.” However, I felt that this was a good time to write something down so that I could not only reflect further as I write, but also, if God would be pleased, that this would be used by others not only for their personal struggle with doubt, but also in helping others who do.

Fourthly, I want to reiterate and emphasize that this is primarily designed with those who actually struggle with either conviction (from the Spirit) or, perhaps, even condemnation (from the Enemy) in mind. This assumes that the one who doubts is actually troubled by their doubts (rather than blatant unbelief where someone wouldn’t even be troubled by the subject).

With that said, here are a few suggestions to lovingly guide and help those who struggle with a sense of conviction/condemnation as a result of intellectual/spiritual doubts:

1. Empathize With Those Who Doubt: It is one of the worst feelings to open up to someone when you’re struggling with an issue (not least, doubts!) and be met with hostility, indifference, or confusion. If you’ve never experienced or struggled with doubt (which is altogether consuming and debilitating), I’m not saying you should go ahead and lie; rather, I am suggesting you say something that lets the one who doubts know that you understand that this particular struggle (though you’ve never experienced it) is difficult. Say something like, “It must be so hard. You must be so tired from this.” Though this is not the ultimate solution, empathy goes a long way for someone who is struggling with doubt.

2. Don’t Sugarcoat!: This is important! Telling someone who is dealing with intense conviction or condemnation because they are doubting to “Relax” or “Try to forget about it” or “Don’t take it so seriously” is unhelpful at best, and destructive at worst. Remember, the reason they feel so bad in the first place is because – no matter what you tell them – their consciences are telling them that they are in sin (Rom. 2:14-16). In other words, they already know that this is sin against God.

So, in order to help them, tell them what they already know to be true! Namely, that doubting is sin (I’ll explain why in point 3). I believe that it’s only when we tell them what they already know to be true, lasting healing can begin. Because otherwise, essentially, what you’re doing is communicating that they don’t have to repent and believe the Gospel (which is ultimately what they really need, not just a superficial sense of peace).

So, if a doubter who is struggling with conviction/condemnation comes to you for help, then tell them in a loving, compassionate way that they are, in fact, in sin. Or, using an illustration that John Piper used in a sermon: it’s much more compassionate for a doctor to tell someone they have cancer so they can start implementing the treatment right away, rather than not telling the patient at all until it’s too late. Which brings me to my third point.

3. Be Sure to Tell Them Why Doubting is Sin: When actually talking with someone who struggles with doubt, there doesn’t have to be such an artificial distinction between #2 and #3. But nonetheless, this point is important enough to warrant its own point.

For this, John Frame was an extremely helpful resource. As I mentioned here and here, for some reason, it never crossed my mind that sin affected my ability to reason, as well (I know, right?).

Since then, I have learned that theologians have called this the “noetic” effect of the Fall. In other words, according to Frame, ever since the Fall, every single one of us mistakenly think that we “have the right to seek knowledge of God’s world without being subject to God’s revelation (i.e., His Word!).” (Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God, 15-16).

Simply put, we don’t trust God when He says something to be true. Adam and Eve did it when they didn’t trust God when He said to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3). And we do it everyday when we don’t trust God when He says something in His Word. And this is sin.

And so, for example, when someone doubts their salvation in Christ and doubts that there is “therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ” (Rom. 8:1) then, instead of trusting God and what He says, they are ultimately trusting in either their own reason that tells them, “That’s too good to be true” or Satan when he says, “Did God actually say…?” (Gen. 3:1).

Or, for someone who doubts, let’s say the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, then instead of trusting God when He says that He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:32; Rom. 8:11, etc.), they try to find assurance that such an event actually happened ultimately outside of God’s inspired Word (e.g., historical studies, philosophical arguments, etc.).

Now, that’s not to say that one shouldn’t do historical or philosophical studies (not at all!). On the contrary, because God’s Word is true, trustworthy and ultimately the only perfect description of reality, then we shouldn’t be surprised when historical studies and philosophical arguments line up with the reality that the Word of God already so perfect describes. These things are helpful and important.

But, the question is Where does one ultimately find a sense of assurance or certainty about the historicity of the resurrection? If it’s not ultimately in God’s Word, then wouldn’t that, in essence, be trusting our own reason without being subject to God’s Word? Or, to put it another way, wouldn’t that be judging Scripture by our autonomous reasoning, rather than the other way around?

I believe Scripture calls that the essence of sin – namely, substituting oneself in the place of God, trying to make sense out of God’s world without being subject to God’s Word.

And so, doubting is sin ultimately because we don’t trust God and His Word. And, in order to let them know fully what they already know to be true and to make their God-granted repentance deeper, tell them why doubting is sin – we don’t trust God and His Word.

4. Remember Who You’re Talking To and Give Them Hope!: It’s easy when you’re agreeing with their evaluation of themselves that they are in sin (#2) and explaining to them why doubting is sin (#3) for these people with sensitive consciences and who are struggling with condemnation to revert to hopelessness, that they have “no hope and [are] without God in the world” (Eph.2:12). It is at this point that I’ve personally failed in the past. That is, for whatever reason, I didn’t offer the hope of the Gospel to those who were struggling with doubt.

We must remember who they are and thus, remember to offer them hope! Ask yourself, “Is God’s grace in Christ Jesus big enough to cover their sin of doubt (i.e., not trusting God and His Word)?” Or does God’s grace go only so far, and then stop? Absolutely not! This is the scandal of the cross, is it not? That Christ became sin (Rom. 8:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21) for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God? Absolutely! And so, we must remember first of all, that there is hope and secondly, we must remember to offer it on behalf of Christ! If this isn’t what we’re doing as counselors, pastors, communicators of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then what are we doing?

So, even for the one who doubts [and is convicted by the H.S. or is being condemned by the Enemy that they are in sin because they don’t trust God and His Word)], we are to offer them the hope of the Gospel! We are to remind them that God’s grace in Christ extends even to them!

But some might say, “What if they continue to doubt?” My response is: Is this particular sin somehow different from all the others (e.g., lust, anger, etc.)? Is it not possible that God’s call for all to live a lifestyle of repentance and belief in the Gospel (Mk 1:15) includes doubt? I believe so. Otherwise, what we communicate to those who struggle with doubt is that they must overcome their intellectual barriers through their own power and strength and believe! – which, in the end, is (a) impossible, (b) a subtle, yet deadly form of works-righteousness, and (c) ultimately hopeless.

But, the Gospel bids us to turn (in hope!) from our doubts (i.e., not trusting God and His Word) and trust God afresh! That’s why God in Proverbs 3:5-8 says:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
8It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Because of the Gospel, rather than hearing this with a tone of “You better do this or else!” we can now hear this call to repent of our autonomous human reasoning and trust God with a tone of fatherly, tender, affectionate, loving, encouraging patience. Our Father who loves us (because of our perfect Christ, not because we have perfect faith) encourages us to confess our sin and try again and again and again whenever we fail.

So, we must remember who we’re talking to and offer them the hope that is found only in the Gospel!

5. Give them Practical Suggestions (i.e., Homework): Though ultimately, we should believe because we trust God and His Word, that does not mean that that precludes doing anything else. So, in addition to having them employ the more well-known means of grace (e.g., reading Scripture, pleading with God through praying I.O.U.S., meditation, prayer, involvement in a healthy, Gospel-centered local church, etc.), have them do some studying!

**** Now, I want to make clear at this point that if one is a new believer – or is one who is not familiar with any of the authors (or their ideas) that I will mention below – and is trying to help someone who struggles with doubts, the Gospel is sufficient!

In the end, regardless of all of the intellectual questions and barriers that one might bring, it really is a moral issue in that we don’t trust (or, more accurately, don’t want to trust) the One who is altogether worthy to be trusted (see point #3 above). So, in that sense, reminding them of the Gospel is all that is necessary (and, I would even argue, the goal). As a matter of fact, this is the grace that God showed me through Linda when I was going through my dark night of the soul. When I went through some really dark times, Linda was there to remind me of the Gospel of grace and it made the world of difference.

So, yes, if one is a new believer and/or is not familiar with any of the authors I mentioned below (or their ideas), then the Gospel is sufficient (thanks Francis!).****

With that said, I do still think that having an intellectual framework by which to address questions that are hostile to the faith is beneficial. And so, some helpful resources for me included (but are not limited to):

It’s good to let those who doubt know that though there are good questions, there are good answers, as well. These resources provide some good answers. But warning: DO NOT give them all of this information at once. DO NOT! They’ll become overwhelmed and hate you (just kidding about the hate… or am I?). And so, go through a chapter a week (or a sermon a week) with them and reflect through it togetherlittle by little.

6. Check In on them Regularly: Doubting is an insidious disease that, in my opinion, needs much time for the Holy Spirit to heal. And so, even though you might have gotten across to someone struggling with doubt once, chances are, something they heard or read or even their own consciences might have triggered it again. And because they are prone to believe the lie that they have to be perfect, they’re not going to openly tell you, for fear of shame or more condemnation.

So, be sure to check in on them regularly and ask them gently but pointedly, “How’s your struggle with your doubts?” Like I said, chances are, they’ll still be struggling with it. Be sure to love them, and remind them of the Gospel – again and again and again and again! Because more than more information to help them “overcome” their sin (which is still important!), they need to be reminded of the Good News that someone else has already overcome it. Give them hope.

How to Motivate Your People to Obedience

21 Sep

In this post, Kevin DeYoung compares and contrasts two ways of preaching the imperatives found in the Bible. As an example, he posted up snippets of sermons preached by William Law (1686-1781) and Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), in which they both taught their people of the importance of praying in the morning.

In the end, Kevin DeYoung concluded why most people would opt for Thomas Goodwin’s way of motivating his people to pray, namely, because of the fact that William Law: (1) “insist[ed] with all his might on something that cannot be proven from Scripture (i.e., that we must get up early to pray)” and (2) “[did not] connect the biblical command to pray to the other biblical realities that would make us eager to pray.”

Or, to put it positively, for husbands, fathers, pastors, leaders leading their respective flocks, it is important that we:

  1. Make sure that the commands that we are preaching are actual commands found in Scripture.
  2. Connect the biblical command to other biblical realities that would make our people eager to obey.

You can read the entire post here.

Important Words on Sanctification from John Piper (Part 2)

31 Aug

In Part 1, John Piper discussed the doctrine of sanctification generally, as a slow – oftentimes painful – process of being made holy. This is different from justification as justification is a one-time, once-for-all declaration that one is acceptable to God because of what Christ did on the cross.

In Part 2, John Piper talks about the doctrine of sanctification on a much more practical level. You can read the transcript of the audio below [Note: Once again, this transcript has been slightly edited for readability]:

David Mathis: John, I think it would be helpful to be clear about the Gospel. What is the Gospel? How would you define it?

John Piper: The safest place to begin is where Paul beings – that is, the place he makes most explicit in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

So he goes right to the core of the substitutionary death of Jesus for sinners. And, of course, contained in there are other glorious truths. But that’s the core of the Gospel. It’s the act of God in history to save sinners by substituting His Son, Jesus Christ, in their place so that their sin is on to Him and His righteousness and perfect obedience is on to them through faith alone.

And I think “through faith alone” is an essential part of the Gospel because if you had to earn the benefits of what He had achieved on the cross, there would be no good news. And so, part of the good news is not just that He acted in a sovereign initiation to remove the wrath of God, conquer sin, defeat the Devil, shut the door of hell, forgive sins, provide righteousness, but also that this is ours for free. It’s for free. You can only receive it as a gift; you can’t earn it or work for it.

So, here’s a practical illustration of how the Gospel brings immediate and relevant effect into a person’s life: when I was told five years ago, after an examination on my prostate, the doctor said, “I’d like to do a little biopsy. Something feels irregular.”

I said, “Oh, when do you want to do that?” He said, “Now.” And he left me for ten minutes. That’s a very rare ten minutes; you better not waste those ten minutes. And so, I sat there and then the Lord gave me 1 Thessalonians 5:9 which says, “You have not been appointed for wrath, but to obtain salvation through your Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you so that whether you wake or sleep (live or die), you belong to Jesus.”

So, there the death of Jesus – that’s the heart of the Gospel – is brought to bear on “Whether you live or die, you’re mine. You will not be condemned. There is no condemnation.”

So, to know the Gospel; to believe in the Gospel; to live in the Gospel is to live in the assurance that just before you get this biopsy, you’re as safe as can be. Because if you get cancer and die, you’re safe; if you get cancer and live, you’re safe – because you don’t live under God’s condemnation anymore. You have eternal life and therefore, there is all over your life an incredible freedom from fear and from guilt and from condemnation.

DM: Romans 1:16 says that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. There’s been a resurgence on the belief that the Gospel is not only the power for conversion, but sanctification, as well. How? How is the Gospel power for sanctification?

JP: The language right now in this new Gospel-resurgence is, “What are the practical, daily dynamics of how believing the Gospel makes you a person who cares about human trafficking; who makes you more patient with your wife; who makes you more prone to play with your children in a humble, on-the-floor way; makes you a more loving and kind pastor?”

In other words: “How does the Gospel – how does being forgiven; being justified; being freed from condemnation – translate to ‘I will help my roommate clean up every time he leaves his nasty stuff on the floor everyday.'” How does that work?

Here’s my take on motivation. I want to hear the actual, psychological dynamics of the way faith and the Gospel (that’s past) produces this afternoon (that’s future) a different John Piper. Different behavior; takes away my anxiety; makes me more hospitable; makes me more patient; makes me more generous; makes me less vengeful. 

And the piece that I want to stir into this current conversation is two-fold: I think that the key to how faith produces obedience or holiness or love or the fruit of the Holy Spirit is understanding faith as (1) treasuring Christ and faith as (2) confidence in God’s future grace.

Because the New Testament doesn’t just leave us with generalizations about, “If you believe long enough and hard enough that you are a forgiven and justified person, you become good.”

It does not leave us there. It leaves us practical command after practical command. And lots of those practical commands are connected with ground clauses that give practical incentives and motivations. And almost all of those – not all – but almost all of those are related to the future.

So, this two-fold thing: (1) faith as treasuring Christ means that the more I treasure Him, the more I’ll be conformed to Him (c.f. 2 Corinthians 3:18). So, if you see Jesus as glorious and He gets more and more precious and valuable and glorious, you will be shaped by what you are looking at. Which is why not all of the incentives are future-oriented because when it says in Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you with all malice. Be kind to Noel; tender-hearted; forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”

That, “as” there is a being shaped by what you’re looking at. And what you’re looking at is Christ hanging on the cross with indescribable love and self-denial and sacrifice for you. If you look at that long enough, treasure that deeply enough, value you that to the bottom of your being, you’re going to be shaped by it. So that’s huge. Just the meditation on the nature of Christ and his love. So faith understood as “I’m embracing that, I’m treasuring that, I’m valuing that, I’m treasuring it.” That will change you. That’s one emphasis.

The other (2) is future grace – or faith in future grace. When I look at incentives in the New Testament, I see in Luke 14:14, “Invite people over to your house who can’t pay you back, for you will be repaid back at the resurrection of the just.”

Clearly, one of the functional incentives in my mind when I feel disinclined to be hospitable is to say, “Look, sure it’s going to be hard to invite people over. It’s going to be awkward; it’s not going to be as easy as it was; etc. But get over it, because there’s going to be a reward at the resurrection of the just.” That is a concrete confidence in a future reward.

Another example – Hebrews chapter 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” I mean, how can you get more clearer than that? If you asked me, “How does faith in the Gospel change your life?” I’d say, “Do you mean faith in the future? Or are you totally backward-oriented, meaning you’re only looking at the cross?”

So, I’m arguing that faith looks back, gets strengthened by the past grace and then it spends its entire – almost – sanctifying effort oriented on promises. “All the promises of God are ‘Yes’ in Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:2). They were bought by Jesus Christ. Jesus secured for us His being totally for us in the future.

So, this afternoon, I must be confident in what He promises to do for me (e.g. Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, I am with you, I’ll strengthen you, I’ll help you, I’ll uphold you with my righteous right hand”). If I believe that this afternoon, I will venture on Him. So, faith in future grace becomes the key to lots of acts of love.

And the one in Hebrews 11:24 – “By faith, Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God, rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for He was looking to the reward.”

Now, I think that’s Hebrews’s way of unpacking how faith – based on Hebrews 11:1 – sanctifies. Faith sanctifies because faith looks to the reward, satisfies its soul on all that God is for us in Christ in the future, looks at the treasures of Egypt and says, “Refuse.” And then, embraces the pain of leading a people for forty years; or being a pastor of a church for thirty years; or stay married to a wife that doesn’t care much about you; or going after your kids that are wayward and being patient with them.

All of that is possible because faith is faith in the future of what the past crucifixion has bought for us. That’s what I want to say over and over again and say that the Bible presents the sanctifying work of faith as faith in future promises.

Just one more comment: yesterday, knowing that we were going to do this, I just opened up my Bible software and did a word search on the word “trust” in the book of Psalms. I would recommend you try that. It’s really simple.

They’re all future-oriented. All of them. But they’re all based on God’s faithfulness in the Exodus (past) or His deliverance from the Philistines (past). And God gets angry when He’s done so much and they don’t trust Him to provide for water. They don’t trust Him to deliver them from the enemy. They don’t trust Him.

“Some trust in horses, some trust in chariots. We trust in the name of the Lord our God.” That means tomorrow; that means five minutes from now. That means when we’re talking about something I have to take care of later. “Should I get anxious? Have I studied enough? Will I be made a fool of? Will I like this person? Will this person like me?” Blah, blah, blah, blah.

How do I love and become patient? Answer: trust Him, for goodness sake – He died for you. But if we don’t orient our trust in what He’s going to do for you and me in an hour and half from now, we’ll be anxious; we’ll get self-centered; and we won’t be made holy.

And so, sanctification is pursued by faith, grounded in the Gospel, but overwhelmingly in the New Testament, that faith is faith in future graces, His promises.

DM: John, you mentioned Romans 8:32, which does seem to bring this together so well, where Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give all things?”

JP: If I could believe that – not just once, but hourly, that the God of the universe didn’t spare the most valuable person in the universe and that that guarantees His giving me everything I need – I would be a happy, humble, other-oriented person.

Because if Noel says when I’m really busy getting prepared for something, “The wind is blowing the umbrella and it’s hitting the side of the house.” She’s right next to the umbrella. You know what’s my first thought in my mind? “You go and put the umbrella down.”

At that moment, if my first thought had been, “God has sent His Son to die for you and purchased for you that He will supply you with everything  you need and everything works for good. And in losing two minutes from your study to walk down and do that for your wife whom you’re to love as Christ loved the Church,” I wouldn’t have had that selfish thought. But I think I got there. I preached myself into obedience.

DM: Could you lead us in prayer to close?

JP: Father in Heaven, help our unbelief. We believe; help our unbelief. Yes, sanctification is by faith and we just want to trust your promises. We want to be confident in all your assurances that you will work for us, and help us, and strengthen us, and reward us.

And whatever sacrifices we make, they cannot be greater than what you will restore to us. So, God, increase our faith and may we set our faces to pursue the obedience and holiness – without which we won’t see the Lord and with which we’ll stand before you and hear the incredible words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Motivation(s) for Obedience

12 Aug

As one who unashamedly confesses to being sincerely helped and guided by the ministry of those who use such phrases like “The only effort a Christian should make is to continually look back to our acceptance by God in Christ (i.e., our justification),” I have, as of late, been having a “paradigm-shift,” for lack of a better word.

To be sure, this is not to say that the Gospel – and the doctrine of justification by faith – no longer enjoys a foundational place in my theology of sanctification (i.e. the process of being made holy). It still – and will continue – to do so.

However, especially with the posting of these two blogposts by Kevin DeYoung over at The Gospel Coalition, I can’t help but be pushed back on my “The only effort we need is to look back on our justification” presupposition.

DeYoung makes a strong case that though he agrees with the fact that sanctification “requires the fight of faith to believe this scandalous good news of the gospel of justification…” it is not the “only kind of effort required in sanctification” (emphasis mine). He writes that the motivation to obedience includes much more than simply gratitude (e.g., “a sense of duty… by threats, by promises, and by the fear of the Lord”).

Then, today, I came across this post over at the Reformation21 blog written by William B. Evans, Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College. He approaches this subject of sanctification from an historical (and interesting!) perspective.

For all two of you who read this much (congratulations, by the way), and this subject interests you, then this article is very helpful in framing the issue historically. Here’s a quick excerpt from the article (which, by the way, gives you a hint as to where he stands in all of this):

The biblical picture of sanctification… is much more comprehensive, and it is adequate to the task.  To be sure, gratitude for one’s justification plays a role, but even more prominent in Scripture are the warnings of the law, regular dependence upon the means of grace, and mutual accountability within the context of the body of Christ.  This biblical model of sanctification is not novel.  It may not be particularly exciting.  It is also unlikely to be the next big thing on the Christian seminar circuit or at the Christian bookseller’s convention.  But it is biblical, and it does work.

Happy readings.

[HT: Ref21]

The Motivation for Christian Obedience? Beauty and Duty

26 Mar

Tim Keller answers the question, “What should the motivation for Christian obedience be?” His answer? Beauty and duty. Watch the video below to hear an explanation of each.

Those using RSS readers, click through to the actual blog to see the video.

Richard Keyes: Idols Point to the Reality of God

10 Mar

Since we were made to relate to God – but do not want to face him – we forever inflate things in this world to religious proportions to fill the vacuum left by God’s exclusion.” – Richard Keyes, “The Idol Factory” in No God But God, p. 32.

In other words, the reason we blow common things to biblical proportions and the reason why we make such mundane things so much more glorious in our lives than they really are is because we know the truth that a God who really is that glorious is there. But because we don’t want to face that God, we make up our own counterfeit gods (which will eventually fail us) to fill that gap.