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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 Do We Grow in Love and Affection for God?

14 Dec

I’ve started reading J. Gresham Machen’s book, What is Faith? and it is packed with all these great gems of truth. Well, to answer the question, he first writes (contrary to the non-theological emotionalism of his day and ours) the following:

The devout man may indeed well do without a complete systematization of his knowledge… but some knowledge he certain must have.

In other words, he writes that in order to love somebody, we must know some things about them. And one of the ways (along with nature and our conscience) that he identifies that we get to know God is through the Bible. He writes:

… we rise from the Bible… with a knowledge of the character of God. There is a real analogy here to our relation with an earthly friend. How do we come to know one another? Not all at once, but by years of observation of one another’s actions.

And then he goes on to list some of those actions by a friend that helps us to grow in love and trust for them:

We have seen a friend in time of danger, and he has been brave;

we have gone to him in perplexity, and he has been wise;

we have had recourse to (sought help from) him in time of trouble, and he has given us sympathy.

So, gradually, with the years, on the basis of many, many such experiences, we have come to love him and revere him. And now just a look or a word or a tone of his voice will bring the whole personality before us like a flash; the varied experiences of the years have been merged by some strange chemistry of the soul into a unity of affection.

Then, Machen, compares that now to the knowledge of God and growing in affections toward Him:

So it is, somewhat, with the knowledge of God that we obtain from the Bible.

In the Bible, we see God in action;

we see Him in fiery indignation wiping out the foulness of Sodom;

we see Him leading Israel like a flock;

we see Him giving His only begotten Son for the sins of the world.

And by what we see we learn to know Him. In all His varied dealings with His people He has never failed; so now we know him and adore Him. Such knowledge seems to be a simple, an instinctive thing; the varied dealings of God with His people have come together in the unity of our adoration. And now He is revealed as by a flash by every smallest dispensation of His providence, whether it be in joy or whether it be in sorrow.



For Those Who Doubt Their Salvation Because They Struggle with Doubt

1 Dec

I recently listened to this podcast by the White Horse Inn guys (e.g., Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Ken Jones, and Ron Rosenbladt).

Many Christians, though we say and may sincerely believe that we are saved by grace apart from our works, we oftentimes – whether we’re aware of it or not – make faith itself into a work that merits salvation.

For example, so often – perhaps from the upbringing that we have had – we are tempted (and too often give into that temptation) to look inside ourselves and see if we have “enough faith,” or whether or not we “trust God enough.”

Thus, if we look inside ourselves and feel that we have enough faith, we believe that “God loves me.” But when we look inside and see that we don’t have enough faith – or that we don’t trust God enough, then we believe that “God must not love and accept me anymore.”

I am starting to become convinced that this is why so many genuine believers struggle with their doubts. That is to say, those who have placed their trust in Jesus, but were taught to constantly base their relationship with God by looking inside themselves to see if they had “enough faith,” are all but crushed under the weight of condemnation when – for whatever reason, in the providence of God – they begin to doubt.

Here’s what the WHI guys had to say on the issue (note: I edited it a bit in order to make it more readable):

This is what many evangelicals believe: “The soul makes a free will decision and accepts Christ. Then, God seeing the presence of faith in the heart, He reckons that faith as though that were righteousness.”

The problem with this understanding is it completely removes Jesus Christ from the equation. Jesus is missing. Rather, what justifies us is not faith; what justifies us are the merits of Christ. And we receive those merits of Christ through faith.

And so the question is: “Am I saved because of my conscious awareness that I have faith in my heart?” Or, “Am I saved by Jesus Christ who will save me even if my faith be the size of a mustard seed?”

This is a world of difference. Here, you have the difference between trusting in yourself – whether it’s works or faith – versus trusting in Christ through faith.

Here’s how Tim Keller puts it in The Reason for God:

The faith that changes the life and connects to God is best conveyed by the word “trust.” Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but don’t actually read out and grab it, you are lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved. Why? It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch (pp. 244-245).

To those who, like me, are tempted to look inward and evaluate our relationship with God on the basis of whether or not we have “enough faith,” please realize that this is an exercise in futility, for how much faith do we need to muster up in order to have “enough faith”? At what point do we say, “Okay, that’s enough faith”?

No – rather, look outward, even in spite of your doubts and seemingly absent faith, and trust the One who says to you:

31 “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Why Is the Bible Important?

19 Nov

This blogpost by Desiring God was originally intended to introduce another subject, but the quote by John Piper is important in answering the question, “Why is the Bible Important?” He writes:

From history and from my own experience, I can say that it is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Bible. We humans are incapable of finding out what we need so much to know: how to overcome sin, to escape the wrath of God, to become new creatures, to walk pleasing to the Lord. God must reveal this to us or we perish. This he has done and continues to do by means of a written Word, the Bible. When a man has understood the Bible he has understood the revelation of God infallibly, inerrantly and verbally.

God’s (Revealed) Will for My Life = Sanctification = Growing in My Trust in God’s Words

3 Nov

So often, it seems as though we are searching for “God’s will for my life.” Voddie Baucham, in this extremely important message, helped to clarify (among other things) that when people say that, they’re usually talking about God’s secret, decretive will. It’s called “secret” for a reason – because, we have no right to know what God has decreed or foreordai rened to come to pass.

But two other aspects of God’s will that is revealed and that we do have access to is (1) God’s preceptive will and (2) God’s will of disposition. The former refers to “God’s revealed law or commandments, which we have the power – but not the right – to break.” And the latter refers to “God’s attitude or disposition. It reveals what is pleasing to Him.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul tells us precisely what God’s revealed will (or at least, one of them) for our lives are – namely, “[our] sanctification.”

Okay, so one aspect of God’s will for my life (that is revealed) is that I become sanctified and become more and more like Jesus. But, I wonder if this is increasingly becoming an unhelpful way to put it. That is, have words like “sanctification” and “becoming more and more like Jesus,” though true, become a bit too cliche and fairly unspecific, and therefore, without meaning to most Christians who hear it?

I mean, what does it mean to become sanctified? What does it mean to become more and more like Jesus? At least, in my experience, when I heard (or continue) to hear phrases like “we need to become more and more like Jesus,” I hear a call to merely act like Jesus; merely do ethics like Jesus; merely to do what Jesus did.

Now, again, is this wrong? Absolutely not. My point is is that though it is not less than that, it is much more than that, as well. John Frame, in his book, The Doctrine of the Word of God, writes the following regarding sanctification:

… the Christian life is a journey, a movement from faith to more faith (with, to be sure, ups and downs along the way).

This is a journey both toward better understanding and toward overcoming our unbelief (Mark 9:24). The latter process (overcoming our unbelief) is called sanctification. The former process (understanding) is also related to sanctification: our understanding is related to our level of trust and obedience. But our lack of understanding is also related to our finitude, our inability to resolve all the questions that the phenomena of Scripture pose to us.

So, in light of what Frame says, how then are we to understand sanctification? And becoming more and more like Jesus? It’s “overcoming our unbelief” – or to put it another way, trusting God by ultimately trusting His personal words to us (i.e., the Bible). When this happens, namely growing in our trust in God’s personal words to us (“faith to more faith”), then the actions will follow.

And so, for example, God wants me to trust Him when He promises that “[He] has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10).

Also, God wants me to trust Him when He warns me to “abstain from sexual immorality [and] know how to control [my] body, etc.” (1 Thess. 4:3-8). When I increasingly learn to trust God and what He says, then I will increasingly respond appropriately behaviorally (e.g., joy, worship, obedience, etc.).

So then, if we are to understand sanctification as growing in our trust in God (ultimately, by trusting His words), then not only does that become less cliche and general, but it also becomes less attainableapart from utter dependence on the Holy Spirit.

I get the sneaking suspicion that when people hear the words “sanctification” and “the need to become more and more like Jesus,” they are not hit with the force of how impossible it is to attain sanctification by our own strenght.

And so, as a result, there is no humble dependence on the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, because, if sanctification is merely construed as doing what Jesus did, then there is a sense in which this un-biblical, self-reliant notion that we can, somehow, attain and achieve our own sanctification remains.

But, if sanctification is growing in our trust in God (by ultimately trusting His words), then, the weight of how impossible it is to be sanctified by our own strength comes barreling down at us like a 40-ton big rig. Why? Because, our rebellious hearts/minds don’t want to trust God (and especially, His words!).

Perhaps that’s why Paul prayed the following at the end pf his first letter to the Thessalonian church:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. HE WHO CALLS YOU IS FAITHFUL; HE WILL SURELY DO IT. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Truly, may God grant that we increasingly trust Him (ultimately, through His words). He is faithful and He will surely do it.

Cultivating Distrust in the Certainties of…

2 Nov

Justin Taylor posts this blogpost about the importance of cultivating distrust in the certainties of despair/depression. He quotes John Piper, who makes a very good point based on the life of William Cowper:

We all [must] fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of his pessimism. But we have seen that Cowper is not consistent. Some years after his absolute statements of being cut off from God, he is again expressing some hope in being heard. His certainties were not sureties. So it will always be with the deceptions of darkness. Let us now, while we have the light, cultivate distrust of the certainties of despair.

Though Justin Taylor (and John Piper) uses this to stress the importance of cultivating distrust in the certainties of despair/depression, I believe that the same could be said about doubt. Doubt is relentless in the certainties of his uncertainty. But for those who struggle with doubt, by God’s grace, there are moments of clarity in which the warmth of full assurance melts away the cold ice of doubt. It is not consistent. Therefore, “let us now, while we have light, cultivate distrust of the certainties of doubt.”

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.