Why Sacrifice for God if You Can't be Sure that Christ Sacrificed for You?
With due respect to H.K. Flynn, who posted today, I have decided to spend a few moments on the computer and resurrect an archive from my blog. This is the post that shot across the blogosphere with no apology and which put Free Grace theology into the spotlight. There is a new post on my blog today as well. You must all excuse me as I haven't had much inspiration in the theological realm, as I have been pursuing a growing intimate relationship with my wife (our 8 year wedding anniversary was yesterday), been teaching hermeneutics at a Bible college, taking care of my children at night so my wife can work, and working various and odd hours myself, usually waking at 3 am; not to mention my ever increasing practical devotion to the Savior who sacrificed everything because I was destitute to provide anything on my own behalf.
My pastor is a famous pastor. He is on the radio everywhere. He teeters though. Often he gives a very clear gospel message, straight to the heart. Other times he is wishy washy and borders on soft-Lordship salvation. This week he used the parable of the sower and claimed that only the last soil was truly regenerate. He stated that if we didn't have some arbitrary amount of fruit in our lives that we must question if we "committed" enough to Jesus. My wife shared my feelings as she told me she looked around at the audience and wondered if anyone was doubting their very salvation because their was not sufficient works in their lives to render such a verdict.
Anger and frustration enveloped my soul. What will be the near future for those who truly believed in Christ yet do not have the subjective amount of fruit that was taught to them necessary in order to deem oneself truly saved? How will Satan rob them of their joy and suppress them from greater works and devotion to the Savior supposing that the wordly performance based system pervading every facet of our mundane existence is divinely inspired and instituted in eternal affairs after all? What of those who have teetered on the fence, having not been convinced of the eternal benefit and salvation in Christ that comes by faith in His name? How can they be spared from the taint of works-conditioned assurance of eternal well-being?
Let us look with new eyes to the serious repercussions of Lordship Salvation advocates who make works a bold and heralded condition of final salvation (not to mention present assurance); let us examine the hopeless plight of their searching for true assurance of God's eternal acceptance; let us remind ourselves of God's free and unconditional acceptance that requires no strings, no caveats, no provisos that can render the relationship which He freely offers as deviod and bunk... Let us glory in the Savior who, while we were yet powerless, died for us, ungodly, and reprobate...
Now on with the archive:
Why would anyone want to do works in the name of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ who does not have certain, absolute convinced assurance of eternal life, his right-standing before God, and his salvation? (Pause for you to actually consider this and give a good answer)…
The Calvinist cannot know for certain that he is saved! Why?
1) Due to the fact of their Perseverance theology. Only true believers will persevere in faith and obedient works until the end; so unless he is on his death bed (and not even then will it be certain because of their sins), he cannot have any certain assurance that he is saved.
2) Calvinism grounds its own brand of uncertain assurance of salvation on 3 things, 2 of which are completely subjective. One is the inner witness of the Spirit. But I ask, how exactly are we to know that it is the Spirit, and not an agent of Satan, who transformed himself into a minister of light; or the mind playing tricks on us; or some bout of emotionalism; or even the pastrami sandwich eaten for lunch? The second subjective ground is the introspection of self: the looking to one’s works and present sanctification. My experience is that there are one of two results when looking at one’s self as a base for assurance: a) self-righteousness and b) despair caused by musing on one’s sins.
So why would a Calvinist work for God if he is not certain he is saved? Why else other than that they believe that they must persevere in faith and good works until the end of life to actually gain "final salvation"!? That this is works-salvation is evident, but this has been discussed in other posts of mine. Here we are talking about assurance, and I am going to keep it on track.
Following are a few of the quotes of Reformed writers that show the utter failure to obtain certainty that one is saved in Calvinistic theology:
Kenneth Gentry writes, "Assurance is subjective ... Dabney rightfully notes that [absolute assurance] requires a revelation beyond the Scripture because the Bible does not specifically speak to the individual in question. Nowhere in the Bible do we learn ... that Ken Gentry is among the elect" (September 1993 issue of Dispensationalism in Transition).
“'What must I do to be saved?' is an altogether different question from, 'How do I know I've done that?' You can answer the first confidently. Only the Spirit may answer the last with certainty.” (Walter Chantry, Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? pgs 75-76)
R.C. Sproul muses in an article he wrote on assurance, “Suppose I am mistaken about my salvation and am really going to hell? How can I know that I am a real Christian?” He relates, “I began to take stock of my life, and I looked at my performance. My sins came pouring into my mind, and the more I looked at myself, the worse I felt.” After falling on his knees, praying, and searching the scriptures for some assurance, he finally concluded “that being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option!” (R. C. Sproul TableTalk (Nov 6, 1989): p. 20).
“You may be a spiritual defector who hasn’t defected yet." (John MacArthur on His radio program, transcribed by a friend).
“The only evidence of election is effectual calling, that is, the production of holiness. And the only evidence of the genuineness of this call and the certainty of our perseverance, is a patient continuance in well doing” (Charles Hodge, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 212).
“The perseverance of the saints reminds us very forcefully that only those who persevere to the end are truly saints” (John Murray, quoted by Dillow, Reign of the Servant Kings, pg 259)
These quotes betray the utter bankruptcy of the Reformed theology to:
1) Relate to its adherents a certainty that they have been accepted by God, justified, and given eternal life. Doubts necessarily must abound. Some authors even claim that doubts can be good so that they will motivate us to good works and perseverance (apparently by fear of hell).
2) Provide one of the greatest motivators for godly living: certainty of salvation! What are we left with here? Reformed people’s motivation is to work hard enough in order to gain some shadow of assurance, and thus make some conjecture that they may be saved. Instead of working out of gratitude that God has certainly saved them, they must work for God and persevere until the end for final salvation to be theirs!
How can you work for God if you are not certain that your name is written in the Book of life? Is that not like investing in a company that may not be yours; tricking out a car that may be repossessed at any time; devoting to a woman who hasn’t affirmed that she is your wife?
Free Grace theology teaches that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. Calvinists and Lutherans who take their name from the great reformers may not be aware that both Luther and Calvin believed that assurance was of the essence of faith, not by looking to works!
It is generally observed by Reformed authors that both Calvin and Luther grounded assurance on the objective word of God, in that certain and absolute assurance was of the very essence of saving faith:
Joel R. Beeke (TMS) admits, "Whereas the early Reformers held that assurance is part and parcel with faith, post-Reformation divines felt free to distinguish assurance from faith as witnessed by chap. 18 of the Westminster Confession." (Beeke, "Does Assurance Belong to the Essence of Faith? Calvin and the Calvinists," The Master’s Seminary Journal (Spring 1994) pg 45)
He also makes this further admission: "The bulk of current scholarship, however, no longer views the post-Reformation struggle to develop a detailed doctrine of assurance as a faithful outworking of early Reformation principles." (Ibid 46)
D.A. Carson, writing on assurance, states that the Reformation, with “its virulent [sic] emphasis on sola fide led Luther to see assurance as an element of saving faith. If one truly trusts Christ for the forgiveness of sins and full justification, so far also one is assured of his forgiveness. Carson continues, “The same connection can be found in Calvin” (Westminster Theological Journal 54, Reflections on Christian Assurance, 1992 pg 3).
Robert L. Dabney concluded that the “doctrine concerning faith which the first Reformers … Luther and Calvin… adopt[ed] from their opposition to the… teachings of Rome… asserted that the assurance of hope is of the essence of saving faith. Thus says Calvin in his commentary on Romans: ‘My faith is a divine and spiritual belief that God has pardoned and accepted me’” (Discussions by Robert L. Dabney, D.D., L.L.D., pg 173; taken from: Volume I: Theological and Evangelical, edited by C. R. Vaughan, published by the Presbyterian Committee of Publication, Richmond, VA., 1890.).
Hodge states that the Reformers “identif[ied] assurance with faith, making it essential to salvation,” teaching “that the special object of justifying faith is the favour of God toward us for Christ's sake: therefore to believe is to be assured of our own personal salvation. Thus Luther, Melancthon, and Calvin taught. This is the doctrine taught in the Augsburg Confession and Heidelberg Catechism” (A Commentary on: The Westminster Confession of Faith, A. A. Hodge, Online Edition, Chapter 18, Section II, 2).
Institutes III.ii.16, John Calvin writes (quoting from the 1960 Westminster Press edition, edited by John T. McNeill, and translated by Ford Lewis Battles):
“Here, indeed, is the chief hinge on which faith turns: that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them. Hence, at last is born that confidence which Paul elsewhere calls "peace" unless someone may prefer to derive peace from it. Now it is an assurance that renders the conscience calm and peaceful before God’s judgment.”
Shortly after these words comes this famous statement:
“Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all things on the basis of his generosity; who relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation.”
Earlier (Institutes II.ii.7) Calvin proclaims:
"Now we shall have a complete definition of faith, if we say, that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the Divine benevolence towards us, which [is] founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ" (Institutes, II, ii, 7)
The aforementioned Reformed author’s admissions are significant in that they frankly declare that the prevalent view in contemporary scholarship is that post-Reformation theologians departed significantly from John Calvin’s own view of assurance. Needless to say, it would be awkward for protagonists in the Lordship Salvation debate to admit that they are defending a view of assurance significantly at variance with that of Calvin himself!
The objective word of God, specifically the promise of Christ to give, as a present and immediate possession, the free gift of eternal life by simple faith in Him alone, apart from works, is the only ground for assurance. While Luther and Calvin state that one should keep their eyes on Jesus alone for assurance, the post-Reformation writers significantly ground their assurance on self; on the works that are produced by them and their degree of sanctification.
Can I ask you a personal question? Would you want your children doubting that you are their father? What kind of psychological problems would result from such a cruel practice?
And imagine this. Your son is in a time of rebellion, even after you have given him all the tools he would need to act right. Imagine you saying to your son, “You have every reason to doubt that I am your father and you are my son because of your rebellion!”
I contend greatly that God, the perfect Father wants everyone to certainly know, not just at the moment of faith in Christ, but throughout their entire Christian pilgrimage here that He is indeed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, their Father, and that they are completely accepted by Him on the basis of Christ’s works.
Do you know that you are certainly saved, that for sure your name is written in the book of Life? that you are accepted by God, and that He is your Father?
If you don’t, you can! Simply look to the passages of Scripture that promise eternal life as a present possession to the one who merely believes in Christ for it.
For instance, John 6:47
“Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life”
Do you believe in Christ here in His solemn assertion? If you do, you must be convinced that you have eternal life, for the guarantee is disclosed in the promise.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26)
Notice the guarantee here! Jesus is the Guarantor of eternal life to the simple believer in Him for it! If you believe that Jesus guarantees you eternal life by your simple faith in Him, not only do you possess eternal life, you necessarily have absolute assurance that you are saved!
How can a person say that they believe Jesus here and not understand that they have eternal life? It is impossible, for, as I have said, the explicit guarantee of eternal life is the promise to the believer in Christ. So therefore, to believe this statement of Christ is to believe that you have eternal life. Only if you doubt the veracity of Christ’s statement will you not have absolute assurance of salvation.
Are you now experiencing any doubts about your salvation? Look to Christ and His promise in faith and you will be certain!
In closing, let us view a statement by Robert L. Dabney:
“There is a spurious as well as a genuine faith. Every man, when he thinks he believes, is conscious of exercising what he thinks is faith. Such is the correct statement of these facts of consciousness. Now suppose the faith, of which the man is conscious, turns out a spurious faith, must not his be a spurious consciousness? And he, being without the illumination of the Spirit, will be in the dark as to its hollowness.”
(Dabney, Ibid, pgs 180-181).
What a tragic position! The believer in Christ cannot know whether his belief is genuine or spurious! He must, therefore, search for a way to have faith in his faith--to believe that he has believed. But what if, after self-examination, he is wrong there, too?
Obviously, the kind of theology Dabney and Calvinism represents strips believers of their grounds of assurance and dangles them over an abyss of despair.
But, as you can see, we are not the first people to fight this battle over assurance. Calvin fought it, long ago, with Rome.
As a final note, a new contributer to the comments section of my blog, Jim wrote this:
"...if one cannot know for sure whether they are saved, I would say that it is not worth even attempting that kind of "christian" life...
I have no doubts that Christ has saved me, and this assurance is in no way contingent upon any continued action on my part.
What then is the difference between Armenianism and Calvinism if one cannot know for sure whether they are saved?"
To which I responded:
"D.A. Carson, a Reformed writer says this about Reformed and Arminian doctrines of subjective assurance:
'Thus at their worst, the two approahces meet in strange and sad ways'
Introspection is the critical basis for both theologies.
Their theologies both have the same result:
Calvinism: If you don't persevere in faithful obedience until death, this shows you were never saved.
Arminianism : If you don't persevere in faithful obedience until death, this shows you lost your salvation.
The results are the same: either faithfully work and obey until death or go to hell.
And in either case, you just can't know if you will end up in glory or not!