Calvary Road Baptist Church

ďREVISITING THIS MATTER OF ASSURANCEĒ, Part 4

(Public assurance of salvation)

 

When we first began to review this matter of assurance of salvation several weeks ago, I challenged the views of my contemporaries by showing the complete absence of any scriptural basis for giving assurance of salvation to any newly professed hopeful convert. I pointed out the great danger of presuming that someone who supposedly prayed the sinnerís prayer to be saved actually prayed at all, of presuming that faith was in any way involved in the prayer, and of presuming that the miracle of the new birth had, in fact, occurred. I can think of no greater tragedy than to give assurance of salvation to someone who is not genuinely converted to Christ. Yet it is done all the time without as much as a second thought. In addition to the great wrong done to the hopeful convert if he is not actually saved, there is also the great wrong done to the cause of Christ at large by presenting so many as believers whose lives do not hold up over time as credible Christians. Imagine how much improved the reputation of Christianity would be without adulterous pastors and evangelists, and without pornographic film stars enrolled in Christian colleges.[1]

Though this series of messages from Godís Word has not explored the matter of assurance in any depth, but has served only as a much needed introduction to the topic, we have seen that assurance of salvation has erroneously been presented within conservative Christianity as based solely on a presumed conversion event that has taken place in the past, with no connection to the supposed Christianís present manner of life. This is a dramatic departure from the approach to the subject of assurance taken by the Reformers, by the Puritans, and by past Baptists, who correctly understood from Godís Word that assurance ought to be related to oneís ongoing manner of life as a Christian, based upon the scriptural reality that conversion is the beginning of a life that is evidenced by distinctive Christian behavior.[2]

Who would ever have imagined, centuries ago, that pastors in our day would believe it possible for someone to maintain an ongoing lifestyle of adulteries and drunkenness stretching out to yearsí duration, all the while insisting they are Godís true children and not bastards? Yet it is so. Real assurance of salvation of the type found in the Bible is not something that can be given by some so-called soul winner moments after persuading a subject to repeat a prayer. Neither is real assurance of salvation something that is entirely disconnected from present behavior because it is unscripturally fastened to some event in the subjectís past that produces no present spiritual fruit.

Though we do not have the time to explore the subject matter thoroughly, we did discover last week that a child of God can possess real assurance of his salvation, based upon a number of factors in his present life. Generally speaking, assurance is based upon Christís saving work (which is ongoing in the believerís life), is given through the Holy Spiritís ministry to the believer, and can result either from the use of certain means (such as obedience), or can be given directly (the Spirit bearing witness with your spirit).

As I pointed out last week, and as I wish to restate again today, there is the private aspect of a Christianís assurance of salvation, and there is the public aspect of a Christianís assurance of salvation. Last weekís focus was on the former, and this evening we will take a brief look at the latter by considering two main points:

 

First, THERE IS WHAT I CALL THE PUBLICíS ASSURANCE OF YOUR SALVATION

 

Recognize that it is one thing to be a Christian and another thing to know that you are a Christian, which is personal and private assurance. However, though Christianity is a very personal issue, it can by no means be confined to the private regions of your life. There is no possible way anyone who has ever read the Bible with any understanding could insist that his relationship with Jesus Christ is his business and no one elseís. That understood, and the Christianís holy obligation to reach his fellow man with the gospel also understood (we are debtors, Romans 1.14), onlookers have a right to know whether there is good reason to suspect if someone is a Christian. Some fellow claims to be a Christian, or even if he makes no public claim to be a Christian, he is still obligated to provide evidence of his spiritual state to those around him.

Several verses from Godís Word point to the obvious nature of a public assurance of salvation, where those around you have a scripturally based confidence you are in good standing with God through faith in Jesus Christ:

Please turn with me to Romans 15.13-14:

 

13     Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

14     And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

 

Verse 14 shows Paulís persuasion concerning the Christians in Rome. Thus, the lives of Christians can and does produce persuasive evidence to discerning believers of a genuine relationship with God.

First Thessalonians 1.3-4 is perhaps the most challenging passage in the New Testament in this regard, especially when you remember that the Apostle was writing to believers who were only weeks old in the faith. Notice the source of Paulís certainty as we read:

 

3      Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

4      Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

 

Has your conduct since your conversion persuaded others that you really are a Christian? Last Friday a man asked me what I planned to preach about this evening. When I told him, he stated that he had never taken Christianity seriously until he witnessed the change in his son-in-lawís life shortly after his conversion. That is exactly the kind of thing Paul was referring to with regard to the Thessalonians.

Now turn to Ephesians 1.15: ďWherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints.Ē This is precisely what the Savior predicted in John 13.35: ďBy this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.Ē

There are more passages we could turn to, but we will end our looks at public assurance of salvation with Third John 3: ďFor I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.Ē When you are a Christian, a real one, others will talk about you and your faith, in that way convincing others that you are a child of God.

Do others have this opinion of you, that there is credible evidence that you really are a Christian, based upon Biblical criteria? Or are people supposed to take your word for it that you are a Christian? My friends, the principle of two or three witnesses found in the Bible forbids accepting someoneís insistence he is a Christian without corroborating evidence. As well, since we have limited opportunities to effectively work to bring the lost to Christ, it is just plain wrong for anyone to think he can opt out of his responsibility to alert others who are concerned about his soulís condition.

ďThe Bible says we have no right to judge.Ē Unless you are willing to admit to misunderstanding that prohibition found in Godís Word, you must believe that what the Apostle Paul wrote, what the Apostle John wrote, and what Jesus Himself said, were errors of judgmentalism. Is that what you are claiming, that you are right and the apostles Paul and John, along with the Savior, are wrong? On the contrary, Christians have an awesome obligation and responsibility to exercise discernment, not for being judgmental, but for the purpose of effective ministry to the lost, and much needed encouragement to the saved, in this brutal conflict known as the Christian life.

 

Finally, THERE IS THE PASTORíS ASSURANCE OF YOUR SALVATION

 

Are we agreed that this eveningís service is being conducted by a Baptist preacher for a Baptist church and invited guests? Good. That said, let me remind you of two things we Baptists hold dear: First, we embrace the principle that the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice, and that while Baptists will frequently differ on matters of interpretation with respect to secondary issues, we are rock solid in our undivided insistence that the Bible is our authority. Thus, when the Bible clearly advances something we have a holy obligation to obey. Second, and dependent upon the first, Baptists have always espoused our conviction that churches are to be comprised only of a regenerate membership. That is, only those who are born again are proper subjects for believer baptism and membership in the local church. Baptists have not always been as faithful to that principle in practice as we should be, but no Baptist espouses the belief that unsaved people should be baptized and accepted as church members. May I state a third notion that I think Baptists should hold dear, and that I think lines up completely with the first two statements? It is the principle, which used to be important to Baptists in a way that is no longer true for most Baptists these days, that the two or three witnesses principle found in the Old Testament and New Testament, and which is even adhered to by the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father, ought to be embraced when considering anyone for believer baptism or church membership. How dare we claim to be Bible people while taking someoneís uncorroborated testimony as sufficient to baptize him or accept him as a church member?

That said, let me introduce you to a problem that is unique to Baptists, because of our commitment to baptize by immersion only those with a credible conversion testimony, something those of days gone by who baptized babies simply did not face: I find no evidence in the Bible that candidates for believer baptism were required to provide others with assurance of their salvation before they could be baptized.

In the book of Acts, which we must grant is a book of history and not a presentation of doctrine, per se, we have a book that primarily deals with a transitional era in Christian history. That understood, let me state two things: First, we need to be very careful when we study Acts, to discern when we are simply seeing what happened versus seeing something that we are obligated to replicate in our lives and ministries. In other words, Acts is primarily descriptive and not proscriptive. That said, we see that baptismal candidates were immersed in obedience to Christís command in fairly short order. There were not long periods of time between professed conversion experiences and baptism. Granted, sometimes there was supernatural evidence of conversion in the form of speaking in tongues or baptism of the Holy Spirit. However, even in that span of unusual years we see that there were occasions in which lost people were baptized, presumably because they were thought to be converted at the time and were at least self-deceived about their condition themselves, such as Judas Iscariot, Simon the magician, and the Corinthian fornicator.

Thus, ministers of the gospel find themselves with something of a dilemma. On one hand, we find it universally true that Baptists immersed candidates fairly quickly. Yet on the other hand, candidates must have some convincing evidence of their conversion beyond their simple say so, since the principle of two or three witnesses cannot be suspended simply to get people baptized. Assurance of salvation, both of the personal and private kind, as well as the publicly persuasive kind, does not always present itself in a Christianís life quickly. Sometimes the Spirit of God brings assurance to one believer more gradually than He does to another. Yet in both situations, the Lord Jesus Christís commission is for those who have responded to the gospel in faith believing to be baptized.

The historic Baptist approach to this perplexing matter has been to scrutinize the testimony of the hopeful convert, most usually by the pastor, and frequently by the congregation. Charles Spurgeonís practice, for example, was to privately interview the subject, questioning him to discern what the subject thought about conversion and his own experience. When he was convinced of the likelihood of the genuineness of the subjectís experience, he would bring the subject before his church members to rehearse his experience. Thus, not only was the candidate for baptism persuaded he was likely converted, but his recounting of his experience and his response to questioning also persuaded Spurgeon and his congregation.

Let it be admitted that such an approach to qualifying candidates for believer baptism is not the same as being assured over time of a personís relationship with Christ. This is because of the time factor, and the fact that assurance frequently takes more time with some than with others. However, Christ has commanded us to baptize believers, so there is a compelling concern about obeying Him in this manner. What if the unsaved are inadvertently baptized? It must be admitted that it is possible. History has shown both in the Bible and since the completion of Godís Word that lost men are sometimes baptized. However, the Bible also shows measures being provided and steps being taken to remove unsaved members from churches.[3]

To conclude, let me say that there need be no confusion when a congregation is properly instructed with respect to someone being a convincing enough candidate to baptize and possessing assurance of salvation of both the private and the public kind. For a pastor and congregation to authorize the immersion of a baptismal candidate does not declare that evidence of assurance has been presented, but that using the normal rules of evidence that are commonly found whenever someoneís verbal testimony is heard, the presumption is made that the witness is telling the truth as he knows it by his experience.[4] If that person is baptized and it turns out he or she is not really converted, it will evidence itself over time by that person not having personal assurance of salvation and by that person not producing good cause for others to think he is a Christian, public assurance of salvation. Further, if that person lapses into serious sinning, church discipline must be exercised.

 

Over the course of these last four messages dealing with assurance of salvation I have severely criticized the way independent Baptists and evangelistic evangelical Christians approach the whole subject of assurance. If you read the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, you will see that Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists of that day were very serious in addressing assurance of salvation as being the result of a vibrant and lively relationship with Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Something went wrong, however, by the time we arrive in the twentieth century. Assurance is no longer dealt with based on anything like a scriptural foundation of truth and intimacy with Christ, but has become something so-called soul winners presumptuously seek to impart in a manipulative fashion to subjects who are briefly under their control. Who would have imagined after centuries of dealing with assurance in a legitimate manner that it would be reduced to some perfunctory comments attached to the end of a superficial gospel presentation, so someone who mumbled a few words as he was instructed was then said to have been given assurance that was based upon something written on the fly leaf of his Bible and a reference to one or two misinterpreted verses?

Yet that is what we have come to. Churches across the United States filled with lost people, who feel very comfortable in their lost condition because of some bogus assurance, who could never possess real assurance in their lost condition. All the while, there are real Christians, whose lives could be so dramatically improved by the cultivation of genuine personal assurance, and who could so powerfully minister to others, saved and lost, by so living before men that others gained a public assurance of their salvation.

We have some of the finest Christians I have ever seen in this church. What might happen to the cause of Christ in your circle of influence if you once and for all ditched the ridiculous nonsense you once thought was assurance for the real assurance the Holy Spirit gives to those He indwells? Would you not then have the confidence Paul refers to in Philippians 1.6, the rejoicing he refers to in Philippians 1.26, the conduct that reflects so well on the gospel of Christ mentioned in Philippians 1.27, and both the comfort of His love and the fellowship of His Spirit that he speaks of in Philippians 2.1?

I cannot wait to see what God has in store for you, and what God will do through you, as you come to possess more fully the assurance of salvation that is spoken of in Godís Word.



[1] News reports of a student at Grove City College in western Pennsylvania suspended for starring in an explicit gay porn video are on the Internet at this time.

[2] Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition Of The 1689 Baptist Confession Of Faith, (Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 1999), pages 224-231.

[3] Matthew 18.15ff; Romans 16.17; 1 Corinthians 5.5; Titus 3.10

[4] Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1995), page 28.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org