“An Offense To The Spirit Of God: Assurance Without Evidence”
First John 2.3
1. Uncertainty. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable to be uncertain about something that’s important, especially about something as important as the destiny of your eternal and undying soul. There is something about the human mind and heart that craves certainty, that desires for things to be settled, especially in regard to the state of your soul, your relationship with Christ, your standing before God, where you will spend eternity.
2. Turn to First John 2.3. This morning we will address the subject of assurance, that settled certainty about the condition of his soul that a person craves. For those of you who are relatively new to the subject, assurance of salvation is a subject that is usually taken for granted in the so-called Christian community, but a subject about which most people are mistaken. My desire this morning is to clear up some of the mistakes so that you will see what God’s Word says about the subject of assurance.
3. Have you found First John 2.3? If you have, please stand. First John 2.3 is our text for this morning, and is a good starting point for our consideration of this subject of importance to all who claim to be Christians: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
4. The first occurrence of the verb “know” has to do with assurance of salvation, while the second occurrence of the word “know” has to do with the hypothetical likelihood of whether or not the reader had ever, really, come to know Jesus in a saving way. Let me paraphrase this verse, bringing into English the Greek tenses of the verb translated “know.”
5. The paraphrase reads this way: “And here is how we do presently know that we actually came to know him at some time in the past, if we are currently obeying his commandments.” This verse is a first class conditional statement, with the two parts of the statement listed in sequence opposite from what we usually see, but without changing the meaning in any way. “If we are currently obeying his commandments, then we do presently know that we actually came to know him at some time in the past.”
6. Think about this. What John is actually saying here is that a person’s assurance of salvation is based upon credible evidence. And what is credible evidence, according to this verse? Obedience.
7. And in the next verse John maintains that a person who asserts that he has assurance that is not based upon credible evidence is a liar: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
8. This is interesting. Let’s pursue this line of thought. Three considerations before this morning’s sermon:
1A. First, WHAT ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS SUPPOSED TO BE
1B. My friends, our text is only one of several verses in God’s Word that deals with this issue of assurance of salvation. But what is found to be true of this verse’s relationship with assurance you will find to be true of other verse’s, when they are rightly understood.
2B. In our text, the first occurrence of the verb “know” is in the present tense. Meaning? Meaning that John is dealing with his reader’s present confidence, his reader’s present feeling of well-being concerning his soul. How do you feel about your soul’s condition, right now? Are you comfortable now? Are you confident that all is well with your soul now? If you are you have assurance.
3B. Recognize that assurance of salvation is not the doctrine of whether or not a Christian can lose his salvation. That doctrine is the doctrine of eternal security, or the preservation of the saints as the Reformers termed it. Eternal security is not how you feel about your soul’s salvation. Eternal security is an undeniable Bible fact whether or not any person, you or me, is or is not saved.
4B. Assurance, on the other hand, has to do with your own personal sense of well-bring about whether or not you are truly a child of God, and has nothing directly to do with whether or not someone can lose his salvation. Rather, it has to do with whether or not you ever, truly, got saved in the first place.
5B. Listen to these words from the confession of faith put out by the Baptists in London, in 1689. Here is part of what the London Baptist Confession of 1689 had to say about assurance of salvation:
“True believers may find that their assurance of salvation fluctuates; sometimes more, sometimes less. They may prove neglectful in preserving it, as for example, if they give way to some particular sin that wounds their conscience and grieves the Spirit; or a strong temptation may suddenly spring upon them; or God may see fit to withdraw ‘the light of His countenance’ and cause darkness to envelop them, a course He sometimes takes even with those who fear His name.”
6B. Now listen to a portion of the Philadelphia Confession of Faith of 1742:
“True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light. . . .”
7B. The Baptists of centuries gone by recognized that assurance of salvation fluctuates depending, in part, upon one’s obedience to God. So, what I am relating to you is not something new, not something weird or strange, but a centuries old view of assurance, rightly understood.
8B. Look again at First John 2.3. Did you really get saved when you and I talked that time in my home? Did you really get saved that time you were by yourself? Did you really get converted in my office? Oh, I know you did a lot of crying and seemed to be really brokenhearted about your sinfulness, but did you really get converted? I know you prayed a prayer, but did you really get saved? I know you’ve learned a great deal of Bible truth since then, but did you really get converted? Were you really born again?
9B. The point really is, How can you tell now that you really did get saved then? Or to be more accurate and true to the Scriptures, How can you tell now that you really are saved now? Because, after all, what really matters is whether or not you are saved right now. Amen?
10B. Our text is one of the several verses in the Bible which addresses the question of how you can tell now whether you are really saved. In other words, how do you feel about your relationship with Christ? And how should you feel about your relationship with Christ? It’s based, according to our text, and the Baptists of London in 1689 and Philadelphia in 1742 would agree, on your obedience.
11B. Assurance of salvation is supposed to be a feeling, a persuasion, being convinced, that you are truly born again. So, how does this assurance of salvation come? According to the verse we are examining today, obedience. Are you obedient? Then, generally speaking, you should have assurance. Are you disobedient? Then your assurance should waver, your assurance should fluctuate. If it doesn’t waver or fluctuate when you commit sin, then it isn’t real assurance.
12B. The problem with most contemporary Christians is that they think “converted Christian persons can (not may) live in sin throughout their post-conversion lives with no threat to their eternal destiny.” Thus, what most professing Christians think is assurance of salvation is not assurance at all, but presumption. Assurance is supposed to be how you feel about your status or standing before God, how you feel about your relationship with Christ, based upon your obedience, which is evidence.
2A. Next, WHO ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS SUPPOSED TO COME FROM
1B. If you were to ask most professing “Christians” if they have “assurance” of salvation, they would tell you “Yes,” and they would hold to their conviction even through an episode of adultery, or an episode of drunkenness or drug abuse, or even if they hadn’t attended a Church service in years.
2B. Furthermore, most professing “Christians” with an “assurance” of their salvation would tell you, if you asked them, that they were given “assurance” of their salvation by the person who led them to Christ. And this is how it’s typically done:
1C. The so-called “soul winner” leads the sinner in a prayer, asking Jesus into his heart (even though such is not found in God’s Word and is a distinctively Roman Catholic caricature of conversion).
2C. Then the “soul winner” takes the new “Christian” to First John 5.13 and they read the verse together: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
3C. Finally, the “soul winner” asks the new “Christian” if he believed on the name of the Son of God. The new “Christian” knows he is supposed to say “Yes,” so he usually says “Yes.” If he says “I don’t know” the “soul winner” will ask him, “Did you ask Jesus into your heart, or didn’t you?” as if asking Jesus into his heart is a guarantee of conversion.
4C. He will then be told that he should “know” that he has eternal life, and to think otherwise shows a lack of faith (something no new “Christian” wants to be guilty of).
3B. So you see, most new “Christians” are given assurance of salvation by the “soul winner” who led them to Christ, or by the altar worker who has been trained to do so by his pastor.
1C. Sadly, not one time does it ever enter into anyone’s mind that giving assurance to a person may be the wrong thing to do.
2C. What if that person isn’t really converted? Is it a good idea to convince an unsaved person to be sure of his salvation? Not unless, like Robert Schuller, you believe Hell to only be a low self-esteem.
3C. If Hell is real, the worst thing in the world to do with an unconverted person is to convince him so that he has “assurance” of his salvation. Giving “assurance” to a lost person is terrible.
4B. But an even more important question is whether or not any individual, no matter how well- intentioned he is, has any business giving anyone “assurance” of salvation.
1C. Is that any Christian’s job? If First Thessalonians 1.5 is any indication, assurance of salvation is something the Holy Spirit should be left to deal with Himself.
2C. Please turn to that verse: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”
5B. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of convincing sinners of their sinfulness, is He not? Then why is it that no one seems to be confident that the Holy Spirit is as capable of persuading Christians of their conversion as He is persuading sinners of their sinfulness?
6B. The reason why the Holy Spirit plays no role in the assurance of salvation of most so-called converts these days is because the Holy Spirit plays no role in their supposed conversion experiences, or in the evangelizing of those same sinners leading up to their so-called conversions.
7B. As a matter of fact, I am persuaded that the Holy Spirit has virtually nothing to do with most efforts at bringing sinners to Christ these days. No Holy Spirit involvement in convicting the sinners, or in converting the sinners, or in assuring the new so-called “Christians.”
8B. And why am I so sure there is no Holy Spirit involvement in any of this? Because Decisionists go ahead and do whatever it is they do regardless of any evidence of the Spirit of God’s involvement in the effort or work in the sinner’s life. In other words, they will lead anyone in a sinner’s prayer they can get to pray. They will try to give anyone “assurance” they’ve gotten to pray. And they have no concern that there is no evidence of the Spirit’s cooperation in any of their efforts.
9B. To restate to make myself extremely clear: Assurance of salvation is supposed to come from the Holy Spirit of God, not some preacher, not some “soul winner,” not some altar worker.
3A. Finally, WHAT MEANS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE USED TO GIVE ASSURANCE
1B. It must be admitted that the Holy Spirit of God makes use of means to accomplish His goals in men’s lives. I only wish Decisionists additionally realized that various means are to be used in getting sinners convicted of their sins and then converted to Christ. It should not be thought unusual, then, that the Spirit of God makes use of means in giving new Christians assurance of their salvation.
2B. But if it is admitted that the Holy Spirit makes use of means to give new Christians assurance of their salvation, would you not expect the Word of God to give some clue about the Spirit’s use of means? Or would you just expect the Bible to be silent about the use of means, making it necessary for us to guess about such things? I think that if anyone will dare to look he will find by what means the Spirit of God gives assurance to new Christians . . . and to old Christians.
3B. May I give you just a partial list of the means used by the Spirit of God to comfort and give assurance of saving grace to a person?
1C. He uses God’s Word to make wise the simple, Psalm 19.7.
2C. He sheds abroad in our hearts the love of God, Romans 5.5.
3C. He brings about unity of heart and purpose, Ephesians 4.3
4C. He evokes humility and meekness, Ephesians 4.2.
5C. He provokes zealous service, Galatians 4.18.
6C. He transforms to mortify the deeds of the body, Romans 8.13.
7C. He alters the personality of the Christian, Galatians 5.22-23.
8C. He bears witness with the Christian’s spirit that he is a child of God, Romans 8.16.
9C. And, closing out this incomplete list of the Spirit’s means, the Spirit of God leads the believer by His Word, Romans 8.14.
4B. Decisionists are of the opinion that a preacher or a “soul winner” or an altar worker should give “assurance” to someone who has just prayed the sinner’s prayer. But such “assurance” is based entirely on presumption. This very short list that I have just given you are but a few of the real and substantial evidences that the Spirit of God provides to genuinely converted people to comfort and assure them. Is it not obvious that the Holy Spirit’s use of evidence in a person’s life to assure him is far better than the presumption of some misguided and uninformed so-called “soul winner”?
1. Please do not mistake my intentions this morning. I am very much in favor of each and every Christian, both those newly converted and those who have walked with God for decades, having the assurance of their salvation.
2. My concern is only that each person’s assurance be the assurance given by the Holy Spirit of God; a holy assurance, a godly assurance, a Scriptural assurance, and not some carnal presumption given by some ill-advised and uninformed man.
3. Let us recognize that we are in the vicinity of holy ground. Some holy ground is to be walked on carefully, but with no shoes on the feet. But there is other holy ground that is not to be walked on at all.
4. Such is the holy ground of assurance of salvation. Let the Spirit of God make use of His chosen means to convince the lost and persuade them of their wickedness and need of Christ. Let the Spirit of God make use of His chosen means to draw sinners to Christ. And let the Spirit of God make use of His chosen means to give Christians assurance from the evidence of God’s grace He produces in their lives.
5. Now, brother Isenberger comes to lead us as we sing before this morning’s sermon.
1. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the triune godhead, has been excluded from virtually every area of contemporary Christianity.
2. To be sure, He is talked about by some and manifestations of Him are pretended by others. But in that part of Christianity that He is most concerned with, being Christ’s Agent and Advocate for the souls of men, He is most frequently ignored.
3. I assert that the Holy Spirit of God is allowed to play virtually no role in most contemporary evangelism, as convincer of sin, as agent of the new birth, as assurer and comforter of the professing Christian.
4. Narrowing my comments to the subject of assurance of salvation, I have three general comments:
1A. First, THE SINFUL SUBSTITUTE FOR GODLY ASSURANCE COMMON TODAY
1B. It was recognized by the Baptists in England in 1689 and the Baptists in Philadelphia in 1742 that assurance of salvation was given by the Holy Spirit, and that the assurance the Spirit of God gave would fluctuate, would vary, and was not a constant. But what passes for assurance of salvation today does not fluctuate, does not vary, and is a constant in a professing Christian’s life, no matter the depth or duration of sin he is involved in.
2B. How can this be explained? It can only be explained in this way: What passes for assurance these days is simply not the assurance and comfort of the Holy Spirit to which God’s Word refers in First Thessalonians 1.5 and to which the writers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession and the 1742 Philadelphia Confession referred.
3B. Consider: Ephesians 4.30 reads, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” And First Thessalonians 5.19 reads, “Quench not the Spirit.” These are dire warnings against sinning against the Spirit of God. Yet there are people these days who are convinced that a Christian can grieve or quench the Spirit of God without suffering any adverse consequences to his sense of spiritual well-being, his assurance of salvation, his comfort of grace.
4B. Excuse me, but I don’t believe it. I am convinced by God’s Word that when the Spirit of God is grieved or quenched He is very likely to withdraw a person’s sense of well-being and assurance, causing doubt to creep into his mind and heart. And this results in him rightly questioning the genuineness of his conversion experience and his relationship with God.
5B. So, how can it be explained that a person can commit adultery or fornication, can engage in drug use or drunkenness, can lie and cheat and steal, without any adverse affect on his sense of “assurance”? Quite easily. Such a person doesn’t have assurance that results from the Holy Spirit’s comfort of the soul. Rather, he has a prideful presumption and an arrogant self-deceit concerning the state of his soul. And such pride, in all its forms, is sinful and wicked. Such false assurance as I’ve described is a sin against the Holy Spirit of God, excluding Him from His proper role of a granting assurance.
2A. Next, THE SINFUL EXCLUSION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN MODERN “ASSURANCE”
1B. When the Holy Spirit of God is pushed aside in favor of a constant and unvarying confidence that requires no obedience to God, that depends on no comfort from God, then a dangerous journey has begun. What kind of Christianity is one left with when the Holy Spirit is treated as unnecessary?
2B. My friend, do not forget that the Spirit of God is the Lord Jesus Christ’s gift to indwell the believer. So, what must one think of the Savior when the gift of the Savior is considered dispensable? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this pushing aside of the Spirit of God has been intentional. It’s just a tragic byproduct of Decisionism.
3B. When you reduce conversion to nothing more than a perfunctory decision, executed in the form of an unscriptural prayer that asks Jesus to do something He has no stated intention of doing, then you have effectively removed the miraculous element from Christianity. And make no mistake about it, the new birth is a miraculous event each and every time it occurs. Being a miracle, you cannot reduce it to a formula, or a mechanical prayer, or a mere decision. After all, only God decides when He will perform a miracle.
4B. So, Decisionism, having removed the miracle working regeneration of the Holy Spirit from conversion, and having replaced it with a mere decision, went on to remove the Holy Spirit from those events leading up to conversion, as well. That’s why we no longer hear of Decisionists urging sinners to strive, since striving is what sinners do who are profoundly convinced of their sinfulness by the Spirit of God.
5B. So, having removed the Spirit of God from convincing the sinner before conversion, and from regenerating the sinner at the time of conversion, you are left with people who profess to be Christians who are not really converted. How are such people to be satisfied? How are such people to be convinced they are Christians after they’ve decided, after they’ve prayed? The Holy Spirit won’t do it, since He is under no obligation to honor an entire process that has excluded Him entirely.
6B. So, in steps the Decisionist pastor, or the Decisionist altar worker, or the Decisionist “soul winner,” to give “assurance” to the still unconverted new so-called “Christian.” Since the Spirit of God has been pushed aside from His convincing work and from His converting work, there is no hesitancy in pushing Him aside from any role in giving “assurance.” After all, He will certainly spoil everything by refusing to comfort the unconverted and will only give assurance to the genuinely saved.
7B. Now, granting that some few people do get converted under Decisionist preaching, the man who would replace the Holy Spirit’s role as assurer and comforter presumes to give everyone who prays “assurance.” Thus, not only is the unsaved person given a false “assurance” from some man, but that rare genuine Christian is also given a false “assurance.” This will serve only to interfere and confuse the genuine Christian, however, making the right use of the Holy Spirit all the more difficult in his growth in grace and in his maturing as a godly and holy Christian.
8B. So you see, this replacing of the blessed Holy Spirit’s assuring of only believers with a carnal presumption that is strongly gripped by both the saved and the lost, is bad all the way around. The lost are persuaded that they are saved when they are not, making it only so much more difficult to bring them to Christ. And the saved are confused and led down a path of error away from a needful and beneficial and lively ministry of the Spirit to comfort their spirits.
3A. Finally, THE SCRIPTURAL REMEDY FOR MODERN “ASSURANCE”
1B. Galatians 5.17 declares that “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.” This means there can be no peaceful coexistence between the erroneous notion of “assurance” and the Biblical notion of assurance that comes only from the comfort of the Spirit of God. The modern and erroneous approach to “assurance” must be dismantled, torn down and discarded.
2B. Once that is done the Spirit of God must be waited upon, must be obeyed, must be listened to and heard as He speaks through the Bible. If He gives your soul comfort, if He assures you by means of evidence that He has produced in your life, then you will have the assurance the Bible speaks of, the assurance that Paul referred to, the assurance that really means something, the comfort of the soul that testifies of sins forgiven and new life in Christ.
1. It really all boils down to evidence. There can be no faith without evidence. We know that from Hebrews 11.1. And there should be no assurance without evidence, either, since the Spirit never conflicts with Scripture.
2. The Holy Spirit, you see, expects no Christian to believe anything without evidence of some kind. He doesn’t even expect you to be assured that you are really converted unless there is evidence that you are a Christian.
3. And what evidence there is is evidence that can only be produced by Him. So, my friend, what evidence is there that you are are converted? What evidence is there that the Holy Spirit can point to to comfort your soul? What evidence is there that can be attributable only to His work in your life? That’s assurance.