"ASSURANCE? OR PRESUMPTION?"

Second Corinthians 13.5

INTRODUCTION:

1. Turn in your Bible to Second Corinthians 13.5. Once you have found that verse please stand for the reading of Godís Word. My text is the first sentence of the verse: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves."

2. Last Sunday morning I presented to you an adapted sermon, authored by Anthony Burgess, that dealt with the issue of unconverted people having strong feelings and even experiences of the Holy Spirit dealing with them in various ways, thus causing them to wrongly conclude that they are genuinely converted.

3. This morning I bring to you yet another edited and contemporized Burgess sermon, that considers the characteristic differences between assurance of salvation and presumption of salvation. Do you have assurance of salvation? Or are you presuming to be saved?

4. You can imagine how great the delusion must be and how tragic the madness must be that enables a man or a woman to have a false persuasion concerning his or her salvation, presuming to be truly converted, presuming the state of your soul to be sound and godly, when it is quite the contrary.

5. Yet the great majority of those who call themselves Christians are overwhelmed by such a carnal confidence. How else can we explain a 1996 survey of American adults in which 84% of those claiming to be born again held non-biblical views on important matters. Half of them deny that Satan is a real being, 39% of them state that you get to heaven by doing good deeds, 30% deny that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, 29% of them believe that Jesus committed sins, and 37% do not believe Hell to be an actual place! [1]

6. As well, such godly patriarchs of the recent past as R. G. Lee and W. A. Criswell publicly stated that 80% and 75%, respectively, of the members of Gospel preaching Churches are not converted and they did not expect to see them in heaven.

7. On top of this, Dr. Monroe "Monk" Parker, a now deceased preacher who was once called "The Dean of American Evangelists, once said, "If we could get half the church members saved, we would see a great revival. In fact, I think if we could get half of the preachers in America converted, we would see a mighty revival." [2]

8. How many people are there who, when they hear the clear and direct pronouncements of Godís Word, that declare them to be devoid of Godís saving grace, which show them that in their present condition they are shut out of His kingdom, do yet bless themselves and are ready to sing "It is well with my soul"?

9. It is therefore worthwhile and necessary to ransack such false evidences as people are prone to comfort themselves with. And as it is wise for a miner to secure the services of an assayer to discern in his ore between dross and gold, and as it is wise for the bee keeper to distinguish between gall and honey, so must a conscientious minister of the Gospel discover in peopleís lives what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit.

10. Consider six differences that distinguish real assurance of salvation from groundless presumption.

1A. First, THERE IS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PRINCIPLE OPERATING TO PRODUCE ASSURANCE THAN THAT WHICH PRODUCES PRESUMPTION

Although causes of assurance and presumption are both like the root that is under the ground, not so very visible, the root of the one does make a difference from the root of the other.

Assurance is a fruit whose root is in heaven. The Spirit of God instills assurance in two ways, by enlightening or revealing, and by adopting or confirming in the believerís heart a child-of-Godís-affections for the Father.

Carnal presumption is different altogether, being like a weed that grows in the mud puddle mire of an unsaved personís deceived and deceitful heart.

Let me tell you some of the ways this presumption about a personís salvation develops.

1B. First, There Is An Ignorance With An Inexperienced Appreciation Of The Depth Of Sin, And Of Sinís Great Danger.

1C. Those who wrongly presume to be saved have never yet, as did the apostle Paul, found the Law alive, Romans 7, and themselves dead. They have not seen the great abominations of their depraved nature, the foulness of their sinfulness, the purity of the Law, or the exactness of Godís justice. And because they lack these discoveries and apprehensions, they come quickly to be persuaded that everything is well with them when it is not.

2C. This was Paulís experience. He thought himself to be spiritually alive and right with God before those thoughts came to him, Romans 7.9: "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." He had such great confidence in himself. And was not this the state of the Pharisees who justified themselves, and the Jews who trusted in their own righteousness?

3C. Not that there was any good reason for them to have such confidence. But they were blind and ignorant, not knowing themselves, like those of Laodicea, who thought themselves rich and full, when they were actually poor and miserable and blind and naked, Revelation 3.17.

4C. The presumption of unregenerate men, then, arises from the stupidity and blindness in them, whereas the godly assurance of those who are truly converted is the result of the Spirit of God graciously illuminating them about the height, the depth, and the breadth of sin, and making them feel the weight and burden of sin.

5C. Are you one of those who presumes to love God, and rests in the goodness of your own heart? Know that, if you were acquainted with all the wounds sin has inflicted on you, if your eyes were opened to perceive the filthiness and vileness of your nature and your ways, you would sit like Job on a dunghill, abhorring and loathing yourself.

6C. That you do not perceive your own filthiness, that you are seemingly unaware of your own wickedness, is a cause of great concern.

2B. Another Internal Cause Is Self-Love Instead Of Love For God.

1C. Thatís the spiderís web wrapped so tightly about you that it entangles you. It is your self-love, you see, that you use to flatter yourself, making everything to be good in you, and to be of God in you, though you are in actuality altogether fleshly and carnal.

2C. Proverbs 16.2 declares to us that, "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits." That person who excuses himself to himself and who acquits himself to himself, accuses himself to God.

3C. Was this not the problem that reached epidemic proportions among the Jewish people? What Old Testament prophet comes to mind who could persuade his people that their hearts were not right with God? Who of them succeeded in persuading the Jewish people not to be in such love with themselves instead of God? Not one of them was able.

4C. In light of that, are you really so persuaded that your soul stands in good stead? Do you praise God for your good heart and for your godly affections? On what basis do you conclude that you have a good heart? And what are your reasons for thinking your affections are godly? Are you sure you are not guilty of self-flattery and a fleshly love of yourself?

5C. If you were diligent in really observing yourself, you might discover this to be the real cause, not of spiritual assurance, but of carnal presumption. Godly assurance, on the other hand, arises from an utter disapproval and loathing of yourself.

2A. A SECOND VAST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ASSURANCE AND PRESUMPTION HAS TO DO WITH MOTIVES AND GROUNDS

Godly assurance is from and through the Word of God. That which is the means of our regeneration, James 1.18, is also the means of our assurance, Romans 15.14, that we through the Scriptures might have comfort. Vain presumption, on the other hand, comes from wrong motives.

Three thoughts will convince you of this:

1B. First, Think About The Difference Between Presumption Coming From Human Logic And Reasoning About A Personís Spiritual Condition, Versus A Real Assurance That Comes From The Light Of The Spirit Shining In Godís Word.

1C. Folks, Godís work of grace in a personís heart can be no more discerned by the natural light of human reasoning and intellect than your sense of touch can recognize and deal with the workings of logic and reason. You canít work out math problems by your sense of touch. Neither can you arrive at real assurance of salvation by human logic and intelligence. Different realms.

2C. We see a clear illustration of this with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. What a dullard he was about the work of regeneration. This master of Israel could not comprehend the new birth. Yet this is how so-called Christians acquire what they think is assurance, but which is actually presumption. They are grossly mistaken about the work of grace and what it is.

3C. Do not many so-called Christians think this thing called godliness is consistent with their own frequent sins, their own continual lack of personal piety, and their daily neglect of holy duties? How many say they have a good heart, even though they have bad tongues and worse lives?

4C. Even you who are not as bad as that still fool yourselves. You think because you are somewhat moral, are void of scandal, and donít drink or carouse anymore, you are therefore converted. And because you have minimized your faults, though you have no positive Christian characteristics whatsoever, you have therefore persuaded yourself that you are converted.

5C. It gets even worse than that. Some of you wrongly assume that because you were once under conviction, or because the Holy Spirit has illuminated your understanding about something, or because you have picked up an insight from listening to preaching, that you must necessarily be saved. No. You are in error.

6C. How easy is it to be deceived in one of these ways and, like the foolish virgins in Matthew 25, you will die confidently and boldly go to meet the Bridegroom having no oil. Make very sure that your confidence about your assurance of salvation is not an absolute mistake about the nature and workings of Godís grace.

2B. Next, Think About Another Difference Between The Basis Of Godly Assurance And Presumption.

Assurance comes not from any worth, merit or perfection that we find in ourselves. It comes from the truth about Godís grace and the reality of sins being washed away by the blood of Christ.

1C. This is how Paul, though he knew nothing by himself, yet he was not thereby justified, First Corinthians 4.4. But listen carefully to the typical evangelical Christian. His speech shows that his hope actually comes partly from the merits of Christ and partly from his own merits. Thus, the average evangelical has no real assurance, only a bold presumption.

2C. Understand that the child of God does not pretend that assurance comes from a full and perfect obedience to Godís Law. On the contrary, we know that such an obedience is not possible in this lifetime. But a believer can be properly persuaded that his heart is right toward God.

3C. Evangelical Christians, on the other hand, show that their belief system is strongly arrayed against a Scriptural notion of assurance of salvation, because they have no reliance upon the Bible as the sole source of spiritual truth. And no one who refuses Scriptural guidelines for coming to Christ will then adhere to Scriptural guidelines for assurance of salvation. Thus, only presumption is left to him as the basis for erroneous confidence that he is a Christian.

3B. Third, Many People Develop Their Carnal Presumption From The Outward Comforts And Prosperity That They Enjoy. Not So With Assurance.

1C. The presumptuous tend to look upon their prosperity, their well-behaved children, the honors they receive, as so many testimonies of Godís love to them and as convincing arguments that they are being rewarded by God. Because the Bible so has many promises for those who walk in Godís ways, they who find themselves enjoying such advantages therefore conclude that they are good Christians and that God is pleased with them.

2C. But Godís Word, rightly divided, does not say what many people think it says. The Bible declares that the prosperous person stands in slippery places, and that his prosperity may become a snare unto him, increasing both his sin and his torment. Solomon wrote, "Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt," Ecclesiastes 5.13. So, riches can actually harm a person.

3C. This is not to say that there is no assurance of salvation, but only that assurance of salvation does not come by outward benefits and circumstances. As is illustrated in Luke 16.25, where we read about the rich man and poor Lazarus. Abraham said to the now dead rich man in Hell, "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."

4C. Not dependent upon circumstances, genuine assurance of salvation is most powerful and operative in all kinds of distresses and miseries. You see it in David in some of the Psalms he wrote, how confident he was in God, though all outward circumstances were against him. And Paul, when facing execution in Rome, was greatly encouraged in his soul.

5C. But carnal confidence vanishes in times of distress. The presumptuous person rants and raves, not knowing what to do. When the whole world is coming down around you, then ask yourself what bears up your heart and keeps up your spirit. Is it your wealth? Your status?

6C. Consider, beloved, how many times God has bestowed prosperity and status on those He hates. If status and wealth determine true happiness then Christ was not happy, Who became poor that we might be rich.

7C. It was well observed by Augustine that God gives riches sometimes to wicked men, that we may not think that riches are good in themselves, and sometimes He gives riches to godly men, that we may not think that riches are evil in themselves.

8C. Recognize then, that God may give you material prosperity and position and not give you Christ. But if He gives you Christ, how shall He not with Him freely give you all things?

3A. THE THIRD DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ASSURANCE AND PRESUMPTION IS IN RESPECT OF THE MANNER AND METHOD THE SPIRIT OF GOD USUALLY WORKS ASSURANCE

Here are some of the experiences by which the people of God come to have assurance:

1B. First, By A Deep And Serious Humiliation For Sin, And By Feeling The Burden Of Sin.

1C. Such only are promised to find rest in their souls. Christ did not assure Mary Magdalene her sins were forgiven till she wept much for them, Luke 7. Let no one presume to set limits on any time span or degree of the soulís humiliation, but neither deny the truth of it.

2C. Suppose you come to a man who is confident about everything, as well as confident with himself. Then you think of the travails your own soul has had that cured you of such confidence in all things, as well as curing you of confidence with yourself.

3C. In Romans 8.15 the Spirit of God is a spirit of bondage, before it is a spirit of adoption. And this very truth is enough to shake the foundations of many menís buildings. What deep digging was there in your heart to lay the foundation that has led to your present confidence?

4C. Now, I know that these observations I make will be wholeheartedly rejected by those who turn their backs on Paulís experiences and the wisdom of the Puritans. But in Romans 7 and 8 Paul fully describes this progression and method in his own experience.

5C. First, there was the discovery of his own sin by the Law, whereby he judged himself miserable and unimaginably sinful. Then came the apprehension of Christís grace on top of this. "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord," Romans 7.24-25.

6C. This type of assurance will not grow in a heart thatís not been plowed up. The needle must pierce the heart before this silk can follow.

2B. Another Method Whereby God Works Assurance Is By Conflicts Of Doubts And The Opposition Of Unbelief.

1C. Seeing that assurance is a fruit of Godís Spirit, and that doubting is a working of the flesh, it cannot be but that the Apostleís rule applies, the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, Galatians 5. So, there is a resulting ebb and flow of assurance.

2C. I am not persuaded by the "assurance" that has never had any doubts. Remember, the flesh and the Spirit are contrary to each other. An assurance that never doubts, then, is like the rich young ruler, who said, "All these have I kept from my youth up." It is unbelievable that so great and spiritual a mercy should be brought into your soul without any accompanying turmoil and commotion in your heart.

3C. So, the mixture of an awareness of Godís grace in you, accompanied by a sense and a feeling of your imperfections, are always good symptoms. Itís like the man who said, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." There was his assurance ("Lord, I believe"), followed by his perception of his defects ("help thou mine unbelief").

4C. Back to the psalmist, David, once more. Sometimes he basked in the sunshine of Godís favor, and everything seemed fine to him. At other times he was in the dark, and there was much wavering by him. Folks, thatís not wrong. Thatís normal. Thatís right. Thatís the way assurance works in a human being who is saved by grace, and who is not presumptuous.

3B. Third, God Works Assurance Out Of The Vehement And Fiery Assaults Of Satan.

1C. As the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, was not immune Satanís from attacks, so neither are those who are His. Woe, then, to that man whose peace the devil does not disturb. Remember, from Mark 3, that the strong man who is the devil kept all things quiet in his house, until Christ, the One Who is stronger, came. With Jesus comes the conflict.

2C. My friends, the devil opposes Jesus Christ and all who are His. Recognize that it is vain presumption, and not godly assurance, which is not opposed by the devil, himself. The man is an Egyptian, not an Israelite, if the Pharaoh does not oppress him. Freedom from struggle, therefore, does not suggest assurance for the Christian, but presumption for the unconverted.

4A. A FOURTH REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ASSURANCE AND PRESUMPTION IS IN THE EFFECTS OF GODLY ASSURANCE, HOW IT OUTSTRIPS PRESUMPTION AS LIGHT DOES DARKNESS

1B. Thus, Godly Assurance Is Diligent In The Use Of The Means Of Grace, Is Careful To Perform All Duties, And In The Neglect Of These Duties It Either Perishes Or Is Much Weakened.

1C. "Give all diligence," says Peter, "to make your calling and election sure," Second Peter 1.10. So where diligence, and all diligence, is not used, verse 5, there will be no assurance.

2C. Folks, this is the oil which keeps the lamp burning. In earnest prayer, feeding upon Godís Word, attending to the preaching of Godís Word, faithfulness to gather with the saints. This is how godly certainty is maintained. Whereas carnal confidence is big and swelling, even while neglecting the means of grace; giving us a man who does not pray, is not faithful in Church, who pollutes himself with daily sins, and yet he is thoroughly persuaded that heís a Christian.

3C. If in the physical realm a man is judged a presumer who will persuade himself of life when yet he will neither eat or drink, and is a presumer who assures himself of wealth and riches when yet he is a sluggard and will use no diligence, then certainly a man of such arrogance that he will neglect the means of grace for living, prayer, Bible reading and study, faithful attendance at Church, and so forth, can only be and must be judged a spiritual presumer.

2B. As Well, Godly Assurance, The More There Is The More It Inflames The Heart With Love For God.

1C. Itís like the magnifying glass that, by the diffraction of the sunbeams, causes a fire to be kindled within, as was mentioned of David and Paul. There are none who so highly bless God and praise Him as those that have this biblically based assurance of salvation.

2C. But carnal presumption turns in the other direction. It works into a love of yourself, or the comforts you enjoy, or the toys you want to play with, and results in less care for God. Like the adulteress in Proverbs. The more confident she is of her husbandís love, the more bold and impudent she is to abuse it. But the Spirit of adoption gives a childís love for God, and an assurance of a fatherís love melts the heart that has such a love for God. But love that is shown to not be genuine produces an attitude of haughtiness and superiority and arrogance.

3C. Consider, then, how that which you take to be assurance works in you. Does it diminish your affection for sin and distance you from the world? Does it crowd out your enjoyment of things here below, and raise your heart up to God above, delighting and rejoicing in Him?

4C. This type of work in you is a comfortable demonstration of good assurance.

3B. Third, Godly Assurance Is Strong And Potent Enough To Encourage The Heart No Matter The Discouragements And Desolations.

1C. Thus, David, greatly discouraged when the wives and children of his men (and his own wives) were kidnaped and his men wanted to retaliate by stoning him to death, was able to encourage himself in the LORD his God, First Samuel 30.6.

2C. This kind of certainty of your relationship with God in the dark times and in the deep valleys is like an ark that carries your soul through the storm-tossed seas of life, and keeps your heart from sinking. A carnal, confident man, on the other hand, has a heart that sinks like a stone within him when his carnal hopes fail.

3C. My friend, this is an important symptom to watch for in the midst of this lifeís chaos you live in, when troubles come at you from every side, when the water is so choppy and the waves so high that heaven and earth seem to be mingled together.

4C. What makes you rejoice and lift up your head with gladness? Is it that knowledge you have of God that He is your God? Is it those gifts and remembrances He has placed in your soul to be tokens of His eternal love and goodness toward you? Such as this is important stuff.

5C. But sadly, as with the hypocriteís joy, so also will his confidence quickly perish. Presumption is not a star fixed in the night sky. It is instead a quickly disintegrating comet plunging to the earth, that flashes brightly and quickly, but is soon consumed and vanishes away.

6C. One ancient scholar spoke about assurance in this way: "If it can endure the hammer, if under the hammer above, and the anvil below, it remains durable, then it is true metal." So it is with true assurance. It holds, even though billows and waves wash over it.

7C. So, the troubles that come upon you will discern the truth of your real spiritual condition sooner than anything else.

5A. Fifthly, THERE IS AN OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE IN WHAT ACCOMPANIES ASSURANCE AND WHAT ACCOMPANIES PRESUMPTION

Two examples of those things that are companions of godly assurance:

1B. First, Godly Assurance Is Accompanied By Holy Fear And Trembling.

1C. Does Godís Word contradict itself? No. So, when in one place it calls upon you to make your calling sure, Second Peter 1.10, and in another place it calls upon you to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, Philippians 2.12, the two must go together, both the sureness of your calling and the fear and trembling of working out your own salvation.

2C. Neither can these two graces contradict one another, the sureness or assurance on one hand and the fear and trembling on the other hand. So then, they who are assured, though they rejoice, yet they rejoice with trembling. Those who are assured they shall stand, yet take heed lest they fall. Something understood by the truly converted, but disputed by the hypocrites.

3C. As a man that looks down from some place high up on a mountain lookout or on a tall buildingís observation deck, though while he holds on he knows he cannot fall, yet when he looks down to the ground that is so far below him, he cannot help but fear he should fall. So, at the same time he has both an assurance of not falling, and a fear of falling, though not from the same considerations.

4C. Thus it is with the people of God, whereas carnal presumption excludes all kinds of fear and interferes with the proper diligence that is always associated with godly assurance.

2B. A Second Companion Of Godly Assurance Is Humility And Lowliness Of Mind.

1C. The greater the mercies God bestows on His people the lower they are in their own eyes. The virgin Mary illustrated this in her magnifcat of Luke 1, wherein she made reference to her low estate in verse 48, and her low degree in verse 52. As well, king David recognized Godís kindness in exalting him, a poor shepherd boy, to the throne of Israel.

2C. Carnal presumption on the other hand, leads to more confidence, to more pride in yourself, and in an eventual despising of others. What better proof that a Pharisee has not the assurance of grace in him when he prays, but by his vain confidence whereby he despises other men as sinners in comparison to himself? "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican," Luke 18.11.

3C. Does this not also make you wonder about those who claim to receive revelations from God, and those who claim they have some sort of special assurance from Godís Spirit? Are they not, in effect, suffering a proud delusion by condemning others as low who are not acquainted with the Spirit of God as they are? What arrogance is associated with the "God told me to tell you" mentality.

4C. There was a danger that truly godly men might become proud when they were lifted up to great privileges. Paul was taken up into the third heaven and received revelations. Paul was also assaulted with buffetings from Satan to keep him low. He mentions it twice in Second Corinthians 12.7: "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure."

5C. One ancient compares this temptation of Satan exercising Paul in the midst of his revelations to the boy who was charged by a conquering hero to run beside him and to cry aloud to him while he rode in triumph, "Remember thyself to be a man." If such danger exists even with godly men, when they have the real work of Godís Spirit in them, what greater concern should there be of pride in presumptuous men, who have only the empty delusions of Satan that they mistake for Godís exaltations and revelations?

6C. So, when you are persuaded of Godís love toward you, that it is God Who has lifted you up to prominence and prestige, and you look upon yourself in heaven while others grovel upon the ground, and when you see yourself to be as much above other Christians as an angel is above a worm, then you should be afraid of this supposed blessing.

7C. You see, it is not Godís blessing that has resulted in these opinions about yourself, but the workings of the devil, who has transformed himself into an angel of light to you.

6A. Lastly, ASSURANCE AND PRESUMPTION DIFFER IN WHAT WILL DESTROY THEM

Here is perhaps the most obvious place where contemporary "Christianity" departs from Biblical truth.

1B. What Will Destroy Genuine Assurance Of Salvation? According To The Bible, Assurance Given By Godís Spirit Is Only Interrupted By Sin.

1C. "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed," Ephesians 4.30. You see, corrupt and idle talk, even what the world supposes to be little sins, may greatly disturb a Christianís certainty.

2C. But carnal presumption is not weakened through sin. Carnal presumption holds fast in denying any possibility of spiritual danger, no matter what sins are committed by the hypocrite.

3C. This is how conservative pastors can claim to have never doubted their salvation, even while they were in the middle of years of drunkenness, adultery, fornication and drug use. Yet they proudly proclaim their "assurance" never wavered. Such as that is obviously presumption.

2B. Thus, Assurance Of Salvation That Is Godly, And Presumption Of Salvation Which Is Ungodly, Differ Dramatically In What Destroys Them.

1C. Peace in the Holy Ghost that results from assurance is only excluded by sin or lukewarmness in performing Christian duties.

2C. But sinful confidence is unshakable by sin, and will only fall when it is shaken or removed by some external trouble.

CONCLUSION:

1. There is presumption and there is assurance.

2. I would not have you confused about the two, which one is of God and which one is of the flesh and the devil.

3. Make sure you know Jesus, Who died on a cruel cross to pay for your sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring you to God. Do not presume.


[1] Barna Report survey reported in Baptist Bible Tribune, April 15, 1996, page 28.

[2] Monroe "Monk" Parker, Through Sunshine and Shadows: My First Seventy-Seven Years, (Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Sword of the Lord, 1987), pp.61-62.

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