“ASSURANCE OF SALVATION & YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH SIN”
First John 3.9-10
1. The capacity of the human mind and heart for deception is almost limitless. Look overseas to the spiritually darkened Islamic world. More than one billion people blinded under a veil of Satanic lies. But do not think that Satan has only one variation of deception, or that the human mind and heart are capable of only a single variety of self-trickery.
2. As clever as the Devil has been to lead astray the entire Arab world by convincing them that his name is Allah and that he is the true God, the God of Abraham, and that Jesus is not the Son of God, his cleverness has been matched in the west in an altogether different way.
3. In the Muslim world the deception is in the direction of Christianity being the wrong religion, of Christians being the evil enemies of the true religion, and that the Crusades of a thousand years ago were unprovoked assaults upon the people of Allah and the land of Allah, rather than a response to the armed aggression of the Muslims several centuries before, when they took by force vast lands and populations that for centuries been peaceably Christian.
4. In the west, in what I choose to call Christendom, where Christianity is the majority religion even if only a strikingly small percentage of those professing Christians are truly converted, the Satanic deception is fiendishly clever in the opposite direction.
5. Rather than enticing people to strongly oppose Christianity, as he has done in the Muslim world, the Devil’s strategy in the west, particularly in North America, has for many years been to persuade so-called Christians to believe that they, indeed, truly are what they cannot possibly be . . . genuinely converted believers.
6. One of the ways Satan accomplishes this grand deception is by convincing most people that most Christians aren’t good Christians. Think about it. If someone is convinced that most Christians are bad Christians, which is to say that most Christians live lives that are virtually indistinguishable from the lives of lost people, then one can safely conclude that he is a Christian, or that she is a Christian, regardless of the lifestyle that is lived, regardless of the doctrines that are believed, regardless of the savior who is embraced.
7. In other words, Satan has so succeeded in his deception of so-called Christians here in “Christian America,” even in the Bible belt region where conservative and professedly Bible believing Christianity prevails, that people find it incredible that someone would suggest even the possibility that folks aren’t Christians just because they think they are.
8. Yet God’s Word sounds a clear warning. The Lord Jesus Christ warned of false professors on several occasions. The Scriptural record showing Judas Iscariot to be a false professor, showing Simon Magus to be a false professor, showing the Corinthian fornicator to be a false professor, and showing Demas, Paul’s co-laborer, to be a false professor, ought to be even more convincing.
9. Yet people will continue to grasp at straws that give them comfort, desperately clinging to anything that can be used to provide a false assurance of salvation. Turn to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where we find several passages that are tragically misused to provide a false basis for assurance of salvation.
1A. FIRST CORINTHIANS 3.1-3
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
1B. Is it not obvious, from this passage, that Christians, that even entire congregations, can experience a declension, a sliding back, and can become carnal instead of spiritual? No one ought ever to deny the possibility of Christians being carnal or even of entire congregations being carnal.
2B. But does this passage justify categorizing everyone who claims to be a Christian, but who lives an ungodly life, as a carnal Christian? Christians can become carnal, but is everyone who lives in a fleshly manner necessarily a Christian, albeit it a carnal one, just because he says he is?
3B. As well, is there anything in this passage which requires that we understand carnality to be a long term affliction for the Christian? True, the Corinthians were carnal. But for how long? Was not this passage written by Paul to rebuke the Corinthians? And did he not succeed in stirring them out of their lethargy, as his second Corinthian letter proves?
4B. So, the argument that Christians are in the main carnal is a very weak argument, and it certainly is not adequately supported by this passage. Quite the contrary. This passage, taken together with the response of the Corinthians in Second Corinthians, would seem to suggest that a strong rebuke from a spiritual leader is quite successful in pulling carnal Christians out of their spiritual doldrums.
2A. FIRST CORINTHIANS 5.1-5
1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.
2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1B. This tragic passage shows the opposite of what many think it teaches, because they have examined these verses in a superficial way. It is supposed that this passage shows the tragedy of how deeply into sin a Christian who is a Church member can sink. But what these verses really show is how tragic can be the result of a lost person becoming a member of a Church.
2B. The key to correctly understanding this passage is the last phrase of verse 5, where Paul writes about the Church member who has committed a terrible sin, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” In other words, Paul has directed the congregation to expel this young man from the Church’s membership so that his “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
3B. But what do we know of this young man? We know that at the time of Paul’s writing the young man was lost. This is seen by recognizing that the phrase “may be saved” is in the subjunctive mood of the Greek word for salvation. What does this mean? It means that the young man is not saved, but that Paul hopes that he will get saved as a result of being expelled from the Church’s membership and coming to see how serious a matter this sin really is, being easy prey of the Devil.
4B. So, rather than this passage illustrating how wicked the behavior of Christians can sometimes be, and Christians can behave wickedly (there’s no doubt about that), this passage instead shows what terrible tragedy can occur when a Church takes in an unsaved person to be a Church member.
3A. FIRST CORINTHIANS 6.9-11
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
1B. First Corinthians 6.9-10 is one of the biggest and most glaring blind spots in Christendom. Fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards and who knows what other kinds of people are commonly accepted by the Christian community these days as being born again, despite the incredibly blunt message of these first two verses.
2B. If words have meaning, and if syntax is significant, then what are we to make of these two verses that are bracketed by the phrase “inherit the kingdom of God” at the beginning of verse 9 and at the end of verse 10? For you see, they clearly show that the sins listed between this repeated phrase describes those who are excluded from inheriting the kingdom of God. These folks are not saved.
3B. Yet, in the face of these two verses, it is strongly argued by Church members, and by family members, and even by pastors everywhere, that people who practice these sins have every right in the world to claim that they are Christians, that they should be so acknowledged based upon their claim, and that it is actually wrong to deny them their just due as Christians just because they commit these sins.
4B. However, even more persuasive is verse 11, where Paul writes “and such were some of you.” His message to the Corinthian Christians? Christians are different. Christians are changed. Christians experience some degree of initial sanctification when they come to Christ so that, while they certainly can sin and do continue sinning do some degree, occasionally sinning grievously, they are not what they used to be, doing what they used to be doing.
1. Satan has deceived the Christian west into throwing the door to the Christian faith wide open so as to make it a broad gate. But Jesus said in Luke 13.24 that it’s a narrow gate.
2. And he has deceived the Christian west into strolling down a broad path, convincing them that it’s a broad path that leads to life everlasting. But Jesus said in Matthew 7.14 that the right way, the correct way, the true way, is a narrow way.
3. Conclusion? Don’t be so assured you who seem to have assurance of your salvation, for as Erroll Hulse, who wrote “Who Are The Puritans?” has observed, “Wherever shallow evangelism, with its practice of calling for ‘decisions,’ has prevailed, the danger exists of a false assurance of salvation.”
4. Brother Isenberger comes at this time to lead us as we stand to sing before this morning’s sermon.
1. Please turn in your Bible to First John 3.9-10. When you’ve found that portion of Scripture, please stand again for the reading of God’s Word:
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
2. I would like to make several observations related to a person’s Scripturally authorized and sanctioned assurance of salvation. But they will be observations that will be disputed by decisionists, because decisionists have a relatively low view of salvation, and because decisionists have a relatively low view of the deliverance from sin Jesus provides for those who come to Him for forgiveness, for cleansing, and for life.
3. We see from First John 3.1 what a glorious privilege we have to be called the sons of God. We see in verse 3 that we now have a duty laid upon us to purify ourselves.
4. So, our duty is to avoid sin. We should avoid sin because of the wrongness of it, being as it is a transgression of the law, verse 4, and because the reason our Savior and Master came was to destroy the works of the Devil, verse 8.
5. Some are born of the Devil and some are born of God. Those who are born of the Devil habitually and characteristically commit sin. Those who are born of God habitually and characteristically do righteousness.
6. Recognizing that the righteous can commit sins and that the wicked can do good deeds, let us move beyond the specific instances of behavior of an individual and examine the tendencies, the lifestyle. My goal? To show you that your Scriptural assurance of salvation is rightly related to your overall relationship with sin.
7. Nine ways in which assurance can be rightly seen as a sign that you are genuinely born of God. My thanks to Anthony Burgess for the substance of this sermon.
1A. First, WHEN THERE IS A SETTLED OPPOSITION OF THE HEART AGAINST SIN
1B. Look at our text again. Notice that second phrase of verse 9: “for his seed remaineth in him.” What is His seed? Is it the seed of grace, the seed of the new nature, the seed of the Word? It matters not for the point that I am making, which is that the seed remains, whatever it is.
2B. The lost man, on the other hand, no matter how religious, no matter how determined, no matter how motivated, still does not have God’s seed in him. Thus, the lost man is in constant opposition to God, while the saved man, in whom God’s seed remains, is in constant opposition to sin.
3B. Thus is explained how Pharaoh decided, what, four times to let the Israelites go, and then changed his mind later? And this is why the Israelites succumbed to the temptations of idolatry, then repented, then succumbed again, and repented, and succumbed yet again. There was no settled opposition in their hearts against sin because, since there was no real conversion, there was no seed remaining from God. If your heart is settled in its opposition against sin then your assurance may be a sign you’re really saved.
2A. Second, WHEN THERE IS A REPUGNANCE IN EVERY PART OF YOU AGAINST SIN
1B. Is your reason against sin? Are you logically against sin? Is your will against sin? Are your affections against sin? Is your conscience against sin? Are you, as a person, against sin? Recognize that if there is a new nature in you as the result of the new birth, that new nature will be against sin.
2B. Paul pointed out, in Romans 7.22, that he delighted in the Law of God after the inward man. Thus, even though there was a law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, he was inclined in his heart against sin and in favor of righteousness even when he was overtaken.
3B. But be careful that you do not conclude by the wrestlings of your conscience that you are necessarily converted. There are many pagans who have wrestlings of conscience. Even Aristotle, Alexander the Great’s tutor, said “I will better things, I love and delight in better things.” By this he meant that his desire was that he would do better than he actually did do. In other words, his conscience afflicted him because he was not a better man than he was, and yet he was still a lost man.
4B. So you see, such as that is not good enough, for when a man is regenerated it is not his conscience only that discovers the wickedness of sin, but his heart and his will and his love and his delight, as well. So that he is actually moved by his regenerated soul against sin. Is your entire personality against sin because it is sin? Then your assurance may be a sign that you are truly converted.
3A. Third, WHEN IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SIN WITH WILLFULNESS AND PURPOSED CONTINUANCE
1B. Do you find that it is impossible to sin as the lost do? Not that you cannot sin, but that you cannot sin as they do. Second Corinthians 13.8: “For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” Acts 4.20: “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
2B. This does not mean that there will not be times that a child of God cannot sin without the slightest opposition or resistance to sinning. But can sin reign in the life of the child of God? Can a converted man so delight in and live in sin that God’s seed in him should become extinct? No, “for his seed remaineth in him.”
3B. Thus, the seed within you will so affect and overpower your heart that you cannot sin with willingness, with content, or involve yourself in those gross acts of sins. Rather than live like the pagan you will cry out, as Joseph did in Genesis 39.9: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
4B. Now, there are times when God will so restrain the conscience of a wicked man that he dares not and cannot commit such sin as his heart is naturally inclined to. But this is different than with a Christian man whose entire being is naturally and usually opposed to such sinning. So, if you find this type of obstacle to sinning in front of you then your assurance may be a sign that you are truly converted.
4A. Fourth, WHEN THERE IS A GRADUAL DEPARTURE NOT ONLY FROM EXTERNAL SINS BUT ALSO A CONQUEST AND CRUCIFIXION OF THE INWARD BODY OF SIN
1B. I grow weary of such phrases found so much in today’s Christian conversation and literature like “the abundant Christian life,” and “the victorious Christian life,” and “abundant living,” as though there is a type of genuine Christianity that is not abundant or victorious or conquering.
2B. In Galatians 5, Paul wrote: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” And in Second Peter chapter 1, Peter wrote: “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
3B. What does this mean? It means that Second Corinthians 5.17 is to be believed: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” And this newness extends not just to the victory over and conquest of external sins, but also the root of those sins, in your heart and mind. Is there progress being made in your spiritual growth and the experience of holiness inwardly as well as outwardly? Then perhaps your assurance is a sign that you are truly converted.
5A. Fifth, OPPOSITION TO SIN AND LEAVING IT BECAUSE OF ITS FOUL NATURE
1B. What is the motive for your opposition to sin? Why is it that you don’t do some of the things you used to do? In Psalm 51 we find that David’s opposition to sin was because it was committed against God, because it was a transgression of His law, because He was offended by David’s wrongdoing.
2B. You see, a man can cry and weep and shed many tears for sin because of the damage that’s been done to his own life, because of its embarrassment, as a result of its consequences. But none of that is any good at all. That’s no better than Judas Iscariot’s horror of conscience after his betrayal of the Lord Jesus. And what good did that do him? Or what pleasure did it give to God? Tears mean nothing.
3B. As well, there is fear of God’s judgment and terrors of conscience. But these things can come upon any man without the slightest spiritual inclination and without any evidence of God’s grace in his life. Some old men and women become opposed to sin and leave it behind for no other reason than their awareness of getting ever closer to the grave. We even had a kid in our school who supposedly reformed because he was almost run over by a car. But what indication of conversion is this? None.
4B. If, however, there is opposition to sin because it is sin, if there is opposition to sin because of its foul nature, its stink, its repugnance, then perhaps your assurance of salvation is a sign that you’re converted after all.
6A. Sixth, YOU HAVE A HEART THAT IS INCLINED AND BENT AGAINST ALL SIN
1B. There are some professing Christians who are strongly opposed to some sins while still loving other sins. The Pharisees, you will remember, were quite free from outward signs of wickedness. They didn’t smoke or cuss or drink or chew, or go with girls who do. But their hearts were full of wickedness and defilement. The godly man, on the other hand, abhors both internal and external sins, those that are obvious and those that are subtle.
2B. There are two kinds of sin a person can commit, the sins of commission and the sins of omission. That is, some sins are acts of open rebellion that you do, knowing them to be wrong. That is a sin of commission. Telling a lie is a sin of commission. Adultery is a sin of commission. But other sins are sins of omission, such as not speaking up but remaining silent when the truth needs to be told. Failing to be affectionate to your spouse is also a sin of omission, since God commands you to love your spouse.
3B. Finally, there are sins that are popular and accepted by society and sins that are not generally accepted. Ours is an immodest society, so many who pretend to be Christians will barely cover themselves, or will cover themselves in such a way as to leave nothing to the imagination. The child of God is not so much ruled by society’s preferences regarding sin, but seeks God’s approval and not the approval of men.
4B. Are you opposed to sins that are secret as much as sins that are open? Are you as opposed to sins of omission as you are sins of commission? Are you as opposed to sins that are popular as sins that are unpopular? Such a heart that is bent against all sin, and not just sins that are not your own preference, may be a sign that your assurance of salvation is grounded in reality.
7A. Sixth, A HEART SO AGAINST SIN THAT ALTHOUGH IT CANNOT DRY UP YOUR FOUNTAIN OF CORRUPTION IT DOES DRY UP THE PUDDLES OF GROSS SINS
1B. A person who gets saved is a person who still has a sinful nature that is in perpetual conflict with the new nature he received when he was regenerated by the Holy Spirit. That’s what Paul referred to in Romans 7.15: “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” So, it is clear that after a person gets saved he continues to have a sinful nature, and will continue to have a sinful nature until he gets to heaven. This point is so strongly made in the Bible that anyone who contradicts it is pronounced unconverted: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” First John 1.8.
2B. However, though there is still a sinful nature to contend with, and there are sins that must be fought and opposed, it cannot be said that you are heaven bound if your life exhibits such sins as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like, Galatians 5.19-21.
3B. To put it another way, there are only two kinds of people living in this world, goats and sheep. Do not goats act like goats? And do not sheep act like sheep? Some people’s actions betray them. Other people’s words betray them. Still other people’s affections betray them. And yet others are betrayed by their omissions. So, how is it with you? You are not sinless, for no one this side of heaven is sinless. But are the big puddles of sin in your life dried up, or are you the same swampy cesspool of wickedness you have always been, only changing now from one kind of sin to another?
8A. Eighth, OPPOSED NOT ONLY AGAINST YOUR SIN BUT SIN IN OTHERS ALSO
1B. I speak not here of walking around and criticizing others all the time for not measuring up to your personal preferences and requirements. That would be judgmentalism and it is not pleasing to God. What I refer to here is what happens when the child of God’s resemblance to his Father is seen.
2B. Is not God of purer eyes than to behold evil, Habakkuk 1.13? Was not Lot’s righteous soul vexed by the behavior of the Sodomites, Second Peter 2.8? And was not David grieved and did he not hate with perfect hatred those who took God’s name in vain and who rose up against Him, Psalm 139.20-22?
3B. Therefore, is it not a suspicious thing when a professing Christian finds no issue with the wicked? Should it not be a surprise when a so-called believer perfectly tolerates the sins of and seems to enjoy the company of those who are openly against God? But if you are grieved not only by your own sins but by the sins of others against God, then perhaps your assurance is properly based.
9A. Finally, A TENDENCY TO CHOOSE OUTWARD AFFLICTION RATHER THAN SIN AGAINST GOD
1B. Jeremiah Burroughs, Scots Presbyterian and member of the Westminster Assembly, once wrote on the subject of affliction versus sin. In his book, The Evil Of Evils, he correctly observed that it is better to suffer the greatest affliction than to commit the least sin, for even the least sin is a sin infinite in its wickedness and magnitude because it is committed against God.
2B. Job was once advised by his wife to curse God and die. Her advice was based upon the wrong notion that it was better to commit a sin than to suffer great affliction. She was wrong and Job was right to reject her counsel.
3B. Those these days who plead for the right to end their lives so they might end their sufferings are actually seeking to opt for the sin of suicide as a preference to physical suffering. They are wrong. It is never right to choose sin instead of affliction. And if you choose affliction instead of sin it may be yet another sign that your assurance of salvation is valid.
1. Typically a sermon is designed to move a person toward a definite action regarding their soul’s salvation. Not so today.
2. My desire is to provoke you to think about your assurance of salvation and how you personally relate to sin.
Erroll Hulse, Who Are The Puritans?, (Darlington, England: 2000), p. 149.
Anthony Burgess, Spiritual Refining: The Anatomy of True and False Conversion, (Ames, IA: International Outreach, Inc: 1996), p. 36.