"THE WICKED SIN OF GIVING ASSURANCE"

First John 5.13

 

EXPOSITION:

1. This morning I preach against one of the most common sins committed in Churches today. Itís a sin committed by pastors, by personal workers, by so-called soul winners, by youth workers, by Christian camp counselors, by evangelists, by Christians and Christian leaders of almost every stripe and persuasion.

2. Itís a sin that is committed against the unsuspecting by the unsuspecting. Itís a sin that is committed both openly and discreetly. Those who commit this sin typically believe they are doing right. Those who are sinned against typically believe they are having right done to them.

3. I assert to you that it is a wicked sin, that it has the potential to bring great harm to those the sin is committed against, and that it is a sin that has wreaked great havoc and done untold damage to the cause of Christ. What is this wicked sin? Itís the wicked sin of giving to someone the assurance of his salvation.

4. It is most incredible that decisionists howl when I try to persuade them to be more careful about who they baptize, about who they accept into Church membership, about who they pronounce to be truly converted. They cry, almost in unison and with one voice, "You canít tell for sure who is saved and who is not saved."

5. Now, I will agree that no one can expect to know such things with 100% accuracy, but I have shown again and again from Godís Word that more can be known about the state of a personís soul than is generally admitted these days by "know nothing" decisionists.

6. Yet, while these same pastors will strenuously object and deny that anyone can know to any degree who is saved and who is lost, that we must certainly take every manís word as our guide to his spiritual condition, they will then turn around and take it upon themselves to give assurance to some poor soul that he is certainly saved. "We canít know who is saved and who is lost," they maintain, and yet they will with the next breath, and without noticing their own inconsistency, take whoever they can to First John 5.13 and do their best to give them assurance of salvation.

7. Turn to that verse in Godís Word, if you please, for it is there that this wicked sin is most usually perpetrated against unsuspecting victims of spiritual malpractice. When you have found First John 5.13 please stand for the reading of Godís Word: "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."

8. This verse was written to Johnís readers to sum up some things for them. He wanted them to be able to draw the proper conclusions from objective evidence he had presented to them earlier in this epistle. His goal was to show them that they had, indeed, believed on the name of the Son of God, that they had good reason for feeling with confidence that they really did have eternal life, and to fortify their faith in the future.

9. But rather than show you what this verse teaches, which I will do at another time, I want to pick around this scene of many crimes to provide for you an understanding of the foul deeds that are so oftentimes done here, and to try and rectify any such crimes as this which have been committed against you personally.

10. Three questions:

1A. First, HOW IS THIS SIN COMMITTED?

There are any number of scenarios in which some troubled and uninformed person is typically sinned against by someone who arrogantly presumes to give him assurance of his salvation. This crime can be perpetrated by a counselor who is all of 18 or 19 years of age, working at some Christian camp. It can be perpetrated by a so-called altar worker who deals with folks following a sermon preached by the Churchís pastor. It can be perpetrated by a pastor, himself, in his office. It can even be perpetrated against a poor little bus kid by a bus ministry worker or bus captain.

Who are these perps? These perps, which is police slang for someone who perpetrates a crime, range from Sunday School teachers to preachers, from bus workers to altar counselors, from missionaries to evangelists. But anyone can be a perp. All you have to do to be a perpetrator of this crime is presume to give assurance to someone that he truly is born again, that he really has trusted Christ, that he is converted.

So, though there are many different scenarios in which people of every stripe and persuasion can conceivably commit this spiritual crime against an unsuspecting victim, let me address three of the most likely scenarios:

1B. First, the wicked sin of giving assurance is frequently given after a prayer to receive Christ.

1C. Though there is not a single Scriptural mandate for praying as a means of getting saved, not a single apostolic directive to get saved by means of praying, and not a single instance in the New Testament of a sinner praying what most folks would likely recognize as a prayer to get saved, most people who claim to be Christians feel that sinners are best saved by means of a prayer.

2C. I am not against praying. I voice no opposition to praying. I simply point out that there is no Scriptural mandate for directing a sinner to get saved by praying. Be that as it is, itís a fact that most sinners who are dealt with are guided by the people who deal with them to pray to receive Christ. Fine.

3C. My real objection is what invariably follows that prayer. After praying, ostensibly to receive Christ, the pastor, the personal worker, the altar worker, the camp counselor, the high powered personal soul winner-evangelist will typically take the person who has prayed to First John 5.13. There the sinner will be shown the verse, will be asked several questions, and will be directed to presume, as the Christian worker has presumed, that he should have assurance that he is saved. But what if he is not truly born again?

2B. The wicked sin of giving assurance is also given when there is doubt.

1C. It may occur at work with a so-called Christian coworker. It may occur in the pastorís office or when talking to the youth director. Perhaps itís a child talking to her mother.

2C. Whatever the specific situation, it usually proceeds like this: The doubter expresses concern that he or she may not really be saved. In response to this, the person whose counsel is sought, simply assuming, I guess, that God wants anyone with doubts to be made to feel more comfortable, regardless of their real spiritual condition, then proceeds by whatever means available to convince the doubting person that there is nothing to doubt and that assurance of salvation is proper. "Hey, itís wrong not to have assurance," they communicate.

3C. "Did you pray this prayer?" "Did you do this?" Such sophisticated and probing questions, I say sarcastically, are asked, never imagining that a person can pray a prayer, or do this or that, and still be lost. Never is considered the possibility that a sinner can believe in vain (First Corinthians 15.2) or have faith that is not unto salvation, such as Abraham had for years before his actual conversion.

4C. Itís never even imagined that the reason for the doubts and concerns a person expresses is the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit of God. Itís never considered that some people who have doubts about their salvation have their doubts because they are actually lost and stand condemned in the sight of God. So, what if the person you give assurance to is lost?

3B. Then, this wicked sin of giving assurance is also perpetrated when serious sin is committed.

1C. Fornication? Adultery? Drug abuse? Drunkenness? Grand theft auto? Gluttony? The solution for such sins as these, apparently, is to direct the guilty party to confess it to God as being wrong, so he can feel better about himself, First John 1.9. Then First John 5.13 is pulled out and assurance is once again given.

2C. Why donít such people just turn to First Corinthians 6.9-10 and tear those verses out of the Bible? "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, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."

3C. Now, granted, not everyone who commits a sin on this list is always lost. But neither is everyone who commits these sins always saved. Some people are so committed to giving assurance to every single person guilty of these sins that, like the Pharisees of old, they make "the commandment of God of none effect by" their "tradition," Matthew 15.6.

2A. Next, WHY IS THIS SIN COMMITTED?

Surely those guilty of this crime do not knowingly sin against God and the people they counsel in this way. To be sure, I do not question the sincerity of these perpetrators, only their sense. I do not challenge their love of God, only their learning. I would not accuse them of not being intelligent, only of not being informed. But as with any sin of presumption, this sin of giving assurance of salvation to people is wrong. But why is this sin committed? I can only speak from my own experience as a Christian who has committed this sin more times than I care to remember. God help me.

1B. First, there is confusion about security and assurance.

1C. My friends, the eternal security of the believer is a simple Bible fact. Nothing is "able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," Romans 8.38-39. "Sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise," Ephesians 1.13. And Philippians 1.6: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."

2C. This is just a sampling of verses too numerous to count which attest to Godís saving and keeping power in the life of every sinner to has fled to Christ for safety and security. The eternal security of the believer in Jesus Christ is a fact. Whether you believe it or not, whether you accept it or not, it is true!

3C. Assurance, on the other hand, is something else entirely. While security is true whether a person believes it or not, assurance is all about feelings, assurance is all about personal opinion, assurance is all about my own estimation of my relationship with Christ. If eternal security has to do with what you know by your mental faculties, assurance of salvation has to do with what you think to be true by your experience, by your feelings, and in your guts.

4C. Another comment. As eternal security is a fact that never changes, assurance is a feeling that most certainly does change. Or at least itís supposed to change, as I shall establish beyond any doubt in an upcoming message.

5C. Thus, while eternal security is a Bible doctrine which is teachable and is supposed to be taught, assurance of salvation is a feeling that is supposed to be bestowed by the Holy Spirit of God, as He bears witness in the mind and heart to the believer of his soulís condition. Not realizing the distinction between security and assurance, many seek to persuade people of assurance when they ought to limit their instruction to the doctrine of eternal security. Thatís one reason this wicked sin is committed, not properly distinguishing between assurance and security.

2B. The other reason this sin is committed is related to contempt for the Holy Spiritís ministry.

1C. I know that decisionists would object to my claim that they hold the Holy Spiritís ministry in contempt, but I stand by my claim.

2C. Decisionists are so unconsciously contemptuous of the Spiritís ministry that they ignore the Holy Spiritís role in convicting sinners of sin, they ignore the Holy Spiritís role in the miracle of the new birth, and they completely intrude on the Holy Spiritís sole right to work in a convertís heart and mind to grant to him the blessing of salvationís assurance.

3C. Not granting the Holy Spirit the right to give assurance to who He will, and to withhold assurance from who He will, the perpetrator of this crime tramples on holy ground with his profane shoes on, presuming to know what only the Spirit of God can possibly know, and making pronouncements about a soulís condition that he has no right to pass judgment on.

4C. It is one thing to conclude that a person is lost. Such conclusions are part and parcel of the pastoral ministry. But no man has any right to go beyond the conclusion that a person is hopefully converted. Only the Holy Spirit has the certainty of any manís soul to grant him assurance. My opposition is against those who delude others with false assurances.

5C. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God," Romans 8.16. Where in Godís Word is any Christian given the right to intrude on such matters as giving assurance that only the Holy Spirit has the right to give? Yet pastors, youth workers, Sunday School teachers, bus ministry workers, youth camp counselors, and others engage in this heinous crime continuously.

3A. Finally, WHAT IS THIS SINíS DAMAGE? WHATíS THE HARM THATíS DONE?

"Pastor, this is a common practice in fundamental and evangelical circles. Whatís the real harm done by giving someone assurance of his salvation? What does it hurt?"

Four quick responses to deal with an issue that really needs an entire book to treat properly:

1B. First, when assurance is given conversion is presumed.

1C. How do you know that person really got saved when he went through the motions of praying to trust Christ? Donít you know enough people who prayed a sinnerís prayer and who did not get saved to see for yourself the risk of giving assurance to someone?

2C. What great harm is done when a person who is still lost is persuaded that he should have assurance of his salvation, simply because he doesnít fully understand First John 5.13.

3C. I wonder how many lost people are running around Los Angeles County because overly zealous Christian workers have persuaded a whole generation of bus kids that they should be assured of a salvation they do not really possess, thereby guaranteeing they will not be open to the Gospel in the future. Why should they be? Theyíre already converted . . . they think!

2B. Second, conviction and correction is ignored.

1C. Let me state here and prove at another time that assurance of salvation is not a constant, but is rightly given to Christians by the Holy Spirit when we do right, and then taken from Christians when we do wrong. Real assurance is never given by the Holy Spirit to the unconverted.

2C. So what happens when assurance is presumed to be given willy nilly by the ignorant pastor or Christian worker? By giving false assurance to people he may be interfering with the Holy Spiritís convicting work in the life of a lost person, or interfering in the Holy Spiritís correcting and chastising ministry in the life of a Christian.

3C. In either case the damage done can be incalculable, with the lost person staying lost and the Christian not being properly dealt with by the Holy Spirit because of such interference.

3B. Related to what i have just said is the corollary that conversion is not urged.

1C. How many times have children gone to their mothers under conviction of sin, only to have mom give them assurance of their salvation? Pastors, youth workers, camp counselors; so many are focused on giving assurance instead of urging the anguished sinner to flee to Christ.

2C. I know of a pastor guilty of many adulteries. He attended a world famous counseling ministry a man broken by his sins. But he emerged after months of counseling full of confidence and assurance, only to commit adultery again and again. Instead of urging him to get saved they gave him assurance.

4B. Thereby, fourth, nullifying scripture.

1C. Do you not nullify Scripture when you give assurance to those the Bible says are unconverted? Do you not nullify Scripture when you impede the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and discount His convicting work in the life of a lost person who erroneously thinks he is saved?

2C. My friends, the Lord Jesus Christís accusation of making the Word of God of none effect, by adhering to traditions instead of obeying Godís Word, is a serious charge, Mark 7.13.

3C. And I am convinced that this bad habit of giving assurance to people whenever they feel uncomfortable, whenever they are under conviction, whenever they pray and are not sure they are saved, is a classic example of a tradition carrying more weight with its practitioners than the Word of God.

CONCLUSION:

1. Let me state my position clearly. Let me state what I believe to be the Scriptural position clearly: The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of giving assurance to whom He will and by what means He chooses. He neither urges in His Word nor desires for you or me or anyone else to give anyone assurance that he is saved.

2. Thatís a ministry He has reserved to Himself, and men trespass on forbidden territory when they presume to do the Holy Spiritís job for Him by giving to people a false assurance of their salvation.

3. Now, before this morningís sermon brother Isenberger comes to lead us as we stand to sing.

INTRODUCTION:

1. Let me be perfectly clear in this matter of giving someone a false assurance of his salvation. I think assurance of salvation is a wonderful thing. Itís a blessing. But assurance of salvation should rightly be given to a Christian only by the Holy Spirit of God. Who else knows for sure that a person is truly saved?

2. Whenever assurance of salvation is given to a person by another human being that assurance must certainly be a false assurance. To put it another way, it is wrong for you to feel confident that you are a Christian because I am confident that you are a Christian. That is not Scriptural assurance of salvation.

3. Let me ask you four brief questions before we are dismissed. Think these questions over. Assurance is an important but misunderstood blessing in the Christianís life, if itís assurance that comes from the Holy Spirit.

1A. First, WHAT KIND OF ASSURANCE DO YOU HAVE?

1B. Most people with assurance of salvation are assured that they are saved because someone at one time or another gave them assurance, by pointing out a Bible verse to them and insisting that the verse applied to them. Did that happen to you? If it did then you have an assurance of salvation, but it isnít given by the Holy Spirit and is entirely unrelated to whether or not you are really converted.

2B. Hereís another clue. Do you have assurance of salvation based upon something that took place in the past? Are you sure youíre saved because one Sunday night in 1973 you did something? Again, you have an assurance, but itís not the assurance the Holy Spirit is pleased to give. How do I know? The assurances of salvation that the Spirit of God gives, according to the Bible, are always related to the present in a believerís life, never to the past! So, you have an assurance, all right, but, again, itís unrelated to being truly born again.

2A. Second, WHAT KIND OF ASSURANCE SHOULD YOU HAVE?

If you have assurance of your salvation that is true to Godís Word, that really comes from the Holy Spirit bearing inner witness that you truly are a child of God and that all is well with your soul, then there are no less than two characteristics about that assurance I want to now point out to you:

1B. First, the assurance comes and goes.

1C. And this should not surprise you. After all, assurance is a feeling, a feeling that the Holy Spirit will give to you if you truly are born again. And everyoneís feelings comes and go, donít they?

2C. But if you are born again and disobedient the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched, and He turns His attention, not to giving you assurance, but to correcting you and disciplining you to obedience. During that process of correction and discipline your assurance will weaken and may even disappear for a while, properly frightening you. "Am I truly saved?" Maybe. Maybe not. Letís find out for sure.

3C. An assurance that ebbs and flows is an assurance that motivates a person to be truly sure he or she is converted, counseling with the pastor and seeking Godís face. But an assurance that never wavers, which is not assurance the Spirit of God gives, makes a person arrogant and cocky, refusing to even consider the possibility that his sinful behavior may indicate he is lost.

2B. Second, the assurance is based upon the Holy Spiritís present dealings in your life.

1C. Read the Bible front to back and you will never find present assurance of salvation based upon anything that occurred in the past. So, if you base your assurance on a prayer that you prayed 10 years ago, a commitment you made 6 months ago, or anything else in the past, you have false assurance.

2C. Recognize that both Christians and unbelievers can have a false assurance of salvation, but only the Christian can have legitimate assurance of real salvation from the Holy Spirit, and He always gives assurance based upon what is presently happening in the believerís life, not on anything that actually or supposedly occurred in the past.

3C. May I provide for you just two of the many verses that I could use in support of what I have just stated? Turn to First John 2.3: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." "We do know" and "we keep" translate present active verbs, meaning the assurance is right now, based upon what is happening right now, currently keeping Godís commandments. Thus, the Holy Spirit gives assurance to those who are presently obedient to Godís Word. No obedience? No assurance.

4C. Turn also to John 13.35: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Here, too, assurance to others and to your own selves comes when you have love one believer to another believer. Not that you used to love Christians, but that you presently love Christians. And again, no obedience, no assurance.

5C. Both of these verses, and many others as well, show that assurance is based upon present occurrences in a believerís life. As well, assurance is necessarily seen as something that comes and goes, quite unlike the type of false assurance that is given by these spiritual interlopers today who twist and distort Scripture to take away the Holy Spiritís unique role of giving assurance to those He indwells.

3A. Third, HOW DO YOU GET THE KIND OF ASSURANCE THE HOLY SPIRIT GIVES?

1B. First, let me say that the kind of assurance the Holy Spirit gives is not given by other people. That is, the Holy Spirit will not arrange for some human being to comfort you with the confidence that he indwells you. How can any man know for sure who is indwelt by the Spirit of God? And even if a person is converted, by what right does any man interpose himself between the Holy Spirit and someone with whom He is dealing?

2B. Rather than rely upon fallible men to whisper secrets of comfort into your spiritual ears, the Holy Spirit chooses, rather, to rely upon his own dealings with you, using his own chosen means, as Romans 8.16 so powerfully suggests: "the spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." How the Holy Spirit accomplishes this is a matter for us to thoroughly deal with on other occasions. The thing I want you to now see is that the Holy Spirit does give assurance, so you donít need to get assurance from some man.

4A. Finally, HOW DOES A PERSON LOSE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION?

1B. If you are asking how a person loses false assurance of salvation, which does not come from the Holy Spirit, then I am afraid I have bad news.

1C. Most professing Christians have false assurance. As well, most professing Christians seem completely opposed to the idea of forfeiting their false assurance in favor of a Scriptural assurance that comes from the Holy Spirit.

2C. So the only likely way a professing Christian will ever be rid of a false hope, of false assurance, is if he is willing to allow someone to rip it from his grasp. By the way, that is my objective. I purpose to rip away false assurances of salvation so room will be made in you life for genuine assurance . . . unless, of course, you are lost, in which case genuine assurance will only come after you are truly converted.

2B. But what about genuine assurance of salvation? How can a person lose the assurance once given to him by the Holy Spirit?

1C. Now you understand, that such a situation can only occur if a person is truly converted, because the Holy Spirit will never give genuine assurance to a lost men. Lost men with assurance of salvation are deluding themselves, or are being deluded.

2C. How, then, can a real Christian lose real assurance? Let me describe for you the cycle: A sinner gets saved and is immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Living for Christ, faithful in Church and experiencing spiritual growth, the babe in Christ feels assurance through the Holy Spiritís ministry in his life and personality. But letís say he sins, and continues to sin, thereby grieving the Spirit of God. He will then lose his assurance, which is only proper.

3C. Now, since he is truly born again we can be confident that he will begin to experience chastisement from His heavenly Father, Hebrews 12.6-8:

6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

4C. May I point out that this very act of chastisement from God, in itself, gives assurance? And since it is chastisement from God it will have its restorative effect, and the Christian will once again begin to demonstrate the obedience that the Holy Spirit blesses and gives delight to.

CONCLUSION:

1. Now, is this the pattern of your life? Or are you cocksure and confident that you are saved, sealed and sure of heaven no matter what sins and wickedness you are involved in?

2. May I say to you that if you have such an assurance it is not, I repeat it is not, assurance that comes from the Holy Spirit. Rather, it smacks of a false assurance given to you at some point in your life by someone who misinterpreted First John 5.13, or twisted some other passage in Godís wonderful Word.

3. Cast off that false assurance, that confidently rests in the opinion of another person, in favor of an assurance that comes from the precious Holy Spirit of God, as He indwells and has His way in the life of an obedient and consecrated child of God.

4. Forsake the arrogant cockiness of the false assurance, and seek the assurance that God has for His children, the assurance that seeks reassurance, the assurance that gets reassurance.

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