Reading: 2 Pet 1:1-21
Everton Park: 18/11/90
! Reading: 2 Pet 1:1-11
Text: 2 Pet 1:10
1. No Assurance
Not long ago, an interviewer went to a train station, and he asked about 25-30 people if they knew for sure that they were going to go to heaven.
Everyone of those interviewed said, “No”.
In fact, some became quite indignant: “Nobody can ever know for sure such a thing like that.”
In all the world’s other great religions there is never any assurance of salvation. You can never be sure that you will ever reach heaven.
All you can do is try your best, and then hope for the best.
Early this century three women went to Tibet as missionaries.
Two of them (Mildred Cable and Francesca French) later on wrote of their adventures there.
And there, in the high country of Tibet, they would come across Buddhist pilgrims as they crawled on their hands and knees, from one sacred shrine to another:
They: “Venerable traveller, how long is it since you started on pilgrimage ?”
He: “I have wandered for five years.”
They: “And what do you seek ?”
He: “I seek the forgiveness of my sins.”
They: “Have you found the forgiveness of your sins ?”
He: “I do not know; when I am dead, then I shall know.”
Buddhism is a false religion. And yet, even this false religion can give no assurance of salvation.
You come to Roman Catholicism, and you find the same thing:
Roman Catholicism can give no assurance of salvation.
The official teaching of Rome: “If anyone says that he will for certain persevere to the end and obtain eternal life – unless he has some special revelation – then let him be anathema” (i.e. accursed, cut off from God for ever).
There you are: if you believe you are definitely saved, and are going to heaven – the Roman Catholic Church says you are accursed.
You cannot possibly be sure – unless you are some special super saint and have been given a special divine vision from heaven itself. Otherwise you are just a cheeky upstart – and worse.
Even a lot of what passes for evangelical “Christianity” today is not much better, because so much of what passes for evangelical “Christianity” today is riddled with the doctrines that emerged after the time of the Reformation, known as Arminianism.
Arminianism says that: yes, you can be certain you are saved – at present!
But you can’t be certain that it will last. You may well lose your salvation, and heaven along with it, before you finish your life here upon this earth.
And so, all the world’s great religions, in all their various versions, and perversions – including the various perversions of Christianity – all, in their own way, pretend to offer a hope of salvation.
But that is not only a false hope. It is also, always, an uncertain hope. It is not a hope that you can be assured of.
None of these can give any assurance that you will be able to hang onto the salvation they promise and will not, in the end, be damned.
The Gospel alone can offer that assurance.
However, first ...
2. False Assurance
Jer 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it ?”
It is easy to deceive ourselves when it comes to spiritual things.
Paul: “If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
It is tragic when a believer is unable to find assurance of salvation.
It is a terrible thing when there are those who say that it is wrong, or wicked, to even believe that assurance of salvation is possible.
But, more terrible and tragic than that, is a wicked man who has assurance of his salvation, when he has no reason to.
That is a horrible thing. That is a false assurance.
Jesus spoke about it:
Here were some professing “Christians” who were, in their minds, absolutely certain of heaven. Perhaps some tele-vangelist had told them not to worry because they would certainly obtain an eternal reward in heaven. After all,
- they called upon the name of the Lord,
- they prophesied in the name of the Lord,
- they were able to cast out demons in the name of the Lord. Like Benny Hinn, they were going around performing signs and wonders ...
... they were absolutely certain that they had eternal life.
And so, they confidently fronted up at the gate of heaven.
But: Matt 7:23
Well I am certainly not here today to trouble those of you who are weak in the faith. In fact, I am fearful of undermining the slight assurance of salvation that anyone here might legitimately have.
Rather, I am here today to preach assurance. I am here to strengthen you – who have believed in Jesus Christ – in your own sense of assurance.
But, oh I must first warn you against a false assurance. Because, “not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of God.”
3. True Assurance
Is there such a thing as true assurance ?
Can we know for sure that – not only are we saved – but,
- that we will continue, and go on being able to hang onto that salvation,
- that we will certainly be received into heaven when we die.
The testimony of God’s people all down through the ages:
Now Job was not some super saint, walking serenely through life, hand in hand with God. He was, as James reminds us, “a man with a nature like ours”.
He despaired, like we do.
He lost his temper like we do.
He complained against God, and said “Life isn’t fair” – just like we do.
And yet, in the midst of all this ...
- without any special revelation from on high,
- without a New Testament,
- without even an Old Testament – probably having no Bible at all,
- and without ever having known that Christ once walked upon this earth:
The Apostle Paul:
At the end of his life, 2 Tim 4:6
And, what sort of departure was this ? What was he expecting ?
2 Tim 1:12.
Paul was absolutely certain of this one great fact.
Also, in that great portion, in Rom 8, he was able to say:
“I am persuaded that:
- neither death nor life,
- nor angels nor principalities nor powers,
- nor things present nor things to come,
- nor height nor depth,
- nor any other created thing…
… shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How could he possibly put it any more pointedly that a Christian may have an absolute certainty that the Lord will keep him, and that he will persevere to the end ?
The apostle John:
1 John 3:2
We know !
There is no uncertainty. It is not open to question; it is not a matter of idle speculation.
We know we shall be like Him – for we shall see Him as He is!
And this has been the testimony of believers all down through the ages.
Take Michael Faraday:
He was one of the greatest English scientists who contributed to just about every branch of knowledge in Physics and Chemistry.
He discovered the principles of electromagnetism. He looked into the elements of atomic physics. He discovered the properties of liquefied gases – thereby providing information for a fuel that would make space travel possible more than a hundred years later.
He was always searching – always speculating – about some new theory.
He was a most remarkable man. And, when I was in London in 1991, I saw the statue they have erected to him there in his honour.
On his deathbed he was asked, “Sir Michael, tell us – you are always speculating in the realms of truth – what are your speculations about a life after death ?”
“Speculations !” he replied.
“Why, I have no speculations. I am resting on certainties ! I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that day.”
Michael Faraday was more certain of his salvation than of any of the laws of Physics and Chemistry that he had spent a lifetime investigating.
You remember also Fanny Crosby.
This girl who was blind, who could never see,
- the flowers in her garden,
- or the birds that she could hear singing,
- or the blue sky above.
And yet she wrote those lines:
O what a happy soul I am although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world, contented I will be.
She went on to write some 8000 poems and hymns in her lifetime – among them:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine !
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine !
Also, Hymn 726, v 1
Yes, it is a “blessed assurance”.
And, we can know this blessed assurance.
In fact, the whole purpose that John had in mind when he wrote his first epistle was that we might know that assurance of salvation:
1 John 5:13
O.K. ? When John wrote his Gospel, it was so that we might know Christ:
“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
But, when John wrote his epistle, it was:
- not just that: you may know eternal life.
- but that: you may know you know eternal life.
As you read that epistle, you’ll see that it is full of this idea of “knowing”.
But then, the Bible says even more than this:
Not only can we know assurance of salvation, the Bible says we ought to know it. A Christian ought to know assurance.
Now, sometimes Christians do waver in their assurance of salvation, as we well know – most of us by sad experience ourselves.
WCF 18.4a (see p 682).
Yes - we all know that can happen. And sometimes we read the biographies of great saints like,
- David Brainerd, who was much given to depression,
- or, William Cowper, who (despite his hymn, “O for a closer walk with God”) was also given to depression – and periods of insanity, and twice attempted to commit suicide ...
We read of great saints like this, and we can begin to think that they are the norm for a Christian:
- a Christian should be melancholy,
- a Christian should be always doubting his salvation.
We can even become like those persons who were interviewed (that I mentioned at the beginning) and think that to have a certain assurance of salvation is almost un-spiritual.
Well, it isn’t.
In fact, just the opposite.
While nearly all of us do go through phases when we lack assurance, yet that is not the norm for a Christian.
The Bible tells us what the norm is. It commands us to seek after assurance:
2 Pet 1:10.
There is the norm. There is what we are commanded to do.
Christianity is a religion of assurance. It is a religion of faith, and of confidence, and of joy.
You have your doubts; you go through times of depression. We all do – except for a very few. That is not unusual, and we ought not think it is.
But we must never regard these things as being the norm for the Christian.
A Christian can, and ought to, aim to live a life of assurance and of joy.
4. How Can We Know Assurance ?
The Confession is helpful here in spelling out the grounds upon which we can have assurance of salvation.
WCF 18.2 (see p 681)
Here we see there are three grounds for our assurance of our salvation:
- The Promise of God,
- The Evidence of Grace,
- The Testimony of the Spirit.
Please note that these are not the grounds of our salvation.
Christ alone is the one and only ground of our salvation.
But these are the grounds of our assurance of salvation !
i. The Promise of God
The anchor we have for our souls is the absolute reliability of the word of God concerning our salvation.
He has promised,
- “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
- “I give you eternal life, and you shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch you out of My hand.”
We have this promise of God that He will save us to the uttermost.
And that promise is founded upon a infallible ability on God’s part to do so.
It is one thing to make a promise. It is another thing to be absolutely sure that the person who makes the promise is able to do what he says.
I think of some of the early manned flights to the moon. They were some of the most complex missions ever designed in the history of our race.
And, when one of the astronauts returned to earth, he was asked, “What were your feelings as you stood on the surface of the moon and looked back over that vast expanse of space, back to this earth.”
And he replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “I was suddenly very taken up by the thought that my frail spacecraft had been built by the lowest bidder.”
We see that, don’t we, in the events of this last week, and the loss of the Mars Polar Lander.
NASA’s motto is: “Faster, Cheaper, Better.”
Well, at a cost over $500 million dollars, you would think that that is not all that cheap.
But, even $500 million could not save the Mars Polar Lander. Not even that amount of money could ensure that it could be saved.
You see, you can make all the promises in the world.
But, in the end, such promises – to offer any real comfort, any believable assurance – depend upon whether the one who makes them, is able to do what he says.
Well, when God planned our salvation He didn’t go to the lowest “bidder”.
Far from it. He paid an inestimable price for our salvation that He, and He alone, could pay.
But now, as a result of that price paid, and especially, because of the One who paid it, we can now look out across the vast gulf that still separates us from our spiritual home, and we can know for certain that our God is able to save to the uttermost.
He has promised.
And He is able.
That is ultimately what our assurance depends upon – upon:
- what God has said,
- His ability to perform what He has promised.
We also have to look at ourselves – as we will see in a moment. Our assurance – not our salvation, but our assurance – depends upon what we are doing too.
But we dare not begin by looking at ourselves, or else we will soon end up with no more assurance of salvation than those poor Tibetan monks have, crawling across the roof of the world.
Once there was a poor old Scottish woman who lay on her bed, and was about to die.
She knew very little; she had never had much of an education.
And her minister said to her, “Sadie, suppose when you die, God allows you to perish. What then ?”
And she replied, “Well, I suppose that’s up to Him. But, if He does allow me to perish, then He will lose more than I.
“For, I will lose my soul.
“But He will lose far more; He will lose His honour. For He has promised that, the one who believes in Me shall never perish.”
This poor woman knew where to look for assurance of salvation.
She looked to the firm promise of God. And that was an anchor to her soul.
ii. The Evidence of Grace
If we are to have an assurance of salvation which is personal and real, we should be able to see evidence of the grace of God at work in our lives.
1 John 2:3.
No one keeps the commandments of God perfectly.
But the Christian still loves the commandments of God. He wants to keep the commandments of God. The commandments of God are like a breath of fresh air to his soul in a world that reeks with the stench of sin and rebellion.
Do you love the commandments of God ?
You want them to be your breath ? You want them to be your life ?
Then the evidence of such grace in your life should be an additional comfort to you that God is working – and that, that good work He has begun in you He will complete in the last day.
Again, 1 John 3:14.
Here again is the evidence of the grace of God in you – because you love your brethren in Christ, and wish to see them prosper in their faith.
We are assured that the work of salvation is going on in our lives by such evidences of grace.
And again, if this work of salvation is begun, then we know it must be completed in the end.
This, to be sure, is a subjective test of assurance. And because it is subjective it will vary greatly from one of you to another.
You can get a fairly superficial Christian who, although he believes, yet doesn’t have much depth in his soul. And yet, he may look at himself, and think, “Neat. I’ve really come a long way in my Christian life.”
On the other hand, you might get a spiritual man like a David Brainerd, or a William Cowper who can see no good at all in themselves, and who spend much of their lives wondering if they are even converted.
These, I believe, are the exception. But nonetheless, they do occur, and the results of self-examination don’t always truly reflect what is actually there.
That is why I urge you, in seeking assurance of salvation, begin by looking,
- to the promise,
- and to the One who has made that promise, who (as David Livingstone put it ) “is a Gentleman who never breaks His word.”
But there still must be this self-examination – provided we allow for the fact that we never form a completely true estimate of what we are like.
2 Cor 13:5
Here is one of the great differences between that false, cocky assurance (that we spoke about earlier), and true assurance: i.e.
- True assurance is prepared to look at itself, and examine itself whether it is in the faith.
- On the other hand, a false assurance never bothers to examine itself. It is always right. It never seems to occur to such a man that he may be deceiving himself.
iii. The Testimony of the Spirit
All believers have this witness of the Holy Spirit within them that they are the children of God.
Now it is important that we don’t make this verse say what it does not say.
It does not say that, The Spirit witnesses to our spirit ...
Some Pentecostals believe, on the basis of this verse, that a Christian will get a special revelation from heaven, to his spirit, assuring him of his salvation.
I.e. some sort of special revelation: perhaps a voice, or perhaps a vision, or perhaps some special gift such as speaking in tongues.
But, one way or another, the Christian is supposed to get this assurance of salvation through God’s miraculous intervention whereby the Spirit consciously speaks to our souls.
Now that is nothing less than a return to Roman Catholicism:
If you believe you are definitely saved, and are going to heaven – the Roman Catholic Church says you are accursed. You can only be sure if you are some special super saint and have been given a special divine vision from heaven itself.
Rome teaches that is the only possible avenue of assurance.
But that, you see, is also the Pentecostal interpretation of this verse.
But you will notice the verse speaks of the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirits.
In other words, we have two witnesses within us – both of which together bear witness, and reinforce each other:
There is the witness of our own spirit,
- as we examine the Word of God,
- as we examine ourselves,
... so we are assured that: yes, we do belong to the Lord, we are His, and He will keep us to the end.
But, bearing witness alongside our spirit is the Holy Spirit.
What is this witness ?
1st : It is only by the Holy Spirit that we are truly convinced about the Word of God, and the promises of God contained in it.
Summed up: WCF 1.5 (see p 674).
How would we ever be persuaded that the promises of God in this Word stand sure, except by the witness of the Holy Spirit within us ?
2nd : It is the Spirit, too, who works God’s grace in our souls,
- writing His commandments upon our hearts,
- causing us to love the Lord, and to love one another… so that, when we examine ourselves, we do see the evidence of a work of grace.
3rd : It is especially the work of the Spirit to unite us to Christ, and thereby give us a sense that we belong to the same family as the eternal Son of God, so that we too, as the adopted children of God, cry out, “Abba, Father”.
Now, that is the testimony of the Spirit, who bears witness alongside of our spirit, that we are children of God, and will never be lost from our heavenly Father.
And so, these are the three reasons we have to be assured of our salvation:
- The promise of God,
- The evidence of grace within us,
- The testimony of the Spirit reinforcing the testimony of our own spirit.
Do you have this assurance of salvation ?
(I am not asking, Does your sense of assurance vary from day to day ?
That is inevitable, being creatures of this earth.)
Do you, nonetheless, have a sense of assurance that sustains you in your Christian walk ?
It is assurance that puts dynamite into your witness as a Christian.
Thomas Watson, “Faith will make us walk; but assurance will make us run.”
Much of our lethargy as Christians can be traced back to a lack of a burning assurance of our own salvation.
Sometimes it has been foolishly suggested that a sense of assurance only makes Christians lazy.
But the opposite is the case – as can be plainly shown from history.
It is just those Christians who lack assurance that become dull, and listless, and can’t seem to be bothered bearing witness to the gospel of salvation.
I mean, why would they bother bearing witness to a Gospel that they themselves are not absolutely sure about.
While those who are,
- sure of this Word,
- and sure of the Gospel,
- and sure of their salvation,
... have been unshakeable in their conviction that they will overcome, and hence have been untiring in their zeal for Christ.
The most persuasive argument in the Bible to work and to persevere in the Lord’s work is the certain hope that we have that it is all worthwhile.
1 Thes 5:6-8
Because, we know: v 9.