May 27, 2007
You’ve probably noticed that today’s key verses are Ephesians 1:3,4 and are probably thinking that I just preached on them recently. If so, you are right, I did, but I’m also going to preach on them again. Two weeks ago the emphasis was on what we were chosen for – to be holy and blameless. This week the emphasis will be on our assurance, our blessed assurance knowing that Jesus is ours. Assurance of your salvation may seem a given – once saved, always saved! But not all denominations teach assurance . Years ago when Marcy and I were care group leaders in Prince George, we met a sweet gal who was assigned to our group. She grew up in the Salvation Army. During our years together she shared her great fear that she might lose her salvation. Her church did not teach eternal security. Later, we came across others from other denominations who shared her fear that their salvation could be lost. I ask you, how is it lost? What would you have to do to lose your salvation. Or the converse: what would you have to do to keep your salvation. Today we will look at some supporting Scripture beginning with these two verses from Ephesians, which support the argument that you can’t lose your salvation. So, let’s start in Hebrews. Please turn to Hebrews chapter six and verse 11 and we’ll read that. If you don’t have our Bible, the verse is printed on the back of your bulletin, but I’m hoping that you all have your Bibles with you. I will be reading from the New Kings James version.
In Hebrews 6:11 we read: "We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end." In other words, God's will for us is that we live in the liberty and the joy and the power of full assurance of our salvation. He means for us to know assuredly that we are bound for heaven and that we will not fail to get there.
In his book, “The Glorious Journey”, Dr. Charles Stanley says: If you are still struggling with assurance, apply these three tests:
1. Do I believe the Word of God? God said it; I believe it; that settles it.
2. Do I have the witness of the Holy Spirit? Read with me 1 John 5:6, “And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.” It is conviction, not feeling. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
3. Do I have the walk of the believer? Am I different? Do you I a deep desire to please the Lord Jesus? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). I am a new creation. You are a new creation. I will sin from time to time. You will sin from time to time, but the Holy Spirit convicts me and you. The saved person feels guilt when he sins. That is proof that the Holy Spirit resides in us and pricks our conscience. Mind you, we can harden our heart so that eventually our conscience doesn’t speak anymore.
Those who were saved very young often need to reaffirm or make sure of their salvation when they are in their teens. This does not insult God. Teens go through a long process of making sure they are making their own choices and not resting on their parents’ decisions. They may need to resettle the issue of their salvation. Don’t be alarmed. Many who were saved at a young age have never doubted their salvation, but many do doubt. People are different, and God deals with us where we are. But rest assured, God will deal with you. For God wants us walking closely, not at a distance. And God wants us trusting in the work of the cross and resurrection, not our good works.
|Did you know that one-third of self-described born-again Christians believe that they will gain entry into heaven as a consequence of their good works rather than God’s grace through Jesus Christ.|
Again, quoting Dr Stanley. “I was saved at the age of twelve. I remember where I was sitting in the church. A woman was preaching, and I went forward and accepted Christ. So much emphasis was subsequently placed on performance, I wondered if I was still saved. But as I would get down beside my bed to pray, I would say, “God, I know I’m not doing everything right. But something inside me says I’m not lost.”
Dr Stanley continues, I didn’t know that was the witness of the Holy Spirit in my young heart. But He was there, assuring me that I belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ. There was no ethereal feeling. I had a blessed assurance.”
Based on His wonderful Word—all of it—we can know that we have eternal life. It has nothing to do with feeling. But it has everything to do with the trustworthiness of God. He wants us saved. He has done everything possible through Christ to make that happen. Once we receive Him as our own, we can rest on the Word of God and in the witness of the Spirit.
Once you’re in the family of God, by faith in His Son, your name is written in the Book of Life.
Again, from Dr. Stanley: “Several times a year, we conduct cruises through In Touch Ministries. It’s a wonderful time of Bible study, special music, and fellowship. I look forward to each one.
On one cruise, a worker on the ship sat in the back during a Bible study session. He came to me later and asked if we could talk. I was delighted. We sat down and I explained the way of salvation to the young man.
He wasn’t quite sure about the whole thing. He asked more questions, and I tried, as best I knew how, to answer them from the Word of God. He left to go back to work on the ship, still uncertain.
The next afternoon at lunch, the same fellow came up to me, smiling, and said, “Dr. Stanley, I got it!”
He knew he’d been born again. The smile and enthusiasm were not from a hope-so or maybe-this-will-work experience. He knew, according to 1 John 5:13, that his name was written in heaven and that he was a child of God. He just took Him at His Word. Literally. When the seas of his life get rocky, he has an anchor. Blessed assurance. Let’s look at 1 John 5:13 now: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. “
The most frequently asked question I hear is, “How can I know I’m saved?” That is the dilemma of many people. What did we just read in 1 John 5:13 – “that you may know you have eternal life.
Dr Stanley continues, Not long ago during the invitation at our church, an older woman came forward. She took my hand and said she’d wondered about her salvation for years, and she needed to know.
The longing look in her aged eyes broke my heart. She’d needlessly wrestled for many years. With great delight she was able to meet with one of our counselors and settle it once and for all.
Maybe you are like that woman. You have prayed the sinner’s prayer to accept Jesus into your heart and life. You have confessed your sin before Almighty God and accepted His forgiveness, you have read the Scripture, you have done everything you know to do, but you still don’t have any assurance of your salvation. John wrote his first epistle so that his audience could indubitably know they were part of God’s family. You can know as well. Tell God you are ready to settle this issue once and for all. Tell Him that you are taking Him at His Word. Salvation is not a feeling; it is a fact based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary. The truth is, once saved, always saved. Once a family member, always a family member.”
It is possible for true Christians, with genuine saving faith, to go through periods of time in which they do not have the full assurance of hope. John said in 1 John 5:13, "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." In other words, the heart's true allegiance to Christ and true union with Christ are not completely identical with strong feelings of assurance. Faith can be real and yet the feelings of assurance may be weak.
But God commands us to be earnest and zealous in our pursuit of full assurance. Because that is where the joy and freedom and power are found.
Now there are two ways to pursue assurance. One is by examining ourselves and seeing the evidences that the dominion of sin has been broken and that we have new desires and disciplines. This is what Peter meant when he said, in 2 Peter chapter 1, verse 10: "Therefore brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election" And what Paul meant when he said in 2 Corinthians 13:5: "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. Or do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? If you are not disqualified". Yes, we are to examine ourselves. Ask yourself questions like:
Do I sin less and less each year?
Do I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, and mind?
Do I discipline myself to read my Bible and pray regularly?
Here is the challenge that the modern Church has been very slow to face. In the early Church the Christian never had any doubt that he must be different from the world; he, in fact, knew that he must be so different that the probability was that the world would kill him and the certainty was that the world would hate him. But the tendency in the modern Church has been to play down the difference between the Church and the world. We have, in effect, often said to people: "So long as you live a decent, respectable life, it is quite all right to become a Church member and to call yourself a Christian. You don't need to be so very different from other people." In fact a Christian should be identifiable in the world.
Thomas Watson put it this way 350 years ago,
“If a malefactor be in prison, how shall he know that his prince hath pardoned him? If a jailer come and knock off his chains and fetters, and lets him out of prison, then he may know he is pardoned; so how shall we know God hath pardoned us? If the fetters of sin be broken off, and we walk at liberty in the ways of God, this is a blessed sign we are pardoned.” (A Puritan Golden Treasury, p. 25)
But there is another way to pursue assurance. And for people who are given to excessive self-examination and doubt this is surely the more hopeful path. The book of Hebrews puts it very simply like this: "Consider Jesus" (Heb. 3:1). Or: "Look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). In other words, do not dwell on yourself, dwell on what God has done in Jesus Christ. Jesus is our example. Look at Him instead of yourself. Use Him as a model or mentor. If we dwell on ourselves instead of on Christ, we will become discourage, even depressed, because the challenge seems hopeless.
There is a paradox here. For many people--most people, I think--the more we focus on the subjective inner workings of our own soul and the relative purity or impurity of our own attitudes and behavior, the more uncertain we become of our own assessment of our authenticity. Paradoxically the path to assurance is to shift our focus off ourselves and onto God. Off the subjective and onto the objective.
Some of you remember William Cowper, the hymn writer. He is an example of how this paradox works. He was melancholy and introspective, and considered himself beyond hope. Christianity was true he said, but he was not capable of faith. He was rejected.
Then one afternoon in the garden of St. Alban's asylum he picked up a Bible. God focussed his attention not primarily on the subjective reality of his own condition, but on the objective reality of God's work in Christ. He read Romans 3:25: "God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins." This is what Cowper later wrote about that moment:
Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel. . . Unless the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have died with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport; I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder.
In other words, in this second way of pursuing assurance we focus our attention not on what we are doing to prove that we are saved (neither faith, nor the obedience of faith), but we focus on what God has done to save his people. And our confidence is this: as we focus on the great work of God, God himself will glorify that work in us by creating faith and assurance and joy and freedom and obedience and power.
That's the conviction that moves me now to commit to this series of messages through the book of Ephesians. God has an unstoppable, undefeatable, invincible purpose to save his people, and the more we dwell on what he has done to achieve his purpose, the more deep and lively will be our assurance. God loves to glorify the worth of his work by making it the basis of our assurance.
We begin where Paul begins in Ephesians 1:3-4.
Please turn there in your Bible now and we’ll read both of these verses.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. . .”
Paul begins by blessing God. He blesses him as one who has blessed us with every blessing that heaven can give. And the first foundation that Paul mentions for this assured fact is that "God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world."
That was my first message: God's purpose in the salvation of his people is invincible--it cannot fail--because it is based first not on our choosing God but on God's choosing us. "He [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world."
Your salvation did not begin with your choice to believe in Christ--a choice which was real and necessary. Your salvation began before the creation of the universe when God planned the history of redemption, ordained the death and the resurrection of his Son, and chose you to be his own through Christ. This is the ground for our blessed assurance. And we should consider it deeply.
There are many many people who do not believe this. They do not believe that God chose who will be saved and who will be passed over and left to unbelief and rebellion. They insist that this text only teaches that God chose Christ and an undefined number of those who choose to be in Christ by faith. They say that Ephesians 1:4 is not an election or choosing of individuals, but an election of Christ and the church, but what individuals are part of the church, God does not decide. It's like the super bowl. The national officials don't choose a specific team of men to go to the super bowl; they choose that the winners of the playoffs go, whoever they are. God does not choose who will be in Christ and who will be saved. That lies ultimately in the power of man's autonomous will, which God does not rule. But God knows, doesn’t He. He is all-knowing – omniscient. That is one of His characteristics.
"God chose us in him." The wording does not just point to Christ, it points the other way: it says he chose us. Not an undefined mass of people, but us, you and me personally. He chose us. The word means select from a larger group. And the way he did it was in relation to Christ. Christ was not an afterthought to election. God chose us to come to salvation in Christ, not apart from Christ. But it was us that he chose. These words are not strained at all in carrying this meaning that God chose particular people to be his children through their union with Christ. And He is not fickle! Once saved, always saved!
God chose his people individually and personally before the foundation of the world to be saved; and he chose them to be saved through union with Christ. Forever.
First notice what the point of God's choosing is in 1 Corinthians 1:27-30.
“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
What this text says very clearly is that God chose particular kinds of people to be in the church. He did not just choose the church and leave its composition to man. He chose foolish individuals and called them into Christ. He chose some weak individuals and called them into Christ. He chose some low and despised individuals and called them into Christ. So that no one might boast in anyone but the Lord.
And then to make this crystal clear he said in verse 30: "From him [God] you are in Christ Jesus." Or as the NASB says, "By his doing you are in Christ Jesus." Or the NIV: "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus." In other words, it is just as though Paul knew that someone would come along some day and say that God does not choose who is in Christ, but only chooses Christ and any who put themselves in Christ. So he says, in verses 27-29 that God chose the individuals who would make up the church in Christ. And he says in verse 30 that it is by God's doing that they are put in Christ.
The glorious, unshakable, objective foundation of your being a Christian is that God chose you to be one with Him, forever! God put you in Christ. So I say with Paul, "Consider your calling!" Consider how you came to be in Christ! Think about it. It will take all boasting off man and put it all on God. So verse 31 ends the section: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." This is the boast of assurance. This is the exultation of considering our calling and our election, and seeing that it's all of God, and feeling a tremendous peace and confidence and courage and strength and love well up inside.
Listen, my brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?
Again God has chosen not an undefined mass of people, but particular foolish, weak, and despised individuals to be rich in faith.
So I come back to Ephesians 1:4, "God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world." And I close with my own personal confession of faith in this great Biblical truth of assurance.
Before the creation of the universe God thought of me. He fixed his gaze on me and chose me for himself. He did not choose me because I was already in Christ of my own doing, but that I might be in Christ. He did not choose me because he saw me as a believer, but so that I might become a believer. He did not choose me because I chose him, but so that I might choose him. He did not choose me because I was holy or good but so that I might become holy and good.
Everything I am and all I hope to be is rooted in God's freely choosing me. My faith, my hope, my work are not the ground of electing grace but only its effect. And so there is no ground for boasting except in God. And in the face of fear and loss of assurance and all my own defect, I speak this word of trust: "Who shall bring any charge against the Lord's elect!" (Romans 8:33). If God says I’m good enough for His kingdom, then who am I to dispute Him? And who are you to dispute Him?
In a minute we’re going to sing “Blessed Assurance”. Listen to the words of the first verse:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God.
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.