May 28 06
Sermon Notes for Sunday, May 28, 2006.
The Heritage of Assurance
1 John 3:11-24
This past Wednesday, was Aldersgate Day. It was there on May 24, 1738 that John Wesley had his ‘heart warming’ experience. Ever since there has been debate among Wesley historians: was that his ‘conversion’ experience or an experience of ‘assurance?’ We may never know for it hard to understand the spiritual experiences of another. I believe that it was assurance, but that is my opinion.
Whatever happened to Wesley that day, be it conversion or assurance, or both, the doctrine of assurance became one of the most important in Wesleyan theology. It is a theme a Wesley returns to time and again. The doctrine of assurance was one of the most controversial doctrines in his time. It just wasn’t taught in his time. But Wesley believed deeply that we can be assured of forgiveness of sins.
That problem isn’t just confined to the 18th century. I run into it quite often. I have been asked over a dozen or more times in 26 years of ministry, ‘How can I know that God loves me? Can I know that I will go to heaven when I die?
First of all, the greatest verse in the Bible, John 3:16 tells us that God sent the son to redeem the world out of his great love for us. If it was a guessing game, there would be no need for the incarnation of the Son. God could roll dice, or flip a coin and decide. But with the incarnation of the Son, it is not left to chance. For God so loved that he sent… Verse 17 is as important, as verse 16: "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Second, Look at our text for today. In 1 John 3, and in many other places in the same epistle, we are told that when our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. Sometimes we allow our actions to haunt us and we wonder if God in fact loves and forgives us. But God is greater than our hearts. We don’t always forgive ourselves when we do something wrong. I think that is what he means when he talks about our hearts condemning us. If we make confession to God and to the people we wronged, we need to be able to let go.
Third, and this was Wesley’s main point, we have the witness of the Spirit. V. 24 ‘…he abides is us and by this we knew he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.’ The Holy Spirit comes to live in us and that Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are God’s children (See Romans 8. That was Wesley’s text for his sermon.) We are not left in limbo. God has given us the Spirit to be our guide, to bring the presence of Christ to us. Jesus didn’t go off to the Father on Ascension Sunday, (today is Ascension Sunday) and leave us here to fend for ourselves. We have the witness of the Spirit that in fact God is greater than our hearts and that God is faithful and just to forgive us.
Finally, when it comes to knowing if we are right with God, we need to pay heed to the first part of verse 24: All who obey his commandments abide in him… When we are doing what God wants us to do, when we are the kind of people he wants us to be, we have assurance that God has in fact forgiven us. One of the problems, I think, is that we want to do what we want to do and still have the assurance. God will always love us, but if we put ourselves outside of God’s grace then we won’t have the assurance.
This is not to be flaunted arrogantly, but receive in humility before the one who loves us and gave himself for us.
By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Devotional Guide. Monday, May 29, 2006. Assurance. It is one of the categories of songs in our hymnal. We sing about being assured of God’s love for us. But assurance is something that we struggle with. I hear people saying that they hope they go to heaven when they die. In Romans 8:11-17 tells us that we can know we are God’s children because he has given us his spirit. Notice the grounding of the assurance is in the resurrection of Christ (v.11). Note, also, that the assurance is contingent on our ‘living in the spirit, and not by the sinful nature.’ How is your assurance of salvation?
Tuesday, May 30, 2006. 2 Timothy 1:3-14. Paul bases his hope in verse 12 on the nature and character of God. He says: ‘I know the one in whom I have put my trust…’ Our assurance of salvation is in God’s character. God would not tell us to place our trust and faith in Christ if that was not enough for salvation. What causes you to wonder sometimes about things like that? How does knowing the nature and character of God answer your doubts and questions?
Wednesday, May 31, 2006. The small epistle of 1 John has a lot to say about the assurance of salvation. In 1 John 2:1-6 Jesus is identified as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and that of the whole world as well. We believe that! We know that it is true. Back in chapter 1:9 we know he forgives the sin we confess. But how can we be sure? 2:3: ‘we may be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments.’ Salvation is a partnership with God. God does what we cannot do: he forgives our sins; our part of the partnership is to be obedient to his commands and to love one another. If you have doubts, check your obedience level. Is there something that you are not being obedient about? If so, confess it.
Thursday, June 1, 2006. We all have experienced tragedy in our lives. September 11, 2001 is a day that called into question a lot of the assumptions we live with. How can we be sure of anything in world where people fly planes into buildings filled with unsuspecting and innocent people? How can we be sure of anything when loved ones die of disease? Israel was asking those same questions in the Book of Lamentations. They got an answer of sorts. In Lamentations 3:22-24. God’s mercies are new and fresh every day. When have you experienced those mercies new and fresh? How did those mercies encourage your faith?
Friday, June 2, 2006. We sing our faith. It was said that if you want to know what Methodist believe, read their hymnal. That is true. What do we believe about assurance? Listen to the hymn titles: Blessed Assurance, It is Well With my Soul, Amazing Grace, There’s Within My Heart a Meloday, I Know Whom I have Believed, etc. Look back through the reading for the week, or find your favorite verse that speaks of God’s assuring love and meditate on it today. When you do, you will find that It Is Well With My Soul.