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Considerations on Assurance of Salvation
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Is it possible to know if one is a Christian, or is the convert merely, unfortunately, confined to a perpetual condition of doubt? If so, does the Bible use a particular methodology for determining the state of one’s soul? If not, how does one deal with the suffering of not knowing the condition of his soul?
The initial question vexed me for years. I was incessantly tormented by inquiries into the nature of saving faith in Christ. I grew up in church, accepted Christ at age 7, read my Bible, prayed, and maintained Christian friendships. As I grew older, however, I began to seriously doubt whether my profession of faith was of any value. My profession of faith was touted as paramount regarding my relationship with Christ. Yet, doubts still lingered because I knew that really I was unchanged. So, I remained for years; doubting my salvation and receiving reassurance that when I asked God to forgive me, I was, indeed, saved. Whether I manifested fruits of the Spirit was irrelevant; the only matter worth discussing was my prayer at age 7. In December 2009, I reached bottom spiritually. It became apparent that I was not a Christian, and if I died, I would be eternally punished for my wickedness and rebellion against God. The veil was removed; I was aware of my iniquity and desperate need of a Savior. I was unable to remove the veil; if it had not been for the working of the Holy Spirit, I would have remained enslaved to my sins and in bondage to ways of this world. I repented for my sin and trusted in Christ's death and resurrection as the atonement for my sins. Since my actual conversion to Christianity, I have become more sensitive to sin and have developed a love of God, His purposes, and his people. There are distinct manifestations in my thoughts, my conversations, and my actions. This transformation did not occur when I prayed a prayer when I was younger. Thus, I was saved, but did not bear any fruit, or I was deceived about the veracity of my experience, and was unsaved. I merely repeated some words, and falsely trusted in Christ's work on the Cross as a payment for my sins. I will explore both possibilities.
I will investigate the possibility that I became a Christian when I prayed the prayer, but I did not manifest any fruits of the Spirit. Allow me to rephrase this statement: I was justified and not sanctified. That is, fundamentally, the nature of my conversion experience. So, I will explore if the Bible mentions this type of experience if it does mention it, I will investigate the description of the experience--whether it is an experience that results in salvation or is an experience that leaves the individual unchanged. In Matthew 13, Jesus delivers the parable of the sower. "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt. 13:3-8). In this passage, Jesus describes four experiences. The first three describe conversions that are not true conversions. Thus, there is a belief that does not result in salvation. For example, in the Gospel of John: "...many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them..." (John 2:23-24). (This is only one example intended to elucidate my point; there are other instances of similar stories throughout the Gospels.) The most startling instance, however, is found in Matthew 7, when Jesus says that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 7:21-23). In light of this, we should consider the three false conversion experiences. In the process of their conversions, they necessarily called out to God to save them. Yet, because they clung to sin, concerned themselves with the affairs of the world more than the affairs of God, or pursued temporal pleasure rather than obeying the will of God, they were not saved. Immediately preceding Jesus's terrifying description of the last day when professors of Christ are sentenced to Hell, He discusses a tree and its fruit. Jesus provides guidance for us; He says, "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20). If there is no fruit, the tree is worthless, and is thrown into the fire (Matt. 7:19). So, professions of faith are worthless without accompanying fruits. James warns us: "...faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). Paul, speaking to the church at Corinth, exhorts them to examine ourselves. "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves..." (2 Cor. 13:5). How does one pass the test? We know from Jesus and James that is not a mere profession of faith; for "...even the demons believe--and shudder!" (James 2:19). Paul provides the answer in the book of Galatians. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruits of the Spirit are contrasted with the consequences of satisfying the passions of the flesh. "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these..." (Galatians 5:19-21). The same individual cannot simultaneously produce fruits of the Spirit and satisfy the passions of the flesh. Therefore, reader, heed Paul's exhortation and examine yourself. Ask God to search your heart. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! (Ps. 139:23). Examine yourself meticulously because the "heart is deceitful above all things..." (Jer. 17:9).
Keeping in mind the conclusion of the initial investigation, it is evident that I did not become a Christian when I originally asked God to save me because I did not manifest any fruits of the Spirit; rather, I displayed the wicked product of fleshly living. Now, someone might object: Logan, advocating salvation by works? It seems that your emphasis upon fruit is contrary to what I have been taught. I respond: I am not advocating a salvation by works. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Yet, additionally, John tells us, "Whoever says he abides in Him [Jesus Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6). "If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" (1 John 1:6). Thus, it is, indeed, by the grace of God that we are saved, but salvation is more than justification. Justification is followed by sanctification. If you claim to be justified, yet are not being sanctified, "then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8). God disciplines his children; He commands them to be holy because He is holy (Lev. 11:44). In his letter to the Phillipians, Paul says, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). Thus, we can conclude that one who merely professes to have Christ independent of manifestations of fruit of the Spirit, is deceiving himself! God will not justify someone and then abandon them to his former life of iniquity and rebellion. What king pardons an insurrectionist merely to allow him to continue in rebellion against him? God loathes sin. It is antithetical to his character. He is unable to be in the presence of sin; thus, how can one expect to continue in sin after he has been justified? If you are a Christian, your flesh is now "crucified" (Rom. 6:6). Therefore, abandon "...every weight and sin..." (Heb. 12:1), and "let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions" (Rom. 6:12). "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret..." (2 Cor 7:10). Remember: "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11).
Thus, the inquiry into certainty of one's salvation is resolved. One can be sure of one's calling and election by examining himself to see whether he walks in the light and produces fruits of the Spirit. I hope that you find this article edifying, and I pray that you will examine yourself, as Paul exhorts, to see whether you are, in fact, saved by the grace of God.
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