Sermon Manuscript …
The Errant Teaching on Assurance–Authentic Christianity
Ephesians 5:5-7, part 2
Have you ever used a decoy? Saddam did, hunters do and soldiers do as well. Decoys were used extensively in World War II. British commanders realized they were out-gunned by the German army. To help conceal their weakness, the Allied army created an elaborate system of decoys.
Carpenters, artists and painters built a fleet of ships, aircraft, guns, and airfields made up of lumber, canvas, plaster, and chicken wire. They also made scores of life-sized inflatable tanks, complete with gun turrets and authentic paint schemes. Decoy airfields had working lights, ships had working smokestacks, and floating troop carriers even had crew laundry hanging out to dry on deck. Once complete, the decoys were placed away from key targets so enemy planes would spot, report, and attack them rather than targets of real value.
The German army also used decoys, but not without problems. One phony German airfield (constructed with meticulous care) was made almost entirely of wood–the German way. There were wooden hangars, oil tanks, gun emplacements, trucks and aircraft. But the Germans took so long in building their wooden decoy that Allied photo experts had more than enough time to observe and report it. The day finally came when the decoy was finished, down to the last wooden plank. Early the following morning a lone British plane crossed the Channel, came in low, circled the field once and dropped a large wooden bomb.
Decoys are very effective. In Britain, decoy airfields were attacked more than real ones and tons of bombs were wasted on fake targets. And there’s an interesting purpose behind decoys. They’re not meant to choke off information from an enemy. Just the opposite–they feed your opponent with tainted facts that conceal your true picture and paint a false one, causing them to squander valuable time, resources and energy.
We Christians have a very clever enemy, and I believe our enemy is using the same tactic of using decoys in his fight against the Church of Jesus Christ. Today I would like to expose what I believe to be one of the most dangerous decoys–false assurance. This is the errant idea that you can live in continual, intentional sin but still claim to know that you’re saved. This decoy is the teaching that there is a category of Christians called carnal Christian, lukewarm Christian or backslidden Christian who live for months or years in continual, unrepentant, defiant sin but can still claim to be Christians. That teaching is a decoy, a fake–not real, and deadly.
As a church, we are studying verse-by-verse the book of Ephesians, drawing out what God has to say, not making it say what we want. As we do, there are times when we come to a passage that really shakes us up, such as the passage we looked at last week. Turn to Ephesians 5 and look at verses 5 to 7, “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.”
Last week we saw that certain sinful behavior that continues unrepentant and unchanged in the life of someone who claims to be a Christian, goes to church, even serves in ministry truly indicates by that outward and obvious behavior that they are not saved—wow. Can you feel the heat from that? It raises some questions, doesn’t it?
Does it mean that anyone who sins is not saved? Can a Christian lose His salvation? If he can’t, what happens when he starts living only for self, doesn’t go to church, leaves his spouse and sleeps with someone else? How am I supposed to understand this? And some of you here were similar to me–for five years I thought I was saved, I attended church every week on time, sang songs, shared prayer requests, yet I was still on the road to hell. And even after Christ redeemed me, there have been times I doubted my salvation.
Now as a pastor, I am continually ministering to precious saints and others who struggle with their assurance. Right now, allow the Holy Spirit to bring someone you love to mind who you are burdened for–someone who you suspect may have bought into the decoy of false assurance. Maybe it’s you, a family member or a friend–as we expose what the New Testament says about this decoy, be praying for that person.
I know I am not up to the task, but I want to try to bring accurate and practical clarity to an issue that affects every one of us here. So for this week and next time, instead of expositing a few verses from Ephesians, allow me to expose what the entire New Testament teaches on the issue of assurance. This week we will expose the wrong teaching on assurance of salvation (the decoy) and next time we’ll teach the biblical teaching on assurance of salvation. Hopefully we will get a handle on authentic Christianity. So what is the errant teaching on assurance?
#1 Reject the practical everyday errors about assurance
We live in a day of collective error. Errors continue to accumulate, so today the method of salvation itself has become assurance of salvation. Maybe you were taught to walk the aisle, pray a prayer, sign the card and you were saved–and whenever you doubted, you were told, “Just look at that card, remember what you did on that day in order to cure your doubts.”
Throughout Church history, it’s only been a recent occurrence to invite people to walk forward or sign cards, and mainly in the USA. Now it seems people either don’t think you can be saved without walking the aisle, or they think the decision itself assures you of salvation. But friends, where is that taught in the Bible–anywhere? No.
Maybe you have heard a testimony of someone who prayed a prayer at age 15, then they rebelled in sin for a long time, but now they’ve recommitted their life to Christ–they made a rededication. But I ask you, where does the Bible say you can pray a prayer, walk disobediently to Christ for years, even live in rebellious sin, and still claim to have been a Christian the entire time you were living disobediently to God’s Word? It’s not in the Bible.
Maybe you know someone who has walked away from Christ or the Church. They believed in the past, or they were obedient once, or even highly involved, and they think or you think they must be going to heaven. They were so solid, they were leaders, they were on fire for Jesus. Again, the Bible doesn’t support this scenario.
Maybe your under-12-year-old children have memorized all the verses, and not only can they explain a complete eschatology, but they can teach why you must adopt a pre-tribulational position. They can also talk about Christ with all their friends, and some of them keep bugging you about getting baptized and taking communion. Even though it brings you joy, does all that really mean they have a true assurance of salvation?
When someone who is consistently rebelling against the Word comes to me and says, “I’m not sure I’m saved,” I do not give them assurance. I don’t say, “Hey, I was there when you walked the aisle or prayed the prayer or signed the card–you’re saved.” No. I call them to repent of their sin and follow Christ by being dependent upon the Spirit of God and obedient to the Word of God. God Himself will give them all the assurance they need as they walk dependently and obediently. If they’re doubting, but have a heart that wants to obey God in all things, I comfort, encourage and pray–but it is God who must assure them of their salvation as they walk obediently to His Word because they want to.
There is a lot of confusion over this issue–lots of decoys. Some of your friends, possibly some family, even church-going, Bible-toting, Christ-confessing types can embrace a false assurance. They think they’re saved, but they’re lost. The goal of all biblical instruction is love, and like our Lord I want to speak the truth without compromise, but do so in a loving manner. But up front, I need to warn you that in order for you to evaluate your own life and those you love, you may struggle. You are going to have to reject some everyday errors you may have believed all your life. And please do not embrace what I say, but submit to what God clearly states–and my precious family, God is not unclear about this. That is why we must also . . .
#2 Reject the theological errors on assurance
Now put on your tanks, because we’re going for a scuba dive. We’re not going to remain on the surface, but dive into some theology. Don’t choke or gag, but if you can, try to stay really focused and pay attention. Even in good, Bible-teaching churches, Christians are confused over the issue of assurance. I find many have confused eternal security with assurance of salvation.
The Bible clearly teaches that those whom God elects He holds secure now and for all eternity. God never loses one of His children. Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Jesus said in John 10:28, “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” Eternal security is a solid, healthy, biblical doctrine.
Romans 8 contains a passage called the golden chain–those who are called before the foundation of the world to salvation in time will also be glorified in heaven in eternity. Look at Romans 8:29 to 30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Whoever God predestines and calls, He glorifies.
True Christians are secure for all eternity–no one will snatch a true believer out of God’s hand. No one who is born again can lose their salvation–you are secure. If salvation depended upon flakey, sinful old you, then you might be tempted to think that you could lose it. But because it is based upon an all-powerful, eternal, sovereign God, you can’t lose your salvation. That is a good doctrine, sound teaching, a truth we can bank on.
But eternal security is sometimes used incorrectly. Sometimes people misuse the truth of eternal security and tell us, “Because all true Christians are eternally secure, you have assurance.” Or they will say, “Because salvation is based upon the work of Christ and the Word of God (God holding you secure), you have assurance.” But that is not how the Bible describes assurance of salvation.
There are some Christians who confuse the two doctrines. They think—hey, salvation is based upon the work of Christ alone, therefore I am secure—true. So whenever I doubt my salvation I just trust in my eternal security–false. Pay attention! Let me explain . . . eternal security is a positional truth–it is based upon the work of Christ and the Word of God. But assurance of salvation is a practical truth, a truth that is experienced. Assurance of salvation is based on the direction of your life.
Let me state it a different way–eternal security is based upon God’s decision to save you, but assurance of salvation is based upon your direction to head–toward Christ or away from Christ. If you’re headed toward Christ, then you have assurance. But if your life is headed away from Christ, you will lack assurance.
Some wrongly view assurance of salvation as a box–once I am saved I am in the box, and I can live any way I like in the box and I will be secure, because I can’t lose my salvation. But the New Testament views assurance as an arrow, a direction–if I am headed toward Christ, I have assurance. If I head away from Christ I lose assurance and only God knows whether I am secure or not. Jesus Christ expects His sheep to follow Him. He says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
Now don’t overreact–God is not saying you lose your assurance because you are battling every day with motive sins, and speech sins and temptation to lust–but when you move away from Christ with volitional sins and the direction of your life is consistently headed away from Christ and His Word, you will lack assurance.
If you are truly saved, you will still be secure, but you’ll lack assurance. Only God knows if you are eternally secure, but by your life direction you are either assured or not assured. Get this–you may be secure in Christ, or you may not be secure in Christ, but as you move away from Christ directionally, in your lifestyle, you lack assurance–and as you move toward Christ, directionally, in your lifestyle, you gain assurance.
Let me show you the difference between these two doctrines so you can get a clearer picture. Try to understand the difference between eternal security and assurance of salvation.
|ETERNAL SECURITY||ASSURANCE OF SALVATION|
|Positional truth||Practical truth|
|The Father’s ministry||The Holy Spirit’s ministry|
|For all true believers||For all obedient believers|
Our salvation is held secure because of the work of Christ–yes, but I experience the reality of my salvation because of the Spirit manifesting Himself through my heart and lifestyle. This is why there are repeated warnings not to be deceived into thinking I am saved, or a friend is saved, or my child is saved when they live defiantly disobedient. It is not because they walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, have feelings for God, made a decision at camp, confess Christ or go to church. The Bible lists none of those as assurance.
Remember what God said in Galatians 5:19 to 21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul warned us that if the direction of your life is away from Christ, if the long-term pattern of your life is the actions of the flesh, then you shall not inherit the kingdom of God–you will not go to heaven.
Think about that person you are concerned about. If they prayed a prayer and were really committed for years, but then they began to live a life in the flesh, they will lose their assurance. They can’t know, and you can’t know whether they are saved or not. Over time, if they become known for a sin, where they are known for being a gossip, an adulterer, a homosexual, a critic, harsh, unfaithful, then you can have biblical confidence they are not saved, as Paul says three times–when labeled with a sin, “They shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
But in those early stages when they stop attending church, are walking away from Christ and living for themselves, there is a possibility they could be eternally secure (truly saved), but they won’t experience any assurance of salvation, and you can’t be assured they are saved because they have lost their assurance. I hear you saying, “Aha, they could be eternally secure even though they live in the flesh as a pattern of lifestyle.” Well, yes–but not long term, and not without God intervening.
What do I mean? There is another promise you must apply to someone if they are truly saved. God says if a true, secure Christian continues in sin, He promises He will not fail to spank them. Hebrews 12:6 to 8, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” If God doesn’t spank them as they live continually in the flesh, then they are not true children of God, but are in fact illegitimate children, not related to our heavenly Father.
But Chris, isn’t there any other option? Yes there is, but you won’t like it. There is one more action God says He might take if a true believer continues to live in the flesh. If God’s spanking doesn’t work, (which may include the Church dealing with their sin too), God says He may cause their death and take them home.
You say, “That’s harsh.” No, it’s a whole lot better for a believer to be sinless in heaven than to be rebelliously sinful on earth. Remember 1 Corinthians 11–Paul is reminding the Corinthians that they are coming to the Lord’s Table with bad motives, with division, with selfishness and they weren’t repenting. So Paul warns in verses 27 to 30, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” Sleep is not talking about taking a nap–that speaks of a believer’s death. God takes ‘em home.
Now before we come up for air–let me sum up. Eternal security is true. True believers will not lose their salvation, but that work of Christ is never used as a basis for assurance of salvation in Scripture. It is a comfort to us to know that God won’t let us go, no matter what. But once we begin to live continually in the flesh, once we start living in defiant sin, both sins of commission (where we do what the Bible condemns, like start living immoral or impure or greedy) and even sins of omission (where we don’t ever do what God calls Christians to do, like we intentionally don’t go to church or serve with our gift or love others), then, though we may be secure, we have no assurance. When living in continual, intentional sin, you can’t be assured nor can anyone else be assured of your salvation.
Eternal security is what God does, it is a position you enjoy, it is a promise that is precious–but it is never used in Scripture as assurance. Assurance is the manifestation of the Spirit through your life pattern over time–your words, deeds and commitments that show off Christ. Okay, catch your breath as we expose some more decoys of assurance.
#3 Reject the textual errors of assurance
Our enemy has been busy inventing false decoys of assurance that are still being taught and believed today–let me expose a few.
First The error of the carnal Christian category–I Corinthians 3
This incorrect teaching believes there are three categories of people:
1 Non-Christians, 2 Obedient, Spirit-filled Christians, and 3 Carnal Christians–a type of Christian who supposedly lives a continual lifestyle of disobedience to the Word of God, but can somehow still claim to be genuinely saved. But friends, even though the Bible does say Christians can act fleshly, carnally, it does not say they can live carnally as a way of life. When sin becomes an intentional way of life, the Bible calls them a so-called brother–in name only. They are without assurance.
Paul confronts some carnal Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:1 to 3, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” Flesh here is translated carnal in some versions, which is where we get the idea of the carnal Christian. This is the passage that is misused in order to teach that there is a carnal Christian category.
So what does Paul mean here? We know from the New Testament that Christians are either living by the flesh or living by the Spirit at any one time. True Christians do not live in the flesh as a way of life. In fact Romans 8:13 affirms, “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” So true Christians do not live by the flesh as a way of life.
But today, not as a long term pattern, as we have gathered here like the Corinthians of chapter three some of you are in the Spirit and others of you are in the flesh. Some of you sang in the Spirit, there is joy as you talk to your brothers and sisters and you want to live the Word of God–you are in the Spirit. But some of you are still unconfessed after that disagreement with your spouse, or sad about what you said to someone before you sat down–you are in the flesh.
We can’t point you out, but you are here–both Spirit-filled and flesh-driven. And next week the two groups will change. Some who were in the Spirit will be in the flesh, and others who were in the flesh will be in the Spirit. You ask, Chris–how can I tell who is in the flesh? Look to your right–go ahead–that’s them. Simply, if you’re in the Spirit, you’re dependent, following the Word, desiring to obey Christ and see Him be exalted through your life and in your church. In contrast to that, if you’re in the flesh, you’re independent, following yourself, desiring to do what you want your way.
Now Paul has been describing the Corinthians as those in chapters 1 and 2 were dividing up into groups–Paul, Apollos, Peter, even Jesus. He has been rebuking them for getting off-target–they’ve moved away from the Gospel and the cross of Christ as central, and as they did this, Paul confronts them at that moment as being in the flesh, carnal.
So here is the big question this question raises–is Paul affirming that they can stay that way? Is there a category of believer who can live in a lifestyle of disobedience and still claim to be a Christian? Is there a carnal category of genuinely saved Christians who live for months or years in the flesh? What is the answer—yes or no? No! Okay, prove it Chris. Okay, if you are going to be that way, I will.
For the answer, you need to keep reading. The context of your Bible usually provides the answer. Remember 1 Corinthians is one letter to one people written at one time and one place. It is God’s Word, and because of that chapter 3 will not contradict chapter 5 or chapter 6.
Now remember the question–is there a category of Christian who continually live in the flesh as a way of life? They are in sin but don’t do anything about it. They are not going to church and don’t care. They are having sex with their boyfriend and don’t stop. They are critical and harsh and don’t stop. Can Christians have assurance who live in continual sin–are there three categories–the Committed, the Unsaved and the Carnal? Let’s find out.
Turn two chapters later to 1 Corinthians 5:11, and there a man in the church claiming to be a Christian is having sex with his stepmom. Now even though this guy goes to church and calls himself a Christian, Paul does not–Paul will not call him a Christian. Paul calls him a so-called brother–a brother in name only. Check out verse 11, “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one.”
Here’s a man living in a pattern of overt, obvious sin who claims to be a believer, yet Paul won’t call him a Christian–he won’t affirm his salvation but names him a so-called brother. Paul is literally saying here, have nothing to do with someone named a brother who is living in a consistent pattern of sin. By his lifestyle, this brother (in name only) has no assurance.
Now don’t miss the connection to chapter 3. If Paul will not call a churchgoer in a continual pattern of sin a “brother” in chapter 5, then he would not be describing an entire category of “Christians” in chapter 3 who are living in continual sin. In other words there is not a category for carnal Christian. Paul is not affirming a carnal category of Christians who live in continual sin in chapter 3, because he doesn’t call the sinning man in chapter 5 a carnal Christian, but a so-called, a “not sure, maybe” brother.
But you are not convinced, so Paul takes it a step further in chapter 6:9, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul says don’t be deceived, those whose lives are characterized by a pattern of sin so much that they own the label reviler, fornicator, covetous–God says through Paul, you’re not a believer. If you’re headed away from Christ and His Word, intentionally, defiantly, you shall not inherit the kingdom of God–you’re not saved.
Now track with me here. Paul says in chapter 6, if a sin is descriptive of you, you are not a believer. And if you claim to be a Christian but are committing defiant sin, Paul won’t call you a brother, but a so-called brother in chapter 5. So when Paul refers to the Corinthians as carnal or fleshly in chapter 3, he is not creating a category of Christians who can still claim to know Christ, but live a lifestyle in the flesh as a way of life. Paul is not allowing biblical room for churchgoers to live a lifestyle of continual unrepentant sin, but still claim to be Christians. The context of chapter 5 and chapter 6 say no.
So what is Paul talking about in chapter 3? He is not describing a category of Christians who are in continual sin, but believers who are currently but not permanently in the flesh because of their choice to sin by dividing up against each other. Christians can and do live in the flesh, but they won’t remain in the flesh, because God promises to spank them. It is important to realize that in evaluating sinfulness, Paul is not taking a snapshot look at someone’s life, but evaluating their life as a filmstrip over time–true Christians will not live in continual, defiant sin. If they remain there, then their salvation is questionable over the long haul–they’ve lost their assurance.
Don’t buy the false decoy of the so-called carnal Christian. Though Christians can live in the flesh, they won’t stay there–there is no carnal Christian category. It doesn’t exist. There is another decoy view of assurance. Turn to Revelation 3:16.
Second The error of the lukewarm Christian
In Revelation 3:16 God says to the Laodicea church, “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Some have incorrectly taught that there are hot Christians, cold non-Christians and a third category of Christians who don’t walk obediently, some of whom live in continual sin called lukewarm Christians.
But friends, listen to what else Jesus says to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:17 to 19, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.”
Jesus spits lukewarm churchgoers out of his mouth, like vomit. The Lord would never say that to His own children, since it’s a description of disgust. We just read the lukewarm are called poor, blind and naked, but God never calls a Christian poor, blind or naked in the New Testament. John goes on to say these lukewarm need white garments, which is representative of the righteousness of Christ–they need salvation. Plus Jesus warns them to repent if they’re not disciplined, since Christ will always spank His own children, which they are not. The point is simple–the lukewarm are not Christians. The lukewarm are not those who are saved living like the unsaved–the lukewarm are the unsaved who are claiming to be saved.
Again there is no category of Christian who lives in continual sin. Not once does the Scripture give assurance to anyone in defiant sin. It doesn’t matter whether they prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, served in the church, or claim to be saved by faith through grace–true assurance is only enjoyed by the obedient believer. They don’t earn assurance–true salvation changes the heart so that real Christians want to obey, so assurance itself comes to all those who are genuinely saved, since they want to follow Christ. True Christians never follow Christ perfectly, but progressively. Those who battle with sin have more assurance than those who don’t. Assurance comes not from a decision, but from a direction of life. Have you forgotten how many times the New Testament describes the existence of those who are phony in our midst–those who believe the decoy?
#4 Embrace the reality of decoy assurance
The Bible affirms there are many phony Christians among us. Jesus says in Matthew 13, in the Church we will have wheat (the real believers) and Tares (those who look like true believers), so much so that you can’t tell them apart from the wheat, but they are phony.
Also in Matthew 13, when the Word of God is sown in the soil of the human heart, Jesus says there will be different responses, some which are phony and others which are real. Some will apparently respond to the Gospel, look real, but will later choke out because of the cares of the world and money. Others spring up, look real, but later burn out because of difficulties, showing they were never saved in the first place. Finally there will be some who respond to the Gospel, by demonstrating the true fruit of the Spirit and the deeds of Christ through their lives, showing they are true believers.
Did you forget about Judas? He fooled all the disciples he lived with for three years, even up to the very end. Judas appeared so solid they trusted Him with the money box. And don’t forget about Demas who ministered alongside of the Apostle Paul but wasn’t genuine. His decline, exposing his true heart, is recorded in Scripture–when Demas is first mentioned he is described as a fellow worker in the company of some pretty significant men Philemon 1:24, “as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.”
Then he is merely mentioned by name in Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.” Finally at the end of Paul’s life, read what he says about Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10, “For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Demas finally showed his true colors–as someone who was not saved, even as he served alongside Paul.
Then there was Diotrephes, who was a leader in the Church, but was not saved–and horribly, he is called deceptive and evil. Third John 1:9 to 11 says, “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church. 11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” Diotrephes knew the apostle John personally, yet has not seen God.
There are far too many examples in the Bible of decoy Christians who look like the real thing, but are not actually saved. I have met people who thought by attending a conference or playing golf with a famous pastor that they were saved. The decoy of false assurance is deadly, because if you rely upon praying a prayer, walking an aisle, making a decision, being on fire once, going to a good church, attending a conference or reading books, you could actually wake up one day in hell with the Lord saying, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Now how should we respond?
First Evaluate your own life against true assurance
I can hear some of you now, “That’s it–we are out of here. This guy is definitely unloving.” You’re gonna say to me, “You know, Chris–some people are going to be upset by what you are teaching–they may struggle, and some may even question their salvation. And that is not very loving to cause them such pain.” My heart is so soft that would kill me. But let me ask you–you tell me, what is more loving, to give you a false peace now, resulting in your eternal torment forever in hell? Or cause you to struggle a little now so you will enjoy heavenly bliss forever?
I’d rather teach difficult truth now and have you enjoy eternal bliss than teach easy, feel-good error now and have you suffer eternal torment. Don’t believe this decoy, friends. It is right, it is proper, and it is biblical for you to honestly question whether you are truly God’s child, since the apostle Paul commanded us to in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves [imperative–I command you] to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?” Better to test yourself to see if Christ is really in you now than to wake up one day in hell without Christ for all eternity. Is Christ seen through your children, your family, your friends and your flock?
Test yourself and be certain. Look at 2 Peter 1–after listing all these great qualities of godliness, Peter says this in verses 8 to 10, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent [continual command] to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”
God commands, be diligent to make certain you are called and chosen of God by seeing increasing growth in Christlikeness. Peter says this not to torment you, but to keep all of us dependent and walking intimately with Christ. Don’t be fooled by the decoy of false assurance. If you don’t live like a Christian, then you have no assurance. “You mean I have to live perfect?” No, but you will want to obey the Word of God enough to live dependent. Turn to Christ today.
Second–Do not grind in heart with too much self-evaluation
Let me help a few of you who have hyper-sensitive hearts–I call this type of Christian a grinder, those who traumatize themselves over the issue of assurance. You are the ones who see pride and selfishness in your life, or some besetting sin, and beat yourself up over it. You may have discovered your sinful bent, those sins that will be your lifetime battle to keep you dependent and desiring heaven and you beat yourselves up spiritually. If you lived during the dark ages you’d be whipping yourself or hitting yourself with a board. To you, let me encourage you in three ways.
1 You’ll never be perfect–only Christ is. You are not saved by your own righteousness but the righteousness of Christ. You do not live by your perfection but by the perfection of Christ. Godliness is not living by your righteousness–it is living dependently upon the righteousness of Christ every single day. You will not be perfect until heaven. Self-examination is good (and necessary) but too much of it is merely a focus on self.
2 Check your heart desire. Does your heart want to obey even when your life doesn’t? Do you want to please Christ in everything? Are you willing to do anything for Christ? Non-Christians rarely agonize over sin, but Christians do–the very fact of your struggle and battle with sin is an indicator of your salvation. Romans 7 is descriptive of a believer and there isn’t a true Christian here that does not know failure with sin, yet even in the midst there is a desire to please Christ.
3 Look for fruit. Is Christ seen through you? Are you serving, loving, reaching out, caring for others like Christ? Ask those you live with and minister to–they will speak the truth. Are you headed toward Christ and is there some fruit of the Spirit–then get your eyes off yourself, serve Christ with all your heart and long for heaven and you will experience His assurance. “But Chris, exactly what does that assurance look like, really?” For the answer to that you will have to come back.