By Mike Willis
The June 25th issue of the Midtown Church of Christ Bulletin (1701 Oakhurst-Scenic Dr., Fort Worth, Texas) related the results of a survey which was taken in one of their ladies’ classes. Here is a quotation from that article:
There were about 40 ladies present in the class room. The subject for the day was “Blessed Assurance.” The class began with a survey. The single question on the survey was, “If you died today, do you think you would go to Heaven?” The results were surprising, baffling and disappointing.
About 60% of the ladies answered that they did not think they would go to Heaven should they die that day! About 20% said they would! And the remaining 20% said they could not be sure.
I am afraid that whether we like to admit it or not, this survey reflects the thinking of a goodly portion of us. We are hesitant to affirm with confidence that we are saved. Sometimes, we even portray to others a definite uncertainty about whether or not we are saved. Hence, we lack the “blessed assurance” of knowing that should Jesus come today or should we die this night that we would definitely be saved.
Some have latched on to this certain problem among us and have given a false confidence based on the false doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s life. According to this theory, the Lord clothes the believer in the robes of the perfect obedience of Christ so that rather than the child of God being viewed as one who is constantly going in and out of a right relationship with God because of the sins which he commits, the Lord sees only the perfect obedience of Christ. The perfect obedience of Christ, according to this theory, is imputed to the believer to cover his sins of ignorance and the weaknesses of the flesh. This is, indeed, a comforting idea but it is not a biblical one. There are no passages which teach that the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to anybody!
Yet, we must testify that those who have written about the perfect obedience of Christ being imputed to the believer have zeroed in on a definite problem among us-the uncertainty of salvation which many among us feel. The Bible does have somewhat to say on the fact that we can be saved and we can know that we are saved. Christians ought not to breathe doubt regarding their spiritual relationship to God. If any person has confidence that he is saved, it should be the Christian. So, let us consider how a man can know that he is saved and have the blessed assurance of salvation when he dies.
Assurance Rests On God’s Promises
Man’s assurance of salvation rests upon God’s promises. God has promised to extend His grace to save the man who responds to the gospel of Jesus Christ and meets the conditions laid down in that gospel. For example, God has promised to save the believer in Christ; Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). The believer in Christ can know that he is saved because of the reliability of the promises of God. God, by His very nature, is a God who cannot lie (Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18).
Man is robbed of any genuine assurance of salvation whenever he is told that he can know that he is saved on any other basis than a reliance upon the promises of God. For example, the man who believes that he is saved as a result of some kind of experience has no genuine assurance of salvation. Regarding this, Campbell wrote,
Ask such what they know concerning the pardon of their sins, and they generally refer to that idea, feeling, or impression, as proof that they were pardoned. From this, in retrospection, often spring all their confidence and their present joys. Their knowledge of remission is their recollection of such an idea, feeling, or impression. According to its vividness, or faintness, are their present comforts and hopes. If, at any time, their recollections should fail, or the original idea or impression become less vivid, doubts and fears arise; clouds overspread their heaven, gloomy feelings, and religious chills and fevers, disturb their tranquility. But, if the impression, that at a certain time they were truly converted, increase by new experiences, called by them the witness of the Spirit, the first idea, feeling, or impression, augmented by more recent ideas, feelings, and impressions of a similar character, produces a glow intense and a joy unutterable. Still, however, the fons et principium, the fountain and origin of all their hopes and joys, is an impression that they were at a certain time pardoned; and mark what follows, that they were at that time pardoned is an inference drawn from what passed in their minds. Their feelings were the premises, and their pardon is the conclusion (The Millennial Harbinger. Vol. I, p. 498).
This man’s assurance of salvation is only with him so long as his experiences are renewed and remembered. Should he ever forget his experiences, his assurance of salvation would be gone. Assurance does not rest upon human experiences but upon the promises of God.
Others among us rest their assurance of salvation and assure others of salvation on the basis of some hypothetical case imagined by someone. For example, we are told that we can be sure that we are saved because if a man were driving down the road 60 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone and had a wreck and was killed that he would be saved. Who knows what his condition would be? Hypothetical cases such as these prove nothing. Similar hypothetical cases offer just as much comfort and solace for the unbaptized and unbelievers as this one does for the believer. What is presented as a means of giving a man assurance robs one of the real confidence that one can have of his salvation. It persuades a man that he can be saved while yet in his sins, contrary to everything that God has promised us. Hence, the man who is yet in his sins is told, by such a case as this, not to worry about his salvation because God will overlook his weaknesses of the flesh. Brethren, if you think that this doctrine does not encourage a man to continue in his sins, consider the effect it has produced on those who are preaching it. How long has it been since you read a word from Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside, Edward Fudge, Arnold Hardin, R. L. Kilpatrick, etc. which was directed to encourage those involved in the sins of worship with instrumental music, church supported recreation, sponsoring church arrangements, premillennialism, etc. to leave their sins in order to be saved? You have not read it because they have not written it. The effect of resting salvation upon hypothetical cases is that it keeps a man from relying upon the promises of God to find out what he must do to be saved.
A Bible Example of Uncertainty and Assurance
The parable of the talents displays an example of the men with blessed assurance of acceptability before God and one with uncertainty regarding his acceptability before God. Let us consider this as a means of determining how we can have the assurance that we are pleasing to God at any moment in time.
The five-talent and two-talent men are our examples of men who had an assurance that they were pleasing to God. The Lord had given to His servants several talents based on the individual ability of each with the instructions to use the talents to increase what God had given to him. When the Lord returned, each of these men came before the Lord with confidence and said, “Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents (and two talents, respectively-mw): behold, I have gained beside them five talents more” (Mt. 25:20). Of course, the Lord pronounced the blessing over these two faithful servants.
The one-talent man is our example of a man uncertain about his condition before his Lord. When he came before the Lord, he said, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou has not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” (Mt. 25:25). Notice this man’s mental anguish: “I was afraid.” Here is the man who is unsure about his spiritual relationship to God. In Luke’s parallel account, the Lord said, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee.” This indicates that the Lord was not the kind of God which the servant said that He was, but that He was going to use his concept of Him to judge him. If God was the kind of God as he imagined, the servant should have been all that much more concerned with working to please Him. Hence, this man was rejected by God because he had not done what God said.
The conclusion of this is apparent.. A man can have the blessed assurance that he is in a saved relationship with God only so long as that man is busy obeying the commandments of God. Our response to the Lord’s commandments is the condition (not grgunds) for our receiving God’s grace. Only so long as I have met the conditions can I rest assured that I shall receive God’s grace-namely salvation. My assurance of salvation exists because God has promised salvation to those who meet His conditions and He cannot lie. Therefore, having met the conditions, I know I am saved.
There is no ambiguity in what conditions man must meet to receive God’s grace. Sin from which man must abstain, is clearly spelled out for us and revealed in the Bible. The commandments which man must obey in order to receive God’s grace are clearly revealed in God’s word. Why, therefore, should a man be uncertain about his salvation? Is he uncertain because God has not clearly told us what to do to be saved? Is man unsure of salvation because he does not know what sin is? Is man uncertain about salvation because he is worried about God not showing us grace? The answer to none of these questions can be affirmative.
Man is uncertain about salvation because he is not busy obeying the commandments of God. This was the man uncertain about his salvation in the parable of the talents. The man who is studying God’s word, praying regularly, worshiping properly, manifesting the fruits of the Spirit in his life, etc. is not worried about whether or not he will be saved. Those who I have found to be worried about their salvation are those who do not pray, do not study their Bibles, are not concerned about the lost of the world, and otherwise manifest a lack of spirituality. Those who are working to give such people the assurance of salvation are not doing them any favors. These people need to become convicted of their sins so that they will repent and be obedient to the Lord. Then, as they respond to His commandments, they can have the assurance of salvation.
Truth Magazine XXII: 44, pp. 707-709
November 9, 1978