By Herschel E. Patton
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desire of him” (1 Jn. 5:13-15).
According to this text, John wrote to induce, or beget, faith and to give assurance or confidence to the believer. Webster defines confidence as “state of feeling sure assurance.” In I John, the apostle lists a number of things that, if observed, enables one to know – have assurance – confidence of his standing with God. Without this assurance or confidence, doubts exist and faith falters. It is of the utmost importance that the Christian know, have confidence, of his standing with God. The Hebrew writer tells us that with “boldness” we can “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” because of His sacrifice and priesthood, and “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22).
God’s grace in the sacrifice of Christ has made it possible for believers to have confidence and act with boldness but this is conditioned upon the “will” of man. Thus, the New Testament contains the exhortation, “Let us draw near” (man is not drawn contrary to his own will) and the warning, “cast not away therefore your confidence” (Heb. 10:35).
There has been, and is, much human speculation and wishful thinking in the religious world concerning this question. Let us observe some erroneous concepts before looking at the question from a positive standpoint.
Some say confidence comes and is maintained by trusting God’s grace, that God is love, merciful, and holy and will “keep” those who are His, allowing nothing to separate one from his love (Rom. 8:35-39; 1 Pet. 1:5). They conclude there is no need for one to doubt his standing with God because of human weaknesses and transgressions. God’s grace, we are told, will cover all these so long as one does not abandon God in mind, intent, and purpose. Of course, this theory ignores the conditions and warnings stated by God and the personal responsibility one has to “keep himself.” The same position. is taken regarding salvation from sins, that it is by the miraculous grace of God apart from any response on man’s part.
Others base their confidence on what they call “the imputed righteousness of Christ.” It is claimed that being considered righteous in the eyes of God is not based upon anything that man does or fails to do, but rather upon the righteousness of Christ being imputed to the believer. The only thing, therefore, that would make one unrighteous in God’s sight would be to abandon faith. The error in this Calvinistic concept is in considering the word “impute” (Rom. 4:8-12) to mean “to attribute or ascribe vicariously.” The word may have this meaning, but it also means “to set to the account of; to ascribe; to charge to credit; to reckon, consider, regard.” The sense of the word is determined by the context and it’s harmony with other revealed truth. The Scriptures clearly teach that Christ’s shed blood. was vicarious (shedding our own blood would not suffice), but they do not teach that Christ’s righteousness – His perfect life – is credited to us vicariously. It is true that righteousness is imputed-credited-to us as a gift on the condition or basis of an obedient faith – the very condition on which righteousness was imputed to Abraham (Rom. 4:3-12, 20-25; 5:1; Jas. 2:1924). The Calvinistic concept ignores this obedient faith (doing just what God requires), contending Christ’s righteousness is vicariously imputed to the believer without regard to his weaknesses, failures, or disobedience.
The advocates of the Grace-Unity Movement teach a more limited view of this Calvinistic concept. They make a distinction between gospel and doctrine, associating gospel with essentials to becoming a child of God and doctrine with nourishment of the already born (saved) person. Failing to obey the gospel (become a child) results in damnation, but failures in nourishment due to human weakness and ignorance will not damn. The believer, because he is a child, we are told, is free from condemnation for such sins by God’s grace, enjoying continual cleansing because of his relationship and intent. This belief demands fellowship with all who have obeyed the gospel and are sincerely striving to serve God, including those in the Christian Church, Premillennialists, Institutionalists, etc. According to this concept, one may be confident of his salvation (standing with God), if he has truly obeyed the gospel and is sincerely endeavoring to please God.
The Scriptures do not make a distinction between gospel and doctrine and clearly teach that sins of the flesh and mind will damn. The theory gives a feeling of security (false) and confidence to people who transgress the law of God.
Some brethren today teach an even more limited form of God’s grace by saying that it cleanses Christians even while they sin. They deny and oppose the distinction between gospel and doctrine made by the Grace-Unity leaders, but contend that there is constant cleansing for sins of weakness and ignorance for the believer whose intent is to do God’s will and who humbly and penitently strives to so do. The logical end of this teaching would give confidence to the sincere Christian Church brother who worships with an instrument and the brother, who under great temptation, curses or commits adultery and dies before repenting.
Every one of these theories are designed to give confidence to brethren concerning their standing with God even though, and while, they sin. Those of us who contend that all sins must be confessed and repented of are accused of preaching a “no confidence” doctrine.
The Christian’s Ground For Confidence – Grace and Blood
One can have no confidence of acceptance with God apart from the grace of God, manifested in the shed blood of Christ (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:21-25; 5:6-9; Heb. 9:11-12,22; 1 Jn. 1:7). These verses simply tell us the provision made for our salvation and hope by God’s grace. Yet, no one has received the benefits of the provision simply because it was made. Yet, no one has received the benefits of the provision simply because it was made. No confidence can be had until one believes the facts of the gospel and humbly submits to its commands (Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; 1 Jn. 2:3).
Calvinistic philosophy rebels at the idea of men having the responsibility of obeying. To those of this ‘ persuasion, the necessity of complete obedience makes one’s salvation by works rather than by grace and faith. The word “only” has been attached to grace and faith by man. The Scriptures no where so teach. Scriptures such as Romans 4:1-5 and Titus 3:4-7, which teach our confidence comes not by works of the Law of Moses or of our own doing or devices, but by God’s grace and obedient faith, are perverted, misapplied, and made to contradict such passages as James 2:1425, 1 John 2:3, and Hebrews 5:8-9.
Emotional appeals are often made in asking, “What about the heathen who has never had an opportunity to hear and obey?” “What about the man on his way to be baptized and is killed before getting to the water?” The conclusion is drawn that demanding complete obedience negates the grace of God. Any confidence one has because of such reasoning rests, not upon the revealed word of God, but on the sand of human reasoning and emotions. The preacher of the word is not to put himself in the place of God at the judgment, but faithfully declares what God has done and demands in order to have confidence. Any confidence given on any other basis is of man and is an empty cistern.
Confidence because of the grace of God and the shed blood of Christ is conditioned upon man’s response and obedience. In the next lesson we will look at the conditions which man must meet before he can have confidence.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 2, pp. 33, 52
January 19, 1984