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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:1-11
SUBJECT: Assurance #6: Hindrances
With God's blessing, we will continue our afternoon study of Assurance or how you can know that you belong to Christ now and will go to Heaven when you die. I don't need to stress the importance of knowing this, do I? If you have struggled with Assurance, you know it's one of the most confusing, painful and discouraging experiences of your life.
If you haven't struggled with it--thank God, first of all!--but then talk to people who have--or read the Puritans--and you'll know what a favor it is to know you are--
Safe in the arms of Jesus.
Up to now, we've spent most of our time on the Doctrine of Assurance, the Biblical reasons we can and ought to know we're saved. But now, we'll take a more practical look into the matter, exploring some of the things that hinder believers from gaining full assurance--and what to do about them.
I wrote out a long list of the Hindrances. Here's some of them, starting with the most common and important of them all.
IGNORANCE OF THE GOSPEL
A great many Christians fail to know the love of God for them because they're ignorant of the Gospel. This sounds wrong-headed, doesn't it? A Christian is--by definition--a believer of the Gospel, and believing the Gospel must mean you know at least something about it.
This is true: Every Christian does know something about the Gospel. But no Christian knows everything about it, and these gaps in their knowledge often lead to a serious and sometimes permanent lack of Assurance.
So, using today's text, I Corinthians 15:1-11 let's get the Gospel straight and see how it affects Assurance.
More than five hundred people are included in the passage, including the well known names of Peter, Paul, and James. What do these three men have in common? They are witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ, and so are more than five hundred [other] brethren. As important as these people are to the Gospel's proclamation, however, not one of them enacted the Gospel. That was done by One Man only--our Lord Jesus Christ, who--
Died for our sins...was buried...rose from the dead on the third day...and appeared to hundreds of eyewitnesses.
The person who is not named in the passage is...you. The Gospel, in other words, is not about what you did: it's about what Christ did--and, I might add--what He did for you.
This is where people go so wrong. They concentrate on themselves, how little they do for God or how much they sin and so on, and they don't--
Look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
We mustn't be too hard on these dear brethren because this is what hurting and scared people do: they obsess on their pain or fear. They think more about the danger they're in than they do how to get out of it. Or, they think more about their leg cramp than they do about stretching out the muscle to get rid of it. We're all this way.
But the fact is, as long as the drowning man is fixated on drowning, he will never look for the life preserver!
This is what Christ is to people drowning in their sin and guilt and fear: He's the Savior! What Isaiah 45:22 says about salvation goes for Assurance as well--
Look unto Me and [be assured] all the ends of the earth, for I am the Lord and there is no other.
To have Assurance, therefore, you must focus on Christ--not Christ as Judge, but Christ as Savior. But someone asks, 'If He is both Judge and Savior, how can I concentrate on one, but not the other?' That's an easy one: God has committed all judgment to Christ, but this is not what He's doing now. Now, He is saving, and--I might add--assuring His people of their salvation.
You will never, ever have Assurance as long as you're looking within--Do I believe enough? Am I obedient enough? Do I bear enough fruit of the Spirit? and so on. There is no Assurance in yourself, but only in Christ.
In short: The Gospel is about Christ, and what He has done to win your salvation, and not about you and what you've done to win God's favor. This is the first and most important mistake people fall into...time and time again. Believe me. I know.
A second reason believers fail to keep their Assurance is because of unrealistic expectations. They expect to be holier, more obedient, more moving, more zealous, more humble than they are, and because they're none of the above, they assume they must be lost.
Is there any reason to expect a change in life? Sure their is! In his First Epistle, John gives more than twenty changes that will occur in your life when you are converted. Paul tops him by saying--
If any one is in Christ Jesus...all things have become new.
In light of these and other passages, we look at our lives and find a great many things are not so new. We're not as obedient as God wants us to be, not as prayerful, not as brave, etc. From this failure to meet our expectations, we assume we must be fake Christians.
How do we answer this? First of all, we grant the premise: If there is no change in your life, you are still dead in your sins. But how much change is required? I John 3:6 says--
Whoever abides in Him does not sin: he who does sin has not seen Him or known Him.
Well, there you go. People who know God don't sin, but you do sin, therefore, you don't know God. The problem with this view is, that the very man who wrote this verse wrote other verses too, and to the same people. Here's some of them, 1:8-10--
If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
My purpose here is not to reconcile verses that seem to contradict each other, but to simply present them in their tension.
One thing is sure: Whatever does not sin means, it is consistent with confessing sins regularly and needing daily cleansing through the blood of Christ.
At this point, someone is sure to say, 'But my sins are bad, really bad, you have no idea how bad they are'. Well, I probably do know how bad they are, but I also know this: Every sin is far more wicked than we think it is. Every sin deserves Eternal Condemnation--not just your sins.
How changed does your life have to be? The best way to look at it is this way:
Are you what you ought to be?
Are you what you want to be?
What you what you used to be?
If you can honestly answer 'no' to the questions, you can--and ought to have--the Assurance of your salvation.
AN UNCLEAR IDEA ON WHAT WOULD SATISIFY YOU
A third hindrance is similar to this one, but is worth touching on briefly: An unclear idea on what would satisfy you.
Many years ago, I talked to a woman who struggled mightily with Assurance. I tried to help her, to show her than a changed life is never as changed as it ought to be, and so on, but to no effect. After hours of this one day, I simply asked her, 'What would satisfy you?' How holy or obedience or loving would you have to be in order to be sure of your salvation?
She was completely at a loss for words. Though she didn't believe she could be sinlessly perfect, something very much like it is what she was looking for, what she wad demanding of me--and of God.
And so, before concluding you're not holy enough, ask yourself, 'How much holiness would it take to give me Assurance?' and then check your answer against the Word of God.
CONCENTRATING ON THE WRONG PARTS OF THE BIBLE
A fourth hindrance is focussing on the wrong parts of the Bible. People who lack Assurance are often keen readers of the Bible, rightly looking for Assurance in the Word of God. The problem is they almost always look at the wrong parts of it.
They concentrate on the Law or Ecclesiastes, or James, instead of on the Gospels or Psalm 51. Every part of the Bible is equally the Word of God and good for us, but not every part is equally good for everyone at the same time.
If you're a despairing kind of person, don't make Ecclesiastes your special study! If you're going through a period of doubt, don't focus your attention on the Law!
If you're sleepy go to bed--not the kitchen! If you're hungry go to the kitchen--not the bedroom. If you're doubting your salvation, go to the Gospels to see how compassionate and gentle and patient and loving your Savior is.
I'm all for reading the Bible through in a year. I've done it many times. But don't lock yourself into a system: go to the parts you most need on any given day.
EQUATING A LACK OF ASSURANCE WITH HUMILITY
A fifth hindrance is equating a lack of Assurance with humility. Back at the start of this study, I read from the Council of Trent, which called Assurance--
A vain presumption.
Though most Roman Catholics do not feel this way today, this remains official Church teaching. The Council thought Assurance was dangerous because it fed human pride and made us indifferent to prayer, obedience, and so on.
Many Christians feel exactly the same way. They're so afraid of 'presuming on God' that they never find Assurance, and if they ever do, they feel guilty about it and 'repent'!
Is it possible to presume upon God? Of course it is. But seeking, finding, keeping, and celebrating Assurance is not presumptuous!
If it were, both Paul and John would be guilty of promoting it in the Church. Paul wants us to know--not think--that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. And John wrote his First Epistle so that we--
Have eternal life
If Assurance and Presumption are the same thing, therefore, John and Paul are heretics, not Apostles. But they're not heretics. They want us to be Assured of our Salvation, and know that Assurance is perfectly consistent with humility and dependence on God alone.
A sixth hindrance may be more true of other Christians than us, but it's worth a brief mention: Misreading Providence.
Many Christians believe that if you belong to God, only (or mostly) good things will happen to you in life. Joel Osteen is the Apostle of this kind of teaching, but more serious teachers can slip into it as well, without meaning to.
But this is a badly flawed reading of life and the Bible. The Bible says--
Many are the afflictions of the righteous...It has been appointed for us to suffer for His name's sake...It is through much tribulation that we enter into the Kingdom...Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.
Bad things happen to God's People, but the bad things do not--
Separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Finally, we lack Assurance because we misunderstand God. Like the man in the parable, we think He is a hard master who takes pleasure in catching and punishing and damning people who fail Him.
God does catch, punish, and damn people, that's true, but He takes no pleasure in this things, and prefers mercy to judgment.
He is a Good God--not just 'without sin', but generous, loving, compassionate, patient. If He weren't, we'd be doomed. But He is, and if the Psalmist knew it before the coming of Christ, how much more sure of it should we be?
If you, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who would stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
that you may be feared.
If you have a reason to doubt your salvation, by all means doubt it, repent of your sins, and trust Christ today.
But if the reason for your doubt is more in your head than it is in the Word of God, trust the Word and distrust your head. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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