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TEXT: II Corinthians 2:11
SUBJECT: Precious Remedies #17
With the Lord's blessing, let's continue our study of Thomas Brooks' great book, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. It was written more than three hundred years ago, yet it remains as relevant as ever.
The present section is on how Satan prevents the believer from feeling assured in Christ. Or how the devil gets him to turn inward and wonder if he's saved or not.
He has many ways of doing this, of course, but tonight we'll look at this one. In the words of Thomas Brooks,
"Satan keeps the soul in a sad, doubting condition by recalling its often relapses into the same sin...which formerly it has prayed and resolved against".
The experience he describes is common. You commit a sin of which you're deeply convicted. You admit it candidly to the Lord, plead for mercy, and promise to never do it again. But before long, you fall into the very same sin. This happens, not once or twice, but over and over again. Satan comes along and says, "See, I told you you weren't saved. If you were, you wouldn't keep doing this".
What do we make of this? Is Satan right? Is backsliding into the same sin proof that you're not saved? Thomas Brooks says it isn't. But before he develops his theme, he offers qualifications.
Firstly, he distinguishes between "enormities and infirmities". Worry is a sin; murder is a sin. But the two are not "equally heinous". The man who says, "I think I'm saved, though I worry now and then" probably is. The one who says, "I think I'm saved though I only kill two people a week" surely isn't. Though God may permit His people to fall into "enormities", he doesn't allow them to live in gross sin. Speaking of such things, Paul writes,
"Such were some of you, But now you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God".
Secondly, he admits these lesser sins are very bad and hurtful. To quote him at some length,
"I confess this is a very sad condition for a soul. How relapses laymen open to afflictions! How they darken and cloud former assurances! How they cut and slash the soul! They give Satan an advantage; they make the work of repentance more difficult; they make a man's life a burden; they render death very terrible to the soul".
In other words, relapses into sin are serious, but they are not fatal. We mustn't allow the devil to make us think they are. "These things I write to you that you do not sin--says John--and if any man sins, he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous".
Having said this, let's go on to the "remedies" to this "device" of Satan. I've reworded them a bit, but this is what Thomas Brooks has to say.
In the first place, "By precept, the Bible teaches that true believers in Christ may relapse into sin". You may truly belong to Christ, and still fall into the sins of worry or sloth or gossip time and time again. This is not right, but it is true.
Two passages are quite illuminating, Psalm 37:23-24 and Proverbs 24:16.
"The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand".
Note: The man is a good man; God takes pleasure in his life, yet he is capable of falling...frequently.
"For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity".
Note: "Seven times" this good man may stumble into a sin. Or maybe "Seventy times seven". Yet he "rises again". Thus, it's not the "falling" that ruins the soul; nor the repeated "falling" either. It is the "not getting up" that proves one is unsaved.
The Bible could not be clearer on this topic. The man who hardly ever sins isn't a super-saint; he's a fool and a liar! "If any man says he has no sin, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him".
That is an important "remedy". The second is like it,
"By example, the Bible teaches that true believers may relapse into sin.
Let's start with the Old Testament.
Abraham is a man of faith--and more than that: He is "The Father of those who believe". He was guilty of one notorious sin--denying his wife. Which he committed one time...and never again! Right? Wrong! He did this dastardly deed twice! And had he needed to, he would have done it more than that! Speaking to Abimelech...
"I said to [my wife], `This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, He is my brother'" (Genesis 20:13).
Samson is another man of God, yet he had a weakness for Philistine girls. Three times he was guilty of this sin, yet he lived--and died--in faith.
As for the New Testament, it teaches the same thing. If you read carefully, you'll find the Apostles guilty of the following sins--several times each: Pride, unbelief, anger, and cowardice.
These examples are given for our good. Not that we should follow them, of course, but that we shouldn't allow our backslidings to make us despair.
If the Bible is true, then relapses into sin are compatible with eternal life.
A third "remedy" is to remember,
"God nowhere promises total victory over any sin in this life".
Salvation is a three-fold work of God. Every believer is saved from the penalty of sin. This occurs at the beginning of his Christian life. When he believes in Christ, he is "justified" or declared righteous with God, his sins are forgiven, and his punishment revoked.
That's the beginning, but not the end. In this life, he is being "sanctified" or made holy. This is not a one-time act! It is a process--a slow process with many setbacks. Like physical growth, "growing in grace" is often so slow that we don't notice it till after the fact. This is all God promises for this life, "growth", not perfection.
Sanctification is followed by "glorification" when we are freed from the presence of sin in the other world.
Satan will mix up these things. He'll say, "You're not perfect, therefore you're not forgiven". Or, "You're not growing by leaps and bounds, and so you can't be truly saved". Never has "the father of lies" spoken more deceitfully.
God does not promise perfection in this life. And that means we will "relapse" into the same sins.
Thomas Brooks is very outspoken on this point:
"I cannot find in the whole book of God where He has promised any such power against this or that particular sin, as the soul should ever be, in this life, put out of a possibility of falling into it again and again. Where God has not a mouth to speak, I must not have a heart to believe. God will graciously pardon those sins to His people that He will not in this life effectually subdue in His people".
In this life, forgiveness in Christ is complete. Renewal in Christ is partial. Martin Luther's greatest discovery was the believer is
"Iustus et Peccator simul".
--Just and sinful, at the same time. Formalists and fanatics called this a "word game". But every believer knows he was right! Foul in ourselves, we are holy in Christ.
The last "remedy" is to recall
"Relapses prove our weakness, not our reprobation".
Our backsliding, in other words, means we're weak, not that we're unsaved. What are the traits of a believer's sin? How do they differ from the hypocrite's? In two ways:
They generally occur after resistance. We try to overcome our sins, but succumb under their power. This is very different from the man who sins willfully and without hesitation.
They humble us. If he's not caught, the hypocrite is rather proud of himself. But the believer? He is pained by his sin, confesses it, and asks God for grace to defeat it.
If this describes you, you're no hypocrite, but a Christian, weak in yourself, but with a Savior "mighty to save".
To summarize: Satan would have you believe: If you keep committing sins, you're not saved. But God says otherwise. His people, though forgiven, are not perfectly sanctified in this life. He wants growth in grace, which is proven by confessing known sin and praying for grace to "overcome in temptation's hour".
If this describes you, I hope God will give you the assurance of your salvation. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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