OSAS and Biblical Assurance

I’ve just recently written an article regarding my reasons for not using the sinner’s prayer in salvation. You can read it here: http://sbcopenforum.com/2012/08/17/5-reasons-i-dont-use-the-sinners-prayer/#comment-82

Since I’ve just critiqued the way many might give people assurance of salvation, I’d like to offer a Scriptural way to offer a person assurance of salvation. I’ve said what I think is wrong. Now, I should tell what you what I think is right.

The phrase “Once Saved, Always Saved” is a phrase that is based on the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, which most Baptists believe, whether they agree with the rest of TULIP or not. However, when coupled with a weaker version of the gospel, the phrase itself has come to mean something that was certainly never intended by perseverance. Instead, it has become a slogan of the easy believism of the last 50 years or so in American evangelicalism. The phrase itself is not anything sinful or wrong. In fact, it is true that a person who has truly been born again and changed by the power of God will never lose their salvation. The problem with OSAS is the way in which it has been employed in a setting where the Gospel is presented. It has often been used in the invitations of evangelists and preachers who want to make “coming to Jesus” as simple and painless as possible. It’s similar to a “money-back guarantee” or a “get rich quick scheme” and strongly appeals to people who have become accustomed to an “instant” society that likes fast food, fast cars, and instant gratification. It has come to mean that if you ever prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart and you meant it, then you’re guaranteed heaven. Therefore, it bases “assurance” on a one-time prayer or one-time event that happened years ago but may not have any effect on your life today.

The problem is that this idea is not found in Scripture. Where does Scripture say assurance of salvation can be found? “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5

Assurance of salvation is not found in examining a past event in your life. Biblical assurance is found by examining your life TODAY. Now, this is not the quick fix that people may want. It may require some long periods of prayer. It may require a searching of the Scriptures. It may require some serious introspection. It’s not as simple as “Did you ever ask Jesus into your heart and did you mean it?” If you’ve ever read the book Grace Abounding, John Bunyan’s autobiography, you’ll read about a man who struggled greatly with his salvation- for years even. I often imagined as I was reading that book if some well-meaning pastor from today could have been transported back to the mid-1600s when he was struggling so and asked him if he ever asked Jesus into his heart, if perhaps that might have put the entire struggle to rest? I think he would have been insulted at the suggestion. This is a difficult struggle at times, but it is a worthy one. An unexamined faith is not a worthy faith at all, in my opinion. In light of this, there are ways to have assurance based on Scripture. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

1. Has there been a genuine change in my life? 1 John 1:7 speaks of “walking in the light” or “walking in the darkness.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a passage which speaks of becoming a new creation and that all things have become new. Is there evidence that this has begun to happen and is an ongoing part of my life? A related question might be, “Is there is a difference between the pattern of my life and those who are living for this world?” We’re not speaking of perfection here. We’re speaking of a change in affections- a change at the center of your being which affect you inwardly and outwardly.

2. What is my relationship with sin? Am I sensitive to sin? Am I ashamed of my sin? Do I deny that I still sin? Do I acknowledge my sin and am I brought to a point of repenting of that sin? I John 1:8-10 tells us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Yet, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Those who do not know God will continually justify themselves and will never admit they’ve sinned unless cornered. They will rename sin. They will hide sin. They will shift blame. They will excuse it in various ways. If a person continues in sin, justifying it and not owning it, they are calling God a liar and the truth is not in them. So, what is my attitude and approach to sin? Repentance is not a one-time event for a follower of Christ. It is ongoing.

3. What is my relationship with other believers? Am I consistently participating in living the life of a believer with other Christians? Am I participating with them in worship? Am I exercising the spiritual gifts given to me to edify the body of Christ? Do I actively love the brethren? Do I prefer to be with believers rather than those who hate my Lord? Do I share a bond of fellowship with believers wrought by the Holy Spirit? John addressed this in 1 John 2:9-11 when he said, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” A love for your Christian brothers is a good sign that God is working in you. A desire to avoid or not actively seek to know brothers in Christ would be evidence of not knowing the Lord. John also addressed this in the same chapter, in verse 19 by saying, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Those who have little or no desire to actively participate in the body of Christ are displaying evidence they don’t know God.

4. What is the overall fruit of my life? Jesus said that you will know they by their fruit in Matthew 7:16. In the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13, all the good soil produced a crop greater than what was sown. What is the evidence in my life that God is at work? The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in your life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are these becoming a greater and greater part of your character with each passing day? There should be an increasing of these characteristics in the life of every believer. Is there a desire to serve the Lord? Is there is a desire to share the Gospel? Is there a desire to see others come to Christ? What kind of fruit has my life produced? Is it the fruit of good soil? And James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17), so do I have works inspired by the Holy Spirit in my life?

5. Do I endure discipline? Hebrews 12 makes it clear that God always disciplines every child who is legitimate. Can I sin without remorse? Can I continue in sin without rebuke? Can I live a life of sin without consequences? OR do I immediately know when I sin because the Spirit makes me aware of it? Do I see God at work in my life, disciplining me for my own good and to conform me into the image of His Son? Is God busy separating me unto Himself?

6. Do I endure pruning? John 15 speaks of this. Even when I am walking in obedience, do I notice that God sends trials and tests my way? Do I see that God is working on certain flaws or failings in my character in various ways to prune me and make me even more fruitful? Do I see God sending trials and tests into my life to produce perseverance in me according to what James says in James 1:2-4? Do I see God at work helping me to mature in faith?

7. Does His Spirit bear witness with my spirit that I am a child of God? (I list this one last because it seems we can make ourselves believe just about anything- the human heart is deceitful, who can know it?) That Romans 8:16 passage and the surrounding context speak about the fact that the Holy Spirit can confirm within us that we are indeed children of God. He relates this to our desire to mortify sin within ourselves and also the spirit of adoption and sonship- the lack of fear in going to God. We are not slaves, but sons. Our fear is respect, reverence, and awe, not a fear of punishment. The Holy Spirit lives within every believer and He can and will confirm that we belong to God. So, does the Holy Spirit confirm my salvation?

This is far from an exhaustive list of ways to have biblical assurance. I would heartily recommend the entire letter of First John to anyone seeking to examine his/her life. I would like to reiterate a couple of thoughts here to make sure I am clear. I am not advocating that ANY sin in a person’s life means they’re not saved. Sin is going to be a part of us in the flesh, even though we learn to hate it more and more as life goes on. Scripture does not speak of perfection (unless it means maturity), but a growing in holiness and a growing desire to please Him day by day. There will certainly be peaks and valleys in our lives, but the overall life pattern is what is in view here. Perhaps you know of other ways to examine ourselves. If so, please share.

5 Reasons I Don’t Use the Sinner’s Prayer

1. It assumes that if a man speaks certain words that it will move the hand of God.

Salvation is a work of God, not a work of man. Salvation is entirely dependent upon the power of God, not the decision of a man. What mysticism has overtaken us that we believe that repeating certain words will cause God to move in the heart of a person? Faith comes by hearing, not by speaking. Remember Lydia in Acts 16? 14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Faith is a gift of God which is given to a person as he hears the message of the Gospel, not the result of a person repeating a prayer and being “declared” to be saved. Don’t declare people to be saved, by the way. Let God confirm it or deny it. The proof of salvation is seen in a changed life, not in a one-time prayer.

2. It is putting words in a person’s mouth that are not from that person’s own heart.

Ever heard of “forced conversion”? Is it possible? No, not when God looks at the heart. Muslims have tried to convert people at the point of a sword but the real point is usually to get a person to deny Christ. Well, does it work for Christianity? Can you, by placing the right words in a person’s mouth, truly CAUSE it to be the cry of that person’s heart? No. The reason preachers and evangelists began employing this method is because of the many wacky prayers people will often pray when they come crying to an altar. I’ve heard people prayer about problems, pray about sick relatives, cry out about hard times, ask for a job, and many other things. They can’t seem to get the prayer right so we give them the right words and then declare them saved. (sounds almost Pope-ish) The truth is- if it’s not in a person’s heart to repent and believe (something that is God-given), no magic prayer will do the trick. People come to altars to ease their consciences every day, but that is not salvation. They just want to be able to live with themselves but they have no desire to repent unless God has done a work in their heart. And if God has done a work, you can’t keep them away from the church, the Word of God, other believers, nor can you stop the fruit from being produced. Sincerity can be faked, but faith cannot.

3. No biblical teacher or preacher, including Jesus or any of the Apostles, ever instructed people to pray a prayer for salvation- the command of the Gospel is “repent and believe.”

Consider what Jesus said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Note, Jesus does not instruct people here to pray for salvation. He doesn’t say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, now who wants to ask me into their heart?” Consider Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. He has just preached to the crowd the message of the Gospel and then Luke writes this: 37 “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Where is the Apostolic call to pray a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart? People were saved on that day, but no prayer for salvation was employed. What did Paul tell the Philippian jailer? “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,” not “just pray and ask Jesus into your heart.” What about Paul’s preaching on Mars Hill? He has just preached the Gospel to them… 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34  But some men joined him and believed,”  No preacher in Scripture ever instructs men to pray a prayer to receive Jesus into their hearts. Believing the Gospel is a work of God which happens as the Gospel is preached.

4. The overwhelming fruit of this method is false converts.

I’m sure there are many people who would argue with this point, but I would simply appeal to you in this way. How many people have you seen or even heard pray a sinner’s prayer for salvation? There have likely been millions since became popular back in the 19th century, but how many prayed a prayer and walked away the next day, the next week or the next year? I heard a preacher speaking recently about this topic. He said that he was speaking to an indigenous missionary in Romania who said, “I wish all of the American evangelists would stop coming over here altogether.” When asked why, he said, “Because if we are to believe the reports they give, the entire population of Romania has been saved 4 times. But the trouble is, none of them ever darken the doors of a church.” And that is the overwhelming fruit of this method my friends. There have been people who have come to believe the Gospel and been gloriously saved who have also prayed a sinner’s prayer, but there is not ONE person who was ever saved BECAUSE they repeated a particular prayer. That is a fact.

5. It inoculates people against hearing the Gospel in the future.

This could be one of the most dangerous issues with the sinner’s prayer. It gives a false sense of security. It causes a person to hold on to an “event” in their lives that saved them. It’s usually accompanied by other nonsense like “write down this date in your Bible” or “drive a stake into your backyard” or some other superstitious tool to make a person keep placing their faith in the prayer they prayed years ago which has resulted in no change in their life. And usually when someone goes to a pastor who employs the sinner’s prayer in his methodology, that same pastor will likely only seek to confirm the answer to 2 questions: 1. Was there ever a time in your life when you prayed and asked Jesus to come into your heart? If so… 2. Were you sincere? And if the answer is yes, then they tell the person “You’re saved! You need to tell the Devil to leave you alone.” And it may well be that it’s their God-given conscience or even the Holy Spirit convicting the person of their need for salvation but the “sinner’s prayer” keeps them from realizing the true need.

I wish “the sinner’s prayer” would disappear entirely from Gospel presentations. Saving faith is formed in a person’s heart as they hear the message of the Gospel and is proven by its fruit, which is saving faith and repentance, followed by a transformed life.

If anyone has anything to add, I would welcome that. If you think I’m wrong and can provide Scriptural evidence of where we are instructed to have a person pray a prayer for salvation, I’d love to see it. Romans 10:13 is not an example of that, by the way. Paul never tells the Romans to pray and ask Jesus to come into their hearts. I would also love to see if anyone can find any historical Christian basis for this method. To my knowledge, it was never used nor taught in the Catholic church (not even prior to any corruption) and was not widely used until the mid-19th century by Charles Finney and other revivalists (who likely had a better grasp of the Gospel than many modern preachers). I welcome all discussion and comments.

Are you a member of the morality police?

Picture

It seems there is a common problem that many Christians have these days that is neither helpful nor fulfilling the call of the Gospel. It is this desire that we have to correct everyone’s morality. Unfortunately, this desire to correct the morality of those around us usually coincides with a blindness to our own failings and faults. Before you get too offended at what I’m saying, let me explain myself a bit.

First of all, we should not be shocked when sinners sin. We should be well aware of the fact that mankind is sinful by nature. Even as David said, “In sin did my mother conceive me…” (Psalm 51:5) So, why are we so shocked when a person who does not know God sins in our presence? When this happens, how do we react? Do we tell them we’re offended? The truth is, this person does not need my morality. They need to know my Lord. My correcting their morality will not help them. In fact, if I correct their morality without sharing with them the Gospel, it’s like giving a murderer a stick of gum for his bad breath. The solution isn’t moral, but spiritual. Consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5…

1 Corinthians 5:
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is 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. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

It’s clear from Paul’s words here that our concern for sin should be regarding sin in the local church, not sin in lives of those who don’t know God. My first concern for sin should be in my own life. We would be wise to note that Jesus said when we are attempting to remove the “speck in [our] brother’s eye” we should first “remove the beam in [our] own eye.” Then we can see clearly to remove the speck in our brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5) So, the first concern I should have for sin is the sin in my own life. And secondly, I am to be concerned regarding sin in the Church. This is a stern warning Paul gives here because it was dealing with a very serious sin in the Church- publicly known sexual immorality which had not been confronted in any way. So, the second concern we must have is sin in the body. However, we are nowhere in Scripture instructed to correct the morality of those who do not know or claim Christ. The main thing they need from us is the Gospel. They also need love and empathy from us. After all, if not for God’s grace, that person could be you. But God had pity upon you. Otherwise you’d be sinning right along side them. This should inspire compassion, love, and empathy.

This thought brings up another serious issue we face in many Christian circles and that is what many refer to as the “social gospel.” The social gospel has as one of its goals the redemption of the structures of our society, such as the government, the courts, and the political process, and it communicates a desire to basically create a utopia of sorts here on earth (a heaven on earth). The thought is that we can save our nation by saving the society and its structures. Of course, the trouble with this is that the goal of the Gospel is not to save societies or political structures. The goal of the Gospel is to save people. The problem with a social gospel is that it places the need for revival on the political system itself or the nation as a whole, but that is not where Scripture says revival is needed. You can’t revive that which was never alive to begin with. Governments and political processes can’t be redeemed by the Gospel, but people CAN be. People are not saved through political reform. People are saved by hearing the Gospel, God moving within them, and responding in faith. And as for revival, Scripture makes it clear. Revival begins in the hearts of God’s people. It is the Church in America that needs revival. We, the Christian people of America, are responsible for the condition of this nation. We can blame whatever group we like, but the truth is that we need an awakening ourselves. We need to repent and return to the Lord.

So, my friends, throw away your morality police badge. Focus your moral policing on yourself. Pray David’s prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) Seek the face of God. Pray for our leaders. Love and pray for those who do not know God and seek for opportunities to lovingly share the message of the Gospel with them.

One final thought here as a sort of disclaimer… I am not saying by this article that Christians should ignore sin, condone sin, or wink at it in some way. I am also not saying that we should not stand for what we believe. Furthermore, I am not saying we should not stand against sin in America as a matter of principle. I am simply saying that no sinful person will ever be saved by our political statements or our offering some kind of outward corrective for their morality. People are saved by the power of God working through His children to open their mouths and lovingly share the Gospel, and their morality is corrected by an inward act of God after they have come to know Him. And nations are preserved through the revival, prayers, and holy lives of God’s people.

D. Courtney Hill

Good Growth Is Slow and Steady

ImageIn our home Bible Study Tuesday night we were looking into the story of the Exodus and considering the huge events that happened to the people of Israel, events which are some of the key moments in all of Scripture. In the process of that study, the thought occurred to us that the very same Hebrew children who saw the plagues in Egypt, who left bondage with Egypt’s treasures, who saw God leading them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night, who saw the Red Sea parted, who saw manna from heaven, who saw water given from rocks, and who also saw God deliver to them His law through His servant Moses, were still unwilling to go into the Promised Land because they doubted God could give it to them. These same people still groaned and murmured against their leaders and tried to mutiny several times, moaning that they wished they were still slaves in Egypt. And this led to the same people roaming in the desert for 40 years, dying in various ways, and their children and grandchildren actually claiming the promises of God.

Considering all of these things, God caused a thought to form in my mind that I wanted to share with you. The trouble I think we often have as believers is that we always seem to be seeking these Exodus and Red Sea moments in our lives but we don’t recognize in ourselves that these kinds of moments with God do not inoculate us against being faithless, ungrateful, impatient, and disobedient. When we look at these Hebrews, do we not ask ourselves how they could have experienced all these things and STILL not trust God? How could they so clearly see the work and power of God in their own lives and yet complain that God hasn’t sent another miracle today? “What has God done for me lately?” they might have said. We see this fault in them, but are we any different? Do we not see God work in amazing ways in our own lives yet still remain faithless, ungrateful, impatient, and disobedient? We seem infatuated with the fringe benefits of being in a relationship with God rather than truly walking daily in a loving relationship with Him. We flock to big events to see big names and big shows, but our daily lives are filled with sin and failure.

This reminds me of something Jesus said to some who had followed Him after He fed the 5,000. In John 6:26, He says, “Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” In Matthew 12:39, Jesus says, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.” I think it is human nature to have a curiosity about signs, wonders, and excitement, but I believe that the witness of Scripture tells us that experiencing these things will not sustain us.

The truth is that the children of Israel proved that it’s very possible for a person to see a great move of God one day and then worship another god soon after (a golden calf, as it were). They proved that a person can see God deliver them in some miraculous way, yet not trust Him the next time things get hard. They proved that one day you can worship the Lord with great fervor and then not long after be ready to give up when more excitement isn’t given. So, how did God teach Israel? He taught them by having them wander for 40 years. He taught them by training them to understand their daily need for Him. They could only gather enough manna for one day and the rest would spoil. They did not camp at the watering rock but had to move on and trust God to provide for them again and again. They did not learn these lessons all at once. They learned them over a long period of time.

What conclusions can we draw here? Patience, endurance, and perseverance are not found in the big events of life, where God displays His power and we are amazed at His provision. These lessons are learned in the daily grind of life, in the wilderness of life. Some of the greatest teaching moments in our lives can be found on those “dull” and “mundane” days that often frustrate us so much. It reminds me that a great Oak tree (like the Angel Oak Tree pictured above) does not rise to great heights overnight, but through many years and many seasons it slowly climbs higher. Similarly, we do not learn the lessons that will truly sustain us in those euphoric moments where we see God working miracles or experience huge floods of emotion. Indeed, the man who is blessed has learned to be “like a tree planted by the streams of waters.” He has learned that he must “delight in the law of the Lord” and that there is a need to meditate therein “day and night.” (Psalm 1) My friend, do not become disenchanted with the “mundane” days of your life. They are not truly mundane, but magnificent. They may feel like wilderness wanderings to you and they may well be, but God has a purpose for them that are both for your good and for His glory. Our light and momentary trials are working for us a weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17) which far outweighs those worldly affections that seem to charm us so. If you are to reach your promised land, you are likely going to have to endure the wilderness. Don’t seek the signs and wonders at the expense of slow, steady growth.

D. Courtney Hill