1. This morning is the third installation in a series of messages I will bring from time to time on the subject of false assurances of salvation. The messages are inspired by Jonathan Edwards’ classic book, The Religious Affections.
2. Just a couple of sentences from the back cover of the book before turning to our text for today:
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was one of the few truly great theologians of the English- speaking world, an intellectual and spiritual giant. When he began his ministry at Northampton, Massachusetts, New England had drifted from the Puritanism of its founders. Resisting the current trend, Edwards preached the whole counsel of God, and God plainly honoured his testimony. Yet to all appearances his life ended in tragedy; voted out of his pastorate by the people of Northampton, he died of fever at Princeton, only two months after taking over as President of the College. Edwards is perhaps best known as the theologian of revival, a subject on which he was uniquely qualified to write, by reason of his theological grasp and a first-hand experience of awakenings. Of his several treatises in this field, The Religious Affections ranks as the ‘magnum opus’.
The author’s object in this book is to distinguish between true and false religion by showing the marks of a saving work of the Holy Spirit in men.
3. Now that you know a little bit about Jonathan Edwards, it is clear that his role in the First Great Awakening qualified him as the foremost theologian on the subjects of revival and discerning the true state of the soul, including gaining assurance of your salvation.
4. Perhaps the most surprising thing that I have learned from reading Edwards is the extent to which the devil’s work is to be found in the midst of God’s work, especially in revival. Where God is active the devil is active, and where souls are being saved false professions are also to be found.
5. Edwards was able to observe close hand the effects on the cause of Christ of those who believed themselves to be genuinely converted but who were not, which led him to study the subject and then to write on it. He also considered those reasons people typically fall back on to convince themselves they are saved.
6. Assurance of salvation comes from the contribution of many different factors affecting a person’s life. But Biblical assurance comes only to those who are actually saved only when the assurance comes from what scripture says it should come from.
7. What we have been looking at from time to time are those reasons people use to assure themselves they are saved which are not valid, which actually prove nothing, and which can be conjured up by lost people just as easily as by saved people.
8. My text for this morning is Proverbs 25.14. Please turn to that verse. And when you find that verse, stand for the reading of God’s Word: “Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.”
9. There are some men who are quiet. Among those who are quiet are those who are quiet because they are shy, or because they are wise, or because they are unskilled in conversation and opinion. There are other reasons why some are quiet, of course. But among those who are quiet are some who are very prejudiced against those who are fluent, fervent, and otherwise outspoken about the Christian religion and the things of God.
10. Still others are prejudiced against those who are fluent, fervent, and otherwise outspoken about the Christian religion and the things of God because they have bought into the devil’s lie that a man’s beliefs are a private matter. “A man should keep his religious opinions to himself.”
11. That, of course, is just nonsense. A man’s religious beliefs are a personal matter, but should never be a private matter. Why not? If he is unsaved he has great need for others to speak of these things. How else will he hear the saving gospel message? If, on the other hand, he is saved he has a great duty and obligation to speak of these things, otherwise how will others hear the saving gospel message?
12. Having grown up in the home of a quiet man, and having been a quiet man myself until my conversion, I can tell you that some quiet men strongly distrust those who are outspoken about religious things, believing them to be fakes, frauds who are constantly tooting their own horns, always finding a way to talk and build themselves up in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.
13. On the other hand, there are even more people these days who are convinced that everyone who is fluent, fervent, and otherwise outspoken about the Christian religion and the things of God is genuinely saved. All you have to do, by some people’s way of thinking, is say “Jesus” a whole bunch of times, or throw in a few “Praise the Lords,” and you are some kind of spiritual dynamo.
14. The reason for some of this is that oftentimes people misunderstand First Corinthians 12.3, which reads, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Erroneously thinking, from this verse, that anyone who verbally acknowledges Jesus Christ to be Lord must be saved, they are easily hoodwinked.
15. Another reason for some of this is the intense desire by many people to be positive in all things. The gospel ministry has declined so far in the last 150 years that few anymore understand the role of the law in preaching to the lost. The result, of course, is that people are used to hearing only the positive side of the gospel message, and think that whenever anything negative is said, such as when preaching against error, the preacher must be wrong.
16. What this state of affairs leaves us with are people who are rather inclined to think that anyone who is fluent, fervent, and otherwise outspoken about the Christian religion and the things of God are likely to be frauds, charlatans, and Elmer Gantry types. Then, on the other hand, you have the view that anyone who is fluent, fervent, and otherwise outspoken about the Christian religion and the things of God is a spiritual Christian.
17. The reality, of course, is that fluency, fervency, and outspokenness about the Christian religion and the things of God neither is nor is not a sign that someone is a Christian, or that someone is spiritual.
18. Three considerations to ponder on this issue of false assurances of salvation:
1A. First, SALVATION IS REAL AND LIFE-CHANGING
1B. Second Corinthians 5.17 reads, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
1C. There are an astonishing number of professing Christians these days who insist that this verse establishes the position a Christian has in Christ, rather than giving insight into a Christian’s practice as a believer. Thus, once you are saved, they think, you can live like the devil.
2C. But a little common sense clears up the matter entirely. Had Paul been concerned about the Christian’s position and not his practice he would never have written First Corinthians, a letter almost wholly given over to rebuking the Corinthians’ sins.
3C. First Corinthians, and the follow-up letter of Second Corinthians, are by their very existence strong arguments that when a sinner comes to Christ his entire life and existence forever changes. Second Corinthians 5.17 simply summarizes in a sentence what the entire New Testament declares about being a Christian; everything changes.
2B. And why does everything change when a sinner gets saved, when he is, in Paul’s words, “in Christ”? Let me give you just four reasons:
1C. First, when a sinner gets saved the guilt is all gone. Why is the guilt all gone? Forgiveness. Guilt is never removed from the guilty by pretending the crimes he committed were not committed. Guilt is removed only when the crime is actually punished and God’s demand for justice is satisfied. This is exactly what happens when a sinner gets saved. Jesus Christ paid the just and holy demands of God in full. The sins being punished in the person of Christ are forgiven, not by pretending they have not been committed, but because the penalty for those sins has been paid in full. My friend, when the guilt is all gone everything changes.
2C. Next, when a sinner gets saved he is justified in the sight of God. Justified has to do with a person’s standing. You see, a sinner has no standing before God, Who is holy. But a justified person has the standing before God of Another, Jesus Christ the righteous. How does a person get justified? Faith. Romans 5.1 reads, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” But faith must have its proper Object for the sinner to be justified. And the only proper Object of faith unto justification, faith unto salvation, is Jesus Christ. My friend, when a man is justified, when he has by virtue of Jesus Christ standing before God everything changes.
3C. Third, when a sinner gets saved he gets spiritual life. Of course, unsaved people are dead in trespasses and sins, according to Ephesians 2.1. But Jesus Christ said in John 10.10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” What differences are there in the style of life lived by someone who is spiritually dead versus the style of life lived by someone who is spiritually alive? The differences are dramatic, are they not? Consider only Philippians 4.13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” What sin cannot be overcome through Christ? What wicked habit cannot be traded for a godly habit through Christ? What transforming patterns of behavior are beyond the child of God who is alive in Christ? None. There is a requirement, as Paul shows in First Timothy 4.7, where he directs young Timothy to “exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” So, rigorous training is required. Stumbling and discouragement must be overcome. But everything changes for the sinner who gets saved because he is alive in Christ.
4C. Fourth, when a sinner gets saved he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. How do we know? Romans 8.9 is very clear on this: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” If you are saved you have the Holy Spirit, this One Who leads and Who guides and Who lives right inside. He is the intercessor when we pray. He is the illuminator when we study the Bible and listen to sermons. He is the perfect representative of Jesus Christ in the heart of every Christian, while the Savior sits at the Father’s right hand on high. He is the Comforter in the midst of discouragement and our strength in time of weakness. How can everything not completely change when the sinner gets saved?
3B. Salvation is real and life changing because the Bible says it is. Salvation is real and life changing because Jesus Christ suffered and bled and died to make it so. Salvation is real and life changing because the Holy Spirit’s presence guarantees it. Salvation is real and life changing because the Father decreed that it be so, demands that it be so, and determines that it be so. What an insult to the triune godhead to think that salvation is not real and life changing.
2A. On The Other Hand, PRETENSE IS CONVINCING WITHOUT BEING REAL AND LIFE-CHANGING
I submit to you that there are fake Christians who pretend a fake salvation. People can be persuaded that you are converted even if there has been no real or life-changing salvation. Ponder these three guarantees that pretense will succeed with many who simply do not know any better:
1B. First, there is Satanic deception.
1C. Did not the Lord Jesus Christ describe the devil as a liar, and the father of lies? Is he not shown in the Bible to be the master deceiver? Did he not deceive Eve in the Garden of Eden, leading to man’s downfall?
2C. To be sure, there are openly wicked and wretched men, the obvious pawns of the devil. But is our adversary so stupid that he would not think of planting spies, that he would not place into our midst counterfeits, that he would not sow tares among the wheat? The answer to that question is too obvious.
3C. So, there can be no doubt that among those who are genuinely saved are those who are certainly lost. And some of those who are certainly lost are pawns, tools of the devil, placed into our midst to confuse us, to discourage us, to sow discord, to twist and pervert doctrine.
4C. Paul warned Timothy of this in First Timothy 4.1-2: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” Since we are living in the last days, this has already come upon us.
2B. Next, there is self-deception.
1C. O how you want to believe that she is saved. O how you crave for her to be saved. She smokes, she drinks, she does drugs, she fornicates, she swears, she never goes to church. But she made a profession of faith when she was little, so you cling to the slenderest thread of hope that perhaps the Bible does not say what it says, does not mean what it means.
2C. Have you ever noticed that at funerals everyone goes to a better place? How many sermons at funerals have you ever heard that did not pronounce even the most wicked of sinners heaven bound? This is because people so want to persuade themselves that things are not what they obviously are concerning their friends and loved ones.
3C. And how about yourself? How long will it take before you stop deluding yourself with this fiction that you are converted? James 1.22 commands each of us, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
4C. Stop satisfying yourself by church attendance, where you only hear the Word. Church attendance is wonderful, but it is not nearly good enough, as this verse in James shows us. You need to begin living the Christian life and show the world that you have been saved from your sins. And you can do this if you are saved, because Philippians 4.13 guarantees it: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
5C. Man’s capacity for self-deception is nearly limitless. And this is because of our deceitful hearts. Thus, you have people who are utterly convinced that they are born again, mightily assured that they are saved. But there is only one problem: They do not live lives miraculously transformed by the power of God. They are spiritually weak and anemic, unable to break sinful habits, unable to demonstrate by their lives the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, unable to show forth the new creature. Are you a Christian? Then be a convincing Christian.
3B. Thirdly, people are convinced by pretense not only because of Satanic delusion, not only by self-deception, but also because of unscriptural conclusions.
1C. First Corinthians 3.1-4:
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
This passage shows us that Christians can be carnal. What this passage does not teach, but what this passage is wrongly used to justify, is long term carnality and the notion that some Christians are carnal and backslidden throughout their entire Christian lives. Not true.
2C. Romans 8.16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
Two observations related to this verse:
#1 The Holy Spirit’s assurance of salvation is shown here to be an ongoing and present activity. Assurance, here, is not related to what happened long ago.
#2 This verse is, too, oftentimes misunderstood by people who think that the Holy Spirit does things to you that you can feel, thereby assuring you of your salvation. Not true. The way the Holy Spirit bears witness is by producing fruit in your life and changes in your behavior. Thus, assurance does not come from the way you feel, but from what you do and from how you live.
3C. First John 2.3: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
This verse bears out what I just said in connection with Romans 8.16. You will not know that you know Him, which is to say, you will not have assurance that you are saved, from some dramatic experience of long ago, but from your present obedience to His commands.
Thus, it is ignorance and misapplication of scriptural truth that
makes it possible for people to persuade others, or to be persuaded
themselves, that someone is saved who is not saved at all.
Real assurance comes from changed-life living that flows from a
3A. Finally, ASSURANCE SHOULD NOT DERIVE FROM ANY COMMENTS THE LOST MAKE
In a previous message I addressed what I called the display of exuberance. Since lost people can be exuberant about things it should be no comfort to anyone claiming to be a Christian that he is exuberant, although Christians should be exuberant. I also dealt with the fact that unsaved people are strongly affected by their senses, and for that reason Christians should not rely on the effects of their senses to convince themselves that they are saved. Today I am focusing upon comments that a person can make being used to assure yourself that you are born again.
1B. It is obvious from reading the Bible that every Christian should testify of God’s mercy and grace and sing songs of worship and praise and adoration. As well, Christians should witness to the lost.
1C. Did not Moses break forth in a song of thanksgiving when the children of Israel were saved during the Exodus, Exodus chapter 15?
2C. Did not Miriam then follow her brother’s example and also break forth in a song of thanksgiving, also in Exodus chapter 15?
3C. Did not David repent and promise God that “my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness,” in Psalm 51.14?
4C. Are not many of the Psalms given to us so that we might rejoice and give musical testimony of God’s goodness and mercy?
5C. And does not Paul inform the Ephesians that the Spirit’s fullness results in “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Ephesians 5.19-20?
6C. Are we to imagine, if the example of some professing Christians is to be followed, that such songs and testimonies are best done in pantomime, or that thinking such good thoughts will suffice? I don’t think so.
7C. As well, have we not been commanded to be witnesses? In Acts 1.8, Jesus said, “. . . ye shall be witnesses unto me.” Some may protest that they have no skill. Moses protested that he had no skill. Moses’ protests that he was not a good talker carried no more weight than any other person’s protests. God’s will is for Christians to use their voices to voice praise in His direction and to witness in the direction of the lost.
2B. What about the unsaved person?
1C. Cannot a lost man or woman sing songs of worship and adoration and praise? Cannot a lost person witness and lead sinners in so-called sinner’s prayers? To be sure, of course they can.
2C. Cannot a lost man or woman just as easily stand up and voice praises to God for spouse, for children, or for blessings, just as easily as any Christian can? Of course.
3C. I am not criticizing a lost man or woman for singing the songs of Zion, for joining in with songs of sweet accord. I am only pointing out that what a lost person can as easily say as a saved person should not be used by a saved person to assure himself that he is saved.
1. Exuberance is no proof that a man is saved, since even lost people can demonstrate exuberance. But it ought to trouble a professing Christian if he is not exuberant about the Christian life he supposedly lives.
2. Feeling saved by means of the five senses is no proof that a man is saved, since even lost people persuade themselves that they “feel” saved. Whether or not you feel saved is no indication that you are saved, and is also no indication that you are not saved. It is possible for any Christian to experience the profoundest feelings of being lost, though his salvation is guaranteed by the precious blood of Christ.
3. But our focus today has been upon utterance of the mouth. It is God’s will that real Christians voice their opinion about God, His goodness, His greatness, His mercy, and such things as that by testimony and by song.
4. Some Christians are better at voicing such things than others, but it is God’s will for every Christian to give voice to such things. It is also possible for lost people to voice such things, all the while still being lost.
5. What should this reveal to us? It should reveal to us that while singing praise to God and rejoicing in His goodness is no certain proof that a person is saved, the absence of such should trouble a person greatly.
6. Back to our text for today: “Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.” It is not clouds and wind that we need, it is rain. It is not leaves on the tree that should impress us, but fruit. Neither should we derive assurance of our salvation from things that anyone ca say, saved or lost.