17 Comments

A Believer’s Assurance in Christ

I sometimes struggle with doubts about whether or not I am loved and saved.

Are you shocked? I am, after all, a seminary student.

Yet I doubt.

“God may love others,” I occasionally say to myself, “but God doesn’t love me. I feel too sinful to be saved. I need to try much harder to be sinless. Perhaps I am un-savable.”

I struggle with these thoughts when I have transgressed one of God’s laws, or when I feel particularly sinful (whether or not I have done anything wrong), or in times when I just don’t seem to measure up to the standards of those around me.

Recently I was on a holiday trip with family and I got an epic nose-bleed which resulted in an ER visit. As I lay on the gurney with nose calipers, an icepack, and Afrin up my nostril, I couldn’t help but think that God was punishing me for my sinfulness. It wasn’t true, of course, but I was surprised at how easily the thought came into my mind, like an old acquaintance. Like a rotting corpse of bad theology, resurrected to cause me misery and doubt.

In part this is a product of my legalistic church background where we were constantly taught that everything really did depend on us in order to be saved. Even though we tipped our hats to God’s grace, in reality we acted as if everything rested on our ability to obey. The slightest sin could send us into paroxysms of guilt and self-loathing. Our souls seemed to hang by a thread over the pit of Hell.

But the self-loathing I experienced actually had God as its focus rather than me. While on the surface I thought that I was simply un-savable, what I actually believed in my heart of hearts was that God would not—or could not—save me. That he was either malicious or impotent.

Ouch.

This was an insidious lie which Satan used (and still uses sometimes) to promote anger and resentment toward God, and a sense of fatalism in me. It is worth spending some time on this because I suspect that other Christians struggle with similar distorted thinking about God.

What do I mean when I say, “God doesn’t love me”? Doesn’t the Bible say that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8)? Which type of love is this complaint talking about?

The Love of God

D.A. Carson’s book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God shows that there are four different kinds of love which God has for people:

  1. God’s providential love over all that he has made (Gen 1; Matt 5:45)
  2. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2; Ezek 33:11)
  3. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect (Deut 7:7-8; cf. 4:37; 10:14-15; Mal 1:2-3; Eph 1; 5:25)
  4. God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way – conditioned, that is, on obedience (Jude 21; Jn 15:9-10; Exod 20:6).

So while my complaint that “God doesn’t love me,” might be countered by recalling that God loves the world which includes every person in it, past, present, and future (Jn 3:16), this is really not the issue implicit in the statement “God loves others but he doesn’t love me.”

My true complaint (and the reason for my doubts) might better be stated explicitly as “God loves other people by choosing and electing them for salvation, but he clearly doesn’t love me because I am a sinful, hurting mess and I feel unsaved or unsavable.”

This is thorny and brings up the whole area of a believer’s assurance in Christ. Is it true that just because I feel “unsavable” that I am unsaved?

Not necessarily.

After all, if what I believe is not true, then what I feel is not real.

For example, I could believe that green elephants are about to crawl into my bed, with resulting feelings of terror. But since green elephants don’t exist, my feelings are not proper responses to reality. Make sense?

So what does the Bible, the source of ultimate Truth, tell us about the assurance that believers have in Jesus Christ, regardless of how we might feel on a given day?

Assurance in Christ

The Bible essentially creates a three-legged stool of assurance, where there are three main “legs” of supporting evidence that help to indicate whether a person is genuinely saved. These are:

  1. God’s promises (Jn 1:12; 3:36; 5:24; 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom 8:1; 10:9; 2 Cor 4:16-18; Heb 10:10, 14, 18-23, 35-36, 39; 11:6; 1 Jn 5:13;  etc.).
  2. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life (“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” Rom 8:16; cf. also Eph 1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor 1:21; 5:5; 1 Jn 2:20, 27; 5:7-11).
  3. The evidence of spiritual fruit in a person’s life (“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” – I Jn 2:3; cf. also Jn 14:15, 21, 23; 15:1-17; Gal 5:22-25; Eph 4:22-24; 5:8-12; Jas 2:14-26; 1 Jn 1:6-7; 2:3-6).

While each of these three areas is an important component of a believer’s assurance, the first “leg” is by far the most important. Why?

Because it is ultimately only the promises of God which act as a final resting place for our assurance.

This is because our inner climate may be full of conflicting voices which drown out the Spirit’s quiet witness (leg #2), and our lives are often conflicted in our struggle against sin (leg #3, cf. Rom 7, for example).

In the final analysis we must “Trust in the Lord and do good” Ps 37:3, whether we feel like it or not, believing that God “exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6b).

This is faith not in ourselves but in the gracious and merciful character of our wonderful God who has made every provision for our salvation and who did not spare his own Son but joyfully gave him up on our behalf (cf. Is 53:10 – The word translated “will” in the NIV is actually “delight” or “joy” in the Hebrew. It was God’s “delight” to crush his Son in order to accomplish our salvation).

Therefore, our hope and confidence is ultimately grounded in God’s character and in his promises. And we know that God’s promises are certain and unchangeable because God’s character does not change and it is impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:13-20). We have this hope as an anchor for our soul, firm and secure (Heb 6:19).

While you and I may still muddle around in Romans 7 as we struggle with our sin, we must always remember that Romans 8 follows with its confident assurance in the gracious character of our God:

“What, then, shall we say in response to [these doubts]? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:31-35, 37-39).

Put your faith in the character and promises of God, not in your own ability to obey or in your transitory feelings.

If you have believed in Jesus Christ, then you may rest in God’s promises and receive his blessed assurance.

17 comments on “A Believer’s Assurance in Christ

  1. I once had a pastor who professed to a small class of us how “every believer has doubted—at least once or more in their life—their salvation.” Privately, afterwards, I shared with him how that was not true—not all of us has entertained doubt.

    This, Stephen, is a testimony to the measure of faith our heavenly Father has given me—from a young boy I’ve never doubted my God or His Word; from the beginning I’ve possessed an unwavering faith in His faithfulness. This relationship with Him has been the very substance of my being—my identity and desire, my knowing and being known, my peace and joy, my healing and salvation, my creation and perfection, my holiness and righteousness, my hope of glory, my love, life, light, and so forth.

    Having read your thoughts here, seeing more clearly where you’re coming from, I now understand a little better your (2-2-2013) appeal for doubt.

    I like this question: Is it true that just because I feel “unsavable” that I am unsaved?

    Piglet once said to Winnie-the-Pooh, “It is hard to be brave, when you’re only a Very Small Animal.” Well guess what Piglet! Bravery only exists in the smallness of things. Courage can only come into being in situations where we’re up against things Bigger than ourselves.

    Same is true with being saved. The creatures being saved are utterly helpless and dead in their misery. We become “savable” because we desperately need saved. And it’s the Salvation of a Power greater than ourselves Who delivers us from our sick and loathsome condition. In terms of a Big God and sharing the mind of Christ—there is no “unsavable” categories of thought. As you point out, this sense of unsavability is one of those insidious convoluted things we know to be a lie of the Adversary.

    I think you bring it home with Romans 8—“nothing can separate us from the love of God…” not even our selves—No, “nothing in all creation.”

    The peace and joy and assurance we have is hinged upon our taking God at His Word. We are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, for an eternity of being perfect expressions of His good pleasure. For everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved. He will turn no one away. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come and drink freely from the water of eternal life.” Our part is to believe, and once having believed we are sealed with the Spirit. In truth, we come to faith, we are born of the Spirit, purely by the will of God. We hadn’t a say in it. Can a dead man assent to be given life? We choose to invite Him into our lives only because He’s already alive in our hearts. We come to love and know Him because He first foreknew and first loved us. We are His purely and simply because of a decision He made for us. This is wonderfully humbling, but the foundation of our confidence is Him not us.

    Fwiw, I’m a simple man and would probably find D. A. Carson’s and your three legged stool approach to understanding God’s love and our assurance of salvation a bit weighty and suspect. I’m wondering if it doesn’t (and maybe it’s just the mood I’m in as I write this) if it doesn’t just complicate the simplicity of the Gospel. First and Second leg are essentials, but the third leg may be too scientific and open for manipulation for some.

  2. Monax, your points are well stated and compelling as usual. What a blessing to possess a simple and secure faith! I agree that the third leg is tricky. Perhaps it is open to abuse. And yet scripture does offer it as an evidence of salvation (1 John 2:3 for example.) I have simply found that the third leg is unsatisfactory in my seasons of doubt. And for anyone who exalts fruit as the primary evidence of assurance –as many do– he or she invites a lifetime of avoidable agonizing, as David Brainerd did. Or as I have. Rather, as you say, ’tis so sweet to trust in Jesus. Just to take him at his word. Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments.

  3. Steve,

    I’m still in the mood, so allow me to share my practical concern with you by way of an illustration.

    I have a friend and brother-in-Christ who is schizophrenic. He’s an older man but often seems like a child. He grew up in a charismatic environment that taught him how his salvation was something that—from beginning to end—he was responsible for, that it was ultimately up to him to both gain and keep it. He struggles like every other believer against the sins of the flesh, and in his fleshly struggles he, again and again, comes to doubt the security of his relationship with God. He doubts that he is saved.

    So my friend will often call me and ask me if he is saved. I answer, “Yes. I recognize you as my brother-in-Christ.” And then we go through his thoughts, addressing all his concerns. Every time we do this I gladly assure him of his eternal life because I know him, I know the confessions of his heart—that he loves the LORD and calls upon His Name.

    One of his gifts is his ability to internalize Scripture. He’s a veritable walking talking King James Bible. So my task as his counselor is to remind him of the words of God hidden in his heart. Whatever the lies he’s entertaining we wipe away with the truths of Scripture. Then eventually at some epiphanic point in our conversation he lets out a huge sigh as if the burden of the world has been lifted from his soul. I can hear it in his voice—a real sense of peace and joy has returned to him as he remembers the true nature of His righteousness.

    Peace and Joy are two of the most precious gifts we have been given. They are the real spiritual fruit that is borne into our lives. When my friend takes his eyes off of Jesus and looks to his own attempts to assure his salvation he looses his peace and joy and sinks into despair. It is the apprehension of the true gospel of salvation by grace alone that fosters our ineffable joy and unfathomable peace.

    Steve, you write: “The Bible essentially creates a three-legged stool of assurance, where there are three main “legs” of supporting evidence that help to indicate whether a person is genuinely saved. These are: 1. God’s promises; 2. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit; and 3. The evidence of spiritual fruit in a person’s life.”

    Here’s why I question the integrity of your stool. For it to stand up all three legs must be sound. If the third leg of assurance is weak (or non-existent) then it’s not a stool we can put weight on. I’m not sure how your third leg would apply to my spiritually weak friend seeking assurance. To most it doesn’t appear that he is bearing fruit—certainly not to himself. And here’s the tricky part: Who is going to judge my brother’s fruit, and by what measure will it be judged? Does his obedience or disobedience to this or that qualify or disqualify him? By no means.

    It is true that if we love Him we will keep his commandments, and that we are “sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). But at a very practical ministerial level when we are called to assure a child of God who has placed their faith in Him that they are absolutely saved—we do this by their confession (Rom 10:9-11) and God’s sovereign promises. I find it a precarious thing—especially as we engage someone who struggles with doubts about whether they are saved or not—to bring into the body of evidence the issue of fruit as a necessary sign of assurance.

    When there is evidence of good fruit in one’s life—Yes, this bears an indication that this person may be born of God. But even when there isn’t evidence of good fruit in a confessing believer’s life—this does not mean they are not genuinely saved. The evidence of fruit is a difficult and—in the context of assurance—a problematic measure.

    It’s a slippery and suspect tool, I contend. And I can certainly see this stool in the hands of an abusive man wielding a whip as he trains his sheep to perform just so obediently right.

    • You know, brother, you raise such compelling points. I must think more about this. I agree entirely that we are saved by grace alone, according to God’s promises. We can do nothing to save ourselves–it is all by grace. And yet, what do we make of the passages about fruitfulness? You may be right–I may be making this all too complicated. But I would welcome your interpretation then of the passages about knowing that we are saved as we obey Christ, or by bearing spiritual fruit. While I don’t think fruitfulness is primary, it does seem at least a normative sign of salvation. Or at least a seasonal sign. There may be exceptions–such as brothers or sisters who struggle with psychological challenges, or our friends on the autism spectrum, or those who struggle with deep depression. But what do you make of all of these passages about fruit? How do you read them? Please know that I am adamantly against anyone using fruit as the primary sign of salvation–it is too prone to the winds of depression, dry seasons, or the passing thieves of circumstance. And yet scripture does speak of it.

  4. Monax, what a beautiful story about your friend and how you are there to assure him of his place with the Father. I think when we get into the fruit business it can get pretty sticky. How much fruit is enough? and what fruit is the most important? And who are the fruit keepers?- which is what I see many pastors trying to do with their church. I personally feel that our fruit has to do with how are intimacy with Christ will be, our effectiveness in witnessing to the lost will be, and what rewards we receive in heaven at the Bema seat judgment of Christians (not unbelievers).
    Steve i think you might enjoy this sermon on James 2 from the pastor of a small church in Franklin Tn. His name is Jerry and I think He gives a real accurate portrayal of the fruitfulness of the believer and the assurance we have as believers and the importance of being fruitful. I think when anyone attaches salvation to fruit, the person will become unfruitful and fall to sin. When one knows of their assurance, they will more than likely (not always) want to grow and be free to grow. I liken this to raising teenagers- I found that the more I tried to force them to produce fruit that was not yet in season they became more rebellious. The more I encouraged them to do it to glorify and love God and to love others for this is good they were more apt to pray and ask God for strength. It may be slow growth at times, but I see His mighty Hand moving in their hearts.
    http://www.christfellowship.com
    Messages (7)
    Believers Who Look Like Believers! No Room For Passive Piety!
    James 2:14-26 (Part of the James series).

  5. Here’s the gospel of grace we’ve received:

    “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10).

    Let’s emphasize our prepositions—We’ve been saved by grace, through faith, not by but for good works.

    Scripture indicates how grace is the basis of our salvation; faith is the means of our salvation; and good works are the fruit of our salvation.

    Yes, we’ve been saved and qualified to be perfect expressions of His good pleasure, faithfully bearing fruit in every good work (see Colossians 1:9-12). Our way of happiness and holiness is to trust and obey. And while our good works will certainly determine both the measure of peace, joy and blessed assurance we have on this side of eternity, and also the measure of rewards we will receive when Christ returns, despite these determinative powers, our good works do not decide our salvation, do not factor in on our adoption as children of God. These aspects of our redeemed lives must be held apart when we are seeking personal assurance for our salvation.

    In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians he makes it clear that our works have no bearing on our salvation, on our eternal status as being children of God: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one had done. If the work that anyone had built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (3:11-15).

    The foundation of our eternal security is (the faithfulness and righteousness of) Christ. Jesus is the Rock of our salvation. While gold, silver and precious stones are emblematic of our good works, wood, hay and straw are emblematic of the works of the flesh. As the Day of the Lord will test our works by fire, this is what we know: that fire serves only to consume wood, hay and straw, Yet it refines gold and silver. No matter what loss of rewards we may suffer (in the now and hereafter) as a result of our living in the flesh, we ultimately know—regardless of our works—that we will in the end be saved. Even if God must take us out early because of wicked living, we will be saved in the end. His word assures us of this.

    Our First Corinthians Three passage continues, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (16-17).

    A few paragraphs later Paul addresses a situation among the Corinthian church regarding a member’s sexual sin that is an abomination even to the pagan world. The Apostle instructs them: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (5:1-5).

    Note: “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

    It is true that good works follow those who walk in the Spirit. But just because we may not observe certain fruit in an individual’s life, this does not necessarily mean they are not “genuinely saved.” Yes, believers who are in bondage to the sins of the flesh get stunted (and place themselves in grave danger of becoming pruned a la John 15:2; and disciplined a la Hebrews 12) but the lack of evidence of fruit in their lives does not necessarily signify that he or she is not saved.

    Consider also, as nestled in-between these two First Corinthian examples, the words of Paul’s confession: “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (4:4-5).

    As I consider your three-legged stool of assurance I see the application of this tool bifurcating toward two different ends: toward discerning one’s own personal assurance; and toward discerning the salvation of others.

    Toward the possession of personal assurance, I believe, only legs one and two (God’s promises and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit) are necessary, adding a third leg (of evidence of spiritual fruit in a person’s life) puts us in danger of assuming something akin to a cursed and contrary gospel Paul warns us against in Galatians: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:2-3).

    Toward discerning the salvation of others—are we truly called to do that?

    Imagine, if you will, sitting down or standing on a stool with two solid legs and one weak leg—which is what I believe you’ve constructed for us. Here’s our reality: all three legs must equally take our weight if the stool is to hold us up and not collapse.

    You write how your doubt “is a product of [your] legalistic church background where we were constantly taught that everything really did depend on us in order to be saved. Even though we tipped our hats to God’s grace, in reality we acted as if everything rested on our ability to obey.”

    With that being said, Steve, I’m wondering if your three-legged stool of assurance isn’t also a product of your legalistic church background. For where does doubt of this sort come from, how does it manifest? Is it safe to say, in all cases, doubt (of one’s salvation) arises as a result of subscribing to a false gospel?

    If we look for assurance of salvation, as trust4himonly indicates, in anything other than the finished work of Christ—we essentially nullifying the very source from which our sanctified souls bloom and bear fruit. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).

  6. Yeh!! Monax, that is so good! I love your explanation of the assurance of our salvation!

  7. I started having doubt of my salvation BECAUSE I was attending a church with “progressive justification” leanings. Once I left- my doubts were gone. Freedom actually produces fruit more than legalism. Why are we so worried about others hearts and judging whether or not they are saved if they have professed so- this is their business between them and God. Too many are busybodies in other Christians souls- Are pastors and leaders to admonish and exhort?- sure! but in the context of sanctification, not a fusion of justification and sanctification. Watch out!! We are seeing the teaching of this all over the church today and it is subtle and dangerous. And it is no different then when I was told I could not listen to rock music because I was then in danger of going to hell.
    The Bible states that “love casts out all fear”- ” Fruit keeping” produces fear and fear is not what Christ is about. Christ wants a heart of love outpouring for Him and I tell you it does work! The tree starts producing. The Holy Spirit is who lives in us and we are co-laboring with Him. The more we let go – the more He fills and takes over! Praise God!

  8. Hey t4ho! Are you able to break this “progressive justification” down for me, or direct me to a cache of informative writings on this? Also, allow me to share with you some background to my friend’s story. The telling of it may prove helpful in the working out of this question of discerning the salvation of others.

    Are we called to do this? Well, my friend would call me all the time for assurance of his salvation. So as his friend and brother, Yes, it fell on me to do this. But here’s the rub: my friend also asked his new pastor if he was saved. And, sadly, his new pastor said, “I don’t know if you are saved or not.” My friend also asked the elder (who was responsible for bringing this pastor in) if he was saved. And, again, he got the answer: “I don’t know if you are saved or not.” My friend asked the pastor’s wife—and thanks be to Jesus she gave him a knowledgeable answer: “Of course you’re saved. Most certainly you’re saved.”

    Previous to this I was my friend’s Sunday School teacher and the question he most often asked me was, “David, can I ask you a question?” Nearly every time I’d playfully say, “You Just Did.” We’d exchanged smiles. I love this man dearly. Just talked to him on the phone this morning.

    Ours was a small and beautiful Presbyterian church of about thirty, run by three male elders. These men had been entrenched in session for many years. Within the first month of my attending, it become painfully apparent that the elder who was facilitating most of the decisions for the church was severely unqualified to do so; he was lacking the necessary understanding and discernment to be in his position of spiritual authority. The church was in considerable disarray. My second week there, I sat in on a congregational meeting where there was much anger expressed to session for how they were ruling. I remember some expressed frustration over the elders’ lack of communication. Session apologized. Some people left the church altogether.

    Also, the church had been without a pastor for about a year prior to my making her my home. I began attending there May 2009; began teaching Sunday School in September 2009; then began periodic preaching in October 2009. After I had been there a year—in May 2010—something of critical significance happened.

    May 2010 the wise elder (if I might characterize him this way) took his family on a three week vacation. Throughout my time there and for a full year to this point, whenever there was a concern, I was able to communicate to this wise and well respected elder without any problems. However, for these three weeks he was incommunicado. This was when the managing elder (if I might refer to him this way) moved to bring in a man from two thousands miles away to be our interim pastor for a year. After just some cursory research on him I came away with several enormous RED FLAGS. I attempted to share my concerns with the elders but got stonewalled. In fact, when I first broached the issue with the managing elder he exploding violently and told me if I didn’t like it I could leave, and reminded me that he was empowered to do whatever he saw best for the church. So they recklessly brought in the new pastor.

    Here’s what I’m driving at: in the year that I spent with our new pastor not once did I see any evidence of spiritual fruit in this man’s life. Where was the joy? Where was the love? In fact, others were asking the same questions—Where was the fire? Where was the light?

    My discernment is rather keen. Honestly, I recognized as brothers and sisters most everyone else in our small body. For instance, I could tell my brothers or sisters had a relationship with the Father, just by listening to their prayers. Btw, our new pastor one Thursday decided to have us spend the evening in prayer—using the A.C.T.S. model (which, personally, stifled my natural way of expressing myself to God, but he’s the pastor, we follow his leading…) Let me tell you, in my 44 years of life I’ve participated in hundreds of prayer meetings—and this was the deadest meeting I have ever encountered. At this point good men of God had already left our church. I stayed until this new pastor in cahoots with the unqualified elder forced me out.

    Here’s the morbid irony. I don’t believe we’re called to necessarily decide if someone is genuinely saved or not, but certainly, if we’re considering a man to be our shepherd, the one tasked to nurture our relationship with Christ—shouldn’t there at least be evidence of the man possessing a relationship with Him?

  9. Monax I am sorry you had to go through this church experience. I saw major changes in many churches 6 years ago and knew something was wrong. I have to think we are undergoing major apostasy in the church as a whole.
    I think there is a difference between discernment and declaring whether someone is saved or not. I think the Lord can put checks in your heart about certain people, but declaring it so is another thing. This is where I think many shepherds have made the error of declaring and not coming along aside someone and humbly discipling. Really those who have no interest in Christ will usually run out the door and we can’t worry about them anyway. The other issue of teachers, elders, pastors, shepherds not exactly being the model Christian leaders and we see that with the large amount of abuse happening in the church. There is a lot to be said of the responsibility of these men in Scripture and the book of Timothy clearly lays out how these men are to be like. Also, I do believe there are false teachers and false prophets that have infiltrated the churches and yes, may not be Christians, but are there to tear down the church structure for their own gain, whether money or for power.
    But your friend is another story- obviously he confesses his belief in Christ. Whether or not he doubts this is not the issue; the issue is that he confessed and believes. Salvation always boils down to simple faith and this is why those verses of Jesus saying our faith must be like a childs is vital. The rest is sanctification. Progressive justification is just a fusion of sanctification and justification. It is saying Yeh ….but not yet. What I mean is that maybe you are saved but only if you have played out your sanctification in the way that validates your justification. A good site to get info. on this is http://www.paulspassingthoughts.com. Paul has dedicated a lot of time to weed this out in the Reformed circles. I would highly recommend going on his site- you may not agree with everything, but his basic views on salvation are solid.
    Tell your friend that he has a sister in Christ that is praying for him.

  10. also, tell your friend, David, that I struggled with serious doubt for two years. I actually had voices telling me that I was not a believer, that I hated Christ, that I stunk as a believer, etc… Until I got out of the church- then they stopped. I finally realized that the Enemy was filling my own head with this nonsense- I thought I was going crazy at the time and was in despair. I realized that the church I was going to was teaching progressive justification- it was very subtle, but it was insidious. I just kept reading my Bible and praying and holding on in faith, but I had never gone through such a harrowing spiritual journey like that ever in my 44 years.
    I hope this will encourage him. 🙂

  11. You know, t4ho, I checked out Dohse some months ago and dismissed him as a viable source of info for what I felt was his bitter broad-brushing and misrepresentation of many in the reformed camp. My impression of him was—No, he was not necessarily solid in his soteriology. Dohse lost me completely when he pegged Tim Keller as antinomian.

    As I’m taking another look at him I’m understanding better what he’s out to expose. I need to spend some time looking further into this. Btw, in Dohse’s Statement on the Gospel his heading for point 8 is “Assurance of salvation is obtained through obedience.”

    . .

    Wounds can be very real. During a house meeting after session voted me out, my righteous sister (if I might characterize her this way) cried, “I feel like they cut off our right arm!” Not only did they essentially do that—they effectively cut her and the rest of our church family off from me.

    So as this “church experience” happened—I’m most glad it happened to feisty monax. I’m most protective of my own and I do know how to fight. And so last June (inspired by Julie Anne Smith’s engagement with CON ) I gave session an ultimatum which forced the managing elder to step down from his position of spiritual authority. As he resigned from session they requested that I abide by a process of arbitration to be prescribed by the presbytery. I agreed to see what they would offer, and after waiting patiently for three months for this “examination” of “evidence” I was told that the denomination refused involvement as I was no longer a member of the church.

    Note: the presbytery made a decision to dismiss me even though the letter confessed that ‘a complaint of “spiritual abuse” [was made] against one of our elders… [a charge which] was dismissed by the Session previously.’ Again—although a serious accusation of spiritual abuse was made, the presbytery did not care to get involved. Apparently the leaders of this denomination need educated as to the prevalent reality of spiritual abuse.

    So now I’m just waiting for one last piece of the machinery to fall into place, then I’ll have the necessary weight behind me to force the ends of my ultimatum. I’ve been given an even more powerful set of instruments than the instruments of ecclesiastical authority they used against me. I’m now ready to engage and to let things fall where they may.

    Since I was told in September how the presbytery refused to get involved, I’ve been silent toward session. However, (and this is absolutely amazing how this came about) God providentially brought the wise elder and myself together this past Sunday. It was so good to see him and his wonderful family again. After we caught up some, I told him with a smile, “There is a spiritual authority greater than your ecclesiastical vote.” I then told him I’d be contacting him soon for a decision on how I might proceed on restoring to health the session of our beloved church.

    You should know, our wise elder supported me but was out-voted by the other two elders (on Monday, March 21, 2011, to give the date). However, none of this was openly stated. On the Sunday after they voted me out—everybody was perplexed why David was not approved for session. Session’s answer to them was that they simply found me unqualified. For a year everyone in the church had come to know me very well by my character and my labor, and not one of them as far as I know considered me unqualified. In fact, during said house meeting my righteous sister encourage me in front of the others. She said, “I don’t care how those two elders voted. The rest of us find you qualified.” This of course brought tears to my eyes. During that meeting the wise elder’s wife wondered if they shouldn’t “dissolve the church,” if there wasn’t some “reset button” we could press.

    Here’s the darkness in this. When the members of the church were pleading for answers as to why I was not approved session maintained my confidentiality and under the auspices of secrecy hid their rationales and reasonings from congregational scrutiny. I’m now offering them an opportunity to openly disclose their discernments and judgements against me. And I’m now asking for arbitration from the Children of Light. Let’s get everything out in the open.

    Here’s my final ultimatum: the presiding false pastor must resign; and the once managing elder must stay resigned until after a more discerning pastor is brought in, a pastor after Christ’s own heart whom I (and the rest of the congregation) approves. If not—I begin openly telling my story.

    I leave it to them to decide how they want to do this. Either we move forward along the lines of my ultimatum, or we engage this out in the open. The advantage of doing this openly is that the church at large will benefit from the exposure and correction of spiritual abuse and be made keenly aware of some of the spiritual dangers presently facing the Body of Christ. However, the advantage of resolving things behind the scenes allows for a quicker restoration to health of my church. His kingdom come. His will be done.

    Here’s something from an email I sent out to a member the day after my examination for elder: “Last evening I felt such a wonderful peace and power of God upon me during the examination. I felt like I shined. Every question and concern that session presented to me I was able to field with extraordinary grace and confidence. However, after a time of deliberation, when I was brought back into the room [one of the elders] explained to me that due to a lack of maturity they decided that I was not qualified to be an elder. I was shocked. When I asked them in what way was I immature? [He] used words like “contention” and “judging” to describe my deficiency of character.”

    I’d love to get into this, because what they did was take one of my greatest strengths and gifts and called it “contention” and being “judgemental.” As I was up against some incredible strongholds, as I confronted these men I did it with the utmost love, integrity and honor—as everyone else is witness to. There’s some interesting things behind this door if they choose to open it.

    Lastly, for now, since we’re discussing this under the matter of a believer’s assurance in Christ, let me provide a few more examples of why I regard this man to be a false pastor.

    One Sunday School morning as the pastor was teaching on the trinity, our beloved sister expressed how she was uncertain about her eternal salvation—she feared she could loose it. Also, my dearest sister expressed how she loves and relates wonderfully to Jesus, but doesn’t have that same kind of relationship with the Father.

    Doesn’t this just break your heart? It did mine. Know this: the pastor never addressed their concerns—neither in class nor at any time later in private.

    That very morning we had a visitor named Michael who altogether only attended two or three times. He told us that in mosque he had been given a book about how we are gods. Well, even though our new pastor was given the perfect opportunity to lay out some biblical principles aimed at answering this man’s concern (and this could have been done in three minutes), instead, the pastor remarked how the issue of who we are would be addressed the following week.

    After class my righteous sister expressed to me how the pastor was so rigidly committed to his curriculum he missed the very point of us gathering together for Sunday School—to encourage each other and remind us of the promises of God; the pastor flat-out missed the chance to meet Michael precisely where he was at. The following week the pastor failed to address his stated concerns and we never saw Michael again.

    So this is where I am with this. Please, keep me and my church in your prayers. And I’ll probably not tell my friend about you praying for him—I then would be tasked with explaining how blogs work and why I was talking about him in the first place.

  12. Monax, I appreciate your willingness to tell your story- it is quite sad what you and others had to go through “in the name of God”. This is so the case all over this country. I hurt for the lost souls who do not hear the true Gospel and I hurt for the wounded sisters and brothers in Christ across America. You talk about a true missionary field- it is right here. This is where when I hear of the abuse that is going on I cannot sit idly by. I really do hope that these stories start reaching more and more believers.
    Now I did not go through abuse like others, but my husband and were like nomads. We would go to a church and then find some grave errors (false teaching); have to leave and find another. During this time, no one and I mean no one cared to get to know us at any church we had been in for the past 9 years, except for the Calvary chapel we went to where we are living now in Nashville. We had to stop going there too because of the abuse not being dealt with in Chuck Smiths watch and because of the Moses Model doctrine of leadership. We went to talk with the pastor and he just brushed it off, which made us sad because we were becoming friends with him and his wife.
    So we have been dealing with loneliness for the most part. I tend to have antennas as large as flying saucers, so I catch things going wrong quite quickly. When I start to talk about these problems no one likes this, so that starts the shunning process. I think the word gets around quickly and then I am not “suitable for this church”. Now I am trying to pick up the pieces and move on, we are in another church, but I am nervous and a little cynical (so I have to pray daily to overcome that). I think I have gotten to the point that I just would rather be out there with the unsaved and do missionary work.

    I will be praying for you Monax and your church (and of course your friend). Bless your righteous lady friend who had to go through this also- it is so bad, I want to cry.

  13. Sincerely, t4ho, thank you for your prayers. Fwiw, two days ago I gave the false pastor his two weeks notice with a link to this page. So I’d like to remain somewhat mute until the two weeks are up. Essentially I’ve declared war.

    When I spoke with the wise elder on Wednesday he exclaimed, “it’s been three years” [since they brought in the new pastor] as if the elapsing of time changes anything? I’m assuming in his statement that he was suggesting a question as to why I’m still pursuing this, or why I’m only now leveling this final ultimatum.

    The answer is that I’ve been pursuing this end, this issue of spiritual abuse from well before the unqualified elder brought in the false pastor. Also, I’ve held from the beginning that if we brought this man in he would flatline the church—which he did. Even after the two elders (both whom are no longer serving on session) voted me out, I still attempted to pursue justice through personal emails to no avail. Then last June (inspired by ja’s fight) I initiated this present engagement and launched my Spiritual Authority blog to address them, their presbytery and denomination. When they told me last September that the presbytery wouldn’t get involved it’s taken me this long to gather support and put the mechanisms in place to enforce my ultimate. As I told my father yesterday—I wouldn’t have initiated this fight if I hadn’t already secured a victory. Question is: How big of a victory will this be for the church.

    I’m itching to go to war because so much good will come out of it. But that’s for God to decide. I’m at peace with however this turns.

    You know, I read Paul Grenier’s legal declaration this afternoon. Wow! I’d like to know what Chuck Smith will do after reading it. I’ve offered my army to Alex. I’m only now researching his case—but with Paul’s Feb 8 declaration I can’t see why we can’t take this viral.

    Concerning my situation, t4ho, I’d like to privately tell you more of the story. Also, I’ve got some thoughts on the spiritual climate of Nashville to share with you too if you’re interested. So if you’re ok with taking this behind the scenes, please Gmail me @ DiscerningSpiritualAbuse

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