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Over the next couple of months we will be tackling an issue that is of great importance to the Christian’s life and walk with God: the doctrine of assurance. How can you know that you are truly a child of God - that you truly are saved and have eternal life? This is an important question and indeed one that every wise person must ask themselves, or else tremble before their imminent death. We spoke last Friday, that not only was Jesus crucified so many years ago, but that we all are spiritually beside him on our own crosses, condemned as sinners before God needing salvation. Do you know whether you are saved? How can you know?
Assurance Vs. Positional Security
We are going to be spending a lot of time these first couple of weeks talking about what assurance is not. Assurance is not a statement of your position in Christ. Assurance is a measure of your confidence that you are indeed in Christ. Put another way – your position in Christ is an objective reality. You either have been adopted by God, or you are still under the authority of your father the devil. You’re either dead in your sins, or you’ve been raised with Christ. You are either in darkness, or have been made light in Christ. You either are justified by his grace, or you are still condemned in your sins. Your position in Christ is an objective reality before God, and only God ultimately sees you clearly where you are. Assurance, on the other hand is your subjective evaluation leading to confidence of whether or not you are in Christ. Position is fact – where was Obama born? Assurance is confidence: know I’ve seen it! II Corinthians 13:5: 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!
There are five types of people here today:
1) The Not Saved and Sure They Are Not: They know they don’t have a relationship with Jesus and either don’t want one, or don’t know how to have one. Andrew in Japan.
2) The Not Saved and Not Sure: Often these people display a complete misunderstanding of God and the gospel. They think God is a bookkeeper with a ledger and if their works in the end balance out more good than bad they’ll be saved, but the don’t know. They may be adherents to a sort of Moralistic Therapeutic Diesm – in which God is out there and wants them to be happy and good, but they don’t know him. This was me.
3) Saved, but not sure. These people have truly come to faith and Christ - they have passed from death to life, God has placed his seal of the Holy Spirit on their life, the seal of their inheritance in the Lord. Yet they question – they may be going through a period of doubt, they may be frustrated with sin in their lives and Satan may accuse them and lead them into questioning their salvation, they may face a crisis and they wonder whether God really is there or not. They need assurance, confidence in their faith. This is who this series is for.
4) Sure, but not Saved: Otherwise known as the misled. They think that they are saved, because they said a prayer once, or because they were baptized and got their ticket signed and sealed, or because they emotionally feel spiritual experiences, or they have a special agreement with God in which they know He’s alright with them living in sin. These people need to understand that they are not truly saved and come to true repentance.
5) Saved and Assured: They truly are saved, and they are confident in their salvation – this is where we all want to be. Need not fear death, need not fear condemnation, anticipating the return of Christ and anticipating the judgment of God on their lives, because it will be “yes” in Christ
The Basis for Assurance
Some people get this assurance thing completely wacky – pointing to a prayer once said, or a commitment card or hand raised – pointing to an event in the persons life, or worse! to a feeling or emotion. The Bible gives us tests and it is good at times to test ourselves with these tests. There are three aspects or pillars upon which our assurance rests: the objective truth of the promises of salvation, the observed outworking of Grace in the life of a believer, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
The book of first John was written primarily to speak to the second pillar. In 5:13 he writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” So it is our prayer that as we go through this letter over the next few months that we might know come to a greater confidence, or greater conviction of whether we truly are partakers of eternal life.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest,and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
John begins his letter by speaking to that first pillar - the objective truth of the promises of our salvation – namely that Jesus is real and really rose from the dead. If Jesus is not real – there is no assurance of salvation, for there is indeed no salvation offered. John emphasizes that he was an eyewitness to Jesus and His resurrection – we heard, we saw, we looked upon, we touched, At the Baptism last week, a few of the guys remarked how this was a stumbling block to them growing in their faith, that we can’t see God – how can you believe in a God that you can’t see. John knew that those who came after him would nee to be assured of the empirical truth of the risen Christ. John seems to have a soft spot for those who struggle to believe without seeing – it was in John’s gospel that we find Thomas struggling to believe without seeing John 20:24-29: Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The same words: see, touch, handled, heard. See there is no assurance unless Jesus truly is raised from the dead! If Jesus has not been truly raised from the dead, then we are still in our sins, we are still enemies of our God, for he hasn’t provided a means through which we can come to know him and have peace with him, we then do not have fellowship with the Father and the Son and ultimately there is no real bind that holds us together as a family other than a lie! Our faith is either true, in which case it means everything, or a lie, in which case it means nothing. So the first pillar of assurance is by far the most important – Jesus is alive! Famed talk-show host and interviewer Larry King understood this, for when he was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He said, “Jesus Christ.” The questioner said, "And what would you like to ask Him?" King replied, "I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me."
7 most striking empirical basis for faith
1) The fulfillment of OT prophecy:
a. Moses (1400BC): The Messiah will be a descendant of Israel who will be a prophet and will bless the whole world by destroying the works of Satan.
b. Psalms (1000-500BC): The holy One will be a Son of David, but greater than David, be crucified, have lots cast for his clothes, drink vinegar and be beaten, but have none of his bones broken. He will be mocked by unbelievers, and put to death. However, he will not decay in the grave, but will put all his enemies under his feet.
c. Micah (700BC): The messiah will be born in Bethlehem and called Son of God.
d. Isaiah (600BC): Descendant of king David, who will be uniquely filled with the Holy Spirit, who will minister in Galilee, who will be despised by his own people, put to death for their sins as a sacrificial lamb, be buried in a rich man’s tomb, and then rise to glory.
e. Jeremiah (600BC): The Messiah will start a new covenant
f. Joel (500BC): The new covenant will be marked by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
g. Zechariah (500BC): King will come into Jerusalem on a donkey and be sold for 30 pieces of silver. He himself will be God, and will be pierced and then show himself to the nations.
h. Daniel (530BC): Predicted the exact date of the Messiah’s coming to Jerusalem as king, and that the Messiah would be killed.
i. Malachi (400BC): The Messiah would be introduced by an Elijah-like prophet figure, a voice calling in the wilderness.
j. In 1963, Peter Stoner, a science professor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, did extensive research on the mathematical probabilities (odds) of various numbers of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah applying to Jesus of Nazareth. Upon completion of his research, he submitted his figures for review to a Committee of the American Scientific Affiliation. Upon examination, they verified that his calculations were dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented. What kind of numbers did Professor Stoner’s research produce? The odds of one man (Jesus or any man) fulfilling only “eight” Old Testament Messianic prophecies was one chance out of one with “seventeen” zeros after it (100,000,000,000,000,000)! To try to comprehend a number like that, Professor Stoner used the following illustration: Cover the entire state of Texas two feet deep in silver dollars. Choose and “mark” one silver dollar and drop it from an airplane flying somewhere over Texas. Thoroughly “stir” the silver dollars all over the state. Blindfold a person and let them travel anywhere in the state, stopping only “once” at a spot of his choice to dig into the two feet of silver dollars and pick out the “marked” one. The chance of a person being able to do that in “one” try is the same chance as one man fulfilling only “eight” Messianic prophecies. Professor Stoner concluded, “The fulfillment of these eight prophecies alone proves that God inspired the writing of those prophecies to a definiteness which lacks only one chance in ten to the seventeenth power of being absolute.”
2) The accuracy of the Scriptures: student in China amazed that Joseph shaved his head before seeing Pharaoh. I remember seeing the bricks of Pithom in the Metropolitan Museum of Art taken from one fot he cities the Hebrews slaves were supposed to have built. The lowest courses were good strong bricks made with straw, then, going up, weaker bricks made with stubble, and finally the weakest bricks just mud, My professor then read the story of the slaves in Egypt dealing with the worsening conditions. Also on that trip I saw the temple to the Nile God in which the Pharaoh would make his morning sacrifice – and in the Bible it says that Moses met the Pharaoh in the morning at the Nile! Those details are amazing!
3) The “fearful” apostles all died for their faith: Something changed the apostles. The record we have of them is not flattering. All denied and deserted Christ. They went into hiding for fear for their own lives. They doubted even the resurrection and told the women they were speaking nonsense – yet forty days later they began preaching in the same city that Jesus was murdered in, defiantly preaching the resurrected Lord under threats of death. In fact, all but one went to their death insisting that they had seen the risen Lord! What could account for this? The only explanation is that they actually did!
4) The unlikely conversion of Paul: Perhaps more amazing than the change in the apostles behavior was the conversion of Paul – here is a man who despised Jesus, yet became the greatest missionary ever on account of seeing Jesus. He didn’t make up what he taught about Jesus, but confirmed it with the other eyewitnesses.
5) The New Testament was written early. Paul’s letter were written early – not time enough to become myth. Pauls letter were written in the 50’s – some only 15 years after Jesus’ ressurection. The gospels themselves must have been early – Luke does not include the fall of Jerusalem, which would have underscored his theological message, and matthew and Mark were written before luke by eyewitness – eyewitness who died as martyrs for the cause!
6) The preservation of the Jewish people: After the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish people lived on for nearly 2000 years without a homeland. In a conversation on religious questions, Fredric II, King of Prussia (1740-1786) asked Joachim von Zieten, General of the Husars, whom he esteemed highly as a Christian for his plain and uncompromised views, “Give me proof for the truth of the Bible in two words!” To which Zeiten replied, “Your majesty, the Jews!” In 1899 the American novelist Mark Twain made a similar observation in Harper’s Magazine: “The Egyptian, Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away. The Greek and Roman followed, made a vast noise and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up, and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew. All other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” The great secular historian Arnold Toynbee who remarked that there was no natural explanation for the survival of Jewish People through the ages.
7) The evidence of the human condition: The final evidence that I find convincing is that the Gospel so precisely sums up human nature and so fittingly offers a solution. The gospel teaches us that there is unspeakable evil within the heart of man – that we can be so vile, so despicable, so selfish, so violent, yet also that being made in the image of God we can soar to heights of beauty, compassion, and sacrifice. This Dr. Jeckle and Mr, Hyde- like existence mars us all and is the supreme frustration of human existence – that heaven seems so close, yet hell is all we know. We experience above all else a need for forgiveness, a need for acceptance, a need for love, yet we so rarely find these things in other humans, for they are too busy looking for those same things for themselves. No other worldview is so honest – and has such an honest view of sin, yet such an amazing hope of redemption. I find I need a savior, and God has provided one in the flesh. And though I haven’t seen him with my eyes, or heard him with my ears, or touched him with my hands, I take comfort in the fact that he has heard my cry, seen my struggle, handled my sin, and touched my life.
He is Risen. Do you know him? I don’t know which of the five types of person you are – but today, you can come to your risen savior and maybe today, you will pass from death to life.