Am I For Real?
Every Christian knows the difference between heaven and hell. Surely, then, every Christian ought to desire to be assured that he or she is indeed heading for heaven. Consequently, we may expect that in the church there will be people who are troubled by doubt and the possibility that they are not saved. Strangely, however, this is seldom the case today. John R. DeWitt (who wrote the little booklet "What is the Reformed Faith?") concurs: "I am far more concerned about some other matters than I am about assurance, or an absence of it. There have been times in the past when a want of assurance among serious, spiritually-minded men and women was pervasive and wide-spread. Generally speaking, that is not the case now." Why is that so? Is the faith of Christians today greater than that of our forebears? I am afraid not. I cannot but agree with Dewitt’s confession: as he continues: "The truth is that if I were to begin to encounter people genuinely troubled by doubts about their salvation, I should regard it as a healthy sign."
It is a poignant fact that a large part of the church today is humanistic on the one hand and complacent on the other hand. Pelagian evangelism popularised by Charles Finney has made such deep inroads in so many of today’s churches that hardly any realise that there is such a thing as false professors, for after all, it is generally believed that a person who has "accepted Christ" or has "prayed to receive Christ" is a Christian. Few are concerned that in the Scriptures, conversion is not just a matter of profession, or of the sinner’s prayer, but of wholehearted renovation which is sovereignly wrought rather than accomplished by the free will of man. To make matters worse, a perversion of the 5th point of Calvinism, popularised as "eternal security" has been blissfully accepted by many including those who are otherwise Arminian in their theology. Such is the case that many are being taught: "Once you have prayed to receive Christ, you will never lose your salvation." This is, of course, patently false. Praying to receive Christ does not make anyone a Christian. Calvin taught that genuine or regenerated believers, will persevere in the faith because conversion is wholly the work of God, and God’s grace cannot be frustrated. He did not teach "preservation of the sinners" or a carnal secur-ity based on an uttered prayer. But all these tendencies in the church today have caused the doctrine of assurance of faith to be largely ignored. "Why do I need to know the doctrine? Why need I doubt? Once saved always saved! I prayed to receive Christ years ago." So deep-ly etched is this notion in the heart of many a Christian today that we often remain compla-cent about our spiritual state, long after we become convinced of the Calvinism as taught by Calvin, the Synod of Dort or the Puritans.
I speak from experience. At one time, I would totally shut off my ears when the doctrine of assurance was being discussed. What about you? The Lord warns that in the world and in the church visible there will be wheat and tares; good and bad grounds; good fish and bad fish; good trees and corrupt trees; wise builders and foolish builders; and sheepand goats. So He cautions: "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven" (Matt 7:21). Have you considered if the Lord may be referring to you? Have you contemplated whether you are indeed for real—a real Christian?
The apostles understood the gravity of this question. Paul writing to the Corinthians urged them: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Cor 13:5). Peter exhorts his reader along the same line: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Pet 1:10). John wrote a whole epistle to instruct his readers on how they may know for sure that they have eternal life (1 Jn 5:13). James warns his readers that there is such a thing as dead, intellectual faith: "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? …Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? " (Jas 2:14, 19-20). Jude wrote an urgent epistle to caution against false brethren and false teachers: "I will therefore put you in remembrance … how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. …" (Jude 5) The author of Hebrews would have us know that there will be those who have the appearance and even experience of being Christians, who are not genuinely converted: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance…" (Heb 6:4-6a).
Dear friend, I wrote this article because I am concerned about your spiritual well-being. I do not know how many who lay hand on this article will spend time read it. It is my prayer that all will read, but more often than not, those who ought to be startled or awakened are not interested to read essays of spiritual value like this. Were this a review of some glamorous television programme, I might have a greater readership. But what is the worth of a television review to souls which are perishing? There are no televisions in hell!
It is the least of my intention, my dear readers, to cause any child of God to doubt his or her salvation. I know that nothing can ultimately hurt the elect of God. And I know that if you have been carefully reading up to this point, and are genuinely concerned that you be not a hypocrite that you really need not doubt that you are a genuine child of God. It may be that you are going through a time of backsliding, and you have a nagging doubt as to the genuineness of your salvation; but if you can say, "Yes, I do believe and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and I do desire to obey Him," or if you can say with tears or emotion, "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief" (Mk 9:24), then I will simply advise you to doubt no longer. Go, rather to Christ, repenting of your doubt and your sins that have fuelled your doubts. Plead with the Lord for forgiveness,—believing His word that "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (Jn 6:37). Ask Him to strengthen your faith, and to grant you the resolve and help to live the Christian life—believing that He will honour His words: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matt 7:7-8).
On the other hand, if you have little concerned about spiritual matters, and you are not even bothered by your failures to live according to the requirements of God’s Words; or if you are not concerned about what God requires of us; or if biblical sermons that requires you to change your current way of life is distasteful to you; or if the attractions and entertainment of the world give you more pleasure than the things of God, then you have great reason to doubt your salvation. You may be reading this article out of curiosity, out of custom because you always read the church bulletin, or because someone compelled you to read it. If I am describing you, you will probably be reading this article unfeelingly. If so, may I urge you to consider the fact that you may just be deluding yourself, or playing games when you call yourself a Christian. You may be the "almost Christian" described by Matthew Mead. If you are such a person, whatever may be your reason for reading up to this point, realise that you are the more inexcusable for the hardness of your heart, now that you are reminded that there is such a thing as a false professor of faith. There is only one thing for you to do: Repent or perish! May the Lord be pleased to awaken you out of your spiritual slumber or deadness as you cry out to Him.
But, if you are a committed Christian, knowing Christ and seeking to obey Him, I trust that this and the next article will be used of the Lord to strengthen your faith and grant you a full assurance of salvation and perseverance in the faith which is not merely based on subjective feelings, but rather firmly founded on teaching of the Word of God. This assurance is best expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. 18, sect. 2. It comprises three parts: (1) an objective ground, namely, "the divine truth of the promises of salvation" (Heb 6:17-18); (2) a subjective ground, namely: "the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made" (2Pet 1:4-5; 1Jn 2:3; 3:14; 2Cor 1:12); and (3) "the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God" (Rom 8:15-16). We shall explain these three grounds in detail, next Lord’s Day, God willing.
In the mean time, remember the Lord’s charge: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Lk 13:24). Pray, ask the Lord to help you to do so by working out your salvation with fear and trembling, for "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). No genuine Christian can be complacent or unconcerned about his spiritual well-being.