Friday, August 10, 2007

1 John and Assurance

John very clearly states his purpose for writing the book of 1 John in 1 John 5:13. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." John here is not answering the question, "what must I do to be saved?" He is answering the question, "how can I know that I have eternal life," or "how can I know that I have true saving faith." John is here dealing with those who are doubting their salvation. If John were answering the question, "what must I do to be saved," he would definitely answer, "by grace through faith." But this is not John’s purpose, rather he is writing to give his hearers assurance that they truly have eternal life.

This is a question that those who profess Christianity have always asked, "Pastor how can I know that I have eternal life?" It is an amazing thing that John wrote the book of 1st John to answer this question, and yet pastors/believers never use it to give assurance to those who are questioning their salvation. In today’s context, rather than using the clear teaching of the Holy Spirit through the Apostle John, Pastor’s deal with the doubts of their people with the popular teachings of modern day Christianity.

The way we answer those who are doubting their salvation ought to be conformed to God’s Word. Most pastors neglect the great amount of teaching in the Scriptures on this subject and simply opt to do their own thing. If someone were to come up to you and ask you, "I have received Jesus as my Lord and Savior but I am doubting my salvation, how can I know that I am truly born again," what would you say? If what you say cannot be found in Scripture then you might need to change your answer. Many do not want to change their answer because the way John deals with these doubts is so foreign to the way the majority in America deal with them today.

I want to stress again that John is not calling into question the fact that faith is enough to save. Salvation is by grace through faith. John is asking the question, "how can I know that I have the sort of faith that saves?" In today’s Christianity if someone were to approach a pastor and say, "Pastor how can I know that I have eternal life?" The pastor would respond by saying something similar to this, "Well, was there ever a time in your life when you prayed to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior; have you ever prayed the sinners prayer?" If the person answered, "Yes I have," the pastor would then say, "Well, did you sincerely mean it?" If then the person said, "Yes" again the pastor would then say, "You have nothing to worry about, you have eternal life."

Many who are reading this would have absolutely no issue with this sort of pastoral counseling because this is such a common way of counseling one who is doubting. However, we must realize that this sort of counseling is absolutely foreign to the Bible. The Bible never eases the fears of professing believers by having them recall a point in time in the past when they prayed a heartfelt prayer. When John deals with these very same fears he says nothing about a heartfelt prayer prayed in the past.

The question we need to ask is this, "on what basis does the Holy Spirit through the Apostle John give assurance to the professing believer who is doubting his/her salvation?" We need to seek to not give someone assurance that they have eternal life if the Holy Spirit does not do so in His Word. So many Pastor’s act as if the Holy Spirit simply has not spoken on this subject, but He Has! The Holy Spirit saw this as such an important issue that he put it into the heart of the Apostle John to write a whole 5 chapter letter on it.

Lets say, for the sake of the argument, that a Mormon came up to me and said, "Hey Jimmy, I want to know if I have eternal life." Imagine how you would respond if I were to say, "Well, my dear Mormon neighbor, let me ask you a question, have you refrained from the consumption of coffee and other caffeinated beverages?" For the sake of the illustration lets say that he says, "Yes!" So I respond to him, "Did you do so with a smile on your face?" Again my Mormon neighbor says, "Yes." Immediately after he responds I say, "Then you have nothing to worry about, you have eternal life." I assume that everyone who is reading this knows that this is a hypothetical situation. How would you respond to my counseling practice here? Would you not consider me a heretic? I would hope so! Why would you consider me a heretic? Would you not because I am doing this man a great disservice by giving him false assurance divorced from Scripture. Essentially, I am giving him a false assurance.

Never for one moment think you are being a biblical minister because you are easing the fears of those who are doubting their salvation. Biblical counselors and ministers seek to give assurance that is based upon a clear understanding of the Word of God. God is not pleased with those who simply ease the fears of the people. In fact, this is why He railed against the false prophets in the OT saying, "You proclaim ‘Peace, Peace’ where there is no peace" (Jer 6:14). What is God saying here? He is saying that His biggest issue with the false prophets is that their only purpose is to provide assurance and peace without a care as to whether the peace preached is true or false.

I do not want to make a hard connection to genuine modern day pastors and OT false prophets, however both essentially are committing the same error. They both give false assurance to their hearers. OT false prophets did everything they could to convince the Israelites that they had nothing to worry about, they tried to convince them that their enemies were not going to come and destroy them, but they did not have one biblical reason for doing so. Modern day pastors do everything to convince those who have simply prayed a prayer that they have no reason to question or doubt their salvation, however they say this without having one biblical reason for doing so. It would be completely different if the Bible was not full of information on how one can have assurance as to whether they are truly born again or not. The fact is that God has given us more than enough information when it comes to counseling the fears of those who are doubting. But, pastors counsel as if God has not said one thing on this issue.

More on this later. For the time being, check it out. Dig your big fat noses (kidding) into the book of 1 John to see how John deals with these fears and concerns. Dig your big fat noses into the book of 1 John to see on what basis the Holy Spirit gives assurance of salvation to the one professing faith in Christ.


luke.snowden said...


Great post! A most needed point to be addressed! My big fat nose would encourage not only a parousal of 1 John but also the following verses:

Matthew 7:23ff, where Jesus tells people who believe they are saved that he does not know them even though they did awesome things in his name.

Also, Romans 8:16 tells us that the Holy Spirit will tell us if we are saved. Any pastor who presumes to know the heart of God's elective purposes is a dangerous man! I simply encourage people to pray and ask God to tell them,or bear witness to them internally, that they're saved.

Furthermore, Jesus in Matthew 7 describes those who profess belief as false precisely on account of their failure to live a life of obedience befor

The the Father, describing them as "lawless."

Thus, there is both the internal witness and external fruit that is can be seen and validated by those around us.

I generally ask three questions:

1. Do you trust Jesus to be your righteousness before the Father and nothing within yourself.

2. Has the Holy Spirit worked so powerfully within you so that you have been afected by His presence and know He lives within you?

3. Do others see your life as generally characterized by obedience and passion for worshipping God both in and out of Church?

A positive answer to these three questions generally help to let me know where a person is. Also, it is important to focus on the present, not the past. A person that would say yes to the 3 questions ten years ago, but not today, is one I'd be strongly concerned for.

Your thoughts.

Jimmy Snowden said...

Thanks for the comments. All of those passages are super helfpul in knowing God's perspective on this issue. Of course, in ministering to those who are doubting (and sometimes those who should be doubting) great care and discernment is needed to communicate these things in a way that is helpful to the person. I have found that a minister, when speaking to those who are doubting (or should be) needs to be just as clear on what they don't mean as they do on what they do mean. Make sense?

Anonymous said...

As a founding member of the BNC, I will definitely be digging into John's book to do some
Thank you so much for putting some of my frustrations into words. I know many of my family who believe this and, unfortunately, are not struggling with it. Is there any matter more important to KNOW the end of?
I praise God that it was nothing of my own doing to get me to this point of resting in His salvation of me. May God use this post to woo to Himself some weary, confused, mislead wanderer. - Jessy