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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. In our session last week we discussed the fact that true saving faith is what John Murray calls a penitent faith. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to continue to examine how important it is to have a right understanding of what the Bible means when it says we are saved by faith. We saw last time that one common heresy today is to define faith down to nothing more than a decision to follow Jesus, and that decision doesn’t even require a person to repent of his or her sin or to produce any fruit in keeping with repentance. It is, in fact, choosing Christ and the world at the same time.

Marc Roby: And yet, we read in Matthew 6:24 that Jesus himself said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”[1]

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And money in that verse is, of course, just one example of a master, we must not value anything in this world more than Jesus. The apostle John wrote, in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And we read in Matthew 10:37-38 that Jesus said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Marc Roby: That is extremely challenging, we are not to love anyone or anything more than Christ, not even our own life.

Dr. Spencer: It is very challenging, and it makes it clear that when the Bible speaks about believing in Jesus Christ, it is a very serious matter. It necessarily includes giving up all hope in ourselves or anything in the world. Christ alone is able to save us. Everything else is worthless in comparison.

But the nature of true saving faith doesn’t just separate people and churches within the protestant world, it was also the cause of the greatest split ever seen in the church; the protestant reformation.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, not all professing Christians are even aware of the reformation anymore, so it might be a good idea to just say that prior to the reformation in the 16th century, there was only one Christian church in western Europe, and that was the Roman Catholic church. The reformers, people like Martin Luther and John Calvin, were people who split away from the Roman Catholic church because it had fallen into serious doctrinal error and refused to change.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And then, unfortunately, the reformers themselves had a number of smaller splits over less important matters and the net result is the proliferation of denominations that we have today: Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians and many, many more.

Marc Roby: While the reformation was a complicated and lengthy historical event, it is often thought of us beginning when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although the seeds of the reformation had been planted in England by John Wycliffe and in the Kingdom of Bohemia, in what is now part of the Czech Republic, by Jan Hus about 150 years earlier. It’s also important to know that the reformation was really a return to biblical Christianity. No new revelation from God was involved in the reformation, it was, rather, a return to the Bible.

Marc Roby: And, as many people know, the main topic of the 95 theses was the Roman Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences, which are declarations by the Pope that supposedly release people from some or all of the time they would have to spend in purgatory.

Dr. Spencer: That’s also true. Before we go on, I think we have to give some background here for our listeners to be able to understand the issues.

The Roman Catholic church taught then, and still teaches, that when people die they can go to one of three places; heaven, purgatory, or hell.[2] They teach that when a person comes to faith and his sins are forgiven, which is called being in a state of grace, that does not mean that all of the consequences for those sins are removed. A forgiven person will ultimately go to heaven and spend eternity in bliss, but there are still temporal consequences for sins.[3] And if a person dies while not yet having undergone all of the temporal punishment due to him for his sin, he goes to purgatory to finish paying that penalty.

Marc Roby: Now, we should say that we certainly agree that there are temporal consequences for our sin. In Leviticus 26:40-42 God told his people through Moses, “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a sobering passage, which should cause us all to be more careful in how we live. But we must also be careful to make clear that when God referred to people paying for their sin, he was not speaking about atonement. The Bible is clear that no one outside of Christ can atone for his own sins or the sins of others. Instead, this is speaking about temporal discipline.

So, we agree with the Roman Catholic church in part, although we would say that the Bible teaches that when a believer dies, all such temporal discipline is over. Whereas, the Roman Catholic church teaches that when you die you may still have left over temporal punishment to go through. And, if that is the case, you don’t go directly to heaven, you go to purgatory as I said earlier. Only when you have finished with your temporal punishment are you released from purgatory and admitted to heaven.

Marc Roby: It is important to note that the Bible never once mentions or even implies the existence of purgatory, or anything like it.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The doctrine of purgatory is unbiblical, but the background is important to understand the real issues of the reformation.

Marc Roby: OK, so an indulgence then was something that would release an individual from a certain amount of time in purgatory.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the church still issues indulgences today, although Pope Pius V abolished the sale of indulgences in 1567.[4] But we’ve said enough about indulgences for the time being. Luther’s 95 theses were mostly about them on the surface, but indulgences were really a symptom, not the true problem. At the time Luther posted his theses, he was hoping to reform the church from within, not split it up, and he even assumed in the theses that the Pope would not approve if he knew how indulgences were being described by those who sold them.

Marc Roby: Which turned out not to be entirely true of course.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, his assumption was definitely not entirely true. The papacy at the time of Luther was exceedingly corrupt and needed the money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. The protestant reformation is a fascinating and useful topic to study, and we may take a look at it in detail at some future time. But for right now I want to stay focused on the importance of having a right understanding of what constitutes true, saving faith as presented in the Bible.

Marc Roby: OK. You said that indulgences were only a symptom, what was the real problem?

Dr. Spencer: Well, it was related to the indulgences because of the way they were being marketed, for lack of a better term.

Marc Roby: Given much of what went on, I think that is a perfectly appropriate term.

Dr. Spencer: Well, you’re right about that, it just sounds bad. In any event, indulgences were sold as a way for people to escape punishment, without requiring true repentance or change.

Marc Roby: Which sounds much like the modern view of faith without repentance or change.

Dr. Spencer: It was similar in practice, yes. But, to be fair, the official position of the Roman Catholic church, then as now, required repentance. A little more background is probably needed to understand the picture. In the Roman Catholic church, a person is saved by baptism and the other sacraments of the church[5]. One of these was, and is, the sacrament of penance[6]. According to the Roman Catholic church, there are two kinds of sins; venial and grave, or mortal.

Marc Roby: Which is, I hasten to point out, a distinction not made in the Bible. In James 2:10 we read, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an important point. We are not suggesting, of course, that the physical act of adultery isn’t worse than having a lustful thought, or that murder isn’t worse than being improperly angry with someone, but nevertheless, there are no sins that are so small that God simply winks and ignores our committing them. Every violation of God’s law, no matter how small, is a demonstration of the fact that we are, at our core, rebellious sinners.

But, getting back to the idea of venial and mortal sins, venial sins do not destroy the grace received at baptism, but mortal sins do.[7] When a person commits a venial sin, he is still in a state of grace, although he still needs to repent of the sin. But, if a true Christian commits a mortal sin and then dies without having repented of it, the Roman Catholic doctrine says that he goes to hell. In other words, according the Roman Catholic church, true faith can be lost.

Marc Roby: Now, if that were true, Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure would be very strange indeed. How could we ever be sure of our election if the possibility still existed for us to fall away from salvation by some future sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the answer, of course, is that we couldn’t be sure. The reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which we spoke about in Session 131, is the proper biblical view. But returning to the topic of sin, according to the Roman Catholic church, when someone has committed a mortal sin, he must avail himself of the sacrament of penance to be restored to the state of grace. And even after being restored to the state of grace there is temporal punishment for sin, which the penitent must go through either in this life or in purgatory. Now, there is also temporal punishment for venial sins. The Roman Catholic sacrament of penance at the time of the reformation and still today has three components: contrition, confession, and satisfaction.[8]

Marc Roby: So in order to have his temporal punishment reduced, a man must be truly contrite – in other words, he must truly feel sorry for having sinned, he must confess his sins, and he must perform some work of satisfaction.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s correct. And the Roman Catholic catechism carefully defines true contrition. It says, that contrition consists in “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again”.[9]

Marc Roby: That sounds very much like the way we have defined true, biblical repentance.

Dr. Spencer: It does sound a lot like it. We made the point last time that true, saving faith is always a penitent faith. So you can see that this issue of selling indulgences is connected with the nature of true faith; basically, it is a symptom of the fact that the Roman Catholic church teaches that a person is saved by the sacraments, through the action of the church and the works of the sinner, rather than through a vital, penitent, personal faith in Jesus Christ alone.

But, getting back to the sacrament of penance, the second component, confession, is clear enough, although we would again disagree with the Roman Catholic church by saying that there is no biblical requirement for a person to confess his sins to a priest. The third element, satisfaction, can take many forms, for example, saying certain prayers, or giving to the poor …

Marc Roby: Or, at the time of the reformation, purchasing an indulgence.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. An indulgence was one possible work of satisfaction. Although, as I noted earlier, the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567. But we have now gotten to the real issue. The way indulgences were being sold, there was no requirement for personal repentance.

And further, even if the indulgences had been marketed in accordance with the church’s doctrines, so that the person was instructed that there must be real contrition, the person’s faith was not, in and of itself, sufficient for salvation. He needed to do works of satisfaction and the church needed to accept his works and pronounce absolution.[10]

Marc Roby: Which simply means that the church declares that he has been forgiven.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So there are works required now in addition to faith. And the church must be involved to mediate this whole process.

Marc Roby: Even though Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.

Dr. Spencer: And in spite of the fact that we read in Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” There is no mention of works of satisfaction being a condition upon which our salvation depends. And there is no need for a separate priesthood either. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:5 that Christians, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Marc Roby: Even though we repudiate the need for a special priesthood to mediate for us, we would certainly agree that a person who has been saved will have good works.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do agree with that. But those good works are the result of the fact that the person has been born again and is a new creation. They serve as proof that the conversion is real, but they are never seen as a condition which must be met in order for the person to be saved. There is all the difference in the world between these two positions.

We must be born again, not by being baptized or doing anything else that we or any priest can do, but by the sovereign, effectual work of Almighty God. If we have been born again, we are new creations and we will respond in repentance and faith. That faith unites us to Jesus Christ and, as a result of that union, our sins are put into his account and are seen as having been paid for by Christ on the cross. Simultaneously, his righteousness is put into our account and we are seen as perfectly righteous in God’s sight.

Marc Roby: And that is the glorious double transaction we have spoken of a number of times.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. So the core of biblical Christianity is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as the reformers declared. But in order to be sure that we are not deceived, that faith must conform to the biblical standard. It must be a true, penitent faith in the real, fully divine and fully human Jesus Christ presented to us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Well, I think we are out of time for today, so we’ll have to continue this conversation next time. But before we sign off, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdo

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, Section Two, Chapter Three, Article 12, Paragraph 1021 (e.g., see http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2K.HTM)

[3] Ibid, Part Two, Section Two, Chapter One, Article 1, Paragraph 1264

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica, (see https://www.britannica.com/topic/indulgence)

[5] Catholic Church, op. cit., Part Two, Section Two, Chapter One, Article 1, Paragraph 1215 tells us that baptism “signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God.’” The quote they give is from John 3:5 where Jesus is telling Nicodemus about new birth, or regeneration. Therefore, they are saying that baptism “actually brings about” regeneration. This unbiblical doctrine is often referred to as baptismal regeneration.

[6] Also called the sacrament of conversion, or repentance, or forgiveness, or reconciliation; see Ibid, Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 4, Paragraphs 1423 and 1424

[7] Ibid, Paragraph 1446 says that those who commit grave sin “have thus lost their baptismal grace”.

[8] Ibid, Paragraph 1448

[9] Ibid, Paragraph 1471

[10] Ibid, Paragraph 1424

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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And we are also still taking a break from our continuing series on systematic theology.

Last week I discussed how to think biblically. The first requirement is that you be born again because at the core of every single person’s worldview you either find saving faith in the God of the Bible, or you don’t. There is no third position. And this core presupposition affects how you think about everything.

But even if you have been born again, you still need to put effort into learning how to think biblically. It is all too easy to fall back on our old nature and/or to be heavily influenced in our thinking by the sea of unbiblical ideas in which we all swim on a daily basis. And so, today I want to examine how we can make our calling and election sure. And then, next time, we will look at some examples of proper biblical thinking in order to help us develop our own thinking. These examples should also provide great motivation for us because we will see the power that comes from thinking in the way God wants us to think.

So, let’s begin by examining how to make our calling and election sure, which is a command, not a suggestion. We read in 2 Peter 1:10-11, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[1] The Greek verb translated here as “be all the more eager” is in the imperative mood, meaning that this is a command from God, through the apostle Peter. The verb means to be zealous, earnest and diligent in pursuing something. In other words, this is important. It is not something about which we should be careless. It is, in fact, the most important thing to know about ourselves because our calling and election determine whether we are headed for eternal heaven or eternal hell.

But you may be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to make my calling and election sure? God doesn’t tell us in the Bible who is and is not chosen. I can’t pry into the eternal counsels of God to know whether or not I am an elect.” I would answer that objection by first saying that it is true in the sense that we cannot examine God’s election directly. We can, however, examine it indirectly by looking for the fruit that is guaranteed to be produced. Jesus said, in Luke 6:43-44, that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” His point is clear; although we can’t directly examine God’s election, we can examine our lives to see whether or not they display the fruit of someone who has been born again. In 2 Peter 1:10, it said “if you do these things you will never fall” and “these things” refers back to the qualities noted in Verses 5 through 7; namely, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. So we must look for these Christian traits increasing in our lives.

And even though being commanded to do something doesn’t always imply that we can succeed – for example, think of the command to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect – nevertheless, in this context it seems quite clear that Peter fully expects that we can, in fact, make our calling and election sure. This is not an impossible task, and it is a very important one.

There are some who think it is impossible to have a genuine assurance of salvation. Certainly Arminians, Catholics and others who think that you can lose your salvation cannot be assured of their final salvation for they believe it is always possible to sin so grievously as to lose it. And while we do not agree that a true Christian can ever lose his salvation, we must admit that there is a real possibility of having a false assurance. You should not feel secure that you are saved just because you once prayed a prayer and were baptized.

Nevertheless, the biblical command stands and examining ourselves for the sake of making our calling and election sure is an important activity. There are certainly degrees of assurance, but having a solid, biblical basis for assurance that you have been saved helps a great deal in living a productive, holy Christian life that is pleasing to God.

As we have argued in previous sessions, everyone who is elect will be effectually called by God, which means that they will be regenerated, or born again, and will then repent, believe and be saved. And this salvation will be apparent if we observe the changes in their lives. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” So, let’s briefly discuss how we are to examine ourselves.

We addressed this question before, in Sessions 96 and 97, where we looked at the teaching in 1st John. This letter is an excellent place to look because John tells us that he wrote it to enable his readers to test themselves. In 1 John 5:13 we read, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We noted at that time that the Rev. P.G. Mathew summarized John’s teaching in his commentary on 1 John. Mathew wrote that John provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[2] I don’t want to go back over all that we presented in those sessions, I’ll let those who are interested go listen to them. But I will give a quick survey here and then move on to some other tests.

First, with regard to the doctrinal test, John mentions a number of fundamental Christian doctrines. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but certainly no one is truly born again who doesn’t agree with these basic doctrines. If you are interested in the Scripture references for each of these, take a look at the transcript for this session and you will find them. John mentions the following doctrines: the eternal deity of the second person of the Trinity[3], the fact that Jesus Christ is truly God[4], that he is truly man[5], that he is perfectly holy[6], that he is the promised Messiah[7], that men are all sinners[8], that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins[9], that he has promised eternal life to his chosen people[10], that we are the children of God[11], that we must love our brothers[12], that his children will all be sanctified[13], that we have union with Christ[14], that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers[15], that Jesus truly died on the cross[16], and that obedience to him is necessary for a Christian[17].

Second, with regard to the moral test, in 1 John 2:3 we are told, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” This is a very bold and crystal-clear statement. John is not talking about sinless perfection here[18], but he is saying that a Christian’s life will be characterized by obedience. If we claim to be Christians but just go on living however we please, we are liars. And in order to obey Christ, we must know what he commands. In other words, we must know his Word, the Bible. In fact, anyone who has truly been born again will have a desire to know what the Word says. It is a very sad commentary on the modern church that most professing Christians have never read the Bible all the way through even one time, let alone made a lifetime habit of truly studying the Word of God.

Third, and last, is the social test. We read in 1 John 1:7, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”. And we are told numerous times in the letter that we must love our brothers and that love must be in actions, not just words. This is not just a call to make friendly small talk after church, it is a call to serious fellowship, to be involved in each other’s lives. Praying for one another and helping one another in concrete ways. It includes rebuking and correcting when appropriate, as well as sharing in material possessions and using our individual gifts for the good of the body of Christ. Christians cannot live as individuals who float around as they please. They are to be part of a local church family and to be heavily invested in one another.

So the letter of 1st John is a great place to start in terms of making your calling and election sure. But the entire New Testament is filled with tests we can apply to ourselves. Let me just give a small sampling of the other tests. In John 15:10 we read that Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” This is just one of many verses in the New Testament that speak of the necessity for us to obey God. We are to be conformed to the image of Christ and he clearly tells us here that he obeyed. Now, don’t misunderstand me, our obedience is never perfect in this life. In 1 John 1:8 we are told that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But if you have been born again, there is a desire to obey God and a sincere grief and repentance and crying out to God for forgiveness when you fail.

Just a few verses further down we read, in John 15:19, that Christ also said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Friends, if you are comfortable with the ways of the world, if you feel at home here, that is a very bad sign. In Philippians 3:18-21 Paul wrote, “as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” So ask yourself, are you a citizen of earth, or are you a citizen of heaven who is just passing through this life? While praying to the Father about his followers, Jesus said, in John 17:16, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” So, friends, what occupies your thoughts and your desires the majority of the time? Are they worldly, or heavenly? Do you spend great amounts of time studying and preparing for your vacation and no time at all studying God’s Word? Are you a stranger here in this life, or is this your natural home?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying it is wrong for you to spend some time planning a vacation, working hard at your job, or enjoying the many legitimate pleasures of this life. But how often do your thoughts turn to God? When you step outside on a beautiful spring day and see some new flowers and hear a bird singing, do you instinctively give thanks to God? When you get up in the morning, is your mind filled with all of the things you need to do that day, or do you take time to thank God for giving you another day of life and health? Do you spend time in prayer? And in studying God’s Word? If your Christianity only affects your life on Sunday morning and on other rare occasions, then I must say that your Christianity is not real.

Brothers and sisters, the Bible is God’s only infallible, objective revelation to us. It is our guidebook for life. If you have been born again there must be a desire to know God, and the Bible is where you turn. That is where you learn about God’s purpose and plan and how you can please him. It is where you learn what he loves and what he hates. It is the way you find the narrow path that leads to eternal life. J.I. Packer in his classic book Knowing God wrote, “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you.”[19] And we study God by prayerfully studying his Word.

Don’t buy into the illogical[20] and unbiblical modern idea that the Bible is just a record of human interactions with God and human reflections about God. It is true that men wrote the Bible, but they were guided by God. In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter tells us, “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, in fact, the Holy Spirit is the primary author of the Bible. It is God’s Word to us and we must believe and obey it. We covered this in detail in Sessions 34 through 38, so I won’t say any more now. My point in the context of our present discussion is simply that your attitude toward the Bible is a very strong indication of whether or not your claim to be a Christian is true. It is a great way to make your calling and election sure.

There is much more that could be said about making our calling and election sure, but let me very briefly summarize what I have shared so far. First, we are commanded to do so. Second, John gives us three ways of testing ourselves; the doctrinal test, the moral test and the social test. Third, we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, and the dominant characteristic of his life was one of obedience to God. Fourth, we are not to be worldly. We live in this world, but we are not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven and our thoughts should frequently be there. Fifth, our attitude toward the Word of God is critical. We must come to it wanting to know how God would have us live our lives. Our desire should be to please God, not to get ahead in the world.

Now, before I go on, let me be perfectly clear that none of us ever live up to the standard by which we should measure ourselves. That standard is high. But we should see in ourselves an honest striving. In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Many of you have heard the story of John Newton. He was an English slave trader in the 18th century who had a dramatic conversion which started with a storm at sea and led to his becoming an ordained minister. He is perhaps best known for writing the hymn Amazing Grace. A story is told about him near the end of his life commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:10, which says in part, “But by the grace of God I am what I am”. He is reported to have said, “though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’”[21]. That is a wonderful statement, to which all true Christians should be able to say “Amen”. If you have been born again, God will be working throughout your life to conform you to the image of Christ. You may fall down, sometimes terribly, but the general tenor of your life will be one of increasing holiness and hatred of your own sins.

And finally, let me close this topic of making your calling and election sure by pointing out that the current coronavirus pandemic affords an excellent opportunity to do so. How you react to a trial is a very important sign of whether or not you have been born again. If you are a true Christian you will be able to overcome the natural anxiety and fear that attends difficult circumstances and rejoice in the fact that God has saved you. You will be able to have confidence that God is sovereign and fully in control of the situation and that he is good and his purposes are good. Listen to what the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-7; “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It is my prayer that this pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused would prove your faith to be genuine and result in praise, glory and honor when Christ returns. And if, after examining yourself, you are not sure of your salvation, then cry out to God in humble repentance. Seek his mercy and study his Word, striving to do what it says. And remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to answer you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 4

[3] 1 John 1:1-2

[4] 1 John 5:20

[5] 1 John 1:1-2, 4:2, 9

[6] 1 John 1:5, 2:1, 29

[7] John 2:22, 5:1

[8] 1 John 1:8, 10

[9] 1 John 1:7, 2:2, 12, 3:16, 4:10, 14

[10] 1 John 2:17, 25, 5:11

[11] 1 John 3:1-2, 10, 5:19

[12] 1 John 2:9-11, 3:10-11, 14, 23, 4:7-8, 11-12, 19-21

[13] 1 John 3:3, 6, 9, 5:18

[14] 1 John 3:24, 4:13, 5:11

[15] 1 John 3:24, 4:13

[16] 1 John 3:16

[17] 1 John 2:3-6, 3:22, 24, 5:2-3

[18] Or it would conflict with what he says in 1 John 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

[19] J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1993, pg. 19

[20] The idea is illogical for many reasons; e.g., the agreement between all the parts of the Bible, which would be impossible given the number of authors and separation in time if they were not guided by God, the prophecies contained in it, and so on. See Sessions 4-11 and 17-21.

[21] quoted from The Christian Spectator, 1821, Vol III, pg. 186

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