by Mike Ratliff
13 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. (1 John 5:13 ESV)
Over the past several weeks it seems that I have written almost exclusively about Christian Authenticity, our battle against discouragement, and our dire need for personal holiness. As I did a quick review of the posts here since way before Thanksgiving, I was struck at how often we have discussed these things compared to more volatile subjects such as the Apostate contemporary Church in the USA. As I prayed for direction for this post this afternoon and evening I found myself right back here looking at those things that are vital to our being able to walk this walk by faith.
I have written about assurance before, but I would like to take another run at it from a slightly different perspective. As most of you know, the core message from the book of 1 John is to show us how we can know that we have eternal life and why that is important. Why is it important? I heard a sermon from John Piper recently where he made the statement, “We cannot repent of a sin that has not been forgiven.” What he did not mean by that is that Christians have some sins that are forgiven and some that aren’t. The Atonement for all Christian’s sins was taken care of on the cross. At our salvation, God the Father Justifies us. He declares us righteous by imputing Jesus’ Righteousness to us. On the cross, He imputed our Sin, our unrighteousness, to Jesus. If we are in Christ then our sins are forgiven. We are Justified in the eyes of God, however, we are still in a death grip battle against our sin nature which was not killed when we were saved. For the rest of our lives in these bodies, we must work in cooperation with God to mortify the sins that we still must deal with in our flesh.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
This battle can be quite severe. The post I wrote several days ago called “Dealing with Discouragement” was received by many as revealing the very thing that kept them from moving forward with their Saviour the way they deeply desired to do. Why? What has discouragement have to do with it? Isn’t it that our constant battles to mortify our sin often end in defeat? Don’t we start to believe that we will never get the victory over some sins? Doesn’t our enemy make sure that we hear about it whenever we are in position to take a step of faith? In this climate, don’t we start to believe that we must be unforgiven? How could God love us since we are totally incapable of killing that sin? This is what John Piper meant in that statement. If we are certain that God has not forgiven us of our sins that we can’t seem to kill then we simply can’t repent. Well, I have good news. Our repentance is what we must do, but we can’t do it unless God grants it to us.
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:22-26 ESV)
If we are struggling with repentance of some sins, could it be that we do so because we have been ensnared by the devil and God has not yet granted us repentance? Why would God do that? Why would our God who loves us allow us to struggle so? What do we learn from the passage above? Teachers and preachers are to flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with others of like mind. From the foundation of a pure heart, they are to remain above fleshly infighting. In fact, they are to be kind and gentle with everyone no matter how evil the attack. From this foundation, the Christian leader CAN THEN correct these people with gentleness. As a result of this wise counsel, the Holy Spirit will work in their hearts to convict and peel away their spiritual blindness so that they seek repentance from God with a broken heart. They come to the throne of grace in brokenness, pouring out their hearts to God to forgive them. Then God, in His timing, will grant them repentance. This is an actual change in their hearts. Their character is changed. The spiritual blindness that the enemy had been using to keep them in bondage is replaced with knowledge of the truth.
In most of our 21st Century Churches the scenario above would be very rare. Why? Don’t you see how vital the role of the godly Pastor is in God’s plan for how His people are to be discipled? If the sheep in a flock are in spiritual blindness and lacking in assurance because of their rampant unrepentance, couldn’t it be that no one is shepherding the sheep biblically? I was a deacon for many years. I was privy to many “inside” discussions about certain church member’s struggles with unrepentantance. The attitude amongst the church pastoral staff was usually one of disdain and/or disgust. They seemed to assume that these people should be able to find a way out of their sin problem through prayer and Bible Study, and by trying harder. Can’t you see that this is backwards? Those in the shepherd role, given by God Himself, have the responsibility to model Paul’s instructions to Timothy on how to disciple their sheep. This does not guarantee that all of their sheep will be able to repent, but if they do not approach this correctly, those who do repent because God granted it to them will be in spite of their not biblically discipling their sheep. I would hate to be these men when they stand before their saviour at the Judgment Seat.
When Christians have assurance, they do so because they know they have been forgiven. When they know this it is because God has granted it to them. They are Spirit-led because God has circumcised their hearts. Their spiritual acuity is laser sharp and bright because God has cut away the callus that hardened their hearts. Now their hearts are tender towards God. They can see spiritual truths that they could never comprehend before. These believers know they have eternal life.
13 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. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:13-15 ESV)
Isn’t it interesting that one of the main facts about genuine Christians that marks them as such is that they pray with confidence things that are the will of God? They know that He hears their prayers and answers them. They don’t pray things that are not the will of God. They may ask amiss, but since they are fervent praying people, God moves their hearts so that they will always end up with their wills lined up with His. These believers have assurance.
19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:19-21 ESV)
Beloved of the Lord, if you are struggling with discouragement because of an inability to repent then I counsel you right now to not believe the lies the enemy is telling you about yourself. Instead, know that you cannot repent unless God grants it. To attain this you must confess your sins to the Lord from a humble heart. If you are unwilling to humble yourself before your Lord then, behold, you have discovered why you cannot repent. However, if you are being convicted that you must repent then humble yourself before the Lord, confess your sins to Him and ask Him to help you repent and to give you victory over your sin. Part of mortifying our sin is to have victory over and over when we are tempted. Ask God to open your spiritual eyes. Rejoice in Him and believe that He has heard your prayers and will answer them. Now, do not put your Lord God to the test. You must do your part in avoiding the circumstances that have lead to your sin in the past. Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness. Our part is to fast from the fleshly things our flesh wants and, instead, feast on God. Get into the Word, pray, shun evil, become separate from the world.
If we dearly want revival in our churches then it must start here. If our sheep would pursue personal holiness as we have discussed here then perhaps the Holy Spirit would visit us with power from on high that we may witness another Great Awakening.
addendum: I have received some email expressing some confusion about this post. After rereading it and comparing it to their concerns, I can see where the confusion is coming from. As I write, I pursue points. In doing so it can look like I am pushing a point to an extreme while ignoring many other valid points. This is also made worse by many people’s confusion about the difference between our Justification and our Sanctification. Sometimes I will be writing something about our Sanctification and it will appear that I am talking about our Justification instead. If that is the result as you read this post, then please forgive me for not being clear. Instead of re-writing this post or taking it offline (I think it is a valid and important post), I will leave it here and suggest that you read this post and this one as well, which should help clarify what I am talking about.
addendum: I cannot think of a better resource to learn the difference between Justification and Sanctification than James White’s The God Who Justifies. I highly recommend it to you. Here is a link to my Recommended Reading page.
addendum: Here are links to a series of three posts that I wrote in September about this topic from Romans 7 and 8. I pray that God will use these for your edification and His glory as well.
The Carnality of Christians and the Mortification of Sin
Life in the Spirit
Heirs with Christ
addendum: Here is the link to John Piper’s sermon which I referenced in this post. Enjoy and be blessed. Set Free by the Spirit of Life in Christ.
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