One night a man stirred from sleep with intense anxiety. It came from nowhere. The subject of the anxiety concerned him more than the fact that he was anxious. He had, for whatever reason, awakened in the middle of the night with a complete lack of subjective assurance of Christ. To be honest, this has rarely if ever happened to the man. He knew it was something other struggled with, and he was concerned for them in their hours of trouble. What became more strange for the man was that it left him just as quickly as it came upon him. Why? He did not begin confessing sins. Rather, he called out to the Lord Jesus, “Save me, please.” He knew his risen savior personally.
Others have not been so blessed to have near instant assurance return. Another example is what Francis Schaeffer escribed in the opening section of his book, True Spirituality. In the book, Schaffer described how he’d suddenly met a crisis in his life. He was a church pastor and theologian. However, he was not immune to the sudden emotional crisis which came upon him. For Schaffer, the process of returning was spent for some months of searching. He walked, prayer, studied, and eventually went back to the very foundations of the faith. What resulted from his labor was the light returning. He was restored in his assurance. Schaffer then developed as series of lecture on the subject. Again, the answer was, in Schafffer’s words, a “radically Christ centered” religious life.
Thinking through this story has caused me to write the following about the article. Both men are demonstrative of a theme that runs through the lives of innumerable men and women. Many fall into a lack of assurance, never to climb out, for lack of knowledge as to the living Savior as the object of assurance. Many in the church lack assurance. Others in the church have false assurance. Others have assurance, but they need help from the Lord with their lack. All fall into sin, and many for a time may be under the sense of God’s Fatherly displeasure, the lack of a sense of the Spirit of God, and a distance between them and their Savior Jesus.
Part of the issue compounds with poor approaches to regain assurance. The one with false assurance approaches assurance by thinking in their minds, “I have made a decision to follow Christ. I know I am his, and I should never let anything change that. I can even sin and still know God will just forgive me” We often call them in technical terms, antinomians, anti-law – because they do not follow the Law of Christ. Others will say to themselves, “I don’t know if I am saved, and that is why I make sure by my obedience. If I keep at it, the assurance will come.” We often call these legalists, because they use the law to keep salvation. What unites these apparently opposite views together if that both have to do with law. Legalist and anti-nomian are dealing with legality, nomos, law. Strange bedfellows indeed, but it is true. The law is the way they relate to Christ. One would object to this in reply, “But the antinomian is against the law, so he must not be thinking legally.” That sounds right at first, but it is wrong. Here is why. When we arespeaking about these terms, they have to do with how people relate to Christ. Christ relates to the unbeliever in terms of a covenant of law. He relates to the Christian in terms of personal love, salvation, and rule. The key is the kind of relationship has been misdefined. Personal relationships, already established, and unbreakable are different from legal relationships created in the mind of those who enter them. The anti-nomian is actually a legalist in terms of relationship because he/she relates to Christ on a legally determined, absolute law. That law in one’s mind is that Jesus’ salvation was available to all, he/she believed in Jesus, therefore Jesus is required to grant salvation. It is not law with hands and feet breaking one of the ten commandments, but law in the sense of contractual obligation on Christ’s part to pardon the one who made a decision.
Think about it like this. Imagine a young man desired to be married to a young woman, and he knew she was available to be married. He then writes up the forms for a marriage certificate and files all of documents with witnesses and all that they were married. And then he presented it to the girl and said, “Marry me. You are available to me, and I have decided to make you mine.” She’d probably say, no, most probably. But then he shows her the contract already drawn up, signed (forged as it may be on her part) and told her it was already done, and he’d made the decision. Then most probably she would decline the proposal, one should think. This is because first comes love, then comes the proposal, then the actually marriage, because the kind of relationship is a personal loving covenant, not a legal contract that is drawn up, decided and signed simply because she was available. Antinomians do the same with Christian salvation and assurance. They don’t say it, but seem to assume that Christ is contractually obligated to give salvation to me he is available.
Many deal with assurance anxiety, but they do so with a legal frame. “I am guilty, so guilty, Chirst could never want me.” This is the same type of relationship as above. It is legal. It assumes there is something mechanical that happens when we sin as Christians, and we become unlovable. It is important here first to remember grace, that Jesus loves sinners, and is pleased to save us.
Note the two examples at the beginning. Both men who struggled with a lack of assurance did not struggle for any good reason. We don’t even need a good reason to struggle. Perhaps it could simply be a temptation of the devil, which in the providence of God one endures. Others struggle with lack of understanding of doctrines in the bible, passages in the Bible puzzle them. Other struggle form the experiences of evil in the world and wonder why a good God would allow such to occur. This is a major issue, which needs the most true of answers.
Assurance does not come from something we do, nor something we can do. It comes from Christ, knowing Christ. This is why the topic of the article is the free offer and assurance. The free offer is not a legal contractual agreement, and assurance does not come from such. The free offer is Christ personally offering himself to sinners as Savior. Now, he is savior in many ways. In his blood, he was substitute. In his life, he was obedient. In his resurrection he is alive and life giver. In his ascension he is ruler and on mission in the church. In his return he will put an end to all evil and save completely in the resurrection. Jesus has many benefits. But, we may never separate the benefits from the person of Christ. When we trust in Christ, we are doing so personally. We trust the person, not the benefits. See here, the legalist and the antinomian are after the benefits. Yet, they are not doing so from the perspective of knowing Christ. Knowing does not mean knowing about, but knowing him, and therefore trusting him.
There is a document from the Free Church of Scotland called The Sum of Saving Knowledge. The title is interesting. The subject is the way of salvation. But the title can be misleading. The sum of saving knowledge is not a summary of every little thing you must know to be saved. It is a sum of knowledge of Christ, who is the savior who offers himself to sinners. To know him is saving. Just like we cannot separate Jesus himself from the benefits above, so here we cannot separate Christ from the doctrines about Christ. Again, the antinomian is about the doctrines, but does not know Christ as the savior and rip his heart out of his chest and place it in his saviors hands and say, “here, keep it beating!” That’s the trust we have in Christ, personally, He is the Savior, and we trust Him because He alone is.
The point of this article then is to have assurance. The question is then: how may one develop assurance. The first way is by knowing the Triune God. God is not just God. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. These names reveal relationship. Relationship to one another, and relationship to us. God is our Father. We pray to him personally as Our Father who art in Heaven. Those are not magic words, used to get what we want in prayer, but communion with Him, relation to Him. The Son is Jesus Christ our mediator and Savior, whom we know as Savior, King, risen and almighty and working in His Church. He relates to us in the Supper especially. We take communion not just to remember, but to remember in His presence. Just like the Apostles did. They ate with him. So do we. That is relationship communion. The Spirit is the Spirit of God, who relates to the Son and the Father as the Spirit of Knowledge. As a humans soul knows his own self, so the Spirit knows the Father and the Son, and makes him known. The point here is the see that God is Triune and is to be known.
An extension of this is trusting Christ, not self, and not a bare doctrine or promise from a preacher, but the personal God who speaks a promise of salvation in himself to all who ask (yes he uses preachers, but one is not to trust the preacher, but to trust Christ who’s word the preacher speaks). A promise is only as good as the man who makes it, to quote Tommy Callahan. Jesus makes good on His promises, and so we don’t just trust a promise, nor a preacher, but Jesus himself. Practice trusting in Christ knowing Christ. That will bring assurance. That was what brought both of the stories in the beginning out of the darkness into the light.
Another way we can grow in the assurance is repentance. Now, this is not to lead us back into the dialectic and apparent legality of antinomians and legalists. They approach repentance as legality. We must approach it personally, and on the basis of the relationship we have with our Lord Jesus who is our savior. Repentance as personal love in devoted relationship to Father, and Son who bought with price, and Spirit who is present with us is a freeing experience, not bondage to law. It looks like this: “I love my Lord Jesus, and want to follow him. I have sinned. Forgive me loving Father who delights to have obedient children, and filled and empower me o Spirit, who never leaves and never forsakes me even when I sin, for I know in my sin you are still present convicting me. Rule me Lord Jesus, and use me for your kingdom work. You will be done in my life, for I was bought with a price.” It is totally different tone.
The same as the free offer of the Gospel to sinners is often confused by evangelicals by separating Christ from his benefits or Christ from the doctrines, so assurance suffers the same fate in their hands. The key is to join assurance to Christ Himself. He is the Savior, not an idea abstracted from him.