Five Reasons Why Christians Do Not Know They Are Saved

William Guthrie, in his The Christian’s Great Interest, shows how the Bible is clear that a person can know he is saved. Nevertheless there remains still the phenomemon of widespread uncertainty amongst people. Guthrie gives five reasons why this is the case:

  1. Ignorance of God and his ways.
  2. Dealing deceitfully with God and their own consciences.
  3. Slothfulness and negligence.
  4. Having no fixed idea of what evidence would satisfy them.
  5. Their dependence on changeable evidence. 

The first three seem obvious and eye-opening to me. (Isn’t that often the case? The obvious thing is the one we are most likely to neglect!) 

The fourth item Guthrie links to a lack of seriousness about knowing the answer. The Bible gives plenty of reasons. They just have to be found.

The final point is the problem of looking inwardly to my own diligence in spiritual disciplines. Guthrie lists: success in defeating sin, a ‘successful’ prayer life, the inner witness of the Spirit as the evidences that are changeable. Clearly, we keep sinning, our prayer life can be perplexing and the inner witness can be hard to detect. But none of these experiences have any bearing on the fact of our salvation.

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Five Reasons Why Christians Do Not Know They Are Saved

Mortification of Sin

Challies has got some kind of reading club going where they are studying Owen’s work Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (in volume 6 of Banner’s edition of his ‘Works’). I thought I would tag along since I have been meaning to read this part of Owen’s work. Having a sequence of deadlines can’t be bad.

Of course, since Owen thought about his writing in Latin, but wrote English words, his sentence construction is a little odd. Rather like reading Yoda but in longer sentences.

I am a couple of weeks behind, but here is some thought on Chapter I.

Summary

In this chapter Owen uses Romans 8:13 as the starting point. He makes five points from this verse:

1. The conditional ‘if’ shows the certainty of the coherence between mortfying the flesh and living. The connection is that between means and end, not cause and effect. The end is that which is freely promised. The means is the mortification of the flesh.

2. The persons to whom this is promised are those who are in the Spirit (8:9-11). Pressing this injunction on anyone else is the fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

3. The efficient cause of the performance of the duty of mortification is the Spirit of God. Anything done by self-effort for the the purposes of self-righteousness is false religion.

4. The instruction is to mortify the deeds of the body. Three things need to be clarified:
a) the body: this is the corruption of our natures (i.e. indwelling sin) of which the physical body is a servant.
b) the deeds of the body: that is, the outward practices. However, Owen understands that the means of mortification of these deeds is to deal with the root cause, not simply chop off the branches.
c) mortify: indwelling sin is compared to a person (“the old man”) who has to have the principle of life removed. It is slain by the cross of Christ. We are dead with this “man” when a new principle is placed in our hearts at regeneration. But the work is by degrees. The intention is that it may not issue forth in sinful deeds.

5. The promise of life. Not the essence of it, but the “joy, comfort and vigour of it”.

Discussion

Owen immediately confronts us with an issue that we rarely consider in the modern day. And if any of us do consider it, we do so in a superficial way.

Firstly, many of believe that holiness of life just happens. I am a Christian, and now God will do the rest. I just need to dance around with joy while he does it. I suspect this idea comes from a misunderstanding of Rom 6:14: “…for you are not under law but under grace”, which is often interpreted as not needing to be guided in life by any principles. However, this verse, and Owen bring us face to face with the command to mortify. It is something that we do.

Secondly, we think it is a matter of simply altering behaviour. Stop doing this or that. However, Owen shows that it is a much deeper problem. To mortify the deeds means destroying the motivating principle that gives rise to the behaviour. This can only be a spiritual work, achieved on the cross and applied at first in regeneration but continuing throughout life.

Interestingly, Owen does not understand ‘to live’ to be the giving of eternal life. If that were true, then I suppose we would be tempted to make salvation dependent on performance. Instead, Owen understands this to be the exercise of life. In other words, eternal life may exist, but the ‘vigour, power and comfort’ of it may be lacking without the mortification of sin. This is an important insight and probably explains why so much of Christian living seems so anaemic today.

Mortification of Sin

The Dawkins Letters

Everyone has heard of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I am reading it at the moment. But you may not have heard of David Robertson. Robertson has written a book, The Dawkins Letters, dealing with the myths about Christianity that Dawkins assumes in his book. Well, if you are in the Birmingham area on Thursday 29th November (yes, next week!) at 6pm, Robertson will be at the Borders bookshop in the Bullring shopping centre speaking, taking questions and signing books. This is a bold step by Borders which I applaud.

Especially when people say things like:

Roberston is a prat. And not only a PRAT, but a dangerous PRAT. A complete loser. I’ve never read such a dogmatic, vicious diatribe as this. WHEN WILL THEISTS LIKE ROBERTSON actually provide some EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE of their own – something we can really scrutinize and say – ‘Hey! You know, there could be a God, judged on this evidence.’
(in the blurb for the book)

A completely objective statement, then.

To get a flavour of his arguments you might like to watch this:

Then go along next Thursday.

The Dawkins Letters

The Beasts of the Heart

One of the things I have really enjoyed recently is being invited to attend the Cambridge Presbyterian Church Theology Group. They are a pretty high-powered bunch! Hosted by the minister, Ian Hamilton, the group meets once a month to discuss pastoral issues found in the writings of great men of the past.

Last Wednesday our study was in John Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood”, led by Dr. Chad van Dixhoorn. I had never read any Chrysostom (born around 349AD) before but was amazed by what I found. Chrysostom shows remarkable sensitivity both to the limitations of his own soul and to the needs of the men and women under his care. This book is no theoretical treatment, but one born out of personal experience.

The book is in the form of a (one-sided) dialogue between Chrysostom and his friend Basil, probably written after he himself had become a priest, but set in the earlier time when his friend Basil had just taken priestly orders. In the dialogue, Chrysostom, speaking of his own fears about the ministry to which he was ultimately called, says,

8. … I know my own soul, how feeble and puny it is: I know the magnitude of this ministry, and the great difficulty of the work; for more stormy billows vex the soul of the priest than the gales which disturb the sea.

9. And first of all is that most terrible rock of vainglory, more dangerous than that of the Sirens, of which the fable-mongers tell such marvellous tales: for many were able to sail past that and escape unscathed; but this is to me so dangerous that even now, when no necessity of any kind impels me into that abyss, I am unable to keep clear of the snare: but if any one were to commit this charge to me, it would be all the same as if he tied my hands behind my back, and delivered me to the wild beasts dwelling on that rock to rend me in pieces day by day. Do you ask what those wild beasts are? They are wrath, despondency, envy, strife, slanders, accusations, falsehood, hypocrisy, intrigues, anger against those who have done no harm, pleasure at the indecorous acts of fellow ministers, sorrow at their prosperity, love of praise, desire of honor (which indeed most of all drives the human soul headlong to perdition), doctrines devised to please, servile flatteries, ignoble fawning, contempt of the poor, paying court to the rich, senseless and mischievous honors, favors attended with danger both to those who offer and those who accept them, sordid fear suited only to the basest of slaves, the abolition of plain speaking, a great affectation of humility, but banishment of truth, the suppression of convictions and reproofs, or rather the excessive use of them against the poor, while against those who are invested with power no one dare open his lips.
John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, Book III:8,9

When I read this, I seriously wondered whether I would have entered the ministry had I read this before my ordination! The ‘beasts’ that he fears are not from the outside but arise within under the temptation of office.

Chrysostom’s treatise is a valuable reminder of the gravity of the office we hold. Who is up to the task? The answer is obvious, yet the arguments are intended to persuade Basil that he has done the right thing. No one is up to the task, except by the grace of God.

The Beasts of the Heart

Arm-Swinging and Yelling

‘Intelligent Design’ is one of the more politically potent, if intellectually dishonest, weapons in their quiver. …

Science is not a thing but a process. In particular, it is a cumulative process, fiddling with the model until the next bit falls into place, then fiddling with it some more until the next next bit falls into place, then … But ‘Intelligent Design’ won’t have it. There are gaps in the scientific model, it correctly points out, and so the model is no good and incomplete and it’s time to stop fiddling and factor an Intelligent Designer into the equation.

Michael Bywater, Big Babies, p.147

So Bywater caricatures the reasoning of those who promote Intelligent Design. But that’s not my main point. Did you notice how he understands the scientific process? You could be forgiven for missing it. After all, it is the process that is described in virtually every science school book: a gradual process of step by step, incremental progress towards greater knowledge. Slowly the boundaries are moved back and the net is widened. (I remember me and my fellow post-grad research students often saying loudly at the end of lunch break, “Well, can’t sit around here all day – I have more boundaries to push back!”)

Obviously Bywater has not read Thomas Kuhn. Most people have not.

Kuhn realised after reviewing the history of science and its major steps forward that, far from serene gradual change, progress was made by a series of undignified lurches. The interesting bit is the phase before the lurch, rather like when a person is off-balance. Will he go back on to the path he was on, or will he stagger off in a new direction? There is a lot of arm-swinging and maybe shouting before the next step is determined. In the same way, science often gets to a point where the old way of thinking doesn’t seem to work any more. There is too large a body of collected data that says the old paradigm is not valid. Science for a while is off balance while a new paradigm is sought. The transition is marked by shouting and arm-swinging as schools of thought in the scientific discipline slug it out. Finally, a definitive lurch is made and calmness is restored. A new paradigm prevails.

The reason there is slugging out at all is that hitherto most people get comfortable with the existing paradigm. Within it, science is marked by gradual progress: the gentle filling in of gaps in understanding, the gradual extension of the field of its application. If you are an advocate of the paradigm then for you, science is gradual. But, when you then believe that all scientific progress is gradual, and always has been, and you set about convincing others that it is so, then you are attempting lock out real future progress which necessitates a paradigm shift.

I don’t really know if this is one of these transitional periods for the science of origins. But it does seem as though there is a lot of arm-swinging and yelling going on, and an amateur like Bywater is one of them.

Arm-Swinging and Yelling

Big Babies: Why Care?

I have just finished reading Michael Bywater’s ‘Big Babies’. His theme is what he calls the ‘infantilisation’ of society. Business and government in the West conspire to keep us from truly growing up. We are kept in a ‘Mummyverse’ in which we are protected from dangers, our every need is provided for. We resort to tantrum behaviour to get what we feel is still lacking. Indeed, business constantly feeds us messages about what we still lack, creating an underlying sense of dissatisfaction, and then tells us how we could feel so much better if we had such-and such a product.

I like how he likens much consumption of goods as little more than what kids used to do when dressing up as cowboys or princesses. Age 6: Put on a super-suit and become Superman. Age 30+ Put on the new flash car, become the smiling driver in the ad – cool, well dressed, beautiful partner in the passenger seat, foot down, no other traffic, wind in hair etc.  

Bywater makes a compelling diagnosis. Dissatisfaction is real in our society, if not well acknowledged.

The book is intended to be entertaining as well as informative. It is funny in places, though crude in others.

My problem with his argument, if indeed it was intended ultimately to be taken seriously, was that I felt a strong sense of ‘so what’ about it. Let me explain.

Bywater has a pop at Christians (and other religions, since they are all basically the same, aren’t they?!). They are the ultimate Big Babies who are told what to do by a Book. He reserves special ire for those who promote Intelligent Design. Several times he speaks of life as a biological process of self replication (contra one advertising slogan, ‘After all, life is just a journey’). Thus we see that Bywater is a Darwinist.

Now the problem with any Darwinist making any kind of social comment is that, within his own intellectual framework, why should I or anyone care whether he is angry about Big Babies? Why should I listen to his 31 ways to avoid being a Big Baby? (Bywater recognises the irony of this closing chapter!) What exactly would be wrong, within the Darwinist worldview, of a world populated by Big Babies? Isn’t that just the way society has evolved? It’s like being angry that cats evolved whiskers. What’s wrong with that?

Well, nothing, if you are a true, consistent Darwinist. There is no rational basis within the evolutionary worldview on which to complain about Big Babies. It is what is.

Nevertheless, I share his pain at the infantilisation of society! Why? I know why I do – because I am a human being made in the image of God. I am made in a certain way, to relate, to love, to grow, to rule and bear God-given responsibility. Notice I say that, not just as a Christian, but as a human being. Therefore it is no surprise to me that fellow-human Bywater feels the same thing, and no doubt to a much greater degree since he felt the need to write a book about it! It would be no surprise to me that others who read it feel that it strikes a chord. But it only works because people fundamentally don’t believe that Darwinism is true.

There may be someone who says that I am being too po-faced serious about a book which is really intended to entertain. Well, perhaps. It was reasonably entertaining. But I think it is still worth asking the question why it is funny, why it strikes a chord, why the arguments makes sense. And the answer is not found in Bywater’s own view of the world.

Big Babies: Why Care?