Today on Renewing Your Mind, how can you know for certain that you're going to heaven? When I talk to people who are bothered by that question and who are struggling with the whole concept of election, I say to them, I can't think of any more important question for you to get resolved in your Christian life than that question, am I numbered among the elect? The Apostle Peter urges his readers to make their calling and election sure, for in this way, he writes, there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today and all this week here on Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul tackles the doctrine of assurance and helps us understand what it means to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We're going to continue now with our study of the question of the assurance of salvation. In our first session, we looked at the frightening warnings that come to the church from Jesus, saying that on the day of judgment, at the last day, there will be many coming to Him saying, Lord, Lord, that is professing to have a personal relationship to Him and He will reject saying, please leave, I never knew you, because they were workers of iniquity or of lawlessness. Now, when we look at this question of how can I know whether I'm numbered among those who have made a false confession of faith and who think I'm in a state of grace with Christ, how can I make the distinction between that and somebody who really is in a state of grace as opposed to a spurious profession? And we may even broaden the question. The question we have to look at first is is assurance of salvation even possible?
And if possible, is it desirable? Now, those questions may seem as elementary questions and basic to our New Testament faith. However, we have to understand that in church history, there's been tremendous controversy about those questions. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, in the sixteenth century at the Council of Trent in the sixth session, clearly denied the normal or ordinary possibility for someone to achieve assurance of their salvation, except in rare circumstances. And what Rome goes on to teach, according to the Jesuits, is that the only people who can ever rise to assurance of their salvation in this life are the special saints to whom God gives a special revelation of their status before Him. But apart from those rare incidences, the average normal member of the church cannot have assurance of salvation because, the Roman Catholic Church says, such assurances in the final analysis are based upon human conjecture, human opinion, and ideas that come from the hearts of people whom the Bible defines as being deeply rooted in deceitfulness. The Scriptures tell us that the heart is deceitfully wicked among all things, and so it would be easy for us as we speculate about the state of our souls and the state of our salvation to deceive ourselves and to rest our confidence on mere opinion. And so that is the dogma of the church that assurance of salvation is not really possible apart from some special act of revelation. But, of course, it's not only the Roman Catholic Church who deny the doctrine of the assurance of salvation as the Reformers taught in the sixteenth century. Those Protestants who come out of what we would call a semi-Pelagian background, for example, Arminianism teaches that a Protestant is that a person can have assurance of their salvation for today but no assurance for tomorrow because they hold to the possibility that people who have faith at one time can fall away into faithlessness and lose their salvation. That's why historically the doctrine of the assurance of salvation has been so closely tied with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. And so you have one group saying you can't have assurance, another group saying you can have limited assurance for a limited time, but you don't know what your ultimate state is going to be. And then you have the Reformed theology that teaches not only can you know today that you're in a state of grace, but that you can also have the full assurance that you will at the time of your death still be in a state of grace. And that's why these different theologies and approaches to salvation have very strong practical consequences to them. Now, I think that the Reformed faith, while it teaches that we can have the assurance of salvation, also recognizes that there are false assurances. And so then the plot thickens because you have to ask yourself, how do I know that my assurance is true assurance and not false assurance? And we'll look at those questions as we proceed. But the first point, of course, from the Reformed perspective on this question is that not only can we have the assurance of salvation, but God in His Word commands us to have it.
Let me pause for a second. I remember when I was in seminary and one of my fellow students in the seminary went around the campus and took his own little opinion poll and asked the other students and the faculty individually if they were sure of their salvation. And like over 90 percent of the students answered that question by saying, no, they were not sure of their salvation. And there was this huge response in which it was said that they thought it would be arrogant for somebody to claim that they were sure of their salvation so that the idea of assurance represents not a virtue but a vice. And I've never forgotten that little episode when I was in seminary where there was this negative idea associated with the very pursuit of assurance of salvation that it would ultimately leave us in a state of arrogance. Of course, there's no worse arrogance than to have the assurance of something that you don't really possess, and to be certain of your salvation when you're not in a state of salvation would be arrogant. But on the other hand, if it's true that God commands us to seek assurance, if we don't, or if we say it's not possible, then we are really arrogant because now we're slandering the truthfulness of God Himself. So let's look at some of the important texts that we find in the New Testament with respect to this question. In the second epistle of Peter, in the first chapter and the tenth verse, we read these words from the apostle, "'Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.
For if you do these things, you will never stumble. For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.'" Here without ambiguity, the apostolic mandate is for us not simply in a cavalier, casual way inquire into the certainty of our election, but that we are to make our calling and our election sure through a diligent pursuit of that. So the apostle tells us it's very important, and he goes on to tell you why, and we'll get to that for practical reasons, that we be diligent to make our calling and our election sure. Now, there are lots of people who don't even believe in election, forgetting that this is a biblical concept. But I hear people all the time saying, well, how do you know if you're elect or not?
And we're going to address that question in this series as well. But I want to say at this point, I'll say when I talk to people who are bothered by that question and who are struggling with the whole concept of election, I say to them, I can't think of any more important question for you to get resolved in your Christian life than that question, am I numbered among the elect? Because if we have a sound understanding of election and if we know that we are numbered among the elect, then that provides unbelievable comfort to us as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling and as we encounter the various afflictions that are placed before us in the Christian world. You remember Paul and his writing from which the hymn has been written, I know whom I have believed, and I know that he is able to keep that which I've committed in him against that day.
See, Paul in himself there is talking about his own confidence in his own future because of his knowledge of where he has placed his trust, where he has placed his faith, and he places his trust not in his own power to persevere, not in his own power to finish the race, but he places his confidence in the one in whom he has believed, knowing that he is able to keep him. But in the meantime, we have Peter here saying, be diligent to make your call and election sure. Now again, if we're called to make our election sure, then it would certainly follow that we are able to make our election certain.
We ought to be able to know whether we are numbered among the elect. And again, as we progress in this class, we'll look at how that can be done, but right now I want us to understand that assurance is not an option for us. Assurance is something that we're not supposed to postpone to the end of our Christian life, but it's something that we're supposed to seek diligently now to get it settled so that we know that we are numbered among the elect and that we are in the kingdom of God and that we have been adopted into the Father's house and that we are in Christ and that Christ is truly in us. Now, one of the things that we've already seen is in the case of spurious assurance, where those many people who come to the judgment seat of Christ at the end and say, Lord, Lord, who obviously have had a false assurance. And so, when Jesus declares their assurance false and declares that He doesn't know them and dismisses them from His presence, we remember the reason.
Why? Because they were workers of iniquity and they were people of lawlessness, and they were, as we saw in the parable of the sower, without fruit. Now, let me just pause there and do a little parenthesis, a little reminder of our understanding of justification. We know that we are not saved by our works. We say that we are justified by faith alone.
And so, we don't look to our works to get us into heaven. And yet, we also remember that in the sixteenth century, the magisterial reformers like Martin Luther said we are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. In the Roman Catholic schema, you have to have faith to be justified, but you also have to have works. And so, there is faith plus works equal justification. But in the Protestant view, faith equals justification plus works.
That is, the works are a consequence, a manifestation of the state of grace in which we're in. These works are on that side of the equation, and the works that I do in my Christian life add nothing to my justification. The only works of righteousness that will ever justify me are the works of Christ. And so, when we say that we're justified by faith alone, we mean by that we're justified by Christ alone, by His works. My works don't count a thing to my justification.
So, then you have people say, oh, well, I guess that means that I don't have to bring any fruit. I don't have to bring forth any manifestation of righteousness because I'm saved by faith. But remember, the faith that justifies, as James tells us in his epistle and as Luther argued, is not a dead faith, it's a fides viva, a living faith, a vital faith, true faith that connects us to Christ always and ever manifests itself in works. And if there are no works over here, what that tells us is there's no faith over here. And if there's no faith over here, there's no justification. Now, again, don't interpret that to mean you have to be justified by the works.
The works don't justify you. The faith links us to Christ. But if the faith is authentic, if the faith is true, you won't come to the last day saying, Lord, Lord, and have Him look at you and call you a person of lawlessness.
You will have fruit. Now, you would think then that the easiest way to solve this problem of assurance of salvation is to examine the fruit, to look at the fruit of your lives, to determine whether it reflects or manifests a consistent pattern with your profession of faith. And that's one of the scary parts about being a Christian because none of us lives up to the full measure of what we say we believe.
None of us does. And if you focus your attention simply on your performance, at that point authentic assurance becomes very slippery, doesn't it? But there is a place for us to examine our lives, as the New Testament tells us, and I'll get to that in a little while. And there is a place to examine the fruit to see if that gives any evidence of the state of our souls. But we would be misunderstanding what Peter is saying here if we came to this conclusion that we have to perform the fruit in order to get the assurance. But when Peter tells us diligently to make our election and calling sure, the reason why we are to seek our assurance is that we might bear fruit.
I mean, that's the thing we don't want to miss. It's not that we bear fruit in order to be assured, but we need to be assured to be fruit-bearing Christians because the double-minded man, as we're told, is cast to and fro with every wind of doctrine. And the person who is not sure, I mean, there are people, as we will see, who are truly converted who don't have that assurance. And yet, they're in a state where they're easy prey for the enemy to come and accuse them and paralyze them in their Christian life. They're going to bring forth fruit, but it's going to be meager because they're not living the Christian life out of a position of confidence of their standing before God. And so, what Peter is speaking about here in a very practical way is, get it settled so that you may be fruitful.
Listen to what he says around this same point. In verse 5, also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will not be barren nor unfruitful.
Okay? Now, this is Peter's list that if you look at the virtues that he describes here, they look very similar to another list we find in the New Testament, the list set forth by the Apostle Paul that we customarily call the fruit of the Spirit. And it's immediately after Peter gives the charge to his people to be diligent in adding virtue to faith, kindness, perseverance, patience, love, all of these different things that we call the fruit of the Spirit.
It's right in that context that he says, therefore, diligently make your call and election sure so that you may progress in these things. And so, the practical reason why we're called to make our salvation sure that we settle it in ourselves is that we can be productive, that we can be fruit-bearing Christians. Let's go earlier in Peter's writing to his first epistle. In chapter 2, verse 1 of 1 Peter, he says, therefore, laying aside, he's talking about those who have been born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible through the Word of God, which lives and abides forever. And he goes on to say, therefore, having been born again, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Coming to Him as a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Now, and then he says, therefore, to you who believe, He, that is, Christ, is precious. And that's going to be one of the important keys for gaining assurance to understand how the believer views Christ.
But to you who believe, He is precious. Now, again, again, let me remind you that Peter addresses this epistle to the elect. He writes this apostolic teaching to the elect and teaches the elect what it means to be elect and what election is supposed to look like in our spiritual journey. And that's why in the second epistle, when he's addressing the same people, he reminds them how important it is to make their election sure. So, I'm convinced that we can know if we're in a state of grace. But what we have to do is learn to discern the difference between true assurance and false assurance. Because we recognize that there is such a thing as false assurance, and if there is such a thing as true assurance, we have to learn the difference. And that's what we'll examine in the messages to come.
We'll look forward to that message tomorrow. And the Bible provides us with several word pictures when it refers to genuine believers and those who are not—sheep and goats, wheat and tares, good soil and bad soil. And it's important for us to understand the difference between false converts and genuine believers.
R.C. Sproul series, The Assurance of Salvation, is our focus this week here on Renewing Your Mind. This is a series that will be a great help to parents, Sunday school teachers, and small group leaders. And we invite you to request it with a donation of any amount today to Ligonier Ministries.
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