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Four Kinds of People

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
January 31, 2023 12:01 am

Four Kinds of People

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 31, 2023 12:01 am

Some people who are truly redeemed may lack assurance of their salvation. Others, who do not belong to Christ, might falsely believe they're saved. Today, R.C. Sproul considers the challenges we encounter in our pursuit of assurance.

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The Bible tells us that there are people who think they're in a right relationship with God when actually they're not. We have to allow for the ways in which we can be fooled, the ways in which we can be deceived, so that we seek the authentic knowledge of our assurance and not just some fuzzy experience.

It's one of the most frightening passages in the New Testament. On the day of the Lord, people who say they know Jesus actually do not and are rejected by Christ. So how do we know what genuine faith is, and how can we know for certain that we have it? That's our focus this week here on Renewing Your Mind as we feature R.C. Sproul's series, The Assurance of Salvation. We're going to continue now with our study of the subject of the assurance of salvation. And in our first two messages, we saw the controversy that there is in various camps of theology about the very possibility of having assurance of salvation. And then in our second message, we looked at the biblical call to seek that assurance of salvation.

And so now I want to look at some of the problems that we encounter when we're diligent in our quest for the assurance of salvation. When I deal with this subject, I frequently mention that there are four kinds of people in the world. And I know that that differentiates us from the standard division of people in the world where normally we say there are two kinds of people in the world. And those two kinds of people in the world are those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don't. Or as James Kennedy says, there are three kinds of people in the world, those that can count and those that can't. But we're now going to look at the four types of people that we must discriminate in terms of this issue of the assurance of salvation.

And let's start with the first type of person, and that is the person who is unsaved and who knows it. I remember once sharing the gospel to a man in Cincinnati, and I asked him the evangelism explosion diagnostic questions. And I began with the first question, have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for sure that when you die, you're going to go to heaven? And this man didn't flinch. He looked me straight in the eye and he says, oh, no, he says, I'm sure I'm not. He said, I'm sure I'm going to hell. And I was really stunned by that response because I had never met a person before who was that certain of their destiny in terms of it being hell itself.

But this man was. This man was living a godless life, and he knew he was living a godless life, and he knew the consequences of living a godless life. Which, again, bears out what the Apostle Paul tells us in the first chapter of Romans. At the very end of that chapter, after giving a list of all the various sins and vices that fallen humanity practices, he comes to the conclusion, he said, that we as fallen people not only do these things but encourage others to do them, knowing that those who do such things are worthy of death. And what Paul is saying there is that in God's natural revelation, not only in the Bible, one doesn't have to be exposed to biblical preaching to be aware of this, but as God writes His law on the hearts of people, implants into the human mind His Word by way of conscience, people deep down know that they are culpable for their behavior, and they know that they are out of fellowship with their Creator. And so there are many, many more people in the world who know their condition of being lost than often we recognize, because on the surface most people will deny that they are exposed to the wrath of God, or they may even deny the existence of God, but as the Bible says, the wicked flee when no one pursues, and that the wicked tremble at the fluttering of a leaf, so that there is beneath the surface and behind the facade of natural fallen humanity an awareness that they are in serious trouble before God. That's why we have the phenomenon that we have called the foxhole conversion, where people at the last days of their life, if they know that they are dying, they suddenly sober up. They'll call for the priest or they'll call for the minister and are prepared to get their eternal life insurance. You know the story of W.C. Fields, who was on his deathbed, and to everybody who knew him, his astonishment, you know one of the friends came in, found him on his deathbed leafing through the Bible, and his friend said, W.C., what are you doing?

And he said, looking for loopholes. So even in his humor, he was aware that he was in a very precarious state as he was about to face his Maker. And so that's the first category of people who are unsaved, and they're aware of it. They know that they aren't in a state of grace. They know that they're out of fellowship with God.

They know that they're estranged from God, and so their assurance is of quite a negative sort. But then you have the second person, and that is the person who is saved and knows that he is saved. That is, this person has full assurance of being in a state of grace and in a state of salvation, and we're going to be talking further as we proceed here in this series on how it is possible to gain from Scripture and in our relationship with God a full assurance of our being in a state of grace. And so you have people who aren't saved and know they aren't saved, and you have people who are saved and know that they are in that condition of salvation.

So these two represent mirror opposites. Both have assurance. One of the assurances is for a good end.

The other assurance is for a bad end. Alright, the third group are those who are saved but don't know it. So it's possible to be in a state of grace and not to have the full assurance that you are in a state of grace. Now some people would challenge that, not only from those who would challenge number two that you can even know that you have salvation, but some would say that it's impossible really to be in a state of grace and not know it, because if you have saving faith, the very content of that faith is a trust in a Savior who you are believing will save you. And so if you have faith but don't have the faith that He is saving you, then the question becomes, do you really have faith? Or another way of looking at it is that some people say, well I think I'm converted, but I'm not sure.

And we run into people like that all the time, and part of that problem has to do with kind of a subcultural popular view of religion. We hear of Billy Graham, for example, who can tell you the day and the hour where he became a Christian. He points back to his conversion after playing baseball, and he went to this evangelistic meeting after the game, and this itinerant evangelist Mordecai Ham was preaching.

Billy Graham went forward and had this sudden conversion, turned his life upside down. I can tell the same kind of story in my life. I know exactly the time when I met Christ.

I can tell you the date and the hour were exactly where I was and how it happened. Then you have other people who can't tell you the year or within five years when they became Christians. Ruth Graham, for example, Billy's wife, doesn't know when she became a Christian. And we have a problem in the church where we have a tendency to project our own personal experiences and try to make them normative for everybody else so that people who have had a sudden dramatic Damascus Road conversion, where you can name the day and the hour, sometimes become suspicious of people who haven't had that kind of experience. And they wonder, if you can't point to the day and the hour, they think maybe you're really not a Christian. And at the same time, there are those who can't point to the day and the hour, who are suspicious of those who preach that they do know the day and the hour. And the whole point is, nowhere in the Scripture does it say that we have to know the exact time of our conversion.

Now, here's where the plot thickens and becomes a little bit problematic. Nobody is half-regenerate or semi-regenerate. You're either born of the Spirit of God or you're not. And regeneration, which is that work of God by which we are transformed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, is a real conversion, and regeneration happens immediately by the power of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit. It happens instantly, and you're either in that state or you're not in that state.

Again, there's no process of regeneration. It is instantaneous. Well, if that's the case, then that would raise suspicions about people who can't tell you the day and the hour. We have to distinguish between a conversion and a conversion experience and have to recognize that not everybody is instantly aware of the moment when the Spirit of God has done His supernatural work within the soul. And that's why it's very dangerous when we create categories by which we suspect people who don't meet our experience. In fact, as much as I talk about my conversion experience, I can tell you with certainty the day and the hour of my conversion experience. But that experience may not actually correspond to the work of God in my soul. God the Holy Spirit may have regenerated me a week before that, a month before that, five years before that, before I experienced the reality of what had happened internally. So even my assurance of that particular time of conversion only applies to my experience of conversion, not to the fact of it.

Because again, we can fool ourselves in terms of our experience. And our experience can be one of the most misleading things that we can encounter in our Christian life. One of the most dangerous things you can do as a Christian is to determine your theology by your experience.

Because your experience and my experience, neither of those is normative for the Christian life. We have to determine our theology from the Word of God, not from what we feel. And not only that, we are open to misunderstanding and misinterpreting the meaning and significance of the experiences that we go through. That's why we're called to go and check our experiences with the Scripture, with the Word of God, so that we are defining our faith by what Scripture says, not by what we feel or by what we have experienced.

And so that's a caveat that we need to be aware of as we work through this whole business of the assurance of salvation. Because if we rest our assurance on an experience and not on the Word of God, we're asking for all kinds of doubts and problems to assail us in our pilgrimage. Again, people have experience of feeling warm fuzzies in their spirit and their soul and say, well, I felt something that night and therefore I'm converted.

It might have been indigestion, and we don't know that. And again, when we look at this business of being saved and don't know that we are saved, we have to allow for the ways in which we can be fooled, the ways in which we can be deceived, so that we seek the authentic knowledge of our assurance and not just some fuzzy experience. But again, this third group has to do with the people who are saved but don't know that they are saved. They haven't learned the way in which to be grounded in the Scriptures to be certain of their salvation.

And again, this is even presupposed when Peter writes to his constituents in the first two books of his writings, where he says, be diligent to make your election and your calling sure. I mean, it would be foolish to give that admonition to people if all of them were already sure. So that presupposes that people can be in this condition of being in a state of salvation without actually having the assurance of it.

Well, so far so good. This is easy for us to follow, that there are those who are unsaved and they know it. Then there are those who are saved and they know that they're saved. And then there are those who are saved but have not yet, for one reason or another, come to the assurance of their state of grace before God.

These categories are all kind of clean and easy to understand. It's the fourth one that puts the monkey wrench in the whole business of assurance of salvation. There are those who are unsaved who know they are saved. The fourth category, people who are not in a state of grace but who think they're in a state of grace. They're not saved but they are assured that they are saved.

Now, we're going to spend some time on trying to unwrap that particular group and see why it is that people can have a false sense of assurance because it's just as important for us to be able to understand the counterfeit if we're going to be able to recognize the authentic. And in that sense, the church has been aided historically by false doctrine, by heresies, not because heresies are good or false doctrine is good, but what happens in the history of the church is that every time a serious heresy arises and the church has to address it, it forces the church to examine the truth much more carefully. We wouldn't have a Bible today to read from, presumably, if it weren't for the heretic Marcion. Marcion was the first one to produce a copy of the New Testament, but it was an expurgated version of the New Testament.

He had nothing but animosity towards the God of the Old Testament, so every reference to Yahweh of the Old Testament in the New Testament record was expunged by Marcion, and he got rid of much of the gospel material and many of the epistles and so on, and he presented, really, a counterfeit Bible, which forced the church to say, wait a minute, let's set down the guidelines for what is to be included in the canon of Scripture and what isn't. If it hadn't been for the impetus of that heretic, I don't think the church would have gotten around to that. But then the same thing happens in the fourth century with the heretic Arius, who denies the deity of Christ. Now, it's not like the church didn't believe in the deity of Christ until the fourth century until the Council of Nicaea and the writing of the Nicene Creed.

That's not true. The church confessed the deity of Christ from the very beginning, but there was ambiguity there. The clear definition of the deity of Christ and of the Trinity didn't come until heresy forced the definition.

So again, understanding the counterfeit can help with our gaining a better understanding of the authentic. A few years ago, we did a tour of the Reformation, and we followed in the footsteps of Martin Luther and went through all the various places in what had been Eastern Germany where Luther's ministry was carried out. We were in Erfurt and Wittenberg and Worms and places like that, Nuremberg. And we had this woman who was with us who was funny.

She was really one of these characters. And one day we had visited a site on the bus, and then we were free for lunch on our own. And so groups of people from the tour went in different directions in the town, and we had instructions as to what time to be back and where to meet to regroup for the tour. Well, we went out and we wandered around the town. We had our lunch, and we came out of the restaurant. I said, now which way did we come?

How do we get back to the bus? And this lady said, I know. So she goes to the front of the line, and she starts walking through this town, and we're all following her, and we're wandering all over the place. And I started getting a little worried, and I said, excuse me, Mary, I said, are you sure that we're going in the right way? And she said, yes, I'm positive, and I felt great.

And she took a couple more steps, and then she turned around and she said, of course I'm always sure, but I'm rarely right. So maybe that's what we're talking about when we talk about these people who exude confidence that they're on their way to heaven, that they are Christians, they're sure of their salvation, they don't worry about their salvation, they have assurance, but it's false. So this is what creates the tension and the anxiety that we're trying to deal with in this series, particularly as we compare number two and number four. This group comprises the people who are saved and have the assurance of salvation. This group comprises the people who are not saved but have the assurance of salvation.

So the question that we face in the very first lecture raises its ugly head again, doesn't it? If I have the assurance of salvation, this group has the assurance, this group has the assurance, how can I be sure of my assurance? You've been in those discussions where you used to ask somebody something and they give their affirmation or assertion and you say, are you sure? And they say, yes, I'm sure. And the next question is, are you sure that you're sure? Because when we talk about certitude or certainty, we're talking not simply about philosophical categories of certitude, but we're really describing in a sense our emotional state with respect to various questions or assertions.

And the tendency for human beings when it comes to assurances of truth claims is that there is a broad continuum on which our assurance operates. For example, somebody could say to you, do you believe that God exists? There are many ways you can answer that question. You could say, no, I don't. Or you could say, I don't think so. Or you could say, I don't know, I hope so. Or you could say, maybe. Or you could say, yes, I believe in God. Or you could say, of course, I believe in God. Each of those answers describes a different level of intensity of confidence that attends a proposition or an assertion.

So, we're not talking about mathematical certitude, the two and two or four here. We're talking about assurance of my personal state, which vacillates from day to day. There are days when somebody says to me, R.C., are you sure that you're saved? And I would say, absolutely. And the next day, if I'm under the burden of guilt, I would say, you know, I think so.

But there are ups and downs in the Christian life. And so what we have to understand is where we can find a foundation for the strength of assurance by which we can say, I know whom I have believed and am persuaded, I am fully persuaded that He's able to keep what I have committed against that day. And so the big problem here is discerning between false assurance and true assurance, which we'll take up in our next session.

2 Peter chapter 1 instructs us to be diligent to confirm our calling and election. Today here on Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul has helped us to put that certainty into categories, because it is possible to be certain but not saved at all. That's something we want to explore more deeply, and we will in our next program, and I hope you'll make plans to join us. Maybe today's message stopped you in your tracks.

You're evaluating which of those four categories you fall into. Well, let me invite you to contact us today and request this full six-part series. It's called The Assurance of Salvation, and we'll send it to you for your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. In addition to the teaching series, we'll provide you with a digital copy of the study guide.

Our number is 800-435-4343, or you can find us online at renewingyourmind.org. Everything we need to know about salvation is found in Scripture, so you'll want to search your Bible diligently as you seek to understand it fully. Let me recommend a helpful study companion. It's our monthly magazine, Table Talk. Each issue has a different theme, and it features daily devices, each issue has a different theme, and it features daily devotionals and articles from today's leading Reformed thinkers. We'd be happy to start your subscription when you contact us today.

You can learn more and subscribe at TableTalkMagazine.com. Well, tomorrow Dr. Sproul will show us some false ideas of salvation that come with false assurance. What you have to do to get into heaven is to obey the law of God and to live a good life. And so people think that they have met the standard. They have a confidence that they're going to pass the exam, that they will meet the requirements and meet the standards for entrance into heaven. That's called works righteousness, and it will never save us. We'll find out more about that tomorrow as Dr. Sproul continues his series on the assurance of salvation. I hope you'll join us. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-31 07:36:50 / 2023-01-31 07:45:41 / 9

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