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Assurance and Justification

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 16, 2023 12:01 am

Assurance and Justification

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 16, 2023 12:01 am

How can we be certain that we're truly saved? Today, R.C. Sproul shows how clearly understanding the doctrine of justification by faith alone is essential if we are to have assurance of our salvation.

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How is it possible, though, for somebody to be unsaved and be sure that they're saved? They have a misunderstanding of either the terms of salvation or a misunderstanding of their own self-evaluation of whether or not they've met those terms. The Apostle Peter commands us to make our calling and election sure, so you and I having assurance of our salvation is important. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and I'm glad that you're with us this Thursday. Because assurance is an important topic and has so many practical implications for our growth in the Christian life, today and tomorrow we'll be exploring assurance in depth.

These messages are from R.C. Sproul's 12-part series Developing Christian Character, and it can be yours on DVD along with the digital study guide when you give a gift of any amount at So why do some people think they're saved when they're not? And why do some sincere Christians wrestle with doubts?

Here's Dr. Sproul with the first part of our study and why it's so important to understand the doctrine of justification if we're to have genuine assurance. When we deal with the whole question of salvation, it is customary in theology to look at salvation in the broad sense and then sort of carve it up into its constituent parts. And part of systematic theology is to examine what we call technically the ordo salutis, which is simply a fancy way of saying the order of salvation. Because the whole of salvation is made up of individual parts that happen in sequence consecutively. We begin our Christian life when God breathes into us the life of the Spirit and causes us to be born again.

And out of that regeneration comes the human response of faith and repentance. And as soon as we believe in Christ and embrace Christ and repent of our sins, the next great moment in our salvation is, of course, our justification. But even though justification stands at the beginning of the Christian life, at the moment we believe in Christ, truly believe in Christ and truly trust in Christ, at that instant God reckons to us, attributes to us the righteousness of Christ, and we are declared just. Luther expressed that concept with the phrase that the Christian who is justified is simil justus et peccator. Those four Latin words simply mean that we are at the same time just and sinner.

Now, how can that be? It sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it, on the surface? We are just by virtue of the justness or the righteousness of Christ, which is given to us, transferred to our account. God imputes the righteousness of Jesus to you.

That's the basis of your justification. But in and of yourselves, you remain a sinner. That's the whole point of the Protestant doctrine of justification, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us and Christ secures our redemption. He doesn't wait for us to be worthy of salvation.

He doesn't wait for us to become holy before we're counted as righteous. Now, when we talk about that in terms of the order of salvation, we say justification is at the beginning of the Christian life, and then the rest of the pilgrimage and that part that we're concerned about in this course we call the process of sanctification. Now, the great dispute in the 16th century between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in its most simple elementary form can be reduced, if anything can be reduced to simple terms, to this basic problem that for Rome, justification follows sanctification. You must be sanctified before you're securely justified. And that's why Rome also denies any possibility in this world apart from an extraordinary immediate special revelation of God directly communicating to you that you are secure in His arms, that we cannot have assurance of salvation because we never know that the next day might be the occasion when we commit mortal sin and die in mortal sin and lose it all. And so we will not be fully and finally justified unless or until we are first sanctified.

The Protestant doctrine, on the other hand, reverses the order and says, we are justified first as Abraham was the moment he believed he was justified. Paul labors it in Romans 4. And that's the beginning of this pilgrimage whereby sanctification is that process by which we work out our salvation and grow in grace and become conformed to Christ. So even the word salvation is confusing because it's used in different tenses in the Bible. In one text you'll read that we were saved from the foundation of the world. And the next sentence, we were being saved, or we are saved, or we are being saved, which suggests that we're still in process.

And then it talks about we shall be saved because again that term salvation is such a broad concept. We are justified the moment we believe, but that's only one part of the whole process of salvation. Now we are concerned about that process of sanctification, making progress in our spiritual life. Now from that perspective, it's impossible to be sanctified unless you were first justified.

Now it's possible to be justified and not know it. It's possible to be in a state of grace and not be aware of it. And so when you're working out your sanctification, which follows from your justification, but you're not sure about your justification, there's a sense in which a very, very oppressive weight of anxiety intrudes into the Christian life and makes that Christian pilgrimage toward sanctification, which is a struggle to begin with all the more burdensome, living moment to moment in mortal fear that our efforts are not good enough, that our progress is not far enough, and that we can be robbed at that point of the peace that is the legacy of Jesus, the peace with God, which Paul tells us is the first fruit of our justification.

And we then become locked in inner turmoil, which is one of the most defeating things for spiritual growth. That's why I'm deeply concerned that we understand at the beginning of our spiritual lives whether or not we are truly in a state of grace. Now when I talk about the assurance of salvation, it's my custom to speak about the problem of assurance by spelling it out this way that there are four kinds of people in the world. The first group are those people who are not in a state of grace. They are unsaved. They are unredeemed. They're strangers to the covenant.

They're foreigners to redemption. They stand outside the kingdom of God. For shorthand's sake, we'll call that group the unredeemed or the unsaved. Now this first group of people is that group of people who are unsaved and know it. They know that they're out of grace. They know that they're out of fellowship with God. They know that they're strangers to the kingdom.

Okay? That's group number one. Group number two are those people who are in a state of grace and know it. They're redeemed and they know that they're redeemed. They have a security of where they stand within the fellowship of Christ.

All right? That's easy enough. Then the third group is the group I just mentioned a minute ago. Those are the people who are in a state of grace but who aren't sure of it yet. So they are saved and they don't know it. Now those three different groups of people are very, very easy to delineate.

They cause us no problems whatsoever. Let me repeat them again. There are those who are unsaved and know that they are unsaved. There are those who are saved and know that they are saved. There are those who are saved and don't know that they are saved. All is simple. It's the fourth category that muddles everything. Those are the people who are unsaved who know that they are saved. Okay?

Because what does that do now? That casts a shadow over assurance because if I say, I know that I'm saved, I'm confident that I'm redeemed, how do I know that I'm not one of those people who is unsaved and is sure that he is saved? Has that ever bothered you?

You bet it bothers you. Have you ever experienced what the philosophers call a sudden burst of existential self-awareness? It's almost as if you step outside of yourself and you become acutely aware of where you are and it's almost as if time stands still for a second and you become aware of yourself as a self, which where you normally just sort of get lost in the flow of activity, but suddenly you're aware, like maybe when you're doing public speaking and you notice that people are looking at you and making notes, and all of a sudden you become aware that they're making evaluations of you and you want to run for the hills. I mean, we all go through those periods. Well, I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness where it just hit me out of the blue, and I thought to myself, R.C., what if you are not redeemed?

What if your destiny is hell? And I'll tell you, I just was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head all the way down my spine, and I was terrified. I was terrified. And I thought to myself, no, now be reasonable about this. Be rational about this. Look again. Examine yourself.

Why would you even worry about it? I mean, because even worrying about it is a healthy sign of indication that maybe at least you're concerned about your redemption. But I started to look, and the first thing you look at is your performance. And I say, well, I committed this sin, and I committed that sin. I failed at this resolve. I failed at this goal. I did not live up to what Christ called me to do here.

And the more I started looking at that, the worse I started to feel. And I began to say, maybe I am not saved. So what did I do about it? I went back in my room, opened up the book, started to read the book. I put my head down.

I said, Jesus, here I am. I don't have anything else. I cannot point to my performance.

I can't point to my achievements. I can't point to my obedience. All I have is Your atonement.

I've got to throw myself on the mercy of the court. And even that, at that point, is not enough to give me fullness of assurance because I know that penitence like that cannot be real contrition, not motivated by a broken and contrite heart, but can be motivated by what we call attrition, a fear of punishment, a fear of hell. I'll cling to the cross just because I'm afraid of the wrath of God. That's not true penance.

Esau repented in tears, we know, out of fear. Didn't do him any good because it wasn't godly repentance. There wasn't real sorrow for sin.

There was never any mourning. There was never any hopelessness and dependence upon Christ. There was no fleeing to the cross, none of that.

But again, I had to go back to the source. I had to go back to the cross, and I had to say, hey Father, what else do I have? And I remembered the crisis that came in the moment in the lives of the disciples themselves when Jesus was expressing some very heavy teaching, written to be about the sovereignty of God.

And He was teaching what we call the hard sayings. And we read almost as an editorial footnote in the gospel that from that day many of His disciples walked no longer with Him. After that particular speech that Jesus gave, some of His most devoted, intimate group of followers became so enraged by what their teacher was teaching them that they walked away. They said, we're not going to listen to that anymore. And they left. And do you remember when Jesus turned to the inner group, Peter, James, and John, and He looked at them and He asked them a question, will you also go away?

What did Peter say? It's not like, hey, no, Jesus, we're not going to go away. We're with you all the way. We love what you're saying.

Those guys are just hotheads. They don't understand theology. They were never redeemed in the first. He didn't give them any of that stuff. It's obvious, I think, if you read between the lines there that Peter didn't like what Jesus was saying any more than the rest of them did.

But He took a very practical approach. He said, where else can we go? Dial alone. Ask the words of eternal life. And that's the point that you have to get settled before there's any hope of progress in the Christian experience. And that's where I was driven in my little acute existential self-awareness episode. I had to go back. Where else can I go? It's like the words of the Psalm, thou can save and thou alone.

Without Him, I can do nothing. I've got to get it settled where my redemption is. Now, let me ask this question. How is it possible, though, for somebody to be unsaved and be sure that they're saved? Really the answer to that is easy, isn't it? They have a misunderstanding of either the terms of salvation or a misunderstanding of their own self-evaluation of whether or not they've met those terms of salvation. For the most part, the deception and the error that causes a false sense of security comes from the former more than the latter, that is from a false understanding of what it takes to be saved. That's why the Reformation was such a violent controversy. I remember when Luther responded to Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, where Erasmus had disputed with Luther about Luther's theology. And Erasmus rose to the moment and wrote what he called the diatribe against Luther, and where he took on Luther point by point theologically, tried to vindicate the classical establishment against Luther. And when Luther responded in his book, The Bondage of the Will, which I commend to everyone that you read, it's not so heavy and technical that laymen can't read it.

It's beautiful and lyrical in its prose and profound in its content. But in the midst of that work, Luther thanks Erasmus. He said, I'm grateful, Erasmus, that you have not attacked me at the point of whether or not the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, or whether or not Mary is immaculately conceived, or whether or not we go to confession or don't go to confession.

These things are trifles. And Luther understood that to rend the body of Christ apart over issues like that would be a monstrous evil, to fracture the unity of the church over minor matters. Luther said, you understand that we're dealing with the eye of the tornado, the article upon which the church stands or falls, the article upon which you stand or fall.

How am I saved? That's what the issue was all about. And I remember one theologian who was at the Second Vatican Council, was a Protestant observer cordially related to the Roman Catholic theologians, trying desperately to heal the breach and bring the divided churches back into unity. Those who sought to put to rest the issues of the 16th century were basically the spirit, let's let bygones be bygones, let's bury the hatchet, let's forget about those problems, and let's heal the breach. And the Protestant theologian, who's one of the most peaceful ironic theologians of the 20th century said, gentlemen, the issue of the 16th century was not shadowboxing.

It is the article upon which the church stands or falls. Now again, the purpose of this is not to focus on the debate between Rome and the Reformation, but to understand that that is the crux of the matter. If we are going to progress, we have to know where we stand with our God. Again, I remind you of the torment of Luther, who sought peace, who sought consolation, who sought freedom by rigorous acts of self-denial, self-flagellation, going through all of the liturgical rites of the church and then some, being the monk among monks, and found no peace because he was operating on a false sense of how salvation is secured. Now, it would be easy to infer from what I'm saying that the false views of salvation are to be found in Rome.

That's not true. In fact, I talked to more Roman Catholic priests today who were advocating justification by faith alone than I find among Protestant clergymen. I mean, the lines are just not that clear anymore from institutions.

You know, individuals cross those lines all the time. But the point I want to make is this, that even within Protestantism, we find widespread misunderstanding of the terms of redemption. In the sixteenth century, again to oversimplify, the issue was whether or not justification was by faith alone or whether it was by some kind of working combination between faith and works. The issue, incidentally, was never between faith alone versus works alone, as some Protestants have slandered the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church has never said that you could get to heaven without faith. The issue was on that, whether it's faith alone.

Okay? Now, the dominant doctrine in our culture today, as I've said on many occasions, is not justification by faith alone or justification by works alone or justification by faith plus works. The dominant doctrine of justification in our culture today and in the church today is justification by death, that all you have to do to get into heaven is to die because doesn't everybody go there. And so the reasoning process is like this. I start with premise A, everyone goes to heaven, or everybody goes to heaven when they die. Premise B, I am a buddy. The conclusion is irrefutable.

It's resistless. If those premises are true, everybody goes to heaven and I am a buddy, the conclusion comes automatically. I will go to heaven.

So I can go about in all kinds of peaceful serenity and security being convinced that I'm going to heaven because I've made the erroneous assumption that everybody goes to heaven. The idea of the crisis of Christ has been obscured in our culture. Everybody knows John 3.16, for God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. What's John 3.17? Huh? Whoops. John 3.17, the next verse, for God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

That's still good news, isn't it? That's John 3.17, but this is the condemnation, that He came into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. And John goes on to say that that crisis of the appearance of Christ is the moment of separation between the redeemed and the lost. And the worst assumption we could work out our salvation on is the idea of everybody saved. Or there are people who trust in their own performance. Now in order to do that, we must either exaggerate our own appreciation of our own righteousness or bring to the earth from the heavens the law of God.

That's deadly. We're going to consider that a little bit more in our next session. But in any case, if we're working on a false sense of justification, we can have no authentic assurance. And without authentic assurance, we are paralyzed in our souls to walk the Christian walk. On our next session, I'll try to expand on this a little bit and try to consider how we can get that kind of assurance that is so vital for our spiritual pilgrimage.

That was R.C. Sproul. And even today in 2023, I believe the dominant view remains, as Dr. Sproul said, justification by death. For those outside of the church, if there's a heaven, you go there when you die.

And if there's not, then there's simply nothing. How necessary it is for us to be clear on the reality of heaven and hell, the gospel, and ensuring Christians have the assurance that Dr. Sproul spoke of today. Today's message on Renewing Your Mind is from a 12-part series, Developing Christian Character, where Dr. Sproul helps us understand spiritual growth in the Christian life and walks us through the fruit of the Spirit. Request this DVD with your donation of any amount at And you'll also receive lifetime digital access to the series and study guide as well. Call us today at 800 435 4343 or give your gift at If you're struggling with Christian assurance, how do you gain it? R.C. Sproul will continue his exploration of assurance and challenge where it is that we're placing our trust. It's tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-16 03:20:26 / 2023-11-16 03:29:11 / 9

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