Dear Dr. Wilkin,
I have been receiving your newsletter [The GES News] for about, oh nine months or so. . . I do enjoy receiving your newsletter. Thank you for its free subscription.
However, I am struggling with some of the things you are writing about….
Do you not believe that there must be some recognition that one is a sinner to be saved?. . . . You seem to be unwilling to acknowledge this in your teaching….
If faith is the only fruit we can look at to be assured, is not the act of examining one’s conversion a work, and thus unreliable? What then can we rely on as tangible evidence of our conversion?
You have courage enough to form a society opposed to false gospels. But why don’t you seem to have the courage to come right out in print and say that anyone who holds to a different gospel than yours is not saved?
I’m glad you’re enjoying The GES News and I appreciate the good questions you have asked.
First, no I do not believe that one must recognize that he is a sinner to be saved. The key word is must. It is conceivable that a person could be ignorant of the fact that he was a sinner and yet know that he was bound for hell and could only be saved by trusting in Christ alone. Some small children might fall into this category.
If you mean, as I think you do, Is it acceptable when we share the Gospel to call unbelievers to recognize their sinfulness? then I say absolutely yes! It is very difficult for people to understand why they are lost and bound for hell unless we explain our sinfulness and God’s holiness. Normally when sharing the Gospel I share the bad news of our sinfulness and separation from God, the good news of Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection, and the condition of receiving the benefit of His death, faith in Him alone.
Second, I do not think that we ought to examine our conversion for assurance.
Please permit me a personal illustration. I don’t know the day or week or even month when I became a believer. As a child and teenager I had been heavily indoctrinated by the teachings of a works-salvation, sinless-perfection group. I kept thinking that way until my senior year in college when a friend challenged me to rethink my view of the Gospel. What a novel way to witness! And it had a powerful effect. Through him I contacted a campus Christian organization. A young man named Warren met with me weekly to discuss grace from the Scriptures. He thought that he was helping me with assurance. I realized probably a year later that he had led me to Christ.
My assurance is based on the fact that I am trusting in Christ alone now–not on what I did in the past. If I stop trusting in Christ alone, my assurance will vanish. Of course, my salvation would not. Assurance can be lost. Salvation can’t.
Thus for assurance I point people to Christ and the promises of Scripture, not to their conversion experience. What matters is that they know today that they are saved–not that they know when they first came to trust in Christ alone.
Third, the reason we don’t come out in print and say that someone who holds to a different gospel is unsaved is because we do not know that to be true. Let me explain.
I happen to believe that it is possible for a person to hold to the one true Gospel and then later depart from the faith and believe in a counterfeit gospel. For example, forty percent of all Mormon converts in the U.S. are from Baptist churches. I believe that at least some of those people are new or untaught believers who were duped. While many and possibly all of these end up leaving the Mormon church at some point and returning to the faith, during the time they were Mormons they were examples of believers who were proclaiming a false gospel.
Galatians 1:8-9, the passage to which you seem to be alluding, does not teach that all who preach a different gospel are unsaved. In fact, Paul implies that even an apostle or an angel from heaven might preach a false gospel (Gal. 1:8). In Galatians 2:11ff Paul rebukes the apostle Peter for not being straight forward about the truth of the Gospel.
What Galatians 1:8-9 does teach is that we are not to support in any way those who preach a false gospel. The expression “let him be anathema” does not mean “let him [the one preaching a false gospel] go to hell.” It means instead, “let him be under the curse of God.” Obviously a person under God’s curse (here and now) is one we must not give money to, must not pray God’s blessings upon, must not feed or house, etc. (see 2 John 10-11).
Thus I could and do say that we must not support financially or in any other way those who proclaim a false gospel. That is quite different, however, from saying that I know the person to be unsaved.
I hope this finds you well and abounding in the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. I thank God that the Gospel is going forth in its original purity and simplicity, and I pray that the above persons [people he signed up to receive the GES News] would be edified by the mailings of GES to the praise of His name. . .
May God continue to bless you, my brother, and the going forth of His glorious Gospel.
Lake Forest, IL