A recent political cartoon in USA Today caught my attention. It is surprisingly relevant to my subject.
In the cartoon a man and a woman were facing each other. Both of them looked like somewhat off-beat types. In the first panel, the man said, “Elvis is alive,” and the woman replied something like, “I agree with you.” In the second panel, the man said, “I was kidnapped by aliens,” and the woman replied, “I believe you.” In the third panel, the man said, “Congress and the White House are cooperating on the budget,” and the woman turned away from him and said, “Nut!”
Of course, the cartoonist is indulging in political satire. Somewhat hyperbolically he suggests that it is easier to believe Elvis is alive or that aliens kidnap earthlings, than it is to believe that a Democratic President and a Republican Congress can actually cooperate on a matter of major political importance. But along with this satire comes a reminder about the ordinary, common-sense way of talking about belief.
As the cartoonist and all the rest of us know, believing something may have little to do with the actual evidence for that belief. A person can believe that Elvis is alive, even though the evidence for that is presumably rather meager. The same goes for the idea of alien kidnappings. And on the other hand, some people will feel that the idea of Republican and Democratic cooperation would require quite a bit of proof to be believable. But if a person thinks any of these things is true, he obviously believes them.
Saving faith really is not any different. A person either believes the offer of eternal life or he doesn’t. It really isn’t relevant how he came to believe it, whether his or her reasons were good ones or not. The issue is not how a person came to believe, but whether or not he does. But that leads me to the subject of this article. If someone does believe the offer of eternal life—as the Bible presents this offer—he will also be sure that he has eternal life. This is what we mean when we say that assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
I will try to defend this claim biblically in a moment. But let me just restate the matter in order to make it clear. The nature of the gospel message is such that, when a person believes it, he necessarily has assurance of eternal salvation. No matter what else he might believe, if he is not assured, he has not believed the gospel. The fact of the matter is that a person may believe certain things about the gospel without actually believing the true gospel. Or he may believe something very close to the true gospel which is not, in fact, the gospel. In either case, he will not have the assurance that goes with saving faith.
It follows from what I have just said that nobody ever got saved by believing the Lordship gospel. Of course some people do believe that gospel who are already saved. I am not talking about that. I just mean that on the terms of the Lordship gospel alone, no one can get saved, since this form of doctrine garbles the gospel so badly that assurance of salvation is not available. And if some people do find assurance in a Lordship gospel, that assurance is a delusion since it is not founded on biblical truth.
So you see how important this issue is. This is not an adjunct discussion in connection with the gospel. It goes to the core of things. Only the true biblical gospel gives valid assurance, and believing that gospel always gives valid assurance. False gospels either give no assurance at all or give an assurance that is false and deceitful.
Why is that? Because only the biblical gospel is true! And if I do not believe truth, I cannot be saved or have valid assurance. Remember, Jesus said, “Thy word is truth.” Believing something false never saved anybody, although believing a falsehood may give false assurance.
So suppose I believe that Elvis is alive and humans have been captured by aliens and I also believe the true biblical gospel. Am I saved? Of course. And suppose I believe the President and the Congress are working hard together on the budget and that God and I must work hard together to get me to heaven. Am I saved? Of course not.
In the former case I will have valid assurance. In the latter case, I will not.
So much for my introduction. Let me now proceed to consider my topic under three headings. These are the biblical basis, assurance and the current debate and the practical consequences for evangelism.
I. The Biblical Basis
A doctrine is only as good as its biblical support. Biblically speaking, why do we say that assurance is of the essence of saving faith? We can make the case easily from the Gospel of John.
It is widely recognized that two kinds of statements in John’s Gospel describe saving faith. One is the phrase “believe in” (Greek, pisteuw eis). The other is the phrase “believe that” (pisteuw Joti). Although some interpreters have tried to see a difference between the phrases, this is impossible. Since both kind of statements are used to indicate how eternal life is obtained, there can be no difference between them. Two things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.
Rudolf Bultmann was quite right to say that to believe in Jesus is shorthand for to believe that Jesus is the Christ. In other words, pisteuw eis auton (John 3:16) is a shorthand way of saying pisteuw Joti Ihsous estin Jo Cristos (John 20:31). Naturally, John 20:31 is determinative precisely because it is part of the thematic statement for the Gospel of John.
I also need to remind you of a statement in 1 John 5:1, which has the same effect. There the same apostle writes: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Please note: For John there are no exceptions to this. It is not said that many people who believe that Jesus is the Christ are born of God. Instead, John claims that whoever does so is a regenerate person.
Before I go further, let me note this. There is no difference in kind between believing that Elvis is alive and believing that Jesus is the Christ. Both are acts of faith. Of course, the former faith is unfounded. The latter is divinely sanctioned. The former is misplaced faith. The latter is saving faith.
The Christian community has been plagued for a long time by its misapprehension about faith. We have been told so often that saving faith is more than intellectual assent that we have fallen into a trap. I have argued in Absolutely Free!1 that the debate over “intellectual assent” is semantically flawed. Today the phrase “intellectual assent” implies that the “assent” in question is emotionally detached and abstract or theoretical. Such ideas have no place in a discussion about saving faith. Is the belief that Elvis is alive “intellectual assent”? Not for most people who hold this belief. It is usually accompanied by rather obvious emotions. But that is irrelevant to whether the matter is believed or not. Emotions may or may not accompany such belief, but they are not part of the definition of faith.
In Absolutely Free! I suggest that we give up using the phrase “intellectual assent” because of its pejorative overtones. But I will not hold my breath waiting for the Lordship people to give up one of their favorite “theological cuss words.” If the grace position were as weak as theirs, I wouldn’t give it up either.
But I insist. Believing that Jesus is the Christ means believing one of the most wonderful truths known to man. Furthermore it is God’s truth. I would never describe anything like that as “intellectual assent.”
But of course a question immediately arises. If I go out on the street and ask passersby whether they believe that Jesus is the Christ, many of them will affirm that they do. And many might reply, “Of course, isn’t that His name?”
This leads to an obvious consideration. We need to know what it is that John means when he talks about Jesus being the Christ. What exactly does a person believe about Jesus when he believes that? Fortunately John makes this clear to us. And here the crucial text is the famous one in John 11:25-27.
Please note that this text stands at a pivotal point in John’s Gospel. The last and the greatest of John’s seven signs is about to occur—the raising of Lazarus. Remember that the signs of John’s Gospel are written to bring men to believe that Jesus is the Christ. John 20:30-31 says this plainly. So we might readily expect a significant statement in a climactic text like John 11. And that is exactly what we get.
You remember the narrative. Jesus has just assured Martha that her brother will rise again. Her reply indicates that she believes he will—but only “in the resurrection at the last day” (11:24). So she needs a reminder of who it is who stands before her. So Jesus speaks these well-remembered words:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Notice how Jesus here does more than simply identify Himself. Yes, He is the Resurrection and the Life. But He is more than that. He is the One who guarantees certain things to the believer in Him. As the Resurrection, He guarantees that even if the believer dies, he will live again—that is, he will be resurrected. As the Life, He guarantees the believer will never die—that is, he or she will always have eternal life. Jesus’ statement to Martha, therefore, is an identification of Himself in reference to everyone who believes in Him.
Then comes the crucial question. Jesus asks Martha: “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). Notice the simplicity that is involved here. Jesus says: “I have just stated certain facts about Myself and the one who believes in Me. Do you hold these facts to be true? Is this what you believe about Me?”
And what is Martha’s reply? Well, not surprisingly, it is a full-fledged articulation of the theme verse of 20: 31. Martha replies: “Yes, Lord, 1 believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Notice closely. Jesus says: “Do you believe this?” and Martha says: “I believe that You are the Christ.” To believe what Jesus just stated about Himself is to believe that He is the Christ.
Thus to believe that Jesus is the Christ is to believe that He guarantees resurrection and eternal life to everyone who believes Him to be the Christ. The Christ is the Guarantor of these things to every believer. To deny that He does this for every believer, or to doubt that He does it, is not to believe what Martha believed. To deny or doubt this, is not to believe what John wants his readership to believe.
If I believe it, I know that I have eternal life. There is no way I can believe what Jesus tells Martha, and yet not know whether I have eternal life or will be resurrected by Jesus.
Obviously, Martha could not have said something like, “Yes, Lord, I believe this but I’m not sure You will resurrect me.” To have said that would have been to challenge Jesus’ veracity or to doubt His ability to keep His word. That would have been a form of unbelief. Martha could not make herself an exception to Jesus’ words without calling the whole statement into question.
Of course, some people will still try to say, “I believe it is true, but how do I know I really believe it and therefore it is true of me?” But no matter who makes this statement it is actually nonsense. It is like saying, “I believe that Elvis is alive, but how do I know I really believe it?” We would send a person who said that to see a psychiatrist. But in theology we actually take such a statement as if it were a meaningful observation.
It is not. It is actually the product of years of theological brainwashing. We have been told so many times that some people have a spurious belief and that we should check out our own faith to make sure it is true saving faith, that we almost believe such nonsense. The Bible knows nothing about this sort of thing.
To the man born blind, but now possessing sight, Jesus said: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” (John 9:35). The man replied, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” (John 9:36). Jesus answers, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you” (John 9:37).
What then does this man reply? Not, “I think so,” or, “It remains to be seen if I will persevere.” No, instead he says: “Lord, I believe” (John 9:38). As surely as Martha says, “Yes…I believe,” so does this man.
It is one of the great absurdities of theology that I can’t really know whether I believe God’s saving truth or not. Of course I can know whether I believe the same thing Martha believed. But if I do, I also know that I have eternal life. Therefore, assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
I need to add one proviso. I do not mean by any of this that a believer can never doubt his or her salvation. Nor do I mean that one’s faith cannot be lost. When John the Baptist asked, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matt 11:3), he was doubting his earlier conviction that Jesus was indeed the Christ. And Paul spoke of people whose faith had been overturned (2 Tim 2:18).
But what I do mean is this: at the moment of saving faith the believer is sure that he is eternally saved. I do not hold to the doctrine of the indefectibility of faith, as Reformed theologians do, or even as John Calvin did. I do hold to the indefectibility of God’s saving work in the believer.
Several years ago I was in Dr. Charles Ryrie’s apartment with a friend. My friend asked Dr. Ryrie, “Can a believer stop believing?” As usual, Dr. Ryrie was crisp and concise. His answer was: “Of course.”
II. Assurance and the Current Debate
One of the most effective responses that the Free Grace Movement has made to Lordship Salvation is to home in on their doctrine of assurance. There is no doubt that we have scored a direct hit and that the other side felt the blow. Since the publication of Absolutely Free! the other side has been fairly prolific in addressing the assurance issue.
And well they might! The doctrine of assurance has been a notorious problem issue in Reformed thought for centuries. Much ink has been spilled in that time debating this problem. Now the Reformed people are back at it again, galvanized, as their own writings show, by concern over the charges made by Free Grace exponents.
I do not claim to have read all the material written on this subject since 1989, the year Absolutely Free! was published. But I have certainly read some of it. I would like to survey several writers on this theme and then turn more careful attention to R. C. Sproul and his recent book entitled: Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification.2
Of course I must mention Dr. MacArthur. His first edition of The Gospel According to Jesus3 had only one reference to assurance. It was found on p. 23 where he said this:
Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in one’s life, not from clinging to the memory of some experience.
This false dichotomy was all he had to say on this weighty issue. In the revised and expanded edition,4 that statement remains unchanged, but assurance is also referred to on pp. xxi-xxii of the Introduction and on pp. 135, 214-215, and 273-75. In addition, Dr. MacArthur wrote a whole book on assurance, Saved Without a Doubt,5 and refers to it numerous times in Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles.6 All I wish to say here is that his position has been brought up to speed in terms of standard Reformed teaching on assurance, which stresses both objective and subjective grounds for assurance.
I also want just to mention two other books, both of which I have reviewed in the GES Journal. First there is the 1991 volume by John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism.7 The second is the 1992 volume edited by Michael Horton entitled Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation.8 Both of these writers are rather intense polemicists and do not go out of their way to represent their opponents fairly. Both men reflect the basic Reformed position on assurance. Let me move to some material that I have not yet evaluated in print.
In 1992 Robert A. Peterson wrote an article entitled, “Christian Assurance: Its Possibility and Foundations.”9 Peterson was at the time Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. Surprisingly, he rejects Roman Catholic opposition to “absolute” assurance. In typical Reformed fashion he grounds assurance on the promises of the Word, the inner witness of the Spirit, and the believer’s perseverance in the faith. This carries him right back to the Westminster Confession’s doctrine of assurance, which speaks of “the infallible assurance of faith” based on the three foundations just mentioned. Peterson does not seem to realize that the Westminster Confession actually makes infallible assurance impossible.
Peterson, however, is kinder to our camp than most writers. For example, he says: “Some well-meaning Evangelical Christians would reduce the three foundations of assurance to one. Zane Hodges and the Grace Evangelical Society want to make assurance completely certain” (p. 23). Later, on the same page he says: “In an effort to promote the doctrine of absolute assurance based on faith in Christ alone Hodges and his colleagues have resorted to forced exegesis of biblical passages.”
Thank you, Dr. Peterson! Your irenic spirit is a breath of fresh air. But perhaps you, my friends and readers of JOTGES, will not like being reduced to the status of colleagues of mine. If so, feel free to write Dr. Peterson about that! So far, cloning has been confined to sheep.
Rather less irenic is D. A. Carson in an article entitled, “Reflections on Christian Assurance.”10 I have reviewed this article at length in this Journal11 so I will not repeat myself here. I will point out again, however, that Carson is tied to the standard Reformed “objective—subjective” grounds for assurance and has not escaped the inherent difficulties of that position.
For example, he states: “I have not argued that perseverance is the basis for assurance, rather I have argued that failure to persevere serves to undermine assurance. The basis for assurance is Christ and his work and its entailments.”12 This is pretty standard Reformed stuff. The objective realities of Christ’s work on the Cross and His promise of salvation to the believer are considered certainties which all good Reformed people believe without question. But the problem is that Reformed people are not sure the promises apply to them personally unless they can confirm that they are among the elect to whom the promises are effective. Thus perseverance, an essential sign of election, becomes the basis for subjective, or individual, assurance. But since I cannot know until my life ends if I have persevered, personal assurance is held hostage to my perseverance in faith and good works. Carson ought to have said, “The possibility of a failure to persevere undermines assurance.” In fact, it effectively undermines all possibility of personal assurance.
I note in passing that the theonomist Kenneth L. Gentry doesn’t like the grace position either. In an article entitled, “Assurance and Lordship Salvation” he states: “If we say that assurance is essential to true faith, then we are ultimately saying: ‘No man is saved in Christ until he has come to believe that Christ has saved him forever.’”13 Though Gentry calls himself a Calvinist, he conveniently overlooks that this is virtually what Calvin himself said. I shall quote Calvin later.
More interesting is the position of Joel R. Beeke who, as of 1994, was the Pastor of the First Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Beeke has written a doctoral dissertation entitled “Personal Assurance of Faith”14 and a book called Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation.15 I have seen neither the dissertation nor the book, but I have read with interest his article bearing the title, “Does Assurance Belong to the Essence of Faith? Calvin and the Calvinists.”16
Beeke admits that “Whereas the early Reformers held that assurance is part and parcel with faith, post-Reformation divines felt free to distinguish assurance from faith as witnessed by chap. 18 of the Westminster Confession.”17 He also makes this further admission: “The bulk of current scholarship, however, no longer views the post-Reformation struggle to develop a detailed doctrine of assurance as a faithful outworking of early Reformation principles.”18 Among the writers mentioned in this connection are R. T. Kendall (Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649);19 M. Charles Bell, (Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance);20 and Holmes Rolston III who, as far back as 1972, wrote a book entitled John Calvin versus the Westminster Confession,21 published by John Knox Press. I possess and have read all three books, although there is much other literature that I have not read.
Beeke’s admission is significant in that, unlike most of the writers I have been discussing, he frankly admits that the prevalent view in contemporary scholarship is that post-Reformation theologians departed significantly from John Calvin’s own view of assurance. Needless to say, it would be awkward for protagonists in the Lordship debate to admit that they are defending a view of assurance significantly at variance with that of Calvin himself. Most are very guarded on this issue to say the least.
I personally think there can be no doubt that John Calvin held to the view I am maintaining today, that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. For example, in Institutes 3.2.16, Calvin writes as follows (quoting from the 1960 Westminster Press edition, edited by John T. McNeill, and translated by Ford Lewis Battles):
Here, indeed, is the chief hinge on which faith turns: that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them. Hence, at last is born that confidence which Paul elsewhere calls “peace” unless someone may prefer to derive peace from it. Now it is an assurance that renders the conscience calm and peaceful before God’s judgment.
Shortly after these words comes this famous statement:
Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all things on the basis of his generosity; who relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation.
I don’t see how this could be much clearer.
I admit, however, that Calvin’s belief in the indefectibility of faith led him into some very dubious discussions. Dr. Joseph Dillow has pointed this out in his Reign of the Servant Kings.22 Still, in so far as my own reading in Calvin goes, I think Calvin always attempted to be consistent with the statements I have just quoted. That he did not always succeed should not greatly surprise any of us who have done a great deal of writing, especially on theological topics.
Returning briefly to Beeke, we find in him an effort to ameliorate the gulf modern scholarship often sees between Calvin and later Calvinists on the issue of assurance. His efforts are not very persuasive. Beeke has recourse to Alexander Comrie (1706–1774), one of the leading lights of the so-called Dutch Second Reformation, and to a somewhat abstruse distinction between faith as habitus (= disposition) and faith as actus (= specific acts of faith). This is not the place to analyze Beeke’s position, except to say that we probably don’t need to worry that it will catch on.
This brings us finally to R. C. Sproul and his 1995 book, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification. As far as my own reading goes, Sproul appears to be the most competent American theologian of the Reformed persuasion. Faith Alone is a model of theological clarity. One can almost always comprehend exactly what Sproul believes and why he believes it. This is saying a lot for a theological writer.
Of course, Faith Alone was not written to address the Lordship salvation controversy. Instead it was written to critique the concord reached between certain Evangelicals and Roman Catholics which is expressed in the 1994 document entitled, Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. (I will refer to this document hereafter as ECT.) Among the leading figures associated with the framing of the document is the Lutheran-turned-Catholic, John Richard Neuhaus, and the noted Evangelical, Charles Colson, a post-Watergate convert to Christianity. Other Evangelical signers include: J. I. Packer, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Pat Robertson.
Sproul is properly dismayed that the document compromises the biblical gospel. He is disturbed by the statement in ECT that “All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ.” Rightly he wonders, “Does faith in Christ as Savior and Lord include trust in the biblical gospel? Does saving faith require a trust in the righteousness of Christ alone as the grounds of our justification? Or may a person have a different view of the gospel and still be a Christian?”23
Sproul proceeds to argue that “faith alone” (sola fide) is of the essence of the gospel, which means that without it any gospel is not the biblical gospel. He states, “If a doctrine is essential, it is of the essence and cannot be rejected without departing from essential Christianity.”24 He further states, “If sola fide is essential to the gospel and to Christianity and if Rome has not adopted sola fide as its doctrinal position, then ECT seriously betrays the gospel.”25 To this he later adds, “The unity that was once tacitly assumed to exist among professed Evangelicals does not in fact exist. One repercussion of ECT is that it has revealed a serious disunity among Evangelicals on the question of justification and the nature of Rome.”26 I have no quarrel with any of this. It is as logical as it is uncompromising. But the same sword could be turned on Dr. Sproul’s own view of saving faith. Sproul has a great deal to say about saving faith. It is striking that he completely ignores the controversy over the difference between Calvin’s concept of faith and that which is common to most Reformed theologians today. Had Sproul admitted that here, too, there is no evangelical unity, his case against ECT would have been eviscerated. If Evangelicals cannot even agree on what is meant by true saving faith, how can they reasonably object to the absence of sola fide from ECT? That would be like defending the personal dignity of the unknown soldier.
If in fact Calvin held, as I believe he did, that assurance is of the essence of saving faith, then Sproul must pronounce Calvin wrong and post-Reformation Calvinists right, and he must give up the pretense that Evangelicals have a historical unity on the nature of saving faith. As it turns out, Sproul bases his view of the nature of saving faith almost entirely on the Latin word fiducia in the famous threefold analysis of faith, in which fiducia is the third element.27 Into this word, Sproul pours all the implications that Reformed theologians like to see in saving faith and which imply a change in attitude toward God and His commandments. It is precisely these implications that make it impossible for Reformed people to verify their faith apart from perseverance and good works.
Sproul has no Scripture for any of this. His argument is basically an exposition of the implications of fiducia in the famous definition. In passing he notes that “Gordon Clark makes a fascinating case that even this added element is at root intellectual.”28 That is putting it mildly. What Clark really said was that fiducia, in the famous definition, is really a tautology since it means trust and is essentially a synonym for faith. So, says Clark, the popular definition of faith amounts to saying that “faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith.”29 This does not leave much of a platform for Sproul to build on!
In conclusion I would say this about the current state of the controversy. We should hold our Reformed critics’ feet to the fire. We should show them that they have departed significantly from the biblical doctrine of assurance and faith and that their own view of faith cannot even be traced back to the earliest Reformers. And using Sproul’s own logic with regard to sola fide, we should point out that without assurance which is of the essence of saving faith, their definition of saving faith is not biblical saving faith at all.
III. Practical Consequences for Evangelism
The fact that assurance is of the essence of saving faith can significantly affect how we deal with people about the gospel. We dare not lead people through some process in which the process allows for a conversion experience in which assurance is lacking.
R. T. Kendall has made the important point that saving faith is not a decision, but a persuasion. As he points out, Rom 4:21-22 states that Abraham was “fully persuaded that what He [i.e., God] had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness” (italics added). Obviously, I cannot decide to believe what I am not persuaded is true. And when I am persuaded that something is true I have already believed it.
So Kendall has made the additional point that he believes that most false professions are made when the decision precedes the persuasion. That occurs, for example, when someone is led to say a prayer without the inner conviction that Christ saves him at the moment he believes. Perhaps he only hopes this will save him and if the minister tells him it does, then he may be able to ignore his doubts. But eventually they will surface.
I should know, because I am an example of this process. As a young boy under conviction of my need to be saved, I went forward in response to an invitation given at a Baptist vacation Bible school. The minister led us in prayer (I can’t recall whether I prayed in my heart or not) and then he assured us that we were saved. He even visited my house to inform my mother that her son had gotten saved. But her son was not sure of that at all. And for years I struggled with my doubts. Finally, years later, as a young man about to enter high school, I trusted Christ at a Plymouth Brethren meeting where the gospel was preached but no public invitation was given. That night I was absolutely sure. As it happened I believed in between stanzas of a closing hymn. Later when I told my family about it, my brother David, who had been sitting next to me, remarked that he had noticed that I seemed to be singing louder at the end of the hymn than at the beginning.
Not better, mind you. Just louder. I was not conscious of that, but if I were Reformed I’d say it was the first evidence of my salvation. But, of course, I didn’t need it. I was sure.
So I want to urge you to try to avoid leading people through some process or decision which can precede the genuine persuasion of faith. I myself am very careful about this now.
I close with an illustration. A couple of years ago an appointment was arranged for me to talk with a young Hispanic man who had been attending our meetings at Victor Street Bible Chapel and was going with one of our Christian young ladies. I went through the gospel carefully, using chiefly the Gospel of John. When I was finished I asked if he had any questions and he said he did not.
Then I said something like this: “I don’t want you to say anything to me right now, but perhaps you have already believed this or perhaps you will in the near future. If you have, or when you do, please tell me because I would like to know.”
I did it this way for a reason. I was well aware that the very polite Hispanic culture would incline a young man like this to tell me that he believed what I said whether he did or not. I did not want a false profession, no matter how polite it was. So I repeated my instructions about not saying anything to me right then.
But when I finished doing this, my young friend proceeded to ignore my directions. Here is what he said: “Zane, I do believe. I have the gift and I will be with you in heaven.” So much for trying to script a confession of faith.
But obviously my friend had something which no prayer or public invitation can bestow. He had assurance of eternal life. The belief he had claimed was also accompanied by assurance of a future in heaven. As is true of everybody else who gets saved, assurance was of the essence of the faith that saved him.
1Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Dallas: Redenciï¿½n Viva, 1989).
2R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification ( Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995).
3John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988).
4MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994).
5MacArthur, Saved Without A Doubt (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992).
6MacArthur, Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993).
7John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991). Reviewed in JOTGES (Autumn 1991): 59-70.
8Michael Horton, Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992). Reviewed in JOTGES (Autumn 1993): 25-38.
9Robert A. Peterson, “Christian Assurance: Its Possibility and Foundations,” Presbyterion (18, 4):10-24.
10D. A. Carson, “Reflections on Christian Assurance,” Westminster Journal of Theology (54):1-29.
11Zane Hodges, “The New Puritanism Part 1: Carson on Christian Assurance,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring 1993):19-31.
12Carson, “Reflections,” 29.
13Kenneth L. Gentry, “Assurance and Lordship Salvation,” Dispensationalism in Transition (September 1993), 2.
14Joel R. Beeke, “Personal Assurance of Faith: English Puritanism and the Dutch ‘Nadere Reformatie:’ From Westminster to Alexander Comrie (1640-1760),” Ph.D. Dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1988.
15Beeke, Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation (NY: Peter Lang, 1991).
16Beeke, “Does Assurance Belong to the Essence of Faith? Calvin and the Calvinists,” The Master’s Seminary Journal (Spring 1994):43-71.
19R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: University Press, 1979).
20M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985).
21Holmes Rolston III., John Calvin Versus the Westminster Confession (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1972).
22Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Hayesville, NC: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992).
23Sproul, Faith Alone, 29-30.
29Gordon Clark, Faith and Saving Faith (Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation, 1983), 52.