I read a little story this week which reminded me of precisely why this series on doctrine is necessary. While I think it was fictitious, it made a very good argument for being certain that what we believe comes to us from a reliable source.
Seems a biker is riding by the zoo, when he sees a little girl leaning into the lion's cage. Suddenly the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside his cage, all the while her parents are screaming in terror. The biker jumps off his bike, runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch. Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back for a brief minute, letting go of the little girl. The biker grabs her, pulling her to safety and brings her back to her parents. The scene is emotional, as the parents hug their child and profusely thank the biker for his heroic actions which saved their daughter's life.
A reporter has seen the whole scene, and addressing the biker says, "Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I have ever witnessed. Where did you get such courage?" "Why it was nothing," The biker replied, "The lion was behind bars, after all, and I just saw the little girl in danger and did what I felt anyone else would have done."
To which the reporter replies, "This kind of action will not go unnoticed. I'm a journalist and I promise you that this will be on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. By the way, what kind of motorcycle do you ride?" "A Harley Davidson," says the biker.
The following morning the biker buys the paper to see what the reporter had written. And there in large bold font, he read the following headline, "Biker Gang Member Assaults African Immigrant and Steals His Lunch."
Seems we can't believe everything we hear or read. That's why it is so very important for us to be certain about the source of our doctrine. As Southern Baptists we hold to the inerrant and infallible word of God as the sole source of our doctrine. Our doctrinal confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, is a summation of our understanding of what the Bible teaches on specific doctrines.
This morning we come to the seventh sermon in our series on the doctrinal foundations of our faith. Today we deal with the doctrine of Election and the assurance of our salvation.
Article five of the Baptist Faith and Message reads:
For the purpose of our study this morning we will break our study into three sections. First we will consider the two specific topics addressed in article five, that of election and eternal security and finally we will conclude with some practical suggestions for application.
First, the issue of election.
The doctrine of election is, without doubt, one of the most difficult things for us to comprehend. Simply put, it is a biblical doctrine which says that everyone who comes to faith in Christ, does so because God, in His grace and His mercy, chose them to be saved. There is no denying that this is the clear teaching of the Bible.
Ephesians 1:3-5 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ; for he chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight, in love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will..."
Jesus Himself speaks of the elect. In Matthew 24:24 He says that in the last days false prophets will come who will perform signs and wonders and will be so persuasive that if it were possible they would even lead the elect astray. And in verse 31 of that chapter He says that the Son of Man will, "Send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other."
While there is no question that this is what the Bible teaches, there are many questions as to what it really means. That is to say, there are many things within this doctrine upon which many Baptists do not agree.
Douglas Blount, a professor at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Joseph Wooddell, a professor at the Criswell College, recently edited a commentary on the Baptist Faith and message. The book is comprised of articles written by a number of scholars across the Southern Baptist Convention.
Dr. Danny Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, authored the article in their book on this particular section of the BF&M. In his article Akin says that it is "instructive to note what is said here and what is not said. Election is an act of grace, rooted in the purpose of God. Election unto salvation starts with God, not man. Election to salvation is rooted in grace, not works. It is unmerited and undeserved. And yet the nature and basis of election is not defined." (Baptist Faith and Message 2000, edited by Blount and Wooddell)
The reason the nature and basis of election are not defined is because Baptist have never really ever been able to agree on the basis and nature of election. There are some things upon which we will only find agreement in heaven, there are some things which God has chosen not to reveal to us and finally there are some things upon which we all seem to agree.
At the heart of the difficulty with this doctrine is the tension between God's election and the free moral agency of man. Libraries of books have been written upon this subject and no one has ever been able to sufficiently settle the myriad of questions surrounding this tension.
Those of the reformed tradition would say it is the tension between God's sovereignty and human responsibility, while many of those outside the reformed tradition would say that it is the question between God's sovereignty and man's free will.
Now, a word is in order about what exactly I mean by the term, "reformed tradition." I am speaking of what is commonly known as Calvinism. I have found it difficult to identify a universal definition of Calvinism because everyone I have met who claims to be a Calvinist wants to define exactly what they mean by that. Needless to say, we cannot be exhaustive in our treatment of this topic. So for the sake of our study we will simply overview the basics.
For the sake of our discussion, I will loosely follow the definition Dr. Akin gives in his article on this section of the Baptist Faith and Message. At the same time I will tell you what some of the critics of Calvinism say.
Akin says that Calvinism stems from the teachings of the great reformer, John Calvin, who lived between 1509 and 1564. Incidentally, that is who my parents had in mind when they gave me my name. Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man and the necessity of grace for salvation, things which our foundational to our theology as Southern Baptists. Some years after he died, his followers systemized his theology and went beyond what Calvin himself taught. This system, says Akin, would be codified with the now famous acronym TULIP.
The ‘T' in Tulip stands for Total Depravity. Since the fall, man is born with a natural bent toward sin. Every part of his being has been infected with this disease so that he cannot save himself, nor can he seek God without the prompting of the Holy Spirit through God's grace. The Bible clearly teaches that we cannot come to God on our own. It takes God drawing us to Himself. John 6:44 says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." "Most Baptists," says Akin, "would agree on this point."
The "U" in Tulip stands for Unconditional Election - This says that God, in His grace and mercy, unconditioned on anything else, by His own sovereign desire, chose some for salvation and left others to suffer the consequences of their sins. The tension here arises from the twin truths which state that no one is saved apart from God's plan and yet, anyone who repents and trusts Jesus Christ can and will be saved. The Bible teaches both that God chooses us and that we must choose God. It teaches that God will hold us responsible for our decision to choose or reject Jesus, and yet it says that we cannot come to Him unless He enables us. It says that God has His elect but it also says that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. This is one of the great tensions in scripture. Calvinists insist, and rightfully so, that since salvation begins and ends with God and that it is by His grace and His mercy, man can have nothing to do with it. Those who do not hold to reformed theology, however, quote verses like 1 Peter 1:2 which says that we are elect, according to the foreknowledge of God. In other words, they say that God chose us based on His knowledge of who would choose Him.
In His wisdom God did not choose to tell us how He chose us. He did not give us insight into the nature or basis of that election, He simply tells us that He chose us and that all who will receive Him are chosen. I sometimes get amused at the degree to which some people are preoccupied by the doctrine of election and how it affects salvation. Folks, we don't know who's elect and who's not. All we know is that we have a responsibility before God to go out and nominate everyone we can to become a member of the family of God. God does the electing. He has chosen for us to do the evangelizing. The emphasis for us should be on doing.
The "L" in Tulip stands for Limited Atonement - Akin admits that this is an unfortunate phrase and that most five point Calvinists would prefer the term, "particular redemption." Many Calvinists, however, hold that the work of Christ on the cross was limited to the elect. That is to say they believe that Jesus died only for the sins of the elect. Akin admits that this is a problem for many people and that most Baptists today would not embrace this teaching in its classic form. At the end of the day, however, unless we think everyone will ultimately be saved, which would make us Universalists, we have to admit that the benefit of the work of Christ will be limited to those who trusted Him. I agree with Dr. Akin when he says that the Bible's limitation on the atonement is in its application, not its provision. That is to say, that Jesus died on the cross for the whole world but the only ones to benefit from His atonement are those who receive, by their personal faith in Christ, the free gift of salvation offered to them.
The "I" in Tulip stands for Irresistible Grace - Calvinists prefer the term "effectual calling." This says that those who are predestined to be saved will ultimately be saved. Calvinists teach that the elect will not be forced to be saved against their will, but that they will come to Christ, of their own choosing because God's call on their life will be effective. Critics of Calvinism, however, say that choices which are predetermined for humanity are not choices of free will but are nothing more than fatalism. They would point to passages like Acts 7:51 where Stephen, before he is martyred accuses his executioners of resisting the grace of God. And Matthew 23:37 where Jesus says, "O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones them who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." These passages, they say, tell us that even after God draws people to Himself through a good faith offer of the gospel, that people still have the freedom to choose to accept God's grace or to reject it. Even though God was truly willing for some to be saved, because of their own choice, because they exercised the freedom of choice God gave them, they rejected His gracious offer of salvation.
The "P" in Tulip stands for Perseverance of the Saints - which simply means that those who God saves He saves eternally and they cannot lose their salvation. This is a point upon which nearly all Baptists agree. Often referred to as "eternal security," or "once saved always saved," this doctrine is often misunderstood. You see, the perseverance of the saints is not a license to live however you want, to the contrary, it says that if you are truly saved you will display actions which give evidence to the fact that you have truly been saved.
This brings us to our second major point in this message, the doctrine of Assurance.
II. The assurance of salvation
This doctrine is founded on the scriptural teaching which says that God saves us and that He can keep us. It is founded on the scripture truth which teaches us that God gives us eternal life. It is not life till we sin again, it is not life till we feel differently, it is not life till times get tough and our faith grows weak, it is eternal life which will never end.
There are a number of scriptures which give us assurance of our salvation and affirm this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
John 10:27-30 - "My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish - ever. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."
Romans 8:38-39 - "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Philippians 1:6 - "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
John 3:16 - "For God loved the word in this way: He gave His one and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life."
You see the scripture is filled with the assurance that our salvation is secure.
Let me give you five reasons why I believe people doubt their salvation.
A. They have a faulty understanding of how they are saved
You see, if you think you were saved by good works, then it stands to reason that you could thing you your salvation could be lost by bad works. This is the problem with many of our dear charismatic brethren. They feel that they can lose their salvation. If you could earn it, you could lose it. If you could deserve it, you could desert it. But since you cannot earn it, since it is a gift of God not of works, lest anyone should boast, then you didn't deserve it in the first place. How could you lose it simply because you slipped and committed a sin?
This is why a proper theological understanding of salvation is important. God chose to save us not based on our merits or what we deserved, in fact, He chose to save us in spite of who we are and contrary to what we deserved. Salvation is based on His goodness and grace and not on our merit. When you get a proper understanding of that; when you get a clear picture of how bad your sins were and how great God's grace is, it will give you a new and deeper appreciation for your salvation.
B. They do not have a biblical understanding of perseverance
Instead of realizing what God has said and that He will be faithful to His word, they have based their beliefs on what someone has told them, what they feel, on faulty interpretation or something other than the revelation in God's word. This is the fundamental problem with all doctrinal error, that people have not rightly divided the word of God and have based their belief on a view which is non biblical.
Many have based their beliefs on experience. You've probably heard them say something like this: I knew a person who was a great Christian for years and years, then one day they decided to walk away from the faith and leave God behind. They just laid down their salvation and abandoned God.
The scripture gives us insight into such cases. In 1 John 2:19 it says, "They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us."
C. They are ignorant of God's promises in His Word
The level of biblical illiteracy today is astonishing. Many professing Christians today know more about their favorite sports teams than they do the doctrines of the faith. It is no wonder that so many of them are so easily led astray by every wind of doctrine which blows across the ecclesiological landscape.
The antidote for this is simple: get grounded and rooted in the word of God and learn what it says about who God is. God's word tells us that He gives us eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13
"And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn't have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."
D. They are out of fellowship with God and thus do not sense His presence
There are many Christians today who experience doubts about their salvation for no other reason that they are out of fellowship with God. Folks, our salvation is all about relationship. It is about walking and talking, breathing and being, it is about practicing the presence of God in our lives. But many Christians have allowed sin to remain in their lives, unconfessed and unaddressed. They have grieved the Holy Spirit of God and thus they are no longer sensitive to His presence in their lives nor are they aware of His movement around them. In such a state is little wonder that people begin to doubt their salvation.
The solution for this is simple: Get right with God. 1 John 2:1 says, "My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ the righteous. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but for those of the whole world."
E. They are not saved and sense they are lost because they are
One of the reasons people doubt their salvation is simply because they are not saved. They may have a knowledge of the church. They may have a knowledge of the scripture. They may have grown up in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends and have all the trappings of religion, but at the end of the day they cannot say that they have ever experienced a transformation of their life, the kind of transformation which only Jesus can bring when He gives a person a new heart and a new mind.
It is to this end that Paul tells the Christians at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 13:5 "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves."
The reason many people will go to hell from a church pew is because they never examined gave themselves a spiritual examination. They never stopped to consider whether or not they were really saved.
If you are truly saved, you should know it. God does not want you to be paralyzed by fear or doubts which are ungrounded or unfounded.
The solution is clear - Know what God's word says about your salvation. Stand on the truth that it is He who saves you and not anything you have done. Ground yourself in good doctrine. Remember that your salvation is a reflection and an extension of God's character. He is faithful. Let Him show you if there is any sin in your life and stop for a moment to examine yourself spiritually to see if you are in the faith.
Allow me to make three practical suggestions as to how we can put this truth into practice.
1. Recognize that salvation is from God alone and that we must rely upon His Grace to be saved. This means that He chooses us and that we also choose Him.
2. Resist the temptation of trying to know what we simply cannot know - Deut 29:29
3. Rest in the assurance that because He saves we cannot un-save ourselves. We cannot be saved by grace and kept by works. It is simply not compatible.