Care and Feeding of the Born-Again Heart: In Remembrance of Our Spiritual Forebears
As mentioned at the close of The Training Table last week, please pull up a chair for a feast of the heart concerning a vital—life-giving—topic, the Doctrine and Astounding Gift of Assurance.
Q. Is God’s unfathomably costly yet free-of-any-human-merit gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth, and The Life an absolutely, for-sure, and unbreakable promise of God that nothing on earth, in heaven, or in any dimension can take away?
A. Yes. God’s assurance of salvation is exactly that: It is made possible and assured by the Triune God for time and throughout all eternity to the Christian man or woman. Period.
God’s Assurance is a Sure Thing
There are many sources from our spiritual forbears to look to in order to get one’s heart (core beliefs), spirit (emotions), and faith life aligned with, and transformed by, the astoundingly huge Gift of Assurance.
For that is what it is: an ineffably grand and glorious gift from the Triune God of All to those who have repented of their sin and have faith in Christ alone, by grace alone, through Holy Scriptures alone, and to the glory of God alone—with all the Saints, the Body, and supernatural and unashamed family of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
The source from our spiritual forebears is the section of The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVIII that addresses this divinely amazing doctrine of the True Truth, and Love of God Almighty.
Also allow me to say that the True Truth of this God-inspired doctrine [The Assurance of Our Salvation] of mercy imparted to His children by grace through the atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ and secured by the person and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in each born-again Christian… is of the utmost importance. Why?
There have been tens-of-thousands of pages written on the subject of “What and Why?”, but the one that captures it for me is simply this: Q. Can God’s promises be trusted and transformational—on an individual and societal basis?
Man’s Biggest Questions Cannot Be Answered by False or Little gods… Our God is the Only God on High!
This is the most important question our temporal and eternal life has to offer! If God’s promises CAN be trusted and transformational, it means far more than everything; if God’s promises CANNOT be trusted and transformational, it means much worse than simply nothing—because it equates to a life of despair and an eternity in hell. It’s not neutral, it’s damning for life, and in the after-life… For all time.
I would say that’s important. How about for you and yours?
Let’s look at our text for today’s feast of the heart on Assurance. Please read it slowly, repeatedly, carefully, prayerfully:
The Context of the Confession
“In 1643, the English Parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines”, to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the confession of faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. For more than three centuries, various churches around the world have adopted the confession and the catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible.” (Wikipedia)
Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation, Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVIII, by “The Westminster Divines” [and accompanied by 50+ bible verse references]
[Unbelievers Can Only Claim the Assurance of Self-Centeredness, Ego, and Pretense—not a sure to foundation to rest upon.]
“Part I. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of their salvation: (which hope of theirs shall perish): [Only Bona Fide, Repentant / Justified, Faith-Filled Believers Can Claim the Certainly of Grace, Hope, and Assurance:] yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never, ever make them ashamed.
[Certainty is as Certain as God’s Trinitarian Eternality, Person, and Promises]
Part II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of, a) the promises of salvation, b) the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, c) the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, and d) which Spirit is the gift of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.
[The Certainty of Assurance is Imparted by God—in God’s Election, Jesus’ Propitiation, and the Spirit’s Regeneration—at Salvation, Purely by Grace, We Having No Merit at All]
Part III. This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of our faith, so that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. [Once Freely Given by God, the Promise of Salvation and Assurance is Made “Practically Manifest” by Faith, Word, and Obedient Deed] And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby, a) his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in and by the Holy Spirit, b) in love and thankfulness to God, and c) in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
[The Temporal / Emotional Sense of Assurance May Rise and Fall with Good and Bad Circumstances]
Part IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation in many ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, a) by negligence in preserving of it, b) by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; c) by some sudden or vehement temptation, d) by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and d) by suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: [But God’s Promises Will Never Fail in the Eternally-Secured Impartation of Christ’s Atonement and the Assurance of Salvation] yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.”
NET, NET: “Nothing, Neither, Nor… Or, Or, Or…”!
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39).
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
“… let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
“Which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day [Jesus comes in glory] what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12).
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ [Jesus returns to usher in a new heaven and new earth]” (Philippians 1:6).
Just Skating Through Life?
Remember: You Cannot Skate Fast Enough; and You Can Never Stand Still!
The prep school I attended, Salisbury school in Salisbury Connecticut, was likely the last prep school to use man-made ice for their hockey program. As a result, our early-season hockey usually consisted of traveling a good distance from Salisbury to skate on one lake or the other higher up in the Berkshire Mountains.
In the best years, the winter conditions would yield a skater’s dream called “black ice”. Black ice resulted from prolonged periods of bitterly cold weather combined with conditions that would not allow a great deal, if any, snow to rest on the top of the ice on any given body of water. The result is a rock-hard, marble-flat, fast and clear ice that was perfect for practicing hockey on bitterly cold Connecticut winter days. The ice was black due to the absence of oxygen bubbles trapped in the frozen water: Black as the icy waters below.
Our “lake-locked hockey rink” was made up of 2’ x 8’ boards, set on edge and connected end-to-end on the outside periphery of a small cove—so as not to lose the puck across very long stretches of ice out towards the middle of the lake.
A Leap of Faulty, Forgetful Faith
During one bitterly cold practice, a knee-high slap shot resulted in the puck clearing the boards and skittering off into the middle of the lake and nearly out of sight immediately. Without thinking, I jumped the boards, put my head down, and skated my hardest in the direction of the fast-running puck. If I heard it at all, I ignored the screams coming from behind me in the cove from our coach “Hop Rudd” and several of my teammates.
“Dozier, get the hell back here now, damnit!” Coach Rudd screamed at the top of his lungs.
Even though we had been warned many times not to skate out away from the cove and into the middle of the lake where the ice is not as thick as it is in shallower waters, I was off skating straight, hard, fast, and moving towards a wilderness of black ice, wind, bitter cold, and potentially grave danger… Alone. Way alone.
Finally I realized that there was absolutely no way I was ever going to either catch or even see that puck again. I came to a fast hockey-stop and stood on the blacker-than-ever…. seemingly miles away from anything… black ice looking off into the distance that was now on all sides of me.
Finding Fear-Filled Faults in Our Assurances
I turned 180° to look back towards the cove where the rest of the team with still calling after me. But before I could move back in the direction of the cove I heard a familiarly eerie, and spine tingling sound… But this time it resonated in a tone so deep, and spread so fast and far around me, that the “POP-CRACK” of the ice beneath my feet nearly made my heart stop. If just a few more seconds had passed, I know I would have defecated in my sweats… That’s how suddenly and utterly petrified I was.
Please pause. Close your eyes and imagine being in the position I’ve described right now. Imagine in this split-second of time when you hear the unspeakably frightening “POP-CRACK” and you are anticipating not just the foundation of the ice breaking, your falling through the ice into icy-cold black water… with multi layers of clothes, hockey gloves, ice skates on… a very significant distance from help of any kind… but in no condition to swim towards more and more breaking ice and paralyzing cold.
Even though it’s impossible to match this feeling of being altogether alone and within split seconds of everything giving way beneath you and your plummeting into icy-cold, black, muscle-cramping and heart-stopping lake water… Please let me tell you something:
DEVOID of a Real Relationship with Jesus Christ…
Whether we know it or not, this “freeze-frame state of the soul, emotions, and physical self”—in its most vulnerable, exposed, and in a frozen-with-abject-dread state of fear—is exactly the state of existential and temporal angst we will live in each and every day, my friends. No Jesus + No assurance = A life of temporal and existential dread.
Allow me beseech you to see that the vast majority of randomly-selected people who might read this will say, “Oh come on, John… I mean really? You’re obviously exaggerating to make a point, right? No one lives each and every day with THAT sort of drop-dead, poopie-pants fear… Are you kidding me?! I mean, maybe once in a lifetime we might experience something that awful… But not every day.”
Suppressing the Truth is a Habit of the Heart… Every day.
The ONLY two reasons any human being does or does not feel—or fully understand and admit to feeling—this sort of dread of anticipation of a free-fall or the actual free-fall of existential agony is:
a) Set on a Foundation: he or she have been saved, in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, and discipled about the Assurances of God’s promise of salvation—which reflects a supernatural, known, and felt sense of Assurance or,
b) Feet Firmly Planted In Thin Air: he or she has not been saved and they have[ over time and by habits of the heart] built layer-upon-layer of suppressing, denying, avoiding, and distracting oneself about the daily pangs of anxiety and fear and worry that comes from living with NO sense of assurance about anything… Except for the reality that NOTHING is secure!
So, when anyone responds in the way noted above… “Oh come on, John…” they have likely become very good at suppressing the truth of their wildly disturbing emotional ambivalence’s by beguiling and disconnecting themselves from the deep-down agony of uneasy apprehension and the existential dread that essentially defines his or her life:
Please consider why Western culture’s obsessive busyness, the myriad of addictions, the dramatic increase of anti-anxiety medications, the dramatic rise in “mental disorders”, anger and relational issues, rampant obesity… an array of spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical maladies of all sorts… has gripped a people who have so numerously lost any knowledge or interest in the God of the bible?
For a being created to exist on an unshakable foundation of God’s promises, living on thin ice is spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually untenable! So we create an array of coping mechanisms to suppress the truth and survive… Not fully live…
But merely survive.
We need God’s ASSURANCES to truly and freely and self-forgetfully flourish.
As one of the foremost authorities on the subject of Assurance, Martin Lloyd-Jones said so very well:
1) “We should all be concerned about our assurance of salvation, because if we lack assurance, we lack joy, and if we lack joy our life is probably of a poor quality indeed.” (The Sons of God)
Is there a kind of abiding or “foundational” JOY in your life that is not subject to circumstances of any sort?
2) “If we were meant by God to have assurance of our salvation, we were meant to know it with complete certainty.” (The Christian Warfare)
Are God’s promises to you growing in veracity and peace-giving surety along your faith journey? Why? Or why not?
3) “If you want to have the assurance of salvation, the place to start is not with your feelings, but rather with your understanding; then the feelings will follow.” (Assurance)
Have you, like so many in our day, allowed your knowledge and wisdom [life-tested knowledge] of God’s bible, doctrines, and narratives to be so lacking or “thin”—that it’s mostly feelings that dictate your assurances about life?
4) “The highest form of assurance is that it is neither anything we do, nor any deductions we draw: it is an assurance that is given to us by the blessed Holy Spirit Himself—begun by God before time in election, completely paid for by Christ on the cross, and wholly secured by the Holy Spirit in regeneration, second birth.” (Joy Unspeakable)
Do you rest it all on an act of unbounded mercy by The Trinity that came from the outside, objectively, and completely beyond anything you could do—to either start it or stop it? But only contribute your sin…
“It is our union with Adam that accounts for all our troubles; it is our corresponding union to Jesus Christ that accounts for our salvation and Assurance.” (Assurance)
Have you made the decision to let go of your union with Adam’s Sin and sinning, and trust in Jesus Christ’s propitiation [payment] for all sin… your Sin [nature] and sinning [by habit]?
Thank you for joining us at The Training Table for this sumptuous feast of the heart today! Please deeply consider this topic—it has an immensely… temporally and eternal… bearing on your life, the lives of those you love, and the lives of those you might have stopped loving but need to again.
May God richly bless your “running the good race” (Hebrews 12:1-3), marathoners for Christ!
“The race started in Adam; another race started in Christ” (Lloyd-Jones)—Who died for the human race those who would repent and be blessed by faith in the Assurances of Christ’s salvation (John 3:16)!
PS, I safely made it back to the team… And was benched for my stupidity—in thinking there was anything but death for those who insist on skating on thin ice.
(1) What is Common Grace? by Rev. Timothy Keller
2) Importance & Possibility of Assurance, by Joel Beeke
3) The Assurance of Our Salvation: Exploring the Depth of Jesus’ Prayer for His Own, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones