I Can Be Sure Because God…
A No-Doubt kind of Assurance
Over the past several weeks I have been reading, marking and learning…and a little debating as well with my reformed friends. As I read the Word of God plainly, coming to it like a child who does not know about theological hoops which they have to learn to navigate but instead approaches the Scriptures with simplicity, I am learning that God is a God of love who out of that immense love gave us Jesus Christ, our Savior, to die for us sinners even when we were yet in our sins and at enmity with Him.
I have read over and over in the Bible that God loved the world (Gk. kosmos) [John 3:16], that Jesus died for the world (Gk. kosmos) [John 1:29], that He is the propitiation (sacrifice which covers our sins and pays for them) for the world (Gk. kosmos) [1 John 2:2 & 4:10] and that the Holy Spirit will convict and convince the world (Gk. kosmos) of their sins and need of a Savior [John 16:8]. As I have written and stated in the past, if you are in this world, then Christ Jesus died for you.
This is hard for my reformed friends to understand and agree with. You see their starting point (technical term: Prolegomena) is Election. From there, they build an argument that God only loves the “believing world” and those whom He has chosen to salvation. From there, they then must do something with those who have not heard the Gospel, reject the Gospel or simply do not believe. So, they have built up this teaching which they call Reprobation.
“If only some people are predestined to be saved, then it logically must follow that other people are not.” (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-doctrine-of-reprobation/)
Elsewhere the Protestant Reformed Church states that this election to damnation (they won’t phrase it that way but rather simply God passed over some) is for the Glory of God:
The teaching of Scripture must stand, for it is the Word of God. Reprobation is that eternal will, good pleasure, or purpose of God according to which He determined that some of His moral, rational creatures would be cast into hell forever on account of their sins; and that this fact would serve the cause of Christ and redound to God's glory alone. (http://www.prca.org/pamphlets/pamphlet_44.html)
While as Lutherans we believe in election, we will never go farther than what God’s Word says. As a dear friend says, “God is much smarter than us.” Therefore, He knows how the secret things, which belong to Him alone, all work out in the end. Countering this idea that God chose some of His creatures (men, women, young, old, infants) to be born so that they just simply go to Hell cannot be lined up with the Word of God which speaks of God’s love for His creatures and loving all not wanting any to perish.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
Now, I was Dutch Reformed (Three Forms of Unity gal previously) for over a decade. I studied the Confessions, Catechisms, Canons of Dordt as well as the history of the continental Reformers and reformation; therefore, I know the arguments well against what I am saying now. The reformed argue that 2 Peter is a letter written to believers so when the apostle says God does not wish that any should perish, he is obviously stating none of the elect. There lies the problem; reading into the Scriptures what is not there.
Here is my argument against that: The whole of the Bible was written for the People of God, Israel in the Old Testament, primarily, and the Gospels and the Epistles for believers in Christ so that they would come to read, learn and mark that it is all about Jesus the Incarnate Word of God. However, we believers are told to go into the world make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them. God is in the business of salvation and He is the one who sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for the world. We are to share the truth of the Gospel which is in the whole entire Bible.
I opened this blog with several verses with the term “world” in it. The Greek term is kosmos, which according to several lexicons and Bill Mounce (Greek language scholar whose textbooks on learning the Greek language of the New Testament era are used in many seminaries) says it means:
earth, world system, whole universe
Now, when I was Dutch reformed I would argue that it couldn’t possibly mean the whole entire world because some have never heard and others have clearly rejected the Good News of Jesus Christ. I would often use the argument I heard over and over, in John 3:16 the term kosmos there means “believing world”. At first I never thought to question what those who had taken more than two (2) semesters of Greek (that’s how many I took). Afterall, they had more training than I. However, as I began to read more of the Scriptures in various translations, not one of them ever added that word “believing” into that text. As I studied the text, with my limited Greek knowledge, I found that it wasn’t there. Nor could the variation of that term be construed to mean “believing world”. It just is not there. Quite honestly, I was lied to and perpetuated that lie because in the beginning I did not look into it for myself. Be a Berean! Thank God for His continual forgiveness for even wrong theology. What a blessing that we can confess it and receive Absolution.
What follows from the teaching of Reprobation is a lack of assurance. I’m part of the world but how do I know I’m part of that “believing world” which the reformed say are the only ones for whom Jesus died? Limited atonement is what they teach. Jesus died for only some. God purposely chose some to eternal damnation so no matter what they have been destined for Hell. Remember, they believe “Reprobation is that eternal will, good pleasure…of God…” Think about this. Consider the implications of this horrific teaching: Damnation is the good pleasure of God?
Good? Pleasurable to God? God forbid. What kind of God is that who takes pleasure in the death of the wicked. Wait a minute…I know I read about this somewhere…oh right, that’s not what the Bible says. In fact, God says the exact opposite:
As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Ezek 33:11
For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies says the Lord God…Ezek. 18:23
This is the God of the Bible.
The logical outcome of the reformed teaching that God chose some to salvation and chose others to damnation is the question I must ask myself: Which group I belong. How do I know if I am elect to salvation or elect to damnation? How can I be sure that I am saved, justified, forgiven of my sins? In this theological muck and mire I will sink and drown because I cannot even be sure whether God loves me or hates me? Did He decide before creation that I am to be damned for eternity?
In discussions this week a reformed friends posited this to a group of Reformed and Lutherans discussing this very question. My posts were consistent on one theme:
How can you be sure you are forgiven? How can you know that you belong to Christ? How can you be sure of your salvation?
While the topic of baptism arose, and it should be noted that the Word of God says that “baptism now saves you…” the interlocutor (reformed gentleman) argued that while God’s Word may say that, it may not always be true.
Okay, breathe for a moment because I too had to stop and brace myself for his next statement: Baptism doesn’t always save or forgive sins. Would that make God a liar? What?!? Scripture says, “baptism now saves you” and in context of talking about the flood waters of Noah, Peter brings in the waters of baptism which now saves you (1 Peter 3:19-21). Friends, this is not only a slippery slope but they slide quickly into the abyss.
This reformed man, whom I knew when I was Dutch reformed, argued that because God doesn’t always forgive sins in the waters of baptism, we should simply presume God forgave us and washed us then but it is applied later in life when we receive and believe the Gospel only through the preached or read Word.
Again, that is NOT what the Bible says. But, here is the serious problem.
You assume (or presume) that you are saved. Where is your assurance of sins forgiven, of the gifts of salvation have been applied to you? In the reformed system you cannot possibly be assured of salvation because you must look to your own believing. While both Lutherans and reformed hold that saving faith is a gift of God, for the latter you only are assured by the evidence you show. For Lutherans, we look outside of ourselves. Luther wrote in his Small Catechism:
When my sins condemn me and I am doubting, how can I be sure of my forgiveness and salvation?
I cannot and should not rely on myself in any way—my thought, feeling, words, or deeds.
Rather, I can be sure because God, who has promised the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, always keeps His promises.
C. I can be sure because God tells me that I am His and my sins are forgiven as the Gospel is declared to me in spoken Word, in Baptism, in the Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper. These words and promises of Christ are sure and certain, no matter how I feel or how badly I have fallen short of righteousness. This Gospel is more than simple information; it actually delivers to us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus.
In the Smalcald Articles, Luther gives as the Chief Article:
Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24-25)
He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6)…
Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).
Contrary to the Lutheran position, that forgiveness is actually given in Baptism, Absolution and in the Lord’s Supper by the Word, Reformed have a different place for assurance: their own fruit. The Hiedelberg Catechism (Dutch Reformed) states:
“we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits”. (Q86)
Here’s is the whole quote from Lord’s Day 32 Question and Answer 86:
Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, (a) and that he may be praised by us; (b) also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, (c) by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ. (d)
Note that the assurance for the reformed comes from their fruit and good works. Now, I ask you to honestly look at your fruit and works and tell me that they are good, that they have nothing wrong with them and that sin is not mixed in with anything good that you do. After honest reflection, tell me again how sin-mixed works and immature, bruised fruits afford you assurance of your salvation. If you are honest, you cannot. Rather, they condemn us further.
Enter Scripture: Baptism saves! Take, eat of my Body which was broken for you for the FORGIVENESS of YOUR sins. Take, drink of my Blood which was shed for YOU for the FORGIVNESS of YOUR sins.
Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die FOR YOU and for His sake FORGIVES YOU all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore FORGIVE YOU all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (John 20:19-23).
Each of these sacraments is done outside of you and FOR YOU. None of these rely upon you or your fruit (rotten and spoiled as they are because you are still a sinner who sins regularly) or your good works. Rather, assurance, true assurance lies in the free gift of God’s grace through the means He determined to give you those gifts. In our weekly Bible study at church we read,
“We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. Be He has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the Gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously [AE40:213-14]