Archive for the ‘Assurance’ Category

Assurance and Baptism – Leithart Should Read 1 John

December 8, 2014

Peter Leithart should read the First Epistle of John. Peter Leithart writes: “Justification by grace through faith cannot be sustained, either in theology or in our experience, without confidence that God works in the sacraments. We cannot get assurance unless we’re convinced that God declares me His beloved child in the water of baptism. Which means, No baptism, No justification.” (link)

But read 1 John. That book’s raison d’etre is expressed this way:

(1:4) … these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full … (5:13) These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

John mentions a lot of things that help give us confidence, the primary one being that we have faith in Christ. John never mentions baptism in this epistle.

Leithart should learn from 1 John that Baptism is not what provides us our assurance.


Assurance in Calvinism – a Response to Edward Reiss

February 6, 2010

Steve Hays been responding to Lutheran (I’m not sure of which stripe he is) Edward Reiss (link to Steve Hays).

Edward Reiss wrote: “There is no promise we will know we have eternal life.”

I’m not sure what constitutes a “promise” in Edward’s mind:

1 John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Edward Reiss wrote: “We are told that we may deceive ourselves that we are elect when we are not”

Calvin explains it this way:

I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

Edward Reiss wrote: “This means looking for fruit runs the serious risk of us deceiving ourselves into thinking we are elect when we are not.”

1) Although we are to look for fruit for assurance, we are not to trust in our fruit. We are always to trust in Christ.

2) The fact that something is not perfectly reliable does not mean that it is not generally trustworthy. Does Edward refuse to believe his eyes at all because he once attended a magic (sleight-of-hand) show?

Edward Reiss wrote: “The spiritual danger of this should be readily apparent.”

The spiritual danger appears to flow from trusting in one’s fruit rather than in Christ. Otherwise, it is impossible to see how spiritual danger arises simply from human falibility.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Examining ourselves for our fidelity and obedience is different from examining ourselves to ‘prove’ we are elect, which we cannot know anyway.”

One wonders how Edward would explain this passage in view of his comment above:

2 Peter 1:10-11
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Edward Reiss wrote: “We can know that when we hear the Gospel in e.g. baptism or communion that we are truly receiving what God promises because God does not lie–as opposed to our looking into our own lives for proof.”

This simply a false dichotomy. We can rely on God’s promises and engage in self-examination.

Edward Reiss wrote: “No one has second party knowledge of my eternal state.”

No one except for God has certain knowledge of that. However, others are invited and even exhorted to judge us by our fruits.

Edward Reiss wrote: “And I don’t think I even have first party knowledge (see 1 above). Given this, and the theological commitments of TULIP Calvinists, a TULIP Calvinist cannot say Christ died for him, or anyone else. I do however have first hand knowledge of receiving communion, being absolved and I have proof I am baptized.”

Edward seems to mean that a Calvinist cannot consistently claim to know that Christ died for him. This is simply a rehash of his claim above. Being unable to say that Christ died for some particular person only seems to be a problem for those who make “Christ died particularly for you” part of their evangelistic message.

Edward Reiss wrote: “You have ‘demonstrated’ something we have not claimed: that Sacraments guarantee everyone who receives the sacrament eternal salvation.”

Edward Reiss wrote: “What we have claimed is that the grace offered in Sacraments is real grace…”

Reification of grace is a real problem, and seems to be a problem in Edward’s explanation here.

Edward Reiss wrote: “…and not actually a withholding of grace, as is the case in the Calvinist system where grace is only offered to the elect, because offered grace must be 100% ‘effective’ for it to be real.”

Saving grace saves. The grace of regeneration is given, not “offered.” The forgiveness of sins is offered to all, but conditionally. Only the elect become qualified by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Finally, it is not the Lutherans who look at their navel, but the TULIP Calvinists looking within themselves to prove they are really elect.”

Calvinists don’t normally go around trying to prove that they are elect.

Edward Reiss wrote: “If we can be deceived into believing we are elect even if we are not, where is the assurance in that?”

It seems that Edward is complaining that the level of assurance is not high enough.

Edward Reiss wrote: “But baptism and communion go one better–they promise the forgiveness of sins.”

The butcher down the road promises to give me meat for money. Comparing delivery of meat to forgiveness of sins would be a strange comparison – but it is a stranger comparison to compare forgiveness of sins (a kind that is apparently at least potentially temporary) with eternal life. So what if Lutheran theology does promise that someone can know that their sins are forgiven or if the butcher promises that someone can know that their meat has been delivered. Knowledge of such facts falls in an inferior category.

Edward Reiss wrote: “The standard “Protestant” syllogism works like this: All those who have faith in Christ are saved[;] I have faith in Christ [;] Therefore I am saved”

Steve has already demonstrated that this is Scriptural. Further to that explanation, as James explains, our works demonstrate that our faith is a true faith.

Edward Reiss wrote: “The “Lutheran” Syllogism works like this: Christ said “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit”[;] Christ never lies and always tells the truth[;] Therefore I am baptized”

1) See above about the comparisons (comparing baptism to salvation is like comparing meat to baptism).
2) Christ does not personally baptize Lutherans, which throws something of a wrench in the syllogism.

Edward Reiss wrote: “If you object to a sacramental view of baptism feel free to insert “Christ said I died for you…” in lieu of baptism.”

Christ doesn’t come down and tell individual believers that – though if he did, we ought to believe him.

Edward Reiss wrote: “The point is that there is no ‘if’ embedded in the Lutheran syllogism, where the Protestant syllogism has an ‘if’ embedded into it–do I really have faith?”

That formal point is truly without merit. We can remove that “if” from the “Protestant” one by saying “those who repent and believe are saved” rather than “if I repent and believe I am saved.” Alternatively, we can rephrase the Lutheran one as “if Christ said… then it is true, because he doesn’t lie; he did say …; therefore it is true.”

Edward Reiss wrote: “Do we ever keep his commandments? St. John himself allows for the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake which presupposes disobedience. I certainly don’t see how we can get some sort of assurance of perseverance from our obedience as there is always the possibility we will not be obedient. In other words, it does not cut against the Lutheran position.”

If Edward thinks that perfect obedience is what Calvinists are looking for, he’s mistaken. What cuts against what he calls the Lutheran position is the failure to recognize the inseparability of the love of God from the objects of that love.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Getting back to the larger issue, no one has really said I got the Reformed position wrong.”

Between Steve and myself, the number of such people seems to be at least two.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Calvinist assurance: You are assured of eternal salvation and under no circumstances will you lose it.”

You can lose assurance but you can’t lose eternal life. If you could, it wouldn’t be eternal life.

– TurretinFan

Dangers in trying to Discern Providence

January 12, 2008

God determines everything that will come to pass. If you pray that your dog will live, and your dog dies, God has answered your prayer in the negative.

Sometimes it is not that cut and dried.

1. Ambiguities as to what Ought to be Done

To take one example, a young person may pray for a long time to find a suitable spouse, but no spouse may appear. This may be God answering in the negative, or simply God encouraging the young person to pray harder! It’s really impossible to determine the answer to that question simply by looking at the results.

Lesson: we should not try to look to Providence alone to determine how we should proceed for the future. If a young person came to me asking for advice about whether to continue the quest for marriage or to give up and remain single, I’d need to know a lot more than, “I’ve been praying about this for a long time now.”

2. Ambiguities as to Bad Things Happening

a. Job’s Friend’s Syndrome
Sometimes God sends bad things into our lives to chastise us for wrongs that we have done, so that we may learn to do what is right. It’s unpleasant at the time, but good for us in the long run (just like corporal discipline of children). When bad things happen, we should seriously consider whether God is disciplining us, and examine our lives for ways to improve.

On the other hand, that is not always the case. So, we should be careful not to be Job’s judgmental friends to others. This is not an excuse to avoid self-examination, this is an admonition to avoid a judgmental spirit. We cannot and should not assume that the twin towers disaster killed the 3,000 least holy people in Manhattan a half decade ago. We cannot and should not assume that their widows and orphans were the most wicked wives and children of the greater NYC region. All have sinned, and unless we repent we will also perish.

b. Satan did it Syndrome
There is a reverse problem to the Job’s friend’s syndrome, which I call the “Satan did it” syndrome. When bad things happen, sometimes it can be persecution from wicked men or even wicked angels. It’s a bit presumptuous to think that the Prince of darkness has personally found time to mess with one’s life (after all, he is not omnipresent, omnipotent, etc.), but nevertheless sometimes the forces of evil stand opposed to us and cause bad things to happen to us.

On the other hand, when something we thought was a good idea doesn’t happen, simply asserting that Satan interfered can lead to a dangerously egotistical mindset. “We tried to plant a church in Boise, ID, but Satan snuffed it out,” the person might say. Maybe it wasn’t Satan! Maybe God simply decided that Boise has enough of a witness, and God was closing the door there. Blaming Satan, you see, is often simply a way of reinforcing one’s notion that one knows best.

Such a person will have trouble learning from God’s corrections. If they lose their health, they simply say that Satan is messing with them. If they lose their money, it’s Satan trying to stop them. If their car breaks down on the way to some activity, it is proof how good that activity was to which they were headed!

And it’s doubly foolish. First of all, it can result in blasphemously attributing the chastisements of God to Satanic interference. But on top of that, God can use Satan to chastise God’s people. Job’s losses were not primarily discipline for Job, but Job was not sinless. Job was a god-fearing man, but he was not perfect. Read to the end of the book of Job and you’ll see.

But Job is not even the best example here. Recall:

1 Timothy 1:20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

You see, God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick. Even though Satan did not afflict Jim and Alex out of love of God, God used Satan’s affliction for their good. If they simply said to themselves, I must be doing something good, since Satan’s persecuting me, they’d be stuck in the “Satan did it” syndrome, and unable to learn not to blaspheme.

3. Ambiguities as to when Good Things Happen
The good things are easier to handle. It’s great when the silos are full of corn, the wine cellars are full of wine, the bank account is full of cash, and the table is full of children. Thank God when you receive such blessings.

But still be careful to examine yourself. Recall that you are just a visitor here. This life is not all there is. You may receive the good things of this life from God, but there is a life to come. Do not be like the rich man, who put off his concern for the afterlife until he was already in the pit. Be like Job: hold what good things God has given you loosely enough that you can be ready to say, “the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” That’s not easy.

More than that, don’t assume that because everything is going well, God is happy with you. Recall those who robbed David:

1 Samuel 30:16 And when he had brought him down, behold, they were spread abroad upon all the earth, eating and drinking, and dancing, because of all the great spoil that they had taken out of the land of the Philistines, and out of the land of Judah.

They were feasting and rejoicing. But destruction was looming.

1 Samuel 30:17-19
17And David smote them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day: and there escaped not a man of them, save four hundred young men, which rode upon camels, and fled. 18And David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away: and David rescued his two wives. 19And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor any thing that they had taken to them: David recovered all.

What is the bottom line? We should be cautious about reading Providence. God deals in ways that are often obscure. Joseph may have seen only his brother’s jealousy during his trip to Egypt, or he may have seen correction to his own pride. But even that was not the big picture. The big picture was that God was working out the good of his chosen people, showing his love for them.

Whatever adversities may find you, whatever circumstances may happen to you, if you do not trust in Christ alone for salvation you should tremble with fear, but if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation take comfort in God’s assurance that:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Praise be to our Glorious King!

UPDATE: S. Todd Young has something similar to say, especially about Joseph (link).

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