Thursday, December 31, 2009

Question #2: Where Do You Find Your Assurance?

Question #2 is this:

To the extent that a person has assurance of salvation, where is that assurance found?

This question is aimed at finding out where someone looks for the assurance of their salvation. If someone asks you, for example, whether or not you are "saved" and you say "Yes", then on what basis do you say "Yes?" Do you look at your lifestyle, your behavior, your good works, and conclude: "Well, I must be saved because… look at my performance. Look at all these things that I'm doing for God. Look at how obedient I am." Or, do you say "Yes, I'm saved because Christ promised me that I'm saved if I place my trust in Him and I have done so and I believe the promises of God and therefore I know I'm saved."

Those are two very different perspectives. When I put this question to the four groups, I get essentially two answers, though the LDS answer added another twist:

Latter Day Saints (Mormon):
Of course we know now that the LDS has, well, limited assurance to begin with. But whatever assurance they do have, according to the LDS missionaries I met with, comes from their subjective feelings, (the 'burning in the bosom) the so-called “modern prophets,” scripture, (which includes their other books) but most of all their works and obedience.

The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses):
In Watchtower doctrine, you provide your own assurance which is based on your own performance. Your own actions determine your eternal destiny. Your sense of whether or not you will ultimately be resurrected (as opposed to annihilated) comes from your performance. Are you spending enough time going door-to-door, are you obedient, etc.

Lordship Salvation:
Whatever assurance a Christian might have -- according to many popular teachers -- comes from examining themselves to see if they are in the faith; assessing their own walk and perhaps even by noting whether they are worried about whether or not they’re saved. Assurance comes from what you do, in other words.

If there’s no evidence of salvation in your life now, you need to face the fact that you may not be a Christian -John MacArthur

Here, MacArthur is directing the reader to look to their own performance for assurance of salvation. If it isn't evident (evident to whom, one might ask) that you're a Christian, then you might not be.

People who don't keep their promises to God don't really know the Lord -James MacDonald

MacDonald is doing the same thing as MacArthur… look at your performance. If you don't keep your promises to God, then you're not saved. You see, that's a performance issue. Conversely, if you are keeping your promises to God, then you are saved. Look to your performance, MacDonald is saying.

…The question hit me, ‘R.C., what if you’re not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not Heaven after all but Hell?’…I thought ‘Well, it’s a good sign that I’m worried about this because only true Christians really care about salvation. -R.C. Sproul

Here Sproul finds some assurance in the fact that he's concerned about whether or not he is going to Heaven. Only a true Christian would care about such a thing, after all. But this assurance is coming from something he does… namely, caring about salvation.

The bottom line is that these Lordship teachers find their assurance in exactly the same place as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses: They look at their personal performance. Here's a quote from John Piper to demonstrate this:

How does [Isaac] maintain and warrant and have assurance that he is right with God and that he will be right with God at the end of the age? And the answer that James gives is he'll be justified in that sense, he will continually be regarded as just by the works which show that he passes the test for the authentication of his faith. -John Piper

In this quote, Piper asks how someone can have assurance of their salvation. And clearly, John Piper believes the answer lies in the person's works. The person should look for assurance in their own personal performance in the Christian life.

Now if we're looking at our personal performance to assess whether we're saved or not, upon whom does our salvation depend? On God? Or on ourselves? Looking at my own performance for assurance demonstrates that I'm not trusting in Christ's promises, but I'm trusting in my works instead.

Free Grace:
Once again, the Free Grace perspective provides an answer that is totally and absolutely distinct from the other three groups. 100% assurance comes from the promises of God and the work of Christ on the cross. If you believe the promises of God, you are saved. Period. God said it, Christ did it, I believe it, that settles it. Assurance is not located in my own performance in any way because my salvation does not depend on me and my performance. It depends on God.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Question #1: Assurance of Eternal Destiny

Question #1 was this:

Is it possible to be 100% certain that you have eternal life?

This is one question that had to be rephrased a bit so that I could get meaningful answers from LDS and JWs. Christians think of eternal life in terms of "going to Heaven" when they die. For Mormons and JWs, it's not quite that simple.

For Mormons, everyone is going to Heaven, sort-of. They believe there are 3 different Heavens, and that even non-Mormons go to the first, the lowest, Heaven. This, actually, is what they call "salvation" and they believe that this is a grace gift. Everyone goes there. However, there are two Heavens above the first, and the ultimate is the "Celestial Kingdom" or "3rd Heaven". they call this "exaltation." Since Heaven is ultimate salvation for us, I'm interested in their views on ultimate salvation for them, not the salvation that everyone gets. So my question to the LDS missionaries was:

Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will enter the 3rd Heaven?

The Watchtower also has a different understanding of "Heaven". They actually believe that most JWs alive today will not go to Heaven. They believe that Heaven was reserved for only 144,000… basically the first 144,000 JWs. So those seats are already taken. The rest of JWs hope to be resurrected after they die to rule and reign with Jesus Christ (whom they believe is the archangel Michael, not God) here on Earth. So ultimate salvation for them is this resurrection. The alternative is simply annihilation… you cease to exist. So for the JWs, my question was this:

Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will be resurrected?

Now let's compare answers:

Latter-Day Saints (Mormon):
According to the LDS missionaries who visited me, it is not possible to have 100% assurance that you'll enter the Celestial Kingdom because there’s always a possibilty, however remote, that a person will fail in faith and obedience before the time that they die. Now ask yourself this question: If the person might fail in faith and obedience before they die and thus lose out of ultimate salvation, then on whom does their "exaltation" depend? Does it not depend on their own ability to persevere in their faith and obedience?

The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses):
According to Watchtower doctrine, it is not possible to have 100% assurance that you will be resurrected, and this is demonstrated clearly by this quote from the witness I spoke with via telephone and e-mail:

It is possible to be 100% certain that God will save us if we continue serving him whole souled and meet his righteous requirements.

This is an odd answer because there's quite a blatant contradiction in there. "Yes, it's possible to 100% certain if you continue serving him, etc.…"

Well okay, so I guess the question becomes "Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will continue to serve God whole-souled and meet His righteous requirements?" Clearly, the answer to this is "No" because the witness used the conditional "if". So they claim certainty, and then promptly revoke that certainty because they can't be sure whether they'll continue to do the things they're supposed to do. Once again it's important to notice on whom the person's future resurrection depends: Does it depend on themselves, or does it depend on God?

Lordship Salvation:
According to popular Lordship teachers, it is not possible to have 100% assurance of salvation.
No Christian can be sure that he’s a true believer. -John Piper

There’s no valid assurance of election and final salvation for any man apart from deliberate perseverance in faith. -Robert Shank

The question is, why don't these Lordship teachers believe they can have 100% assurance of salvation? Unless you believed that your salvation depends upon your own performance, (as the LDS and JWs do) what reason would there be to doubt it? If a person had the understanding that their salvation depends upon God and not on themselves, what reason would this person have to doubt their salvation? Is God not trustworthy? Is He not faithful? Can He fail to keep His promises?

This lack of assurance seems to point toward a reliance on self for salvation, which is totally consistent with a salvation that is based on works and not God's grace.

Free Grace:
If you ask the same question to a proponent of Free Grace, you will get an answer which is 180 degrees out-of-phase with the other three views. The Free Grace answer is that it most certainly is possible to have 100% assurance of salvation. This assurance comes from the promises of God and the work performed (and completed) by Christ on the cross. The Free Grace view relies totally and completely on God, who is absolutely faithful and will keep His promises. There is simply no reason whatsoever to doubt my salvation because my salvation depends upon Christ, and not upon me.

For the first question, we see that the Lordship answer is indistinguishable from the answers given by LDS and JWs, two 'cults' that teach that salvation is a product of works. Why, then, should I not conclude that the Lordship teachers are also teaching a works-based salvation? Because they claim not to be teaching a works-based salvation? Well… the LDS and JWs claim this as well, yet these Lordship teachers would agree that these cults teach a works-based salvation!

The only view of the four that gives a distinct answer is the Free Grace view.

We have seven more questions to go, so stay tuned.

8 Questions to Reveal a Works-Based Salvation

In the past several years I've been confronted with ideas about salvation within Christianity which are troubling to me and which I think represent misunderstanding on a large scale of this important issue. Earlier posts have dealt with this to some extent, but recently I had an idea about how to demonstrate that one very popular view of salvation taught by such well-respected, dare I say "famous" teachers as John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul, a view that is generally referred to as "Lordship Salvation" is essentially indistinguishable from a works-based salvation.

How might I demonstrate such a thing? Well, rather easily I'm afraid. What I've done is selected 8 questions pertaining to salvation and compared the answers to these 8 questions between 4 groups: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (Mormon or LDS), The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), Lordship Salvation proponents and proponents of "Free Grace," which is the view that I hold.

To get answers to the questions, I invited 3 LDS missionaries into my home studio and conducted a sort of interview, asking these questions. I also spoke with someone at a local Kingdom Hall via telephone and also via e-mail to get the answers from the JW perspective.

For the Lordship answers, however, I had compiled quotes from the writings of John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul and a few others… quotes which clearly addressed these particular issues. In a few cases, we'll see that these teachers seem not to be consistent in their answers, which creates a certain amount of confusion. I'll point out these conflicts as we go along.

The basic premise of this exercise is that knowledgeable Christians generally understand at least two major problems with the doctrine of LDS and The Watchtower: First, both groups deny the deity of Christ. We're going to set that particular issue aside, however… not because it's not important, but because it's really not in dispute at all. Even LDS and JWs agree that they deny Christ's deity. And Lordship teachers are all quite willing and able to defend the deity of Christ. So, no dispute there.

But the second major problem with LDS and Watchtower doctrine is that their concept of ultimate salvation is based on works and not on grace. And among Christians, at least, this does not seem to be controversial. What's interesting, however, is that Mormons and JWs both will steadfastly deny that they are basing salvation on their works. They will claim a salvation "by grace."

Given that Christians generally agree that the Watchtower and LDS teach a works-based salvation, it seems to me that we ought to use our knowledge of the LDS and Watchtower views as a yardstick by which to measure other ideas we hear taught in Christian churches. We are told over and over again to be discerning; to double-check what we're taught; to make sure that what we're taught is correct doctrine. These questions ought to serve as a sort of a test to determine whether any given teacher is really committed to a salvation by grace, or is merely giving lip service to the concept of a by-grace salvation.

The first step here is to divulge the questions. It should be noted, however, that Mormons and JWs have different understandings of what salvation itself entails. This means that I had to rephrase certain questions to use their jargon the way they understand it, otherwise I wouldn't be comparing apples with apples. So here are the questions, and the following 8 posts will deal with each question individually and compare the answers I received.

Question #1: Is it possible to be 100% certain that you have eternal life?

Question #2: To the extent that a person has assurance of salvation, where is that assurance found?

Question #3: Does salvation require ongoing commitment and perseverance in obedience?

Question #4: What does James say about the relationship between faith and works?

Question #5: Does faith in Christ have to be continual, or is belief at a point in time sufficient?

Question #6: What is faith?

Question #7:Is salvation a reward or a gift?

Question #8: How do you become saved?