In part 2, we considered the case of the Rich Young Ruler. In this final installment, let us consider one of the most important passages in this debate: Romans 2:13.
Advantage #4–Giving Assurance to Believers
LS regularly calls into question a person’s profession of faith. Bluntly, it wrecks assurance. How? In the LS model, what if the professing Christian shows a lack of true submission and struggles with obedience? How much commitment is needed before someone questions his/her own salvation? How much disobedience is allowed before the professing believer wonders about their own salvation?
During an intense bout of Covid-19-induced pneumonia, my health was not improving. The doctor said three words which are difficult to forget, “acute respiratory failure.” While never put on a ventilator, I did require “Hi Flow” oxygen delivered at the rate of 60 liters per minute for many days. During the darkest times of the sixteen lonely days of “Covid Isolation,” my mind wandered to my possible impending death and what would happen after my last breath. I knew I was a sinner and that God the Creator was holy and righteous. I understood that payment must be made for my sins one way or another (on me or a Substitute). With all that my sick and oxygen deprived mind could muster, I mentally traversed all possible options of surviving Judgment Day: civil goodness, religious deeds, sincere worship and more–but I knew those options were worthless. God required perfection. God requires perfection.
Questions bombarded my weary mind. My thoughts were interrogating me with inquires that I did not seem to ask. I felt like the trial had begun.
- Did I surrender to the Lord enough?
- Did I obey God enough?
- Am I yielding to God enough?
- What if I am deceived?
- What if I have a false faith?
- What if…?
I had no answers, but only thoughts like, “Eternity is a long time.” “My Sin deserves punishment.” “I have earned judgment.” “Now what?”
Finally, a biblical thought flashed through my mind, “My only hope is sola fide. There is no other way I can stand before the Lord. I need an Advocate and Mediator. I need perfect righteousness from Another.” I said to the Lord, “Lord, I know I am tainted by sin and have fallen short of your standards, but Jesus said that if I simply trust Him, I will have eternal life. I trust you and I trust Him. I believe Jesus literally lived for me and died for every one of my sins. I believe Jesus conquered death and is literally returning. I want to live and see my family again, but I submit to your good and right plan. Thank you.” I fell asleep.
Experiences like mine are more common than we might realize. Many ask such eternal questions, not only on their deathbed, but while they are alive and are in their “right mind.” Eternity is a long time. Hell is real. Heaven is holy. If holy living was the ground of people’s salvation, and therefore their assurance was dependent upon righteous living, would Paul, the mature Apostle, question his faith because of his statements in Romans 7? Paul did not do what he wanted, but he did the very thing he hated (Romans 7:15). Should we question Paul’s profession knowing he wrote, “the evil I do not want is what I keep doing?” Was Paul questioning his own salvation in Romans 7? Of course not.
Sadly, Christians sin. Mature Christians rebel. Even Apostles of Jesus Christ fall short of God’s glory and disobey. The issue should not be, “how can you call yourself a Christian because you still sin against a holy God?” Rather, “When you sin against God, are you saddened? Do you desire to please Him? Obey Him?” Christians then answer, “Yes, yes and yes!” If I were to ask, “who put the desire to obey and to hate sinning in your heart?” would they respond with, “CNN,” or “Satan?” While some sins are instantly dealt with at initial salvation, other sin patterns linger. I have been a believer for more than 30 years and I still struggle with a variety of sins. Do you? The popular adage is true, “Jesus paid for the believer’s penalty of sin, the power of sin is vanquished, but the presence of sin in the believer will exist until glorification.”
We never want to be sin apologists, but we do want to be realists. And with that, we trust in God’s sanctifying work so that it is our desire to respond to the Father with quicker remorse and less of a lag time regarding repentance. Out of gratitude, we want to obey the Lord Jesus for being such a wonderful Savior. Since this article is on the Heidelblog, I am compelled to quote the Heidelberg Catechism. How do these questions (and answers) fit into the mold of LS?
114. Can those who are converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?
No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according to some, but according to all the Commandments of God.
115. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?
First, that as long as we are alive we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ; secondly, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.
Christians still, regrettably, sin. But are not the sins of Christians paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes, they are forgiven! No wonder Martin Luther used the Latin phrase, “simul iustus et peccator” (simultaneously justified and sinner). Christians are declared righteous but still sin and will sin all the way until glory. Christians are both justified and sinful at the same time.
LS advocates regularly, and rightly, expose a faith that is spurious. The Reformation also teaches that mere intellectual faith is not saving. Neither spurious faith nor intellectual faith should yield assurance. The difference between the Reformation and LS lies in the Law/Gospel distinction. That is to say, in lieu of directing people primarily to look to their own lives and examine to see if they are faithful, then they can have assurance by looking to the Risen Savior. Looking to the “done” instead of the “do” is critical. Martin Luther’s famous quote goes something like this, “When I look to myself, I do not know how I could be saved, but when I look to the Lord Jesus, I do not know how I could be lost.”
Misunderstanding the Law/Gospel distinctions, including the uses of the Law, assurance is not garnered, but evacuated. Show me someone who regularly sits under LS theology, and I will show you a person who recurrently asks:
- Am I saved?
- Am I a false convert?
- Am I deceived?
- Am I faithful enough?
- Am I earnest enough?
- Am I contrite enough?
- Am I good enough?
- Am I righteous enough?
- Did I repent enough?
- Do I pray enough?
- Am I holy enough?
- Have I read my Bible enough?
My response is from a wise Puritan, Thomas Wilcox (1549–1608), who boldly uttered, “You complain much of yourself. Does your sin make you look more at Christ, less at self?” Enough of the “enough” language. While I do not mind an internal look for evidence and fruit of salvation, I do mind if the looking ends there! The telos of self-observation must be with Christ, not personal motives, intentions, sincerity, works or love. Christian, did you know that?
- Jesus seeks and thoroughly saves the lost.
- Jesus was faithful enough on the earth.
- Jesus was earnest enough.
- Jesus was good enough.
- Jesus prayed enough.
- Jesus is holy enough.
- Jesus is righteous enough.
- Jesus read the Bible enough.
- Jesus evangelized enough
And you, dear Christian, are “in Christ?” Union with Christ Jesus is a reality (Romans 6:1ff.). Looking to Jesus, does not your encouragement level skyrocket? Does not His great salvation prod you to obeying and surrendering out of thankfulness and gratitude? Rejoice that Jesus the Lord loves you with an everlasting love and nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:35 ff.). Is Jesus, “Lord?” Of course. Must people completely submit to His lordship in order to be saved? Absolutely not (faith alone). Should believers, responding out of gratitude, long to obey their heavenly Father? Yes! If a Christian’s obedience is wavering, waning and left wanting, should we immediately call them to “examine yourself?” No. Shall we question their salvation? No. A Christian needs the Gospel too. Jesus is not only for justification but for sanctification. Jesus is both for us and in us. Jesus for pardon and Jesus for power. Examine Jesus and His works ten times the amount of time you examine your fruit and evidence of God’s work in your life.
Though my love for many LS proponents remains, my desire for them is to move to a Law/Gospel paradigm. I truly believe if LS embraced a proper comprehension of Law/Gospel, it would cause their followers to rise up and call them (the leaders) blessed.
©Mike Abendroth. All Rights Reserved.
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