How Can You Know that You’re Saved?

crossThe Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). In other words, there is no good work we do in order to be saved. Eternal life and peace with God are free gifts. All that is required to accept them is repenting of our sins and trusting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Once we do that, God accepts us eternally as His children and nothing can separate us from the saving love of God (Romans 8:31-39). This gracious offer makes believers rejoice. But at times it can also leave us confused. If there are no good works to check off a list, how do we know that we’re really saved? How can we be sure that we’re really trusting Jesus as Lord?

Fortunately, the Bible answers these questions. The book of James says that faith evidences itself in good works (James 2:18). The works we do don’t save us, but everyone who has saving faith will necessarily do certain works. To help determine whether God has done the work of salvation in you, see if your faith works itself out in the following ways:

1. Do you view Jesus as a personal friend? Jesus said His followers “abide” or “remain” in Him (John 15:1-6). If Jesus seems like a distant figure with whom you’ve never had personal interaction through prayer, guidance, and conviction, you may not be His follower.

2. Do you find yourself instinctively turning to God for help (Galatians 4:6)? In times of trial, is your natural reaction to address God as your loving heavenly parent like a child cries for daddy when he is scared or hurt? The Bible says that’s a sign that you’re God’s son or daughter and He’s put His Holy Spirit within you.

3. Do you believe the Bible and hunger to know it more (1 John 4:6)? Jesus said His sheep recognize His voice (John 10:3). He also told us the Bible is His Word, breathed out by His Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles (2 Timothy 3:16). Does the Bible resonate as true in your heart? When you read it, does your spirit affirm that it is giving accurate guidance and want more? That’s evidence of saving faith.

4. Do you bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Galatians 5:22-23 has a list of “fruit” that inevitably works itself out in a saved person’s life—even though we can have seasons of more and less fruitfulness.

5. Do you experience God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11)? Like loving earthly fathers, God disciplines His children when they go astray. When you sin, do you sense the heaviness of God’s correcting hand? It’s a way of knowing you’re His son or daughter.

6. Do you obey God (1 John 2:3)? Christians will never be sinless until they reach heaven. Still, Scripture is clear that obedience is the norm in a believer’s life. Are there areas of life where you know what God commands yet blatantly and persistently refuse to do it? That might be evidence of unbelief.

7. Do you love other Christians (1 John 2:9-10)? One sign that you’re in God’s family is love for brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you feel a special connection with fellow believers—even those you’ve just met and those with whom you have little in common except love for Jesus?

8. Do you help the weak and vulnerable (James 1:27)? This isn’t to say you’re not a true Christian unless you’ve built an orphanage or travelled to a distant land bringing food to the impoverished. Christian charity manifests itself in smaller, everyday acts of mercy too. But an utter lack of drive to help the needy can indicate an unbelieving heart.

Of course, there are times when true believers stray. These tests are meant to identify overarching patterns in the lives of saved men and women. If you’ve passed all of them but still feel concerned about your salvation, relax. Your concern itself is an indication that God has done a saving work in your heart. The Bible says that lost people aren’t worried about spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 2:14).



“A public and general love”—Thomas Vincent (1634-1678)

Thomas_VincentThomas Vincent, who was removed from his pulpit during the great ejection of Puritans in 1662, is famous both for his book on Christian love and his courage during the great plague of London in 1665. As “pestilence walked in darkness, and destruction wasted at noon-day,” Vincent decided to remain in London to comfort and care for God’s people. It was the practical outworking of his teaching about the selfless public character of true devotion to Jesus.

Show your love to Christ in your public-spiritedness and zeal for Christ’s honor and interest. Let your affections be public, not private, narrow, contracted, and centering in self. Let your love be a public and general love. Love not only relations, but love all Christ’s disciples, though of different persuasions and interests, because of the image of Christ. And love not only your friends that love you, but also your enemies that hate you, because of the command of Christ. Let your desires be public desires. Desire the welfare of the universal church, and of all God’s people throughout the world; and, accordingly, pray for their peace and prosperity. And endeavor, as you have opportunity, to promote the public good more than your own private advantage.1

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1 Thomas Vincent, The True Christian’s Love for the Unseen Christ (1677; modernized reprint, Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria,1993), 105-

Why Do People Question the Bible?—Herman Bavinck

hbavinckHerman Bavinck’s nineteenth-century Reformed Dogmatics is solidly biblical and confessional. He faces the difficult questions and seeks answers in line with the teaching of Scripture and the godly tradition of the church. In this discussion of biblical authority, he takes a step back and reflects on why it is that men critique and question the Bible. It is salutary to note that the cause is not primarily academic or scholarly—it is moral. At the heart of every objection to the gospel is the sinful will, a fact that should be remembered by those who are engaged in counseling and apologetics.

Many and very serious objections are raised against this view of the inspiration of Scripture. They derive from the historical criticism that questions the authenticity and credibility of many biblical books. The challenge comes from the mutual contradictions that occur time after time in Scripture; from the manner in which OT texts are cited and interpreted in the NT; and it comes from the secular history with which the narratives of Scripture can often not be harmonized . . . (Editor’s note: Bavinck is not arguing that there are errors; rather, he is arguing that there are many apparent difficulties.)1

It is vain to ignore these objections and to act as if they don’t exist. Still, we must first of all call attention to the ethical battle, which at all times has been carried on against Scripture. If Scripture is the word of God, that battle is not accidental but necessary and completely understandable. If Scripture is the account of the revelation of God in Christ, it is bound to arouse the same opposition as Christ himself who came into the world for judgment (κρισις) and is “set for the falling and rising of many” [Luke 2:34]. He brings separation between light and darkness and reveals the thoughts of many hearts…By itself, therefore, it need not surprise us in the least that Scripture has at all times encountered contradiction and opposition. Christ bore a cross, and the servant [Scripture] is not greater than its master. Scripture is the handmaiden of Christ. It shares in his defamation and arouses the hostility of sinful humanity. . .

The battle against the Bible is, in the first place, a revelation of the hostility of the human heart.2

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  1. For further explanation, see Herman Bavinck, ”Prolegomena,” in Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 447-448.
  2. Ibid., 439-440.

 

Count Your Blessings

sheaves17 Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (ESV)

The 1965 film classic Shenandoah features a memorable and outlandish prayer. With his eight children seated for dinner, the father, played by James Stewart observes, “Now, your mother wanted all of you raised as good Christians. And I might not be able to do that thorny job as well as she could, but I can do a little something about your manners.” After a forgetful and now convicted son removes his cap, Stewart then leads them in a thoroughly ungrateful prayer:

Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway Lord for this food we are about to eat. Amen.

Few have the gall to say it outright, but many think the same as this movie father; they see themselves as “self-made” men and women. This attitude was certainly a temptation for the Israelites, so God issued them a warning through Moses.

As they stood on the brink of plenty, Moses reminded them of the source of their wealth. The Lord had promised them a rich land, one flowing with milk and honey (Deut. 8:7-9). There they would eat and be satisfied (Deut. 8:10), build good houses, and live in them (Deut. 8:12). Their herds, flocks, silver, and gold would multiply (Deut. 8:13). All this was assured by God’s generous provision, so they must not think that they had gained their wealth by their own power and might (Deut. 8:17).

This was no excuse for laziness. They still had to tend their flocks and herds (Deut. 8:13) and build their houses (Deut. 8:12). But God gave them the circumstances, talents, energy, insights, and protection to do so (Deut. 8:18), and their wealth should remind them that they were a covenant people.

Shenandoah was set in Civil War America, 30 years before Katherine Lee Bates penned the words to “America the Beautiful.” Stewart’s character would have sung a different tune had he absorbed the biblical truth found in that song text, a truth that extends to all nations who enjoy bounty—that “amber waves of grain” and “the fruited plain” are due to the fact that “God shed His grace on thee.” As it was in Moses’ day, prosperity is a function of God’s mercy and grace, and the nation which ignores His benevolent handiwork is ripe for judgment.

Another song, written more than a decade before the Civil War, captures the spirit God prescribed in Deuteronomy 8:1-20. It is usually sung at Thanksgiving, but its message is fit for every day and every task blessed by God, whether at home, office, construction site, factory, or “the fruited plain.”

Come, ye thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide, For our wants to be supplied:
Come to God’s own temple, come, Raise the song of harvest home.1

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  1. Henry Alford, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, ed. Tom Fettke (Waco, TX: Word Music, 1986), 559. Written in 1844.


How Should We Interpret Biblical Narratives?

BibleHistorical narrative sections of the Bible can be some of the easiest to understand but the most difficult to interpret. We know what’s happening in the story of Jesus’ miraculously feeding 5,000 people and the account of David slaying Goliath. But why did the biblical authors write down those stories in the first place? Contrary to some teaching, the feeding of the 5,000 isn’t merely a story about sharing and David and Goliath isn’t merely about conquering obstacles. As a primer for interpreting such passages, here are some tips to unlock the meaning of biblical narratives from Robert Stein’s book, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible.

Interpret historical narrative in light of its context. The overall meaning of a Bible book and the immediate context of a specific passage can both be clues to a narrative’s meaning. For example, when reading about the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6:1-15, it’s important to remember what John says is the purpose of his entire Gospel: “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). The immediate context also gives an important hint about meaning. In verses 30-31, the crowd demands that Jesus do a sign to help them believe He is from God, and they suggest a miracle similar to what God did in Exodus by providing Israel with bread in the wilderness. From context, we see that the point of the feeding of the 5,000 is to demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah from God whom we should follow.

Take note of authorial comments inserted in the narrative. Often biblical authors make inspired editorial comments, parenthetical insertions of sorts that give clues about a narrative’s meaning. Consider the repeated commentary in the story of David and Goliath concerning David’s lack of traditional battle weapons. The author says he “put off” the armor offered by Saul (1 Samuel 17:39) and that “there was no sword in the hand of David” (1 Samuel 17:50). And twice we’re told that he fought with a sling (1 Samuel 17:40, 49). One point of the story is to illustrate that God had anointed David as the warrior king of Israel. His victory was attributable to God’s empowerment, not impressive weapons.

Look for repetition of key themes. In Judges, we notice a cycle in the narrative. The author tells us that when Israel sinned, God gave them over to their enemies (Judges 2:14; 3:8, 12; 4:2; 6:1; 10:7-9; 13:1). Then, when Israel cried out to the Lord, He delivered them (Judges 3:9, 15; 4:4-24; 6:11-25; 11:1-33). From this repetition it’s clear that the narrative is meant to teach that sin leads to judgment and following God to deliverance.

Note the proportion of a story devoted to various details. Often an author gives more space to what is most important, as in Mark 5:1-20 where Mark devotes a full 20 percent of the narrative to describing the hopeless plight of a demon-possessed man (vv. 2-5). Jesus’ ability to cast out the demons and overcome such powerful evil merely with a word points to His vast authority as the meaning of the narrative.

Pay attention to what’s said in direct discourse. One way a narrator reveals why he’s telling a story is through the words characters say to each other. Jesus’ stilling of the storm in Mark 4 is a case in point. In that story the disciples say to one another, “Who is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Mark was trying to communicate that Jesus is the master of nature, coequal with God the Father.

Of course, the fact that biblical narratives seek to communicate a message should not be used to evade the historical reality of the accounts. For instance, some scholars have tried to argue that stories of Jesus’ miracles are fictional, intended only to teach theological truths. But the Bible treats the miracles—along with all other events described in historical narrative passages—as real occurrences, and so should we. Yet don’t let your understanding of these passages end with the recognition that they really happened. God inspired the biblical authors to record them for specific reasons. By paying attention to a few details, you can learn those reasons.



The Bible and Health Care

HealthcareAt the moment, we’re having a national brouhaha over health care, and many people are irritated and bewildered. Some have gotten notices that their current policies have been cancelled, yet the website for buying government insurance is malfunctioning. They’re stuck in no man’s land, and anxiety levels are rising. It’s a good time to put the matter of health care in biblical perspective. Here are 10 features of the biblical witness on the matter:

1. Doctoring is biblical. Jesus honored the medical profession by calling Himself the Great Physician and by inspiring a doctor, Luke, to write much of the New Testament (Luke and Acts). Furthermore, illness is real and there are physical resources for dealing with it, facts that escape devotees to Christian Science, which is neither Christian nor science.

2. God has graciously placed medical resources in nature. Proverbs 31:6 and 1Timothy 5:23 speak, respectively, of alcohol as sedative and palliative. These passages anticipate a range of medications available for such purposes, from anesthesia to antibiotics (e.g., aspirin from willow bark and penicillin from mold).

3. Healing was a sign of Jesus’ power and compassion. The Gospels are full of healing accounts, from Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10 to the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8. And the prophets continually pressed their hearers to care for genuine victims of circumstance and oppression. Following His example and infused by His Spirit, Christians have been at the forefront of the healing arts throughout Church history.

4. Primary responsibility lies with the individual and the family. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,” and in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” By extension, basic coverage for life’s essentials begins at home, and we should not burden others unless we can’t help it.

5. We are to be stewards of our health. In this connection, 1 Corinthians 6 teaches that our bodies should be regarded as temples of the Holy Spirit; Proverbs 23 tells us to “put a knife to our throats” if we tend toward gluttony. Though genes and physical circumstances have much to do with our health, much of it still under our control. And, incidentally, those who seek spiritual gain by “mortifying the flesh” (e.g., flagellation; hair shirt) miss the boat.

6. The Bible commends prayer for the sick. James 5 directs those who are ailing to call on the church for intercession. And yes, miracles can happen.

7. Worry is a sin. While careful stewardship of our bodies is our responsibility, anxiety over potential lapses and shortfalls in care should not cripple us. Jesus reminds us of provision for “birds of the air” and “lilies of the field” in Matthew 6, and asks, rhetorically in Luke 12, who can add a day to his life by worry. Furthermore, Paul posts the antidote to anxiety in Philippians 4: prayer saturated with thanksgiving.

8. We’re all dying. This has been the case since Adam’s fall, in Genesis 3, where God said that Adam and his offspring would return “to the dust.” In that sense, medicine is fighting a losing battle, and to presume to eliminate all maladies would be to emulate King Canute, who parked his throne on the seashore and then commanded the tide not to invade his land and soak him.

9. Those in Christ will inherit eternal health. As it says of the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.” This is the real, extended healthcare plan.

10. There is no substitute for truth. Regarding health care, the economics are complex, the discourse heated, the public-policy ramifications enormous, and the politics incendiary. The “Father of Lies” (John 8:44) loves to sow confusion in the midst of the conversation.