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“Fear Not!” by R.C. Sproul

Why Did Jesus Say “Fear Not” So Frequently?

We are fragile mortals, given to fears of every sort. We have a built-in insecurity that no amount of whistling in the dark can mollify. We seek assurance concerning the things that frighten us the most.

The prohibition uttered most frequently by our Lord is the command, “Fear not.” He said this so often to his disciples and others he encountered that it almost came to sound like a greeting. Where most people greet others by saying “Hi” or “Hello,” the first words of Jesus often were “Fear not.”

Why? Perhaps Jesus’ predilection for those words grew out of his acute sense of the thinly veiled fear that grips all who approach the living God. We fear his power, we fear his wrath, and most of all we fear his ultimate rejection.

The assurance we need most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know, if only intuitively, that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath. Our insecurity is worsened by the certainty that we deserve it.

Many believe that assurance of eternal salvation is neither possible or even to be sought. To claim such assurance is considered a mask of supreme arrogance, the nadir of self-conceit.

Yet, if God declares that it is possible to have full assurance of salvation and even commands that we seek after it, then it would be supremely arrogant to deny our need or neglect the search.

In fact, God does command us to make our election and calling sure: Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall (2 Pet. 1:10).

This command admits of no justifiable neglect. It addresses a crucial matter. The question, “Am I saved?” is one of the most important I can ever ask myself. I need to know the answer; I must know the answer. This is not a trifle. Without the assurance of salvation the Christian life is unstable, vulnerable to the debilitating rigors of mood changes. Basing assurance on changing emotions allows the wolf of heresy to camp on the doorstep. Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Assurance is the cement of that foundation. Without it the foundation crumbles.

How, then, do we receive assurance? The Scripture declares that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. This inner testimony of the Holy Spirit is as vital as it is complex. It can be subjected to severe distortions, being confused with subjectivism and self-delusion. The Spirit gives his testimony with the Word and through the Word, never without the Word or against the Word.

Since it is possible to have false assurance of salvation it is all the more urgent that we seek the Spirit’s testimony in and through the Word. False assurance usually proceeds from a faulty understanding of salvation. If one fails to understand the necessary conditions for salvation, assurance becomes, at best, a guess.

Therefore, we insist that right doctrine is a crucial element in acquiring a sound basis for assurance. It may even be a necessary condition, though it is by no means a sufficient condition. Without sound doctrine we will have an inadequate understanding of salvation. However, having a sound understanding of salvation is no guarantee that we have the salvation we so soundly understand.

If we think the Bible teaches universal salvation we may arrive at a false sense of assurance by reasoning as follows:

Everybody is saved.

I am a body.

Therefore, I am saved.

Or, if we think salvation is gained by our own good works and we are further deluded into believing that we possess good works, we will have a false assurance of salvation.

To have sound assurance we must understand that our salvation rests upon the merit of Christ alone, which is appropriated to us when we embrace him by genuine faith. If we understand that, the remaining question is, “Do I have the genuine faith necessary for salvation?”

To answer that question two more things must be understood and analyzed properly. The first is doctrinal. We need a clear understanding of what constitutes genuine saving faith. If we conceive of saving faith as a faith that exists in a vacuum, never yielding the fruit of works of obedience, we have confused saving faith with dead faith, which cannot save anyone.

The second requirement involves a sober analysis of our own lives. We must examine ourselves to see if the fruit of regeneration is apparent in us. Do we have a real affection for the biblical Christ? Only the regenerate person possesses real love for the real Jesus. Next we must ask the tough question, “Does my life manifest the fruit of sanctification?” I test my faith by my works.

I call this last question the tough question for various reasons. We can lose assurance if we think perfect obedience is the test. Every sin we commit after conversion can cast doubt upon our assurance. That doubt is exacerbated by Satan’s assault of accusation against us. Satan delights in shaking the true Christian’s assurance.

Or we can delude ourselves by looking at our own works with an exalted view of our goodness, seeing virtue in ourselves when there is none. Here we quake in terror before our Lord’s warning: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:22–23).

Real assurance rests on a sound understanding of salvation, a sound understanding of justification, a sound understanding of sanctification, and a sound understanding of ourselves. In all these matters we have the comfort and assistance of the Holy Spirit who illumines the text of Scripture for us, who works in us to yield the fruit of sanctification, and who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

The article above was excerpted from Chapter 7 of Doubt & Assurance edited by R.C. Sproul. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

About the Author:

R.C. Sproul has taught theology to hundreds of thousands of people through books, radio, audiotapes, videotapes, seminars, sermons, seminary classes and other forums.

Sproul has written approximately sixty books (and counting). In addition to many volumes designed to teach theology, apologetics, and ethics to laymen through expository prose, he has written a novel, a biography, and several childrens books. He has also edited several volumes, including a festschrift for John H. Gerstner, a seminary textbook, and the New Geneva Study Bible. He has written one of the top classics of the 20th century – The Holiness of God; and perhaps the best book to explain God’s sovereignty in our salvation for laymen entitled Chosen by God.

Sproul founded Ligonier Ministries in 1971, a teaching ministry to assist the church in nurturing believers and equipping them for the ministries to which God has called them. Ligonier sponsors a radio program, “Renewing Your Mind,” which features Sproul and is broadcast nationally, five days a week.

Ligonier Ministries sponsors several seminars each year, the largest one in Orlando every winter. Ligonier publishes a monthly periodical, Tabletalk, and has its own web site (http://www.gospelcom.net).

Sproul has taught theology and apologetics at several seminaries. He earned a B.A. degree from Westminster College, a B.D. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a Drs. from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In 1994 Christianity Today asked a select list of “critics,” “What theologian or biblical scholar has most shaped your Christian life?” Third on the list (and the only American in the top four) was R.C. Sproul.

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Dr. R.C. Sproul on Making Your Calling and Election Sure

“Fear Not”

We are fragile mortals, given to fears of every sort. We have a built-in insecurity that no amount of whistling in the dark can mollify. We seek assurance concerning the things that frighten us the most.

The prohibition uttered most frequently by our Lord is the command, “Fear not.” He said this so often to his disciples and others he encountered that it almost came to sound like a greeting. Where most people greet others by saying “Hi” or “Hello,” the first words of Jesus often were “Fear not.”

Why? Perhaps Jesus’ predilection for those words grew out of his acute sense of the thinly veiled fear that grips all who approach the living God. We fear his power, we fear his wrath, and most of all we fear his ultimate rejection.

The assurance we need most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know, if only intuitively, that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath. Our insecurity is worsened by the certainty that we deserve it.

Many believe that assurance of eternal salvation is neither possible or even to be sought. To claim such assurance is considered a mask of supreme arrogance, the nadir of self-conceit.

Yet, if God declares that it is possible to have full assurance of salvation and even commands that we seek after it, then it would be supremely arrogant to deny our need or neglect the search.

In fact, God does command us to make our election and calling sure: Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10).

This command admits of no justifiable neglect. It addresses a crucial matter. The question, “Am I saved?” is one of the most important I can ever ask myself. I need to know the answer; I must know the answer. This is not a trifle. Without the assurance of salvation the Christian life is unstable, vulnerable to the debilitating rigors of mood changes. Basing assurance on changing emotions allows the wolf of heresy to camp on the doorstep. Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Assurance is the cement of that foundation. Without it the foundation crumbles.

How, then, do we receive assurance? The Scripture declares that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. This inner testimony of the Holy Spirit is as vital as it is complex. It can be subjected to severe distortions, being confused with subjectivism and self-delusion. The Spirit gives his testimony with the Word and through the Word, never without the Word or against the Word.

Since it is possible to have false assurance of salvation it is all the more urgent that we seek the Spirit’s testimony in and through the Word. False assurance usually proceeds from a faulty understanding of salvation. If one fails to understand the necessary conditions for salvation, assurance becomes, at best, a guess.

Therefore, we insist that right doctrine is a crucial element in acquiring a sound basis for assurance. It may even be a necessary condition, though it is by no means a sufficient condition. Without sound doctrine we will have an inadequate understanding of salvation. However, having a sound understanding of salvation is no guarantee that we have the salvation we so soundly understand.

If we think the Bible teaches universal salvation we may arrive at a false sense of assurance by reasoning as follows:

Everybody is saved.

I am a body.

Therefore, I am saved.

Or, if we think salvation is gained by our own good works and we are further deluded into believing that we possess good works, we will have a false assurance of salvation.

To have sound assurance we must understand that our salvation rests upon the merit of Christ alone, which is appropriated to us when we embrace him by genuine faith. If we understand that, the remaining question is, “Do I have the genuine faith necessary for salvation?”

To answer that question two more things must be understood and analyzed properly. The first is doctrinal. We need a clear understanding of what constitutes genuine saving faith. If we conceive of saving faith as a faith that exists in a vacuum, never yielding the fruit of works of obedience, we have confused saving faith with dead faith, which cannot save anyone.

The second requirement involves a sober analysis of our own lives. We must examine ourselves to see if the fruit of regeneration is apparent in us. Do we have a real affection for the biblical Christ? Only the regenerate person possesses real love for the real Jesus. Next we must ask the tough question, “Does my life manifest the fruit of sanctification?” I test my faith by my works.

I call this last question the tough question for various reasons. We can lose assurance if we think perfect obedience is the test. Every sin we commit after conversion can cast doubt upon our assurance. That doubt is exacerbated by Satan’s assault of accusation against us. Satan delights in shaking the true Christian’s assurance.

Or we can delude ourselves by looking at our own works with an exalted view of our goodness, seeing virtue in ourselves when there is none. Here we quake in terror before our Lord’s warning: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:22–23).

Real assurance rests on a sound understanding of salvation, a sound understanding of justification, a sound understanding of sanctification, and a sound understanding of ourselves. In all these matters we have the comfort and assistance of the Holy Spirit who illumines the text of Scripture for us, who works in us to yield the fruit of sanctification, and who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

The article above adapted from Chapter 7 in the short book edited by Dr. R.C. Sproul. Doubt & Assurance. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

About Dr. R.C. Sproul: He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: The Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe; Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe;  Intimate Marriage; Pleasing God; If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?, and Defending The Faith) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.

 

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Do You Have Assurance of Your Salvation? 5 Indicators from Hebrews 6

“How To KNOW that You KNOW HIM” By Steve W. Brown

The nature of the God of the universe is not to bring you to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, then to make you wonder for the rest of your life whether or not you have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. God does not say, “Trust me,” then for the rest of your life make you wonder if you really trust him. It is his business and desire for us to have assurance of salvation. How do you know that you know him?

Check out five indicators from the writer of Hebrews 6:

(1) The direction in which your life is going.

(2) The love your life is showing.

(3) The service your life is sharing.

(4) The concern for godliness you are feeling.

(5) The longing in your desire for fellowshiping.

First, if you are looking for assurance check out your life. The writer of Hebrews casts sobering words at those who inhabit the fringes of faith, desiring to taste but never receiving God’s mercy and producing weeds instead of fruits in their lives. The believer’s life, however, holds a far more positive promise:

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised [Heb. 6:9–12].

Most people think that God looks at where you are along the road of life. We do that, but God doesn’t. God asks only two things:

First, he wants to know from where you have come; second he wants to know the direction in which you are going. In other words, I might be a lot more terrible than you, but the point is that we are moving in the same direction. You are just further down the road than I am. God’s pleasure and our assurance come from moving in that right direction. That is how the writer of Hebrews could look at his hearers and be “confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (vs. 9b).

If you were to wake up tomorrow morning to discover that God does not exist, what difference would it make in your life? I would be devastated. A lot that is happening in my life would be wiped out. If you do not have an answer to that question, aside from the fact that you would not attend church once a week, then you need to read 6:4–8 once again. According to this passage you may have a serious problem.

One time a pastor friend of mine was talking to a girl in New England who had recently become a Christian. She was very angry and bitter. She asked, “Why do I have to go through all this hurt? Why is there all this pain in the world? Why do I have all these problems?” My friend asked a classic question: “Would you rather not have known him?”

She understood. As she thought about her answer to that question she found assurance of her relationship with Jesus Christ.

Second, in looking for assurance you should check out your love. Look again at verse 10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

The writer of Hebrews is not just talking about a tingle up your spine or a wonderful love song. He is talking about love in action, the kind of love you show to the saints for his sake. Love is not a noun; it is a verb. What do you do to show love for someone else? When you give a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, regardless of how you feel about that person, the giving is in love. When you reach out to a brother or sister who is in need, no matter how you feel about them, that is love, too. The writer of Hebrews is saying that you, as a Christian, have a love that you have shown, not that you have felt. This is a sign of your relationship with Christ, for that is an indication of your relationship with Christ in your Christlikeness:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends [John 15:13].

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly [Rom. 5:6].

Love is action! Are you acting in obedience to him, showing love to your brothers and sisters? If you are you are on the road to assurance.

Third, make sure to check out your level—the level of a servant. We spent a lot of years in Massachusetts. At least at that time they believed that having a driver’s license is not a right; it is a privilege. So, if the head of the Department of Motor Vehicles decides you are guilty of some offense, whether you are guilty or not, the director can take your license away from you, and you don’t have any recourse.

When you and I became Christians, at that point we gave up every right. We are servants. As a Christian you have privileges, but you should not presume on those privileges. If your Christian faith is used to manipulate other people it is not the real thing. If your Christian faith is a vehicle for being a master it is not the real thing. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:26). When you see yourself willing to be a servant, willing not to take the credit, willing to just stand behind someone else and make them great, then you are on the road to assurance.

Fourth, if you are looking for assurance of your salvation, check out your liveliness. Hebrews 6:11 speaks of the author’s desire for “each of you to show this same diligence to the very end in order to make your hope sure.” We might call this diligence earnestness to realize full assurance. When people asked Charles Spurgeon how they could know if they were of the elect he would answer: “If you are worried about it, then you are.”

Now, if you have been struggling with assurance, plagued with the constant thought that “I may not really belong to God,” the very fact that you are earnestly concerned is a good sign that you may belong to him, when that earnestness stands alongside other evidence of the fruits of the Spirit.

You may remember the demonstration of Solomon’s wisdom in 1 Kings 3:16–28. Two women were brought to him, both claiming to be the mother of one baby. Each of the mothers had had a baby. One of the babies was dead. One mother said to Solomon, “Her baby died, and at night she switched her dead baby for my live one.” The second mother made the same accusation. So they came to Solomon, asking him to determine to whom the baby really belonged. Solomon had one of his servants take a sword and hold the baby up. Then Solomon said, “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” While one of the mothers agreed that his idea sounded reasonable, the other said, “No! Don’t do that. Give the baby to her.” Solomon at that point exercised a principle built into the very nature of things, so that he knew who was the real mother.

The principle was this: Concern is manifested in direct proportion to how much you care.

The same principle works to help you know about your relationship with God. If you are concerned about your relationship with Christ, if you are earnest about it or diligent, that is an indication that you are in Christ. You are on the road to assurance.

Fifth, if you are looking for assurance, check out your longing. The writer of Hebrews is saying: “I desire that you come to the point at which you know that you know that you know that you know.” There are those who say you can never know. They say the only way you can get assurance is to die and find out whether your feet are cold.

If you have heard and believed that, you have believed a lie. It is God’s desire that his people come into a relationship with the Father that is so close we know and feel secure with him.

I have a friend who adopted a teenager who had been shifted from foster home to foster home. When I first visited them I noticed that this boy was jumping to do everything possible to please his new parents. He made up his bed. He wanted to dry dishes and to vacuum the rug. Whenever a teenager gets that good I get uncomfortable. Something is wrong. I didn’t understand it at first, but then I thought about what that boy had been through. He had been kicked out of so many homes, and he was going to hang onto this one by being good.

A year later I visited the home and saw the teenager again. He was the most secure young man I have ever seen. He was relaxed and normal. He had to be nudged to do the things he was supposed to do. What happened? He had achieved assurance, assurance that this mom and dad were not going to kick him out.

We are like that. Maybe right now you are working very hard at being obedient because you don’t have assurance. Maybe right now you are scared that you are not really a Christian. What should you do about that in order to have assurance? My advice is to persevere and “keep on truckin’.” One day you will be so tired of obedience, so tired of holding on with a grip that makes your knuckles turn white. Then you will let go. At that moment you will make a wonderful discovery: He was holding you all along. You will know that you know him. And that is called “assurance.”

About the Author: Steve Brown is a radio broadcaster, seminary professor and author. He previously served as a pastor for over twenty-five years and now devotes much of his time to the radio broadcast, Key Life.

With such varied experience and unique perspective on life, Steve is an original. He refuses to be a “guru,” doesn’t want to be anyone’s mother and gives, in his teaching, the freedom to think. Overall, Steve has become known for his refreshing and practical Biblical applications.

Steve serves as Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary. He sits on the board of the National Religious Broadcasters and Harvest USA. Traveling extensively, Steve is a much-in-demand speaker.

Steve is the author of numerous books including A Scandalous Freedom, Approaching God, When Being God Isn’t Good Enough, What Was I Thinking? and Three Free Sins. His articles appear in such magazines and journals as Leadership, Decision, Plain Truth and Today’s Christian Woman. The article above has been adapted from Chapter 11 in the excellent book edited by R.C. Sproul entitled Doubt & Assurance. Grand Rapids, Baker, 2000.

 

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