Friday, May 17, 2013

I John: Reasons to Doubt or to be Comforted?

II Corinthians 13:5 is misquoted and misapplied here. It goes on to say, "prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"

Paul was exhorting the congregation to exercise judgement and church discipline, instead of him having to come to sort things out (cf. II Cor. 13:1-2).

I John speaks of these characteristics exactly opposite to what certain false teachers (called by him, "antichrists") were saying. These wolves claimed to be very spiritual, yet were antinomian. John demonstrates that fallacy. In doing so, he continually refers to these things, not to cause believers to doubt, but to show them how they ought to be, and what they are by grace. But he begins by speaking about our sin and need always to confess our sin, and the confidence we have in doing so, since we have an Advocate in Christ who has given a propitiation for our sins. He never once encourages us to doubt our salvation - but only when we find ourselves lacking, to seek forgiveness and cleansing in full confidence that we will receive it. And he concludes with this: "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."

So, he tells us that all believers have eternal life, and has taught us these attributes of a Christian not to discourage us or cause us to doubt, but to add to our confidence in knowing (experiencing) that we have eternal life, and this so that our belief in the Son of God is strengthened as we see the fruit of it.

The point is that many abuse these texts to teach Christians to seek their assurance from their works, whereas John tells us to find our assurance in the propitiation of Christ, through confessing our sins, and that our works then ought to strengthen our assurance, since those who are reprobate cannot love God or love the brethren, but hate God and hate the brethren, etc. This is of great encouragement, and those who distort it into exhorting believers to doubt their salvation because they don't feel in themselves a sufficient holiness are guilty of twisting Scripture, and twisting the purpose of this letter which is throughout comfort to every believer. Instead of exhorting Christians to doubt, we ought rather, like John exhort Christians to always confess their sins, and walk contrary to the wicked of this world - because in the way of that walk, we have the experience of our new life and we experience the love of God, and so are strengthened in our assurance and faith by it.

The very worst thing to do to someone who is struggling with sin, is to encourage them to doubt their salvation. They must be exhorted to confess, and turn from sin, and to do so again and again until God finally grants them a richer season of grace. The Canons of Dordt are excellent on this subject:

Canons I
Article 16. Those who do not yet experience a lively faith in Christ, an assured confidence of soul, peace of conscience, an earnest endeavor after filial obedience, and glorying in God through Christ, efficaciously wrought in them, and do nevertheless persist in the use of the means which God hath appointed for working these graces in us, ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to rank themselves among the reprobate, but diligently to persevere in the use of means, and with ardent desires, devoutly and humbly to wait for a season of richer grace. Much less cause have they to be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation, who, though they seriously desire to be turned to God, to please him only, and to be delivered from the body of death, cannot yet reach that measure of holiness and faith to which they aspire; since a merciful God has promised that he will not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed. But this doctrine is justly terrible to those, who, regardless of God and of the Savior Jesus Christ, have wholly given themselves up to the cares of the world, and the pleasures of the flesh, so long as they are not seriously converted to God.

Canons V
Article 9. Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and ought to obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.

Article 10. This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God; but springs from faith in God's promises, which he has most abundantly revealed in his Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit, that we are children and heirs of God, Romans 8:16; and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience, and to perform good works. And if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort, that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge or earnest of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable.

Article 11. The Scripture moreover testifies, that believers in this life have to struggle with various carnal doubts, and that under grievous temptations they are not always sensible of this full assurance of faith and certainty of persevering. But God, who is the Father of all consolation, does not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it, I Corinthians 10:13, and by the Holy Spirit again inspires them with the comfortable assurance of persevering.

Article 12. This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering, and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God: so that the consideration of this benefit should serve as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as appears from the testimonies of Scripture, and the examples of the saints.

Article 13. Neither does renewed confidence or persevering produce licentiousness, or a disregard to piety in those who are recovering from backsliding; but it renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord, which he hath ordained, that they who walk therein may maintain an assurance of persevering, lest by abusing his fatherly kindness, God should turn away his gracious countenance from them, to behold which is to the godly dearer than life: the withdrawing thereof is more bitter than death, and they in consequence hereof should fall into more grievous torments of conscience.

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