Thursday, October 23, 2008


Lately I've been going on long runs with one of my classmates and during our jogs we like to talk theology. Last night we ran 10.5 miles, making a loop and going from the middle of Loma Linda to downtown Redlands. I've really enjoyed our conversations. We've talked about a wide variety of things, from the problems of liberalism creeping into the Church to the debate between Arminians and Calvinists. My running buddy, by the way, is a hardcore Calvinist. But yesterday one thing that came up was assurance of salvation. We talked about how we had both struggled with it at times and I admitted that on bad days a frequent prayer of mine is still, "Lord, save me." I don't think that there is anything wrong with that prayer depending on what assumptions are going into it. But assurance is something I've thought a lot about and what I said was that what assures me the most of my salvation, aside from the plain testimony of Scripture, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," is the experience of God calling me back to Himself even as I have tried to run away. When I look back on my life, both before and after I asked Christ to save me from my sins, I see such providence from God in people, in books and especially in some of the hardest things I've experienced that have caused me to cry out to Him. God has changed me and freed me from sins that once bound me but the more compelling evidence to me is that during those times when I was farthest from God in my thoughts and actions, I can look and see that He was actively reminding me of His existence and His goodness.

Another thing we talked about though was the propensity of many Evangelical pastors only to try to give assurance of salvation, that is, the tendency to downplay any parishioner's fears that perhaps they are not in Christ. We both agreed that this is wrong. It isn't bad to wrestle with whether or not you are saved. Many who have gone forward at one time and prayed the "Sinner's Prayer" have perhaps not really given over their lives to Christ. Many have not realized the gravity of their own sin and what Jesus is actually saving them from. For these people it isn't a bad thing to wrestle with whether or not they are saved because by the grace of God and the action of the Holy Spirit they will be made aware of the true nature of their sin and the true nature of Christ's death on the cross. Even if they are already saved this can only have a good effect on their faith. Of course there are individual believers who struggle inordinately with the fear that they are not saved and these people most likely do need reassuring words from their pastor. But in the American Church I believe that the opposite is what is usually true, that too much assurance is given, not allowing people to work out their salvation, "with fear and trembling," and come to a deeper understanding of the cross or a saving faith in Jesus Christ for the first time.

1 comment:

David Goran said...

Matt, that was a great post and I really resonate with both your points. Thinking back, and even sometimes in the present, it is the fact of God's presence in my life, especially when I am turning away from him, that assures me He loves me despite myself, enough to save me in all the ways that he does. I also have wondered about a both/and approach to fear and grace with parishioners. How do we communicate healthy fear and goodness in a way accurate to faith. Sounds like I would love to join you on your 10.5 miles runs, if I could go that far without pooping out. I am just wonder how you guys manage to talk after mile 2. I am out of breath in no time. Hope your doing well in California. Grace Brother.