Knowing For SureErwin W. Lutzer | June 12, 1994
Selected highlights from this sermon
Is it possible to know that all will be well when we meet God, or do we just have to wait and see?
In this message, Pastor Lutzer will help us understand why we have doubts about our salvation, and how to overcome those doubts through our faith. He reminds us, also, that salvation is not a cooperative effort between you and God; but what Jesus Christ did on the cross is all that you will ever need to stand in the presence of a holy God.
So if you’re trusting the blood of Christ to get you to heaven, that is enough.
When Michelangelo painted the picture called The Last Judgment he painted the faces of those who were waiting to meet God. The faces were filled with consternation and fear. I suppose the question is, “If your face were to be painted, knowing that you would meet God in say one hour, what would it be like?”
I’ve often thought of those who have been executed and knew exactly the time that they were about to die. And they always talk about that last meal that everybody wants. I’m not so sure that I would be interested in that big last meal, but let me ask you a question. Is it possible for us to know that all will be well when we meet God, or do we just have to wait and see? That’s the topic of this morning’s message.
Now there are many people who doubt their salvation. They doubt that things are going to go very well when they meet God. At best they have a very vague hope and they kind of punt the ball to God’s mercy and say, “Well, I just hope that God will be generous,” but they have no assurance. If you fall into that category today I want you to know that your doubts are very, very legitimate because if you do not have the assurance in your heart that all will be well when you meet God, it could well be that the reason is because you are unprepared to meet Him because those who punt the ball to His mercy and hope for the best will be lost. So if you are in that category today I want to take your doubts and I want to exploit them. I want to magnify them. I hope that you are awash with doubt because you have a right to doubt.
Now there are some who perhaps don’t doubt, and yet they should doubt. They are confident things will be okay when they meet God and they don’t realize that they won’t be. It’s something like filling your car with gasoline and walking into the service station with a great deal of confidence that you’ll be able to pay, and opening your wallet and discovering that your children removed the $20 bill that you thought was there. Now you walked with confidence. You thought that everything was going to be okay, but your faith was misplaced, and that is going to be the experience of many people in the Day of Judgment. Do you remember the first message in this series entitled the Crisis of Misplaced Faith where I explained that in more detail?
But now what I’d like to do is to talk about those of you who are genuinely saved. You know God through Christ, and you are confident that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and still you have doubts. Why do genuine Christians sometimes still have doubts? Well, let me give you a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s because they can’t point to a time or a date when they really were saved. Now most Christians can. If we had a microphone and interviewed all 1,200 or 1,300 of you, many of you would be able to say “On April the 11th,” and you’d give us the year when you were converted. But it’s not necessary to do that because there are some people who are trusting Christ, and they are saved, and they can’t remember when they crossed the line, particularly those who were reared in Christian homes. They may not know exactly, but it’s possible to know even if you don’t know the date and time of your conversion.
There’s a second reason, and that is because of guilt and remorse over something that happened in your life you are awash with failure, or because of the sensitivity of your conscience, you say to yourself, “I just did something that no Christian could ever do.”
William Cowper, whose poetry I love to quote, was one who was so filled with offense of guilt. Here he wrote these beautiful words.
God works in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
My friend, the evening he wrote those words he tried to commit suicide. He was a neurotic, filled with guilt. What was wrong with William Cowper? I think that he will be in heaven because there is some very strong evidence that his faith was placed in Christ alone. The problem was his faith seemed to be so lacerated. His faith was so destroyed by this overwhelming sense of guilt. You say, “He had psychological problems.” No, he didn’t have psychological problems. He had theological problems. He could not grasp the wonder of God’s grace. But that’s why many Christians doubt. It’s because of guilt.
Thirdly, it is because of wrong teaching. My parents came from Europe. My mother was baptized a Lutheran and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, but when she came to Canada she had no assurance that she had ever met God because she hadn’t. And she sought out preaching in order to know that she had been converted and that she belonged to God. And she found a church and she attended night after night until at last the truth came home to her and she was marvelously saved.
But I was brought up in a home where, in those days at least, my parents thought that it was possible to lose your salvation. And so there was always that instability, always that sense of uncertainty that accompanied their own experience until later on in life when they became more firm in their understanding of the Word.
By the way, those of you who were brought up Catholic (And if you are here today and you are a Catholic, I want you to know that you are not only welcome, but you are in good company. About 25% of all of the new members of Moody Church were brought up in the Catholic Church, so you have plenty of friends sitting around you.) know that the Catholic Church has traditionally said that assurance of salvation cannot be had. At the Council of Trent in 1546 it was said, “Let those who believe that one can be assured of eternal salvation be anathema (or let them be accursed).” And if you are taught that way it’s a hard hump to get over.
Well, there’s another reason and that is that there are some Christians who are backslidden, and when you are backslidden you think that God has abandoned you. He has not if you are a genuine Christian, but you have that sense of failure and it’s easy to begin to think that you are really not saved.
And then there are those who are just the chronic doubters.
If they were applying for a job and someone were to ask, “What do you do?” they’d say, “I doubt. That’s my great strength. That’s my spiritual gift. That’s where I find my groove.” Usually it’s associated with worry. They go to bed at night thinking that maybe tomorrow morning when they wake up that 2 + 2 will no longer be equal to 4. And being very introspective they are awash with doubts. Some of those doubts at times are legitimate. Some of the time they are illegitimate.
What is the bottom line? Well, the bottom line is that I want you take a good look at your doubts today. I want you to own them. I don’t want you to brush them aside. It is okay to doubt because it has been said, “He who has never really doubted has never really believed,” so I invite you today to bring your doubts. And if you are here, I am sure that you have brought them with you because it would be difficult to separate your doubts from you, on second thought, wouldn’t it?
Now what I’d like to do before I talk about assurance and true faith is I would like to speak about false faith for just a moment, because I’m still thinking that there are some of you here who aren’t doubting enough because you are not saved and you have some false confidence. So what I’d like to do is to rattle your cage just a little bit.
First of all, what is a false faith? False faith is based on a change of mind, but not a change of heart. Example: Judas. He betrayed Christ. He got his silver and then when he saw that Jesus was condemned (He thought that Jesus would escape somehow.) the Bible says he took the money and threw it down in the sanctuary, and it says that he repented. And then he did what 30,000 Americans do every year. He went out and committed suicide. His repentance did not bring about salvation. Repentance is a change of mind. He felt sorry that he did it but it didn’t change his relationship with God. It is okay to feel sorry but feeling sorry does not change your relationship with God, even if you decide to do better next time. That is not the faith that leads to salvation. So there is a kind of faith that actually brings about a change of mind without a change of heart.
Secondly, false faith is a misdirected faith. I gave an illustration a moment ago about somebody going into a service station thinking that he had money to pay. And there are people who think that surely God will accept them because of their participation in the sacraments. They say, “Surely God is going to accept me because I have been good.” And you remember in this series of messages (and this is the last of six and they are really one garment and they are all related) that we commented on that kind of a faith, which is misdirected.
And now I want to speak to us Protestants. I want to speak to us who are evangelicals to the core - those of you who were brought up in Christian homes, or those of you who have been brought up in modern day evangelicalism. There is such a thing as a decisional faith that does not bring about salvation. People make decisions for Christ, and they aren’t saved after they’ve made those decisions. They may pray a prayer, but they don’t realize that prayer has never saved anyone. It never has and it never will, and yet, if you are brought up in a Christian home your parents may actually say to you, “Well, you know, at the age of four you prayed a prayer to accept Jesus and you are saved.”
Can I say parenthetically, Christian parents, if your kids doubt their salvation, let them doubt. Don’t you dare tell them they have been saved. You don’t have that right. God will tell them when they are properly instructed.
So the point is that there are those who make decisions. There are those in particular sections of this country where coming forward in response to an invitation is inexplicably (Don’t you like that word? I’ve not used it for years.) bound up with getting saved. So they came forward in a meeting and they say, “Well, I made my profession,” or “I made my decision.” It may be genuine, but maybe not, but they say, “I can tell you when I went forward.” That is decisional faith.
You know, Jesus made an astounding statement. He said, “Every plant that My Heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up.” Think about that for a moment. Think about all of the superficial decisions, and all of the well-meaning decisions. Jesus said that he who has never been planted by God shall be uprooted.
Years ago, here at the church, I told you the story of how in Canada there were some people who sold evergreens. They went door-to-door and they got the whole city block to agree that they were going to chip in together and get some evergreens. And they came and they planted the evergreens. They collected and paid their money and then they planted the evergreens. And the people watered and watered them, and all that they did was turn brown and die. And they couldn’t understand it, and then one of the people went and picked one of them up, and discovered that what the people who sold them the evergreens had done was they had simply taken branches and shoved them in the ground. There was no root whatever.
Have you ever wondered why it is that there are people who make a decision to follow Christ? They say, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” or “I have prayed this prayer,” and then you look at their lives and there is no evidence of it, and their leaves are withering, and there is no root and you say, “What happened?” Jesus said, “Every plant that my Heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.”
Think about that, those of you who have taught Sunday school at Moody Church for many years. Think about it, you deacons and you ushers and you choir members. If you have not been planted by God, in the end your faith will be shown to be false. Well, I told you I was going to rattle your cage. I hope I’ve done it. Now the question is, “How can we know what saving faith is?” Well, what I want you to do is to take your Bibles and we’re going to look at a couple of passages.
First of all, let’s turn to Hebrews 11 where we have a definition really of faith. It is a definition of faith though it does not give us specifically the content. Now notice what the Bible says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
If you have a King James Version you know it says that faith is the substance of things hoped for – the evidence of things not seen. What is that word substance – hupostasis? Well, the King James Version translated it substance, and sometimes it can be translated substance, but it’s interesting to know how the author of the book of Hebrews uses the word elsewhere in the book.
In Hebrews 3:14 it is translated confidence. He says we should hold fast our confidence to the end, and that’s why the New American Translation translates it assurance. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” What is faith? Faith is the conviction; it is the persuasion of something. You are persuaded when you believe.
Now I told you that this text in itself did not tell us the contents of what we should believe because it goes on to talk about heroes of the faith. But in order to know what to believe, let’s turn to the passage that was read to us in 1 John 5. You know the books of John and Jude precede the book of Revelation.
1 John 5:10 says, “The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself, and the one who does not believe has made him a liar (Boy, that’s an awesome statement. If you don’t believe today you are making God a liar.) because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son.”
You say, “Well, what is the witness within Himself?” And verse 11 says, “The witness is this, that God has given us eternal life and His life is in His Son, and he who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have the light.” The witness is the persuasion. It is the conviction that if you have Christ, you have all that you need for your salvation. We can fill out the details from other passages of Scripture, which say that God laid upon Christ the iniquities of us all. “As many as received Him to those He gives the authority to become the Son of God,” “I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly,” and the text that we have talked about in previous messages that salvation is a free gift of God.
Let’s put it all together and let me be clear. Saving faith is the deep settled conviction that what Jesus Christ did on the cross for us is all that we need to stand in the presence of a holy God. That’s what saving faith is.
Now if you are here today and you are saying, “You know, I don’t think I can be a Christian because I cannot live the life,” you still have misunderstood. You still don’t understand. I’m glad that you are here if you still do not understand, because if you say, “I do not know whether I can live the life,” you are still thinking that somehow salvation is a cooperative effort between you and God, where God does His part and you do yours, and you do not understand, if I may repeat it again, that what Jesus Christ did on the cross is all that you need to stand in the presence of a holy God.
We sometimes sing,
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe.
Sin has left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.
In fact, at the risk of being repetitious, not only must you be persuaded that Jesus is all that you need to stand in the presence of a holy God because of what He has done, but also Jesus is all that you will ever need to stand in the presence of a holy God.
Now do you understand why Michelangelo painted those faces with so much fear? It’s because medieval theology taught that salvation was a cooperative effort between man and God where you do your part, and God does his, and both of you work it out. He gives us His mercy, and we give Him our works and our obedience. If that were the Gospel, Michelangelo should have painted those faces with even more terror, because who can know that he has done enough to merit the righteousness of God? No one! Not even the Virgin Mary.
My dear friend, do you now understand why people who pray prayers sometimes are not saved? You know we say to people, “You know, you need God,” and they say, “Yes, I know I need God.” And we say, “You should accept Jesus as your Savior,” and I’ve had people say, “Sure, it can’t hurt.” (laughs) Oh wow! Or they think to themselves, “You know, I need God’s help, and if accepting Jesus as my Savior gives me God’s help, I’ll try it.”
My dear friend, if you are here today and you do not know Christ as your Savior, You need something more radical than just God’s help. You need God’s forgiveness. That’s what you need. And you need your self-confidence shattered so that you come to God with nothing in your hand, but become persuaded that Jesus Christ and His death on the cross is all that you will ever need to stand in the presence of a holy God. No wonder all these decisions end up without roots, and the leaves wither, and we say, “Where are the people who believe?” and “Where are the children who accept Christ in Christian homes?” and then we can’t find them anywhere serving God.
I was brought up in a Christian home. My parents are still living by the way. My mother, I think, is 86, and my dad is 92. I talked to them on the phone the other day and their minds are clear. I was going to say that their minds are just as clear as mine and then I backed off because that might not be a compliment. I was brought up as a little child believing we had to accept Jesus as our Savior, and in those days the terminology was “you asked Jesus into your heart.” It isn’t exactly Scriptural but it works. I mean people have asked Jesus into their hearts and been converted.
Well, I’m guessing when I was maybe 8 or 10 I remember I used to pray every night, “Jesus, come into my heart; please come into my heart,” and I had no sense of God’s presence. I had no sense of assurance.
Let me just be a little personal for a moment and tell you that you know that kids do think of crazy things. Did you known that? Maybe you didn’t. Maybe I shouldn’t pass my own experience off onto you, but I actually began to read the book of Revelation thinking that maybe I could never possibly be saved, and maybe I was going to play some part in antichrist’s great scheme on the earth. You know, here’s a kid – 10 years old – out in the middle of Canada where it is so flat that you can stand on a can of shoe polish and look halfway into next week. And here this kid who is beginning to think things like this.
One day my parents, knowing the agony of my heart, said, “You know, you need to accept Christ as Savior, and you need to do it by faith.” I said, “I have tried.” And then they explained the Gospel again and they said, “You have to understand that Jesus did it all, and you have to receive Him in faith.” And so I got down on my knees and I received Him really in faith. I said, “This time I’m going to receive Him in faith,” and I did that at home on the farm, 6 miles from a little town of 50 people.
You know, I want to say that I am so glad that you don’t have to go forward in a meeting to be saved because I was so shy. People today say, “Pastor Lutzer sometimes is somewhat unfriendly.” You know, it is shyness. I used to be so shy that when we had company my sisters would grab me and have to drag me out from under the bed where I was hiding.
I am so glad that God saves people everywhere, but you know, after that time when I finally said, “I will receive it in faith, knowing that no matter who I am, I am going to believe it in faith,” suddenly the doubts vanished, and I knew and I was persuaded that Jesus Christ was all that I would need to stand before a holy God, and the issue was settled.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, don’t you think that you were saved during those days when you used to pray that Jesus would come into your heart?” I’ve thought about that a lot and I have to tell you in all honesty that I really don’t know. There’s a part of me that says, “Well, yes, of course, Christ would have received me as a child.” And maybe that’s true and I just lacked assurance, but that’s the point I want to underline today. Whether I was saved earlier (or not) I do not know, but one thing is sure. I had no assurance. Assurance came when I said, “I believe that Christ is all that I need – period.”
What is saving faith? Saving faith, number one, is the persuasion of the heart. God has convinced you by His Spirit. You are persuaded. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” That is the root of assurance.
Now let’s talk about the fruit of assurance. It is the persuasion of the heart but secondly, it is also confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Look at what the Bible says in Romans 8. If you are familiar with the text you may just listen. It says in verse 14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of slavery, leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry out, ‘Abba Father.’” It means daddy. We can call God daddy. Many of you never had a father that you could call daddy. God could be your daddy. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” There is now the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We belong to God’s family, and soon we have that sense of belongingness.
I remember the day after I accepted Christ in faith, walking into the garage of the old farm home there, and saying to myself, “You know, I know God. I know God.” The Bible says the Spirit of God gives us that sense of belongingness. The Spirit of God begins to lead us. We are led by the Spirit and we desire fellowship with God. Our affections are changed.
I have known people who have sinned grievously after they were Christians. I have known those who have backslid and they have fallen into the depths of sin, but it’s interesting that in counseling them what I always hear is, “I am just so sorry that I did this because I really do love God.” And when I hear that it is music to my ears because despite their sin. The fact that they love God shows that the work of God within their hearts may indeed be genuine because the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we belong to God. Mind you, we don’t understand it any better than we perhaps understood it before. It is just as great a mystery, but suddenly the God who is so mysterious and far away becomes present through His Spirit, and we say to ourselves, “I know God and love Him.”
Here’s what happens. The Word of God produces within us the persuasion of the heart. The Bible says that if we confess Christ as Lord and believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead, we shall be saved, for with the heart man believes unto righteous because he is persuaded.” But the Word of God takes the Spirit of God and creates within us the life of God, and that is the third aspect of assurance because the text that we read in 1 John says that there is life in His Son. And suddenly we discover growing within us the life of God, and then we begin a life of serving God, and that results in being able to love people whom we weren’t able to love before, being able to forgive people. And there’s a whole life of growth now and we explained this actually in a previous message.
The root is faith that has been persuaded that Christ is sufficient. The fruit is the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God who connects with me that I belong to God. And the second aspect of the fruit is that now the life of God begins to work itself out. The leaves begin to turn green, though they may be brown often as well.
Let me say a couple of words about assurance, and then a few words about doubt. First of all, let me speak about assurance. Assurance is a process of growth. There are some people who come to know Christ as Savior and they may waffle on the issue of assurance, and then they are genuinely saved, but as time goes by as they begin to read the Word and as they begin to commune with God, their assurance grows. That’s why it says in the book of Hebrews that we should come before God (get this now) with full assurance of faith. It implies that there are times when we come to God without full assurance. We come but we come without full assurance.
There is a story in Canada that on one of those lakes that freeze over in the winter there was a man who wanted to walk across the lake. It was an emergency and he needed to get some help, but he was so fearful that he began to walk across the lake trembling. There were times when he wanted to get down on all fours so that he would spread his weight, thinking that perhaps the ice was too thin. And while he was filled with terror and fear, suddenly he noticed that coming toward him in the distance was a team of horses running along. And when he saw the team of horses he knew that he could walk across the lake with confidence. He had misjudged the thickness of the ice and everything was okay.
There are times when we come to Jesus Christ to believe on Him, and as the words of the hymn say,
Just as I am, though tossed about,
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings within and fears without,
Oh, Lamb of God, I come.
And we walk on the ice and we are not sure whether or not it is able to hold us, and then, once we begin to walk, we develop the confidence and we see what Christ can do, and we get up and we walk with more assurance. I am more confident in my salvation today than I was when I accepted Christ at the age of 14. There was growth in assurance.
Well let me say a word now about doubt. How do you handle your doubts? Do you remember a few messages ago when I talked about the children of Israel who had to put blood on their doors so that the Angel of Death would bypass them? And God said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” And I mentioned at that time how important it was that when we face the issue of doubt that we not look at the leavened bread and the bitter herbs, but that we look at the blood on our door.
Let me tell you a story today, but in order to tell you the story I need to set the context. There is a pastor who is widely respected and a very fine man. And what I have to say about him is not to be construed as a criticism, but in recent years he has been convinced that one of the things we have to combat in the Church is “easy believism.” And so the way in which he thinks we should do it is by stressing that unless a person’s life is radically changed by God that they should therefore recognize that they are not Christians. Unless you are pursuing holiness, unless you are walking in faith, etc. etc. etc., if you backslide too long it shows that you were never saved, etc. Now all that is very well and good because there is the emphasis on the life as I’ve already mentioned. The problem is that people who listen to him think what he’s saying is (And I don’t know whether he’s saying this but it appears as if he is.), “When you doubt your salvation, look at works and don’t look to Christ.” That’s what people think at least he’s saying. All right, that’s the context, and now the story.
A few years ago I was sitting in my study here in the church one morning and my secretary called me on the intercom and said, “Pastor, there’s a woman who wants to talk to you and she is crying. Will you talk with her?” I said, “Sure.” So I picked up the telephone and here’s what I heard. Here’s this woman sobbing and between the sobs she said, “Oh Pastor Lutzer, I’m 71 years old, and I live in a senior citizens’ home here in the city of Chicago, and every morning some of us get together and we listen to the radio.” And she said, “I’ve been listening to the radio and a message by (and then she gave the name of the pastor).” And she said, “I have walked with God for about 40 years and now he tells me I’m not saved.” And she just began to cry.
I said to her, “Well, what is he saying that makes you think that you are not saved.” She said, “Well, he seems to say that unless you are almost perfect it shows you were never saved,” and she said, “Oh God knows how often I have failed my Lord. I led my daughter to saving faith in Christ when she was 19, but there have been so many times of backsliding and coldness.” She said, “I guess I’m just not saved.”
So I said to her, “Let me ask you something. If you were to die today and God were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say? What are you trusting for your salvation?” She said, “Oh Pastor, I’m trusting the blood of Christ.” She said, “Is there anything else?” And then this was so cute that I actually wrote it down. She said, “I cannot take steel wool to my heart and scrub it.” She said, “I trust the blood of Christ.” I said to her, “Lady, I want you to understand something. If you are trusting the blood of Christ that is enough.” She said, “Can you assure me of that?” And I said, “Yes, that is enough.”
By now she had stopped crying and we talked awhile and then I prayed with her on the telephone, and before she hung up she said, “Do you know what I’m going to do?” She said, “When I hang up I’m going to tell all the others that are here in the room with me that trusting the blood of Christ is enough.”
Tomorrow, God willing, I fly to Europe. I’m flying to Berlin on Swissair, Flight #125 – Chicago to Zurich to Berlin. If the plane should go into the ocean and this is the last message that I will ever preach from this pulpit (And by the way I have no premonition that that is going to happen.), will you always remember that Pastor Lutzer’s last words were that the blood of Christ is enough?
I have no other argument.
I have no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.
And if I should see God before you do, and He should say, “Why should I let you into heaven?” I will not say, “Lord, I preached, I counseled, I prayed.” No, I will stand and I will say, “Father, I believe Your Word, and I believe that the blood of Christ is enough.”
Are you persuaded today that the blood of Christ is all that you will ever need to stand in the presence of a holy God? Are you persuaded that the blood of Christ is enough? You say, “Pastor Lutzer, I believe.” Believe where you are seated and say, “Yes, I believe. I accept Him because I believe that what He did is enough.”
And if you will let us pray.
Oh Father, we think of those who are saying,
Just as I am though tossed about
With many a conflicts, many a doubt,
Fightings within and fears without,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come.
May your blessed Holy Spirit speak to many people who are here today who do not know where in the world they stand in their relationship with You. We pray that they may savingly believe even at this moment. May they say, “I believe it for me.”
Grant them that gift we pray, and if you need to talk to God now, would you talk to Him right where you are seated because He sees your heart? Just simply say, “Lord Jesus, I believe that You are enough; I believe in You.” Tell Him that.
Lord, do the work that only You can do. Plant the tree deeply. Sink the roots into deep soil that we might not be uprooted. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.