Bernie Diaz, October 4, 2018
Much to the consternation if not chagrin of false religions and cults, the Bible actually teaches that a real, true, born-again Christian can and should actually know whether or not they are in the kingdom of God and heaven.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, ESV)
My argument in this blog post is that a true disciple of Jesus Christ has at three ways or means of knowing that they are guaranteed of having eternal life: faith, fruit and fortitude. Yes, I’m arguing the pithy little statements uttered in so many Baptist churches like mine, such as: “Once saved, always saved” may be true of legitimate, regenerated believers.
Yes, I’m actually saying we can be assured of our salvation and live with eternal security as believers, holding on to God knowing his love for his own is everlasting, as the apostle Paul promised in Romans 8:31-39. Why? How?
I think the theological landmines that exist and lie between our profession of faith and proof of its real possession have more to do with tradition and the condition of our hearts, rather than a proper understanding of scripture.
The parable or the sower unnerves some in and around the church (Matthew 13), since three out of the four soils that received gospel seeds didn’t make it all the way to the kingdom after first having received it, to say nothing of that troublesome and difficult passage of Hebrews 6:4-6, in which there were some attenders or fans of the early church, who had “once been enlightened, who (had) tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away..”
Oops! Believers who were once enlightened and tasted the word and Spirit of God walked away from the faith? Are some Armenian oriented theologians right in declaring that there are those sinners who may be presented with and then reject a “prevenient (‘comes before’) grace” which enables all men to respond to God’s invitation and believe in the gospel should they choose?
Or, did these “Christians” become ex-Christians? Or, could they be considered apostates, those that profess and then depart or “fall away” from the foundation and fundamentals of the faith they once professed (see Judas, “the son of perdition”)?
Fortunately, we have biblical texts like 1 John 2:19-21, which shed light on the fact there is no such person as an ‘ex-Christian.’ So, what we seem to be challenged with in the church is an issue of recognition.
How do we recognize real Christianity in ourselves and among other professing believers? After all, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the harvest himself proclaimed in another parable (Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43), that both wheat and weeds, resembling both the true and false church respectively, would grow up side by side in the church age and would be difficult to distinguish one from another, until the reapers (angels) will come and gather the wheat into God’s “barn” (kingdom) and bind the weeds to be burned into the eternal torment of final judgment.
I have found and at the risk of oversimplification and alliteration, of at least three ways in which a professing Christian can ascertain whether or not they are a grain of wheat or a weed and can claim assurance of their salvation or eternal security.
It should stand to reason that a real, born-again Christian would know what it means to be a Christian, to understand the gospel and what it means to have turned away from sin to God, to have trusted in Jesus Christ alone, through repentant faith alone, by God’s grace alone right (Eph. 2:8-10)?
The first question I would ask of myself then, or any other professing believer in Christ would be, is do I or they have a proper biblical and doctrinal understanding of the gospel? Meaning in other words, do we know that Jesus Christ died a substitutionary death on the cross to make payment for, and forgive the sin debt owed to God of those that would believe in him, so they could stand as righteous before him (Romans 3:23-25; 4:5; 5:8-10; 1 John 4:2-3a)?
If we understand who Christ is and what he’s done for sinners (John 1:1-3,12; Eph. 2:4-6), we can then come to him and be saved on his terms (Romans 10:9). Simply put, we have to know who we believe in and why, before we can claim to be one of his.
Can a professing Christian pass the fruit inspection test? Are we however imperfect as we are on this side of heaven (Romans 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8,10), manifesting enough godly fruit, that we can assure ourselves and others that we are conforming ourselves more and more to the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, exhibiting the fruit of his Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?
I reminded myself and my church while preaching through Romans 6:1-4 this past week of the fact that by virtue of having been born-again by God as a believer of Christ, It should be made known to others- in the church and in the world, that I have died to my old sinful self and been raised or resurrected in a “newness of life” which should be visible to my church as well as skeptics and critics of our faith.
Trust me- your unredeemed family and closest friends will know.
Again, while acknowledging the current entrapment of our new nature in our cursed and fleshly bodies, a Christian should be able to affirm his or her faith with habitual fruit, a walk or lifestyle which “practices” righteousness (1 John 3:4,6,9).
Yes, we who profess Christ may fall here and there, but if we’re the real deal, we get back up, repent and continue on in a life that bears the marks of a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Fortitude is a word and concept which is synonymous with the doctrine of endurance, or “the perseverance or persistence of the saints”, as the reformed divines of the faith proclaimed centuries ago.
That doctrine alliterated here to comply with my three F’s, simply says that the true Christian will persevere and remain a faithful disciple of Christ through the end of his or her earthly life, never abandoning Jesus and the gospel of God regardless of their suffering and persecution through times of testing, trials and tribulations.
The real Christian does not apostatize. He will not walk away from Jesus in spite of his cancers, job loss, family dysfunction, hardships or what have you. This third proof of true saving faith is perhaps the least spoken of because it is the perhaps the most difficult to adhere to. Moreover, it will take a lifetime of faith in Christ to ascertain whether someone has persevered or exhibited fortitude to the end.
Many a man or woman has professed Christ, repeated a credible, biblically sound gospel and salvation testimony of faith, been baptized and exhibited fruit rivaling those of the greatest saints we have ever known or studied, but yet rejected the faith when their life here became either too difficult to hang on to Jesus through thick and thin, or suffered a crisis of faith and worldview, such as illustrated by the tragic life of Charles Templeton.
A Modern Apostate
Templeton, a friend and mentor of a young Billy Graham of all people, first professed faith in 1936 and became an evangelist that same year. In 1945, he met Graham and the two became roommates and ministered together during a 1946 Youth For Christ evangelistic tour in Europe.
But by 1948, Templeton’s life and worldview were beginning to go in a different direction than Graham’s. Doubts about the Christian faith were solidifying as he planned to enter Princeton Theological Seminary and less than a decade later (1957), he would publicly declare that he had become an agnostic (“without knowledge” of God’s existence).
In his infamous 1996 memoir, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith, Templeton recounted a conversation with Graham prior to entering seminary in which they split over their different understanding of the biblical account of creation – Templeton siding with the Darwinian theory of evolution.
Fifty years later, Christian apologist Lee Strobel had an opportunity to interview Templeton, who had just a couple of more years to live. He was in his 80’s and suffering from Alzheimer’s, but could still engage in a clear conversation. In A Case for Faith, Strobel recounts the ending of their wide-ranging conversation.
“And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question—but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke.
Templeton’s body language softened…. his voice, which at times had displayed such a sharp and insistent edge, now took on a melancholy and reflective tone. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus.
“He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”
I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” Strobel said.
“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . .
” . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’
“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again. “In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”
That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”
With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept. . . .
Strobel adds, “Templeton fought to compose himself. I could tell it wasn’t like him to lose control in front of a stranger. He sighed deeply and wiped away a tear. After a few more awkward moments, he waved his hand dismissively. Finally, quietly but adamantly, he insisted: ‘Enough of that.”
Templeton at one time professed the Christian faith, exhibited Christian fruit, but failed to persevere in it – to manifest new-life affirming fortitude. He fell away, and as a result, its experiencing a far greater regret and torment now, than he did then, when he apostatized.
We are to obey the command the apostle Paul gave the Corinthian church, Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Do you want to know if you are a real Christian who will stand the test and trials of our time before its time to meet the judge once and for all? Examine yourself. Test yourself. Do you have true faith, fruit and fortitude? Persevere Christian, as you continue on your ‘pilgrim’s progress.’