Pastor Ben Boeshaar
On July 28, 2019, I preached a sermon entitled, Blessed Assurance. The entire sermon was a study of 1 John 3:19-24. You can listen to the message by CLICKING HERE. The main points in this sermon were all taken from the text and focused on the reasons why we have such a blessed assurance and why some may or may not have it. The main points were as follows:
- We have looked to Christ (1 John 3:20)
- We have seen Answered Prayer (1 John 3:21-22)
- We have Believed on Christ (1 John 3:23)
- We have the Witness of the Spirit (1 John 3:24)
Over the past week, and within two different conversations, the subject of belief for salvation came up. A more specific argument from one individual was that they did not think a person had to have a specific time or experience in order to have an assurance of salvation. I want to take a moment to address that issue in writing. Another way to describe that position could be decisional regeneration. That is, we rest in praying a prayer or in the event of accepting Christ as the foundation for our salvation. If you listen to the message, I mention the tense of the verb translated belief, which is in the Aorist tense. Typically, this lends itself to a point in time, but admittedly, there are many uses for the Aorist and it can tend to lend itself to some confusing positions if taken too far. Only, in this case, I don’t think that is the case. I think the Aorist was used here for a reason but the reason is not for the preaching or for the support of a position like decisional regeneration. So, let me explain further what I meant and why I took a stronger position on this point in the message in stressing the need to believe on Christ.
WHAT I WAS NOT SAYING AND WHAT I DON’T BELIEVE
Let me assure you that I was not preaching and do not believe in decisional regeneration. I can certainly understand one’s concern having grown up in the IFB under Arminian preaching. It is something that I despise to this day and with which I take great issue.
Having said that, the next question that was posed is in essence, “Why was I preaching the passage in this way?” Why did I double down so hard on the matter of belief as being such a definite response to faith? The answer, in short, is because I do believe it is Biblical and second because I believe it is what our confession teaches, primarily with regard to the response to the gift of faith given to us by the Holy Spirit. I know that this is where the disagreement lies, so let me take some time to explain what I mean.
EXAMPLE OF THE CONFESSION
It is interesting to note that there is confusion on the matter of justification and assurance within the LBCF as well. People will often read the statements about justification and agree wholeheartedly with the confession. Then they get to chapter 18 and the confession’s statements about assurance, especially paragraph 3, and they completely disagree because they feel as if the writers of the confession are making two different statements about how a person is saved. Paragraph 3 on assurance is the subject of great confusion when I discuss assurance with people. Yet, reading in context is the key to understanding what the writers are really saying. It just goes to show that no matter how clear one tries to make a doctrine or a matter, confusion sometimes still settles into the discussion. This often comes because we read into the matter our own experiences and our own perspectives.
Let’s take a look at what the confession has to say about this matter of belief as a response to faith, which is really what is at issue in this discussion:
Chapter 14_1._____ The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.
I hold this to say that it is a belief that begins and continues, which is the essence of what the writers are getting at because they go on to say that this a unique and permanent belief:
Chapter 14_3._____ This faith, although it be different in degrees, and may be weak or strong, yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind or nature of it, as is all other saving grace, from the faith and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.
Let’s move next into the matter of repentance and faith. The confession is also pretty clear here that this is an event that takes place in response to the action of faith, which is belief:
15_3._____ This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrency, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavour, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things.
Clearly, this is something that every Christian does on a regular basis but that is part of the perseverance of a believer and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, not part of his justification. The context of the confession here is repentance to salvation. This can only happen at the time…the very moment in which a person places their faith and trust in Christ.
I could continue with different aspects of the confession but will allow those paragraphs to suffice for now. I think enough can be gained that there is a distinction made even within the confession itself.
My entire message above dealt with the general topic of assurance and was taken directly from the text of 1 John 3:19-24. My third point, which nonetheless came from the text, I believe also squares with Scripture in other areas. I will get to those passages in a moment.
Let me give you some statements from commentators that I look to when studying:
Kistemaker: This is the first time in the epistle that John uses the verb to believe. The verb serves as an introduction to the following chapters. John asserts that God the Father gives the command and that God unequivocally tells us to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ. The command is to begin and continue to believe in the name, that is, the full revelation, of the divine Son of God. John adds the names Jesus to refer to his earthly ministry and Christ to call attention to his exalted position (refer to 1:3). No one is able to come to the Father but through Jesus (John 14:6).
Stott: It may, at first sight, seem that this reference to the Holy Spirit within us introduces a subjective criterion of assurance (like Rom. 8:15–16) which is inconsistent with what has gone before. But this is not so. The Spirit whose presence is the test of Christ’s living in us manifests himself objectively in our life and conduct. It is he who inspires us to confess Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh, as John immediately proceeds to show (4:1ff.; cf. 2:20, 27). It is also he who empowers us to live righteously and to love our brothers and sisters (cf. 4:13; Gal. 5:16, 22). So if we would set our hearts at rest, when they accuse and condemn us, we must look for evidence of the Spirit’s working, and particularly whether he is enabling us to believe in Christ, to obey God’s commands and to love our brothers; for the condition of Christ dwelling in us and of our dwelling in him is this comprehensive obedience (24a), and the evidence of the indwelling is the gift of the Spirit (24b).
These are just two examples. While both of these men do not make reference to the Greek tense, they do emphasize the same thing that I did in this point and that is a belief initially that then leads to loving of God and loving of our brother. Those are the evidence produced by the same Spirit who brought us faith and caused us to believe. These things don’t just happen. They have a beginning and they have growth.
SOME SCRIPTURAL CONSIDERATIONS
Let me take just a moment to explore some Scripture where this word is used in its Aorist form as well as where belief is shown or used in a definite way.
Romans 4:3 makes this statement concerning Abraham:
Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (ESV)
For the record, the belief here is another Aorist. Abrahams initial belief was proven by his continual belief and response to God but it began at that moment.
Additionally, let’s consider more specifically the places where that exact Greek word in the Aorist is used in the NT:
Mark 15:32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (ESV)
It is interesting to see that these mockers were using this statement in the context of believing at that moment. They were not serious about actually doing it, but the way in which the word is used is that of a definite decision to believe.
John 6:30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? (ESV)
We see the same idea in this verse. Again, the same Aorist tense used in a definite way. A statement also made by mocking religious leaders and one that would not have been followed through on but nonetheless, they were speaking in such a way that if someone heard them, they would say they would have believed at that moment.
One last passage that I want to point out. This does also include the Aorist, but it also includes the very definite language of initial belief unto salvation:
Romans 10:9-10—because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (ESV)
To be clear, I am not saying that belief is something that is done one time and never has to be considered again. This is where those that hold to a decisional regeneration make a grave mistake. They rest in a one-time event. The Scripture, however, makes it very clear that even though there is a single event of belief, there is also a faith that continues in belief and that shows itself in evidence and fruit. Therein lies the big difference in what I’m preaching here and what an Arminian or decisional regeneration preacher would believe.
As the confession has pointed out and as the Scriptures have pointed out, saving faith has a beginning and it becomes true saving faith because it continues. Furthermore, saving faith is accompanied by repentance which also has repentance for salvation and continual repentance as part of sanctification.
This was truly the point of what I was saying in that third point of my sermon. As with anything, being more clear and more precise is always a work in progress. So, if you came away asking the same question that has already been asked and that I address here, I hope that this helps to clarify what I meant by the statements (and I hope you could tell from my other points that this is truly the case!!)