Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gospel Assurance and Warnings

Gospel Assurance and WarningsGospel Assurance and Warnings by Paul Washer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Washer loves the Lord and he is one intense, passionate, encouraging, and challenging teacher.  His newest work in the Recovering the Gospel series bears the stamp of his personality and style in all of these ways and, like his ministry, is a blessing to be explored and studied and enjoyed.

Washer has a bone to pick with certain teachings that are pervasive in the western church.   The pernicious and debilitating extra-biblical category of “carnal christian” undergirds the monster of false assurance that is ravaging our churches and deceitfully leading many to destruction.  It is not just that this is something that is factually inaccurate, it is detrimental in ways that cannot even be fully expressed.

Because of an evangelical pulpit weakened by ignorance, pragmatism, and fear, the professing church is filled with individuals who have never really been confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ, have never heard any of the gospel’s warnings, and have little understanding of genuine biblical assurance. Furthermore, evangelicals explain away these individuals’ lack of sanctification and worldliness with one of the most dangerous terms that has ever come forth: the carnal Christian. It is the doctrine that a genuine believer in Jesus Christ, a person regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, can actually live out his entire life in worldliness, indulging in fleshly desires and evidencing little concern for the things of God. This doctrine is a direct contradiction of the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Furthermore, it opens the door for carnal and unregenerate people to find assurance of salvation by looking to the apparent sincerity of their past decision to accept Christ, even though their manner of living contradicts such a profession.

Washer seeks to combat this enemy of false assurance with Biblical assurance from 1 John.

“The Scriptures call upon us to test ourselves to determine whether we are truly Christian,” Washer says. “So that is what we are going to do.”

Washer adds that,

“Many people no longer obtain assurance of salvation by a careful consideration of their conversion and lifestyle in light of the Scriptures. Rather, it is granted by a well-meaning minister who is quick to pronounce the full benefits of salvation upon any who have prayed to receive Christ with any degree of apparent sincerity.”

Due to this it is necessary to reorient our assurance of our standing of God with the revelation of God, his holy Scripture.  Before testing ourselves Washer is determined that we not get the cart before the horse as it relates to our salvation.

“It is important for us to remember that John is not setting forth the means of conversion but rather the results of it. We can have a biblical assurance of salvation to the degree that the evidences set forth in John’s epistle are realities in our lives. If after testing ourselves we find little reality of these evidences, we should be greatly concerned.”

That concern should lead us to consider one of two possibilities, that we are believers in need of serious repentance or we are yet unconverted and should repent and believe unto salvation.
Washer takes a series of chapters to look at the tests that John puts forward in his 1st epistle.

Do you walk in the light?
Do you confess your sins?
Do you keep God’s commands and are not burdened by them?
Do you walk as He walked?
Do you love other believers?
Do you reject “the world”?
Are you remaining in fellowship with believers and persevering in your faith?
Do you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart what the Scriptures testify to about the Christ?
Are you growing in holiness?
Are you growing in your practice of righteousness?
Are you overcoming the world or is the world overcoming you?
Do you believe the Gospel?

After looking at proper assurances based on the 1st Epistle of John, Washer then turns to the warnings that are attached to the Gospel.
Washer criticizes the typical approach of modern evangelism.  The method of: “Are you a sinner?”, “Do you want to go to Heaven?”, “Okay, let’s pray a prayer?” creates right answers to wrong questions when there is not heart change towards sin, no desire for the heaven of Scripture, and no repentance to accompany a prayed profession.
Beyond that, Washer reiterates the warning of Christ that the call to follow him is the call to take the narrow path, a path that will be filled with resistance, turmoil, and struggle and to enter the narrow gate.  Basically, it ain’t easy!  Though there is an easy path that is available but its destination is less than desirable.

Washer is amazing at communicating the urgency and seriousness of the topic he is discussing, especially in this work.  There is no flippancy, banter, or stories for entertainment’s sake.  There is business to be taken care of and that is why he is writing and there is no time to waste.

The reason for that is found clearly in the last warning he conveys from Matthew 7

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”…Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.—Matthew 7:21–23, 24–27

What more chilling and fearful warning could be given?  What greater motivation to “make your calling and election sure”?  Washer gives four categories of false converts from Matthew 7 and challenges the reader to make sure they are not one of those who call “Lord, Lord” on the last day but will be rejected to an eternity in hell.

In Matthew 7, Jesus clearly identifies four groups of individuals who will spend an eternity in hell. We would do well to consider each group carefully and to examine our own lives in light of the characteristics that identify them. There is nothing on earth of greater importance. People may be wrong about many things without doing much harm to themselves. However, being wrong about this matter has eternal and irrevocable consequences.

The first group of those who are destined for hell consists of those who live out their lives on the broad way.96 Their thinking, conduct, and direction of their lives are not defined by Christ’s will. Instead, they are shaped by the opinions and lusts of this fallen age and walk according to them. Although they may wear a thin veneer of Christianity, their manner of thinking and living is contrary to the religion they profess. They love the world, look like the world, and share the same affections with the world. Our evangelical churches are filled with such individuals. They sincerely believe that they have passed through the small gate that is Christ and that their salvation is secure. However, they are unaware that their uninterrupted travel on the broad way demonstrates that they have believed in vain.

The second group of those who are destined for hell consists of everyone whose life is not marked by fruit-bearing and the Father’s pruning.97 They confess faith in Christ, but His character and deeds are not manifest in their lives, nor is there evidence of the Father’s sanctifying work through discipline. Those who do not bear fruit simply are not Christians. This truth cannot be minimized or explained away. In the earliest gospel warnings, John the Baptist declared, “The ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 3:10; Luke 3:9). Jesus stood in agreement with John when He repeated the same warning almost word for word: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). We must realize that our evangelical churches are filled with such people. They bear no fruit and display no evidence of the Father’s pruning. They continue on year after year, holding to a form of godliness and denying the power of it by the barrenness of their lives.98

The third group of those who are destined for hell consists of everyone whose life is not marked by practical obedience to the Father’s will. Again, this is the clear teaching of Jesus, who warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Obedience does not result in salvation; however, it is the evidence of it. In the same way, a life of disobedience is evidence of reprobation. For this reason Jesus will declare to those who are lawless on the final day to depart. He is referring to those who confessed Him as Lord and yet lived as though He never gave them a law to obey. We must understand that there is simply no such thing as a Christian who lives in uninterrupted apathy or disregard for the will of God. To say otherwise is to deny the teachings of Jesus. Nevertheless, our evangelical churches are filled with people who profess Christ and yet live as practical atheists, doing what seems right in their own eyes and being destroyed for their lack of knowledge.99 If every piece of Scripture in the world were confiscated, it would have no effect on their lives. They are without law. They live under a self-imposed famine of the Word of God.100

The fourth group of those who are destined for hell consists of everyone who hears the words of Christ and does not act upon them.101 Again, conversion is evidenced or proven by practical obedience. Those who have been born again are marked by new and growing affections for the person of Christ. For this reason, they also long to know His will and please Him through obedience. They are awed by the blessing of Christ’s Word and humbled by the privilege that is theirs to study it and apply it to their lives. Consequently, they are also ashamed when they find themselves to be apathetic, nonchalant, and disobedient. In a word, the true convert has come to comprehend something of what Jesus meant when He told His disciples: “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt. 13:16–17).

I felt this book was excellent but there were times I thought Washer pushed too much for introspection and self-examination.  I wish there was a more focused effort to follow the McCheyne maxim that “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”  This might be due to the popular level lack of any self-examination at all, but I think it is a bit reactionary at times.  And here is my main struggle with that issue as found in this text.  Early on and throughout this work it is said and implied that our assurance is based on the fruit we bear, if a believer perseveres, how someone responds to sin, etc…  I struggle with this.  I do not struggle with seeing all of these as evidences of our condition.  I do not even struggle with claiming that these are all necessary for salvation, but as a necessary consequence.  Without these evidences you or I will not see God.  But our assurance is based on a tomb that is empty.  My salvation is not simply subjectively true, my own salvation is objectively true because God raised Christ from the dead.  My assurance is not based, based I emphasize, on how I respond.  That is a fruit, that is evidence and it is necessary. My assurance is based on the resurrection of Christ…..it is based in the Gospel.  I wish that Washer would have labored this point much more or had chosen his words in places a little more carefully to maintain the clarity of meaning that exists throughout the rest of the text.

With that being said, this is a great work.  Washer’s passion and urgency is contagious.  He writes with fervor that leaves the reader with a weird mixture of conviction, excitement, energy, and exhaustion.  Reading his work is a visceral, emotional experience.  Beyond that, what he writes is immensely practical.  Multiple times he explicitly applies his points of the chapter to ministers, evangelists, pastors, believers, and unbelievers.  You are seldom, if ever, left wondering, “Yeah, but what am I supposed to do with this truth?”  This is a work worth reading.

Washer exudes enough characteristic passion and urgency that if you sincerely want to attack him with accusation of excesses of some sort, you will be able to glean enough evidence to bring a charge.  However, if you instead seek to listen to our brother with a grace-filled countenance and a sincere desire to hear what the Lord might teach through him, you will find a work that is convicting, challenging and encouraging.  Your toes will be stepped on.  You will experience some emotional turmoil.  And you will be all the better for it.  Don’t just pick up this work, pick up the entire trilogy and be blessed.

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher.