Reasons Pepole Lack Assurance Part 1
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
"Reasons People Lack Assurance"
2 Peter 1:5-11
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Well tonight we have the great privilege of embarking upon a wonderful study of a very special text of Scripture, 2 Peter
chapter 1 verses 5 and following. So open your Bible, if you will.
Tonight we're not going to really have a sermon but rather this is going to be a lesson. I want to teach you some things that I
hope will be helpful to you. And what we say tonight will in a sense be preliminary to the text. But in order that you might
grasp what Peter is saying, let me begin reading in verse 5. Second Peter chapter 1 verse 5, "Now for this very reason also
applying all diligence in your faith, supply moral excellence. And in your moral excellence, knowledge. And in your
knowledge, self-control. And in your self-control, perseverance and in your perseverance, godliness. And in your godliness,
brotherly kindness. And in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you
neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or
short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make
certain about His calling and choosing you, for as long as you practice these things you will never stumble. For in this way
the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."
Now out of those verses I want to draw your attention to one phrase in verse 10, "Be all the more diligent to make certain
about His calling and choosing you." I suppose that all of us as Christians have moments somewhere along in our Christian
experience when we're not certain if we're saved. There are those times when doubts enter our minds. Sometimes they are
but fleeting moments, sometimes they last a long time, sometimes they almost seem a way of life. Sometimes they can plunge
someone into despair, despondency from which they find it impossible to lift themselves. There are many people who have
publicly confessed Jesus Christ who lack the assurance of God's love, who lack the assurance and confidence of eternal life,
who are not certain they have been called and not certain they have been chosen, they are not certain they are saved.
One of the pastoral duties that has belonged to pastors since New Testament times has been this matter of trying to help
people understand the truth about their spiritual condition. Every month of my ministry at Grace Church, now we're well into
the twenty-second year, I have dealt with in one way or another the matter of doubt in the life of someone, someone
wondering whether if they died they would go to heaven, someone lacking the confidence that God loves them, someone
feeling they may not love Christ sufficiently to indicate true salvation, someone thinking they don't believe enough. Doubts
about one's salvation are common in the life of many Christians. And that in spite of everything God has said.
Now there is a remarkable verse that I might draw from the Old Testament, you might want to jot it down, you'll probably
want to refer to it, Isaiah 32:17. And Isaiah 32:17 says this, "The work of righteousness shall be peace and the effective
righteousness quietness and assurance forever." Let me read it again. "The work of righteousness shall be peace and the
effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever."
What Isaiah is saying is, where God grants righteousness, with it comes peace and assurance. In fact, the New Testament
writers speak of assurance in rather superlative terms. Colossians 2:2 talks about full assurance. First Thessalonians 1:5 talks
about much assurance. Hebrews 6:11 says the full assurance of hope. And Hebrews 10:22 says the full assurance of faith.
Full assurance three times...much assurance. And God who grants us righteousness with it grants assurance.
And though the New Testament and the Old Testament talk about assurance and though assurance is associated with our
hope in Christ and our faith in Christ and with righteousness and though assurance is given to us by God, nonetheless there
are many Christian people who lack it. Now before we talk about our text, and that is the solution to those who lack
assurance, and before we even talk about the matters prior to the text which are the reasons why people lack assurance,
there are two other issues that I must address if we're going to really get a grip on this subject of assurance.
The first one is this, some people have assurance but they have no right to have it. Some people have assurance but they
have no right to have it. It is false assurance, it is false peace, it is a false security. Such false assurance is dangerous,
deceitful, deadly and damning because it mistakes one's true spiritual condition. The old Negro spiritual put it simply,
"Everybody talkin' about heaven ain't going there." That is true. There are some people who have a feeling that all is well
between them and God and it isn't. You can be assured that false religionists, false prophets, false teachers would like to
give people that feeling and so would Satan and his emissaries. And if such people who have a false assurance who are not
saved but think they are are ever to be saved and if false assurance is to be taken away from them, then they must be forced
to examine two things...the truth about salvation and the truth about their spiritual condition.
People often ask me why I so often speak on the matter of salvation and why I so often speak about this matter of your
spiritual condition and self-examination. And the reason is because there are people with false assurance. Jesus knew it,
that's why in Matthew 7 He said, "Many will say unto Me on that day, Lord, Lord," Matthew 7:21, "and I will say to them,
Depart from Me, I never knew you," which will be a great jolt to them since they probably have false assurance. That is why
the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11, "Every time you come to the Lord's table, examine yourself." That is why he
repeated again in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith." Because, there are people who have
assurance but they have no right to it.
You say, "How did they get it?" Well, somebody gave them some information about salvation which was not true. And they
believed that and because they believed what they think is truth they feel secure. There are other people who misjudge their
spiritual condition. They know the truth and they think they have really believed the truth but they haven't. In fact, much of
our modern-day evangelism contributes to this false hope by using a technique that I would like to call syllogistic assurance.
Now I don't want to lose you all on that term. A syllogism is simply a form of logic. It has a major premise and a minor
premise that leads to a conclusion. And modern American evangelicalism has been giving people syllogistic assurance for
many many years. It goes like this. John 1:12 might be a starting place, just to tie it in to a specific verse. "But as many as
received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." So you say to
someone, "Did you receive Him?" Yes...major premise, anyone who receives Him becomes His child. "Did you do that?"
Yes, minor premise, you just did that, conclusion: you're His child. Major premise says if you receive Christ you'll be His
child. Minor premise says you just did that. Conclusion says you're His child.
You say, "Well, that's logical." It is. It is. The problem is you don't know whether the minor premise is true. You don't know
whether they just did that. You say, "Well, they just said they did that." That's different. You don't know if they did that. The
Puritans would say, "Tested then trusted." You don't know if they did that until they're tested. This is an appeal to a logical
syllogism. If you know the facts of the gospel and minor premise, you believe the facts of the gospel, therefore you're a
Christian. This, by the way, is a major component of contemporary evangelism...an appeal to a logical syllogism based on an
untested profession, which is a faulty minor premise. We are basing assurance on a bare inference, not confirmed by the
Holy Spirit...we have no Holy Spirit confirmation...and not confirmed by any testing. The truth of assurance is the award of
tested and proven faith. The Holy Spirit gives it, not a human counselor.
Some people have assurance when they shouldn't have it then because somebody gave them a false gospel. They believed it
and then they believed they're saved. Some people have a false assurance because somebody told them their faith was real
when in fact it may not have been. So we need to understand then, first of all, in this matter of assurance that some people
have it who have absolutely no right to it.
Secondly, there's another preliminary issue that I want to share with you and that is this, some people think no one has a
right to assurance, not even a true Christian. In fact, some people think it is presumption to imagine that you are secure. It is
presumption to be assured of you're security in Christ. They say it will lead to indifference, it will lead to carelessness, it will
lead you to sin, it will lead you to unholiness. This is the historical Arminian view which basically says if I thought I was
secure forever, then I'd go out and do anything I wanted. Have you heard that? Well that's an old one. You can't possibly let
anybody think their salvation is secure because they'll abuse the privileges because after all, they can't lose their salvation so
why not live anyway you want.
That's not only an Arminian view, by the way, that's a Roman Catholic view. That's what Roman Catholicism has always
taught...canons and decrees of the Council of Trent go like this, quoting: "No one can know with a certainty of faith which
cannot be subject to error that he has obtained the grace of God. No one, moreover, so long as he is in this mortal life ought
so far to presume as regards the secret mystery of divine predestination as to determine for certain that he is assuredly in the
number of the predestinate. For except by special revelation it cannot be known whom God hath chosen unto Himself. If
anyone saith that a man who is born again and justified is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the
predestinate, let him be anathema," so says the Catholic Church. Curse those people who feel secure. Though the Council of
Trent was held in the sixteenth century, the teaching of the Church on this point has not changed. As evidence I quote the
following from a recent Roman Catholic Dictionary of Theology, this is what it says: "Certainty of salvation," heading, "A
concept of Protestant theology which signifies a belief in justification so firm that this belief is inconsistent with any doubt of a
man's ultimate salvation. Such a certainty of salvation which Catholic theology describes as absolute was repudiated by the
Council of Trent because whereas the Christian is absolutely forbidden to doubt what God has done in Jesus Christ, or to
doubt his universal salvific will, this does not exclude all possible doubt of one's own eternal salvation," end quote. What a
silly statement. You can't doubt anything but you're own salvation.
G.C. Birkhauer(?) in his book, Conflict With Rome takes some pains to show that Rome's denial of the assurance of
salvation is consistent with its conception of the nature of salvation. It is precisely, he says, because the Roman Catholic
Church conceives of salvation as a joint effort by man and God and as a blessing which can only be maintained through the
doing of good works that it must say to the believer you can never be absolutely sure of your salvation. For if one's
assurance of salvation must be based on one's performance of good works, the most he or she can attain is the kind of
conjectural certainty which Rome allows." Why? Because if my salvation depends on God and me, I might mess up.
So where you have in Roman Catholic theology man involved in salvation, or where you have in Arminian theology man
involved in salvation, you have the absence of security because man can default. But where you have in historical biblical
theology where salvation is all the work of God, you have the concomitant doctrine of security which leads to assurance.
The basic question involved here is whether one is saved by grace alone or one's salvation depends in part on his or her
meritorious good works. If the latter is true, one can never be sure of salvation. If, however, the former is true, as the
Reformers taught, then one can be sure of salvation even though he or she may not always be in full possession of that
So, some would feel we can never be sure and leave it at that. And they say that helps them live a good life because they
have to keep living a good life or they might lose their salvation. Basically they deny assurance all together.
Now, we make those two points clear. Some people have assurance who have no right to it. Some people deny that
anybody can have assurance. But let us concentrate on the truth about assurance, all right? True assurance as Scripture
teaches it. Not false believing, true assurance.
What we want to achieve is exactly what it says in verse 10. When our series is through we want you to be certain about His
calling and choosing you. We want you without a hint of doubt to say, "I am among the predestinate, I am among the elect, I
am chosen, I am called. I am eternally secure and I enjoy my assurance."
But before we can solve the problem we've got to introduce it. So I want to ask just a basic question. Why do people lack
assurance? Why do people lack assurance? Well obviously we could answer that by saying, "Well some of them don't have
salvation, that's why they don't feel secure." That's right. But let's go beyond that. Why do people who are Christians lack
assurance? I'm going to give you several reasons, okay?
Number one, and by the way, this is not an inspired list, this is just my own thinking as I've been pouring through these
scriptures for about the last six months, getting ready for this series...why do people lack assurance? Reason number one,
and there might be more and they might be better stated but this will help us...number one, some might lack assurance
because of being under strong preaching on God's holy standard. Some might lack assurance because of being under strong
preaching on God's holy standard.
"What do you mean by that?" Well, what I mean is demanding preaching, confrontive preaching, convicting preaching that
holds up a high standard of holiness, the kind of preaching that forces people to see their sinfulness, that forces them to
acknowledge the holiness of God that calls them to a lofty standard of Christian living may lead some to a lack of assurance.
You say, "Well, is that bad?" No...no, not really. The pulpit is rightly the creator of anxious hearts. That is one of its duties.
For it must convict those who have a false assurance, right? It must confront sin. It must call for the highest and holiness
standard. And by virtue of all of those mandates it may have the effect of destablizing some people and making them waver
about the reality of their spiritual condition, because they compare themselves with that standard and say, "I'm so woefully
short of that, maybe I'm not even a Christian." Demanding preaching, convicting preaching, strong preaching that sets the
high and holy standard for the saved brings along a strong conviction of sin which can produce doubt, particularly in a sinning
Christian, particularly in a sinning Christian.
Now can I tell you, having said all of that, this rarely happens today. Why? Because there's rarely any convicting preaching.
Churches across our country are filled with smug people that don't feel particularly insecure because nothing in their life is
ever confronted. It rarely happens because preaching is neither convicting or strong, nor does preaching necessarily set a
particularly high standard. In fact, if you were to ask the average sort of collection of preachers if they've ever preached
messages on assurance of salvation, it might be a rare thing to find one who did. And if you found one who said, "Yes, I've
preached on assurance," he would probably tell you, "what I preached was a message to make everybody feel assured."
And what he probably did was give them a little more of that syllogistic assurance. About the only time the subject comes
up, it seems to me, is to argue with people who are unwilling to give syllogistic assurance. The only time I ever get into a
discussion of this is when people want to argue with me because they want to give people psychological assurance so they'll
feel so comfortable about themselves that they will never question their spiritual condition. The whole idea when you lead
somebody to Christ, for many years in America, is, "Now the first responsibility you have...once they've prayed the
prayer...is to make sure that you make them feel assured." So you say to them, "Doesn't it say if we believe in the Lord
Jesus Christ we know we have eternal life? You believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, major premise it says that, minor premise
says you believe, conclusion, you're saved. Now feel secure, feel assured, don't worry about it."
About the only time anybody talks about assurance it's to make people feel assured, not to make them question whether
their assurance is a false one. In fact, I suppose because of that fewer people today struggle with assurance because the
teaching lacks a strong call to holiness and the preachers feel it's their duty to make everybody feel good. But on the other
hand, convicting preaching can create doubt.
I got a letter from someone in the church I thought I'd share with you. "Dear John, I've been attending Grace for several
years. As a result of a growing conviction in my heart, a result of your preaching and seeming to be powerless against the
temptations which arise in my heart and constantly succumbing to them, in talks with pastors and godly men about my
growing doubts has led me to believe I'm not saved. How sad it is, John, for me to not be able to enter in because of the sin
which clings to me and from which I long to be free. How bizarre for one who teaches in a Sunday School with heartfelt
conviction, a trainer in Discipleship Evangelism, a seminarian, a discipler, so many times I have determined in my heart to
repent, to shake loose my want to sin, to forsake all for Jesus only to find myself doing the sin I don't want to do and not
doing the good I want to do. After my fiance and I broke up I memorized Ephesians as part of an all-out effort against sin
only to find myself weaker and more painfully aware of my sinfulness, more prone to sin than ever before, grabbing cheap
thrills to push back the pain of lost love. Mostly in the heart, John, but that's where it counts and that's where you live. I sin
because I'm a sinner. I'm like a soldier without my armor and running across a battle field getting shot up by fiery darts from
the enemy. I couldn't leave the church if I wanted to, I love the people, I'm enthralled by the gospel of the beautiful Messiah.
I'm a pile of manure on the white marble floor of Christ, a mongrel dog that snuck in the back door of the King's banquet to
lick the crumbs off the floor and by being close to Christians who are rich in the blessings of Christ, I get some of the
overflow and I ask you to pray for me as you think best."
Demanding preaching creates doubt. You say, "Well is he really a Christian?" Well one thing jumped out at me in this letter.
He said, "So many times I have determined in my heart to repent to shake loose my want to sin, to forsake all for Jesus only
to find myself doing the sin I don't want to do and not doing the good I want to do." That sounded more to me like a
Christian in Romans 7 than an unbeliever. But demanding preaching can produce doubt, particularly in a sinning Christian.
No question. So the pulpit if it has the luxury of being the creator of anxiety, of anxious hearts, the pulpit must also be the
creator of comfort. It must be the place of assurance.
J.I. Packer said, and I believe rightly so, "The preaching of the Word is the supreme means of grace." The preaching of the
Word is the supreme means of grace. And I hope that we can be a means of grace to you in this special series on assurance.
There's a second reason people lack assurance. Some might lack assurance because they can't accept forgiveness. They are
tyrannized by their emotions and they feel they are too bad to be saved. Some people just can't accept forgiveness.
Now there are some reasons for this. I'll give them to you. These are pretty practical. Let me suggest this. There are three
reasons, I'll just give them to you separately. The reason some people feel they can't accept forgiveness, they feel too bad to
be saved, too sinful to be forgiven is, number one, because conscience speaks against forgiveness. Did you get that? Your
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