Reasons People Lack Assurance Part 2
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
"Reasons People Lack Assurance"
2 Peter 1:5-11
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Let me draw you back to 2 Peter, in the time we have, briefer than usual tonight, 2 Peter chapter 1. We have begun a study
of this great epistle, and in particular, the first eleven verses. In these first eleven verses, Peter is speaking of the matter of
our salvation. As we come in to verses 5 through 11, he is concerned about making certain about our calling and choosing.
And the matter under discussion here is the matter of the assurance of salvation. He is concerned that no one be blind or
short-sighted, according to verse 9, having forgotten his purification. He is concerned that we be diligent to make certain
about our calling and choosing. This is a matter then of assurance. Before we get into the text itself in verse 5, I want to
introduce it to you by consideration of the subject of assurance from a broader scriptural perspective.
As a pastor I say again to you that it is a heartache to realize that so many people lack the assurance of salvation. They lack
the assurance that they are really forgiven for their sins and that they are eternally secured for a place in heaven. Sad as it is,
it is a fact. It is one that pastors deal with all the time. Many people wonder whether they are really saved.
Thomas Brooks wrote in 1654 these words, in a wonderful, wonderful book called Heaven on Earth. This is what he said,
"Assurance is the believer's ark where he sits like Noah, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions,
commotions and confusions," end quote. In that same excellent book he also wrote, "Most Christians live between fears and
hopes and hang, as it were, between heaven and hell. Sometimes they hope that their state is good, other times they fear that
their state is bad. Now they hope that all is well and that it shall go well with them forever. And then they fear that they shall
perish by the hand of such a corruption or by the prevalency of such to temptation. And so they are like a ship in a storm,
tossed here and there."
This need not be but it is the fact. In spite of the truth that believers are the chosen of God, the elect of God, as Brooks calls
them, "The picked and the culled," in spite of the fact that we are the prime instruments which God will make use of to carry
on His best and greatest work against His worst and greatest enemy, in spite of the fact that believers are hidden with Christ
in God and engraven on the Lord's palms, in spite of the fact that our names are written in the Book of Life from before the
foundation of the world, in spite of the fact that believers are children of God, heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, sealed with
the Holy Spirit and anointed thus by God, in spite of the fact that believers are the very living epistles of Christ known and
read by all men, in spite of the fact that believers are recipients of all blessings in the heavenlies, super- abounding grace,
mercy, forgiveness, love and kindness, in spite of the fact that believers have peace with God, the love of God shed abroad
in their hearts, all sufficient standing in grace, and hope in eternal glory, in spite of the fact that believers have overcome the
world, been given eternal names by Christ, names of affection and honor, been made pillars in God's temple and been given
the promise of royal robes in eternal righteousness, in spite of all the lavish mercies and all the benedictions God has given
them, many still wonder about the security of their salvation and lack assurance.
Why? Why do they? Well that is precisely the question that we are attempting to answer. In fact, the purpose of this series is
to bring you into that ark where you in the midst of devastation and destruction, confusion and commotion can enjoy your
Now last week we posed three reasons why people lack assurance, let me just review them for a moment. Some might lack
assurance because of being under strong preaching on God's holy standard. We noted last time that a powerful confrontive
pulpit produces anxious hearts. It stings the conscience and the conscience knows no mercy or forgiveness. Some people
doubt because they are under such strong preaching and when there is sin in their life, it creates doubt.
Secondly, some might lack assurance because they can't accept forgiveness. They are tyrannized by their emotions, feeling
they are too bad to be forgiven. They are fixed on God's holiness, fixed on God's high law and they are focused on God's
justice which knows no mercy and they do not believe they can be forgiven. In fact, they have crowned the devil king. He
has conquered Christ for the one who will not forgive has conquered the one who will forgive in their minds. They believe
that Satan's condemnation is sufficient but Christ's grace is not sufficient to cover their sin. And so, in a blasphemy of sorts,
they have deemed themselves unforgivable and thus they have exalted Satan above Christ. And that is a frightening reality.
Thomas Brooks says in that regard, drawing us back to Scripture, "Manasseh is saved, O despairing souls, the arms of
mercy are open to receive a Manasseh, a monster, a devil incarnate. He caused that prophet Isaiah to be sawed in the midst
with a saw, as some rabbis say. He turned aside from the Lord to commit idolatry and cause his sons to pass through the fire
and dealt with familiar spirits and made the streets of Jerusalem to overflow with innocent blood. The soul of Mary
Magdalene was full of devils and yet Christ cast them out and made her heart His house, His presence chamber. Why dost
thou then say there is no hope for thee, O despairing soul? Paul was full of rage against Christ and His people and full of
blasphemy and impiety, and yet, behold, Paul is a chosen vessel. Paul is caught up in to the heaven and is filled with the gifts
and graces of the Holy Spirit. Why should you then say there is for you no help, O despairing soul? Thou the prodigal had
run from his father and spent and wasted all his estate in ways of baseness and wickedness, and yet upon his resolution to
return, his father meets him and instead of killing him he kisses him. Instead of kicking him, he embraces him. Instead of
shutting the door upon him, he makes a sumptuous provision for him. And how then do you dare to say, O despairing soul,
that God will never cast an eye of love upon you or bestow a crumb of mercy on you? The Apostle tells you of some
monstrous miscreants who were unrighteous, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with
mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners and yet these monsters of mankind through the infinite
goodness and free grace of God are washed from the filth and guilt of their sins and justified by the righteousness of Christ
and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ and decked and adorned with the graces of Christ. Therefore do not say," writes
Brooks, "O despairing soul that you shall die in your sins and lie down at last in everlasting sorrow. Did it make for the honor
and glory of His free grace to pardon them? And will it be a reproach to His free grace to pardon you? Could God be just in
justifying such ungodly ones and shall He be unjust in justifying you? Did their unworthiness and unfitness for mercy turn the
stream of mercy from them? No. Why then, O despairing soul, should thou fear that thy unworthiness and unfitness for
mercy will go and stop and turn the stream of mercy as that thou must perish eternally for want of one drop of special grace
Well, you understand what he's saying. And so we're reminded that some people lack assurance because they emotionally
find it hard to believe they could be forgiven.
Thirdly, and where we left off last time, some might lack assurance because they do not comprehend the gospel and the plan
of salvation. They do not understand it. The whole reality of gospel truth and the work of Christ is not grasped. They don't
understand, for example, the full sufficiency of Jesus Christ's death for sin. They don't understand the extent of grace, the
extent of mercy, the extent of forgiveness. They don't understand how the justice of God is fully and completely satisfied in
the death of Christ. If they grasped gospel truth, they could enjoy assurance. With the Arminians, those who believe you can
lose your salvation, it is this very failure that destroys their assurance. Because they believe that man is a partner with God
and salvation, they therefore cannot have a secure salvation because man can violate his partnership. Since they believe that
men must perform to maintain their salvation, assurance is impossible because you can't trust man. And even if you could
trust God, you can't trust man so you can't trust salvation. For the Arminian at best, assurance is a moment of feeling and
therefore unstable. That kind of assurance that reveals itself in shouting and singing, in revival meetings, or charismatic
hysteria is not dependable. It easily turns into a feeling of depression and even a feeling of despair because it is built on a
salvation in which I am a partner, I can violate that. And if you believe you can lose your salvation, you can never have full
assurance. But if the gospel is understood, the assurance of the promise of the gospel can be enjoyed.
And we noted last time that assurance is a personal conviction that is rational, not emotional. It is built on facts. It is built on
the historical reality of what Jesus Christ accomplished. It is not a feeling without reason, or a feeling induced by emotion. It
is built on the understanding that salvation is complete and eternally secure, and you have to start with that comprehension of
the gospel or you can never know complete assurance.
Now remember the definitions that we made. Security is the Holy Spirit revealed fact that salvation is forever. Security is the
Holy Spirit revealed fact that salvation is forever. Assurance is the confidence that I possess that salvation. But I can't enjoy
assurance unless I understand that salvation, which is secure. Feeling that I'm in possession of a salvation that isn't secure
doesn't give me any assurance. Knowing the fact that salvation is secure doesn't give me assurance if I don't know I have
that salvation. So everything has to be built on the fact.
Now there's an element of gospel truth that I want to mention specifically to complete this third point because of its major
role in the issue of assurance. I could speak about the cross and we could go into all of the matters of the work of Christ on
the cross, the marvelous miraculous work of Christ there and how it purchased our eternal salvation. But I want rather to
just look at one very important element and that is the resurrection. Leaving the cross for a moment and moving to the
resurrection, I want us to focus on it because I believe it is the heart and soul of understanding the fact of security, which is
the very foundation of assurance.
The resurrection, now mark this in your mind very carefully, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the proof positive that the
Lord's work on the cross effected a salvation that was eternally secure. Did you get that? The resurrection was the proof
positive that the Lord's work on the cross had effected a salvation that was eternally secure. The key then to security and
therefore the key to assurance, the cornerstone of it all is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You say, "Why?"
First of all, it attested to the truthfulness of His claims. He said He was God, He rose from the dead to prove it. He said He
had come to accomplish the work of salvation, God raised Him from the dead to approve of His work and affirm that
indeed He had accomplished it. If He failed to come out of the grave, He wasn't who he claimed to be or He didn't do what
He claimed to do. That's the bottom line. If He was God and had the power over death and if He accomplished perfectly
the redemptive work and the Father raised Him from the dead, then we have confidence that salvation was fully
Everything that Jesus Christ claimed and everything He came to do is validated by the resurrection. It displayed God's
power over death for sinners. In fact, when you read about the power exhibited in Christ, it is usually associated with His
resurrection. In Ephesians 1 the Apostle Paul is praying that we might be enlightened in verse 18 and that we might know,
verse 19, the surpassing greatness of His power. And what is that power? The power by which God raised Him from the
dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. The power of God that raised Jesus is the same power that
quickens the spiritually dead. The resurrection is a historical fact that shows that God can raise one who bears sin from the
dead and exalt Him. God can see a sinner who bears much less sin than the crucified Christ bore and exalt that sinner to His
own right hand, even as He did His own Son.
In Romans 4:25 it says He was delivered up because of our transgressions and was raised because of our justification. He
was delivered to death because of our sin, and He was raised for our justification. If He completely covered our sins, mark
it, if He completely covered our sins in His death, He completely secured our eternal life in His resurrection. As completely
as His death dealt with our past, so completely did His resurrection deal with our future.
The young convert is right who said, "If anyone is ever to be kept out of heaven for my sins, it will have to be Jesus because
He took them all upon Himself. But that can't happen because He's in heaven already so now I know I am secure." You
understand his reasoning? If Jesus took all my sins and paid the penalty for them and God took Him into His heaven, then
God will take me into His heaven whose sins Jesus paid for. And if anyone is to be held accountable for my sins, it isn't me,
it's the one who said He took them on Himself. And since that has already been settled as He is already seated at the right
hand of God, so will I be seated there as well. That is why we need not worry that no matter how sinful we are we can be
Second Timothy 1:9 says, "Who has saved us, called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His
own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing
of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." He abolished
death, He brought immortality not only obviously to Himself but to us.
It is essential then for us to understand that in the death of Christ you have the penalty of sin totally paid. In the resurrection
of Christ you have that affirmation of that total payment. And if my sins are totally paid for, there is no sin that could keep me
out of heaven. So an objective understanding of the full forgiveness provided in the perfect death and resurrection of Christ
is the ground of security and security is the ground of assurance. If I believe the gospel is true, and I believe the gospel, then
I can enjoy my assurance.
Now let me take it a step further. Therefore assurance is inherent to some degree, of course, in saving faith. That's right.
First John 5:13 says, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that
you have eternal life." I want you who believe to know that inherent in your believing is your assurance because that in which
you believe is a secure salvation. Revelation of historical fact then in the essence of saving faith carry the basis of assurance.
And we can sing with the song writer, "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His...what?...His
excellent Word." That's where you go to get your assurance. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your
faith in His excellent Word.
And so, if we understand the gospel and its eternal character and the full sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ as evidenced in
the resurrection and the ascension of Christ and His being received to the right hand of the Father, we can understand we
have a secure salvation in which all of our sins are paid for and we need not fear that we are insecure. And if we believe in
that true work of Christ and in Christ, then we can know and be assured.
So, some people lack assurance because they are under strong preaching, lifting a high and holy standard and because
there's sin in their life they feel that they are not saved, or they doubt their salvation. And some people are not enjoying
assurance because they can't accept forgiveness. They think themselves to be too bad and so they crown Satan king rather
than Christ. They can receive condemnation but not grace. And then some people doubt their salvation, frankly, because
they don't understand the saving work of Christ. I'll tell you, the churches of our world are filled with people like that who
are insecure about their salvation because they have an insecure salvation to start with.
Let me give you a fourth reason why people lack assurance. Some lack assurance because they don't know the exact time
of their salvation. Does that ring a bell? Some people lack assurance because they don't know the exact time of their
salvation. They can't remember when they believed. They can't remember the moment of their salvation. And because they
can't remember when it was, they don't know whether it was. Which is like saying, because I can't remember my birthday,
I'm not sure I'm alive. I see. Or because I can't remember when my plane landed, I don't know if I'm here. We have made
such a fetish out of decisionism, we have so isolated and identified this little formula and this little prayer that you pray at
some point as being the moment of salvation that if you don't have that little moment that you signed a card or raised your
hand or walked an aisle or prayed your prayer or did your little formula thing, you can't identify when it happened, so many
it never happened.
I remember a man saying to me, "Last Sunday morning I settled my salvation." I said, "How did you do that?" He was here
in the church. He said, "On my way home I stopped on Roscoe Boulevard and I never could remember the moment I was
saved and so I never felt saved. And so I got out of my van," he was in a van, he said, "and I went over to the sidewalk, the
grass between the curb and the sidewalk and I took out a piece of wood and I hammered it into the ground. And I drove
that stake and I said, `This is...I think it was June...this is June something and this is the day I am committing my life to Jesus
Christ.' And now I know I'm saved because I know when I did that."
And so I had to pull up his stake...metaphorically speaking. But there are some people who have been so over exposed to a
decisionistic approach or what you call decisional regeneration, there's some point in time, some mystical moment when you
do your little formula and you're zapped by God. Now for some people there is a moment in time, obviously, for many
people there was a very decisive moment in which they exercised their faith in Jesus Christ. But for many many people,
particularly those raised in a Christian environment, they can't identify that transformation. They can't identify that moment
because they have always believed. People often ask me, "Have you been a Christian all your life?" My standard answer is,
"Not yet." But that's looking at the future end of it. Going on the other direction of it, I do not know a time when I did not
believe. But that does not mean I'm not a Christian. There are those today who would even teach that the remembrance of
such a past event is the real legitimate basis for a believer's assurance. And in fact, if you can't remember that event, you
might not be saved. The exact time is not the issue...not at all. But that will create a lack of assurance if people have been
exposed to too much focus on some event and that if you can't remember the event, maybe you're not a Christian. One
contemporary writer says, "The only legitimate point of assurance for our salvation is the past event." The exact time is not
I can't remember the moment that I was saved. I don't know when I passed from death unto life, but I know I did. I don't
know a time when I didn't believe. I never went through a time of rebelling openly and flagrantly against God. I had a car
accident when I was a freshman in college, but I can't say that was the time of my salvation. I remember praying a prayer
with my father on the steps of a church in Indiana when he was holding a revival meeting, his sermon convicted me because I
had done some things that week that were not right. I don't know whether that's the moment I passed from death unto life.
There were times as a little child when I prayed prayers. There were times as a teen-ager when I went to camp, I remember
as a fourteen-year-old going forward and throwing a pinecone in a fire, teary-eyed and wanting to make my life right with
God. I don't know when I passed from dea
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