Tests of Assurance from 1 John Part 2
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
"Tests of Assurance from 1 John"
2 Peter 1:5-11
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As you know, we are in a study of 2 Peter and I want to invite you to open your Bible, if you will, to 2 Peter chapter 1. And
as we are going through this first chapter, we are studying under the general topic "Our Precious Faith...Our Precious Faith."
We have come to the section from verse 5 to 11, 2 Peter 1:5 through 11. This section deals with the assurance of salvation.
And because it is such an important subject and one that is seemingly a topic of great discussion today, as it has been
through the history of the church, I have indulged myself in a little bit of an extended discussion of this matter of assurance. In
fact, this is message number eight on our precious faith, message five on assurance and we still haven't gotten to the text yet.
But it is very important that we have this preliminary understanding in place.
I do want as we look at the text to draw you again to verses 10 and 11 which kind of set the theme in mind without going
into a great amount of detail. And Peter here says, "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His
calling and choosing you." And here he is talking about certainty with regard to your election, certainty then with regard to
your redemption, certainty with regard to your salvation. He is concerned that you know that you're saved.
Back in verse 9 he is concerned about those who lack certain qualities, being blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his
purification from his former sins. He does not want you to have forgotten your true spiritual state but rather to have
assurance about your calling and election. And so this introduces to us this subject of assurance of salvation.
Now that subject reduces itself to two basic questions. And we have been noting these in our study. Question number one
is: is salvation forever? Is salvation forever? Is our salvation eternal? Because we can't have assurance about our salvation
being eternal unless in fact it is eternal. So question number one, is salvation forever, is it secure? Question number two, can
I enjoy that security? First is the fact, then the feeling. First is the reality, and then the experience. Do I have an eternal
salvation? And can I enjoy the assurance of that salvation?
As we have noted, these two issues are inseparably related because if salvation is not eternal, then there can be no true
feeling of assurance. If it is possible to lose my salvation, then I will have very great difficulty enjoying my assurance. If my
salvation can be temporary then at best my assurance is temporary too. If on the other hand my salvation is eternal, my
assurance can be permanent.
This particular issue was again brought to my mind in the past few days as I have been reading Ian Murray's careful and
excellent biography of Jonathan Edwards. In 1746 just about six years after the great awakening in which Jonathan Edwards
was the primary instrument of God to preach the gospel and bring the greatest revival in American history, just about six
years after that in 1746 he wrote A Treatise on Religious Affections. The reason he wrote that was to deal with the
problem not unlike the very problem we're discussing tonight. That publication, A Treatise on Religious Affections had to
do with the matter of evidence for true conversion. The concern of Edwards in writing was to delineate the issues regarding
who is really a Christian. In the explosive drama of 1739 and 1740, the years of the great awakening, it seemed as though
conversions were happening in great numbers. It didn't take long after those years to begin to realize that there were some
people who claimed conversions who were not real. There were many excesses. There were people who waxed in to
emotionalism and emotional experiences, which would be in some ways a sort of a precursor to contemporary charismania.
There were people who claimed to have had valid and real experiences with Jesus Christ, but whose lives did not
demonstrate any evidence to verify it. There were thus those who were then attacking the great awakening and saying it was
nothing but a big emotional bath and there was nothing real about it.
And so, partly in defense of true conversion and partly to expose false conversion, Jonathan Edwards took up his pen and
wrote A Treatise on Religious Affections. And his purpose was to present evidence for true conversion. And summing it
up very simply, "The supreme proof," said Edwards, "of a true conversion is holy affections, zeal for holy things, longings
after God, longings after holiness, desires for purity." And he really did touch the heart of true conversion. And at its heart it
is a set of new desires. That's what he said. He said, "Where there is true conversion there is a zeal for holy things." He had
been very concerned about Satanic counterfeits, of conversions during the great awakening. And so he wanted to distinguish
between what he called "saving operations of the Holy Spirit," and "common operations of the Holy Spirit." Saving
operations of the Holy Spirit obviously produced salvation. "Common operations of the Holy Spirit," he said, "may sober,
arrest and convict men and may even bring them to what at first appears to be repentance and faith yet these influences fall
short of inward saving renewal," end quote.
So the main thesis of this, one of the greatest pieces of American literature, frankly, to say nothing of theology, the main
thesis of this classic work is that holiness and the pursuit of holiness is necessarily involved at the very outset of true
salvation. "Grace, saving grace, planted in the heart at the time of the new birth is," he said, "a principle of holy action or
You heard young people in the baptistry tonight telling you that since coming to Jesus Christ they had a desire to obey God,
they had holy affections. In the simplicity of their young faith they have a desire to do what is right. They have a longing to
know God, to follow God, to pursue holiness. Grace planted in the heart, said Edwards, produces holy action.
In fact he said, "As the principle evidence of life is motion, so the principle evidence of saving grace is holy practice." He said
that true salvation always produces an abiding change of nature in a true convert, therefore wherever a confession of
conversion is not accompanied by holiness of life, it must be understood that the individual concerned is not a Christian.
Now historically he knew there were two alternatives. Alternative number one was this, permanent nature of regeneration in
reality and experience. That was alternative number one, theologically. You could believe in the permanent nature of
regeneration both in reality and in experience. In other words, if you were genuinely saved you were saved forever and you
would experience the longings after holiness forever...until you were made holy.
The alternative view was this, temporary nature of regeneration both in reality and experience. The other view said no,
salvation is temporary, you might lose it, it is temporary in its reality, it is temporary also then in its experience. If you fall out
of it you'll no longer experience those longings.
Theology had literally folded itself in to those two perspectives. There were the traditional reformed, Calvinistic folks who
said permanent nature of regeneration in reality and experience is what the Bible teaches. And then there were the Arminian
Wesleyans and John Wesley himself became a protagonist against Edwards who said no, temporary nature of regeneration
both in reality and experience. I point those two out because those are the only two alternatives.
Today, however, we have a new one...alternative number three. Alternative number three is permanent nature of
regeneration in reality, temporary nature of regeneration in experience. Where did that come from? Who knows? Not from
the Bible. But there are those today who say while your salvation is eternal in reality, it may be only temporary in experience.
You understand what I'm driving at? This is a new theology. This is a theology that Jonathan Edwards didn't bother to deal
with to any significant degree. Although I think the roots of it were running around loose even in his day. I don't think
Edwards would have stood for that, I know Wesley wouldn't have stood for that. Edwards would never have bought that
the experience of pursuing holiness might be temporary even though your salvation is permanent. And Wesley would never
have bought that your salvation is permanent. So we have something new today. We have a new doctrine that says you can
be saved forever but the longings for holiness might only be temporary. And you might become an unbeliever, an agnostic,
an atheist, reprobate, live any way you want.
Jonathan Edwards said, and this is the thesis of his whole Treatise on Religious Affections, "The truly saved pursue holiness."
They aren't always as holy as they ought to be, they pursue it. They're Romans 7 type people who long to do what is right
even if they don't. They have holy longings, holy aspirations and holy affections.
He stated then that the evidence for the reality of one's salvation was simply and comprehensively quote: "The love and
pursuit of holiness." That he taught as the enduring mark of a Christian and therefore singularly the best way to get in touch
with the reality of a spiritual condition and thus the source of assurance. He said while the experience of a young Christian
may be like a confused chaos, he will still follow holiness and true religious affections differ from false affections in that the
true are always related to holiness, that is to doing what is right, to pursuing what honors God.
Let me quote Edwards from his religious affections, "Natural men have no sense of the goodness and excellency of holy
things, at least for their holiness. But for the saints, holiness is the most amiable and sweet thing that is to be found in heaven
or earth. When persons are possessed of false affections and think themselves out of danger of hell, they very much put off
the burden of the cross, save themselves the trouble of difficult duties and allow themselves more of the enjoyment of their
ease and their lusts. Some of these at the same time make a great profession of love to God and assurance of His favor and
great joy in tasting the sweetness of His love. Where joys and other religious affections are false and counterfeit," he says,
"individuals once confident that they are converted have no more earnest longings after light and grace, they live upon their
first work or some high experiences that are past and there is an end to their crying and striving after God and grace, but the
holy principles that actuate a true saint have a far more powerful influence to stir him up to earnestness in seeking God and
holiness," end quote.
Now that's a lot of words to throw at you. What he's basically saying is the false Christian makes a profession but has no
holy longings. The true Christian makes a profession and has holy longings. I don't always do what I want, but I want to do
what God wants. I don't always do what I desire, but I always want to do what God desires. And when my desire is the
same as His, it doesn't mean my flesh is always going to cooperate. But my holy longings are evidence of regeneration.
And so Jonathan Edwards insisted that the work of Christ in justification was always accompanied by the work of the Holy
Spirit in sanctification. And to separate the two was to do terrible violation both to Scripture and the purposes of God in
redemption. Free grace and holy practice, he said, are not inconsistent but perfectly joined, even as the chief sign of life is
motion, the chief sign of saving grace is holy motion, movement toward holiness. In the very year, by the way, that the
Treatise on Religious Affections was published, 1746, a man by the name of Reverend Philemon Robbins attacked it and
said that the only real evidence of true salvation is some kind of feeling based on an experience usually the experience at the
moment of conversion.
Now that introduces this erroneous concept that a person's true state is known by a past experience rather than a present
pursuit of holy things. Jonathan Edwards then went on to talk about assurance and he said, "Your assurance then is based on
the fact that you see in your life the pursuit of holy things." That's the substance of your assurance.
Now, we have already affirmed in our study of Scripture that salvation is eternal, right? That if you have saving faith you're
saved forever. The only question remaining then is was my faith saving faith...was my faith the real thing...how do I know
that? Ask yourself whether you have a longing for holy things. Ask yourself whether you seek those things which honor God.
Ask yourself whether you long to do His Word, whether you love His law and delight in it. Ask yourself whether you are
distressed greatly by your sin because you have such holy affections. Yes, Edwards would agree. He would say yes, faith in
Christ is sufficient for assurance, yes, faith in Christ is sufficient for assurance if you know your faith is real. How do you
know it's real? By the love of holy things...by the love of holy things.
Now this is precisely Peter's point. Jonathan Edwards is right on track with the Apostle Peter. What is Peter saying? Go
back to verse 5 of chapter 1, let's find out. Now he says having already discussed matters of salvation in the first four verses,
in verse 5 he says, "Now for this very reason also applying all diligence in your faith supply moral excellence, in your moral
excellence knowledge, in your knowledge self control, in your self control perseverance, in your perseverance godliness, in
your godliness brotherly kindness, in your brotherly kindness love." What do you mean? Well just all these qualities you
need to pursue for if these qualities are yours and are increasing two things happen. One, you will not be useless or unfruitful
in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Two, you will not be blind and short-sighted about your spiritual condition.
See the point is if you add these things to your life, and these are all matters of holy affections, if you're longing after moral
excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love, two things are going to happen,
you're going to start to be fruitful...secondly, you're not going to forget you're saved. So assurance, Peter says, is predicated
on holy affections, the pursuit of holiness. And we'll get in to that in some detail.
Before we do that, I want to take us back to the text we've been looking at in 1 John because this is John's whole point as
well. I want us to go to 1 John. Now we have already affirmed principle number one, salvation is forever. We've already
affirmed principle number two that you should enjoy the assurance of that forever salvation. What Jonathan Edwards says is
that if you want to enjoy your salvation and be sure you're saved, then look at your life and see if you have holy affections, if
you pursue holiness. Peter says if you are adding all these things and pursuing all these things and giving diligence to all these
things and you're going to be fruitful, then you're going to look at yourself and you're not going to forget whether you're
saved, you're going to know. Well John essentially says the same thing. John in his whole first epistle delineates the factors of
such a pursuit. Peter says it involves faith and knowledge and self- control and perseverance and godliness and brotherly
kindness and love and you want to know something? John says basically the same thing only John says it in much greater
detail. John delineates those same elements that identify holy affections, the pursuit of holiness which is characteristic of the
Now, we already covered the first five. We asked a series of questions that help us get in to the text of John. Question
number one, let me just give them to you real quick, the first five we covered. How do you know whether you're pursuing
godliness? Hod do you know whether you have holy affections? How do you know whether you're longing after God and
pursuing His will and His way and what is right? How do you know whether you belong to God? How do you know
whether you're really saved? Question number one: are you enjoying fellowship with Christ and the Father? That's pretty
basic. Remember in chapter 1 he talks about our fellowship is with the Father, verse 3, and with His Son Jesus Christ?
And then he talks about it in chapter 5 verse 1, "Whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him." And we talked
quite a bit about the fact that the first holy affection of a truly regenerate person is a longing after fellowship with God and
Christ. Do you have a desire to commune with Him? To pray, to know Him, to be with Him, to be in His presence? This is
the experience of abundant life, rich with joy, peace, love, purpose. And if you're pursuing that, that's a holy affection. If
you're enjoying that fellowship, if you are experiencing the God of all comfort, the God who supplies all our needs, the God
who fellowships with us and thus dispenses power for our Christian living, if you're seeking the God of wisdom who holds
nothing back but gives liberally to all who ask, if you are pursuing time and fellowship with the God in whose presence you
sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs and sing and make melody in your heart, if you're coming to the God to whom you
cry Abba, the one to whom you go for mercy and grace in time of need, if you're longing for fellowship with the Christ who
is our consolation, who is our strength, who is our hope, whose love shines in us and through us, whose peace we possess
and enjoy, these are clear indications that you have a longing for fellowship.
Second question, are you sensitive to sin? If you have holy affections and are longing after holiness, you're going to be
sensitive to sin. In chapter 1 verse 5 John begins to deal with that. He talks about the fact that the true believer walks in the
light, confessing his sin and that the true believer is forgiven of his sin. And when he does sin he recognizes, chapter 2, an
advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation, the atonement, the covering for sin. Are you sensitive to sin, we
asked? And John asks it. Or do you deny it? Do you say we have no sin? If you do you make God a liar. No, one of the
evidences of holy affections is a hatred of sin in my own life, a revulsion.
Question number three to indicate holy affections, are you obedient to God's Word? We saw that, didn't we, in chapter 2
verse 3, "And by this we know we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments." The holy affection is
obedience, I long to do Your will, I want to do Your Word, I want to do what's right, I want to please You. That's a holy
affection. That's evidence of a new nature. The unredeemed nature, no, it doesn't have any desire to obey God, it doesn't
have any sensitivity to sin and it doesn't long to commune and fellowship with God and Christ. Those are holy affections that
indicate a regenerate heart.
Fourth, do you reject the world? Down in chapter 2 verse 15 we reminded ourselves not to love the world. And then in
verse 17 he says further than that, the world is passing away and also its lusts but the one who does the will of God abides
forever, we are eternal, the world is passing. We don't love the world. In fact, if we love the world, verse 15 says, the love
of the Father is...what?...not in us. There's another holy affection, a rejection of the world and a longing after the Kingdom.
Then the fifth question we asked as we noted John's recitation of these matters is do you love Christ and eagerly await for
His coming? Do you long for His coming? That's another holy affection. Down in chapter 3 and verse 2 he talks about the
fact that we're going to be like Him, we're going to see Him. Then in verse 3 he says, "Whoever has this hope fixed on Him
purifies himself just as He is pure." Here's another holy affection, a longing after heaven, a longing to be in glory, a longing for
Jesus to come. That's our hope, that's our joy, we wait for His coming. We eagerly wait. That is the blessed hope.
Now, do you have those holy affections? Do you long for fellowship with God and Christ? Are you sensitive to your sin to
the point where your own sin repulses you? Do you long to obey God and His Word? Do you find yourself rejecting the
world and longing for the Kingdom? And do you eagerly wait for the coming of the one you love? Those are holy affections.
And John is saying throughout his epistle those are the marks of true believers.
Now let's pick up the rest of them. Number six, do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life? Do you see a decreasing
pattern of sin in your life? One of the manifestations of holy affections is a decreasing pattern of sin. Chapter 3 verse 5, let's
turn to it. This is a powerful powerful section. To be honest with you, we probably won't get past it, but that's all right.
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