The Private verses the Public: Pausing to Consider Proof of Salvation

How do I know that I’m saved? That is a question I’ve heard with regularity throughout my ministry. It is a vitally important question and doesn’t belong on the heap of theological treatises that have no practical application in life. I come back to this conversation because of a few events within the past few months that keep bringing up just how important this discussion is and how it seems that American Christianity has an aversion to the biblical answer.

Event 1: I got in a dialogue concerning Lordship Salvation recently with a brother-in-Christ. His concern was that we require too much from people to be saved. All they have to do is believe on the Lord and confess with their mouth that God raised Jesus from the dead and they will be saved! True enough, but the culture that the New Testament was written in didn’t have the oversimplified view of belief that we tend to adopt today. I read somewhere recently the term “faithing” instead of “believing” to emphasize the difference because it is a belief that results in a life of faith. A life of faith means a life of action. (To be clear – this is not a discussion of “Can a person lose her salvation” to which everyone in these discussions would give a resounding “no!”) So I finished the conversation this way:

Here’s a quick question: Does God tell us what/how he maintains his covenant relationship with us so that it remains intact? I wonder if a false dichotomy is being considered in this conversation in that assurance of our relationship with God and our Spirit-forged fruits are independent or incontinent in some respect. I think again of the term “accordance.” For example, Jeremiah 32:40 “I will make with them an everlasting covenant: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of Me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from Me.” So, at least, part of the answer is that the way God ensures a lasting covenant with him is by putting within us the desire to stay true to him, as opposed to be an adulteress in our covenant relationship with him. So, even though works do not obtain salvation they are in accordance with salvation and in this sense have eternal consequence and weight.

Event 2: In preparation for the evangelism class I teach I have done some real soul searching. The reality is that we can teach all the methodologies and theology behind evangelism, but that doesn’t mean we will do it. Why not? I think that the overarching reason is because we are not engaging in self inventory when we are exposed to Scripture on the subject. When our pastor is preaching, our teacher is teaching or we are studying Scripture we are nodding our heads in all the right spots, but we aren’t taking Scriptural teaching to heart. We aren’t taking it serious. We aren’t allowing the light to shine on our own dark deeds. For example, the overwhelming descriptors of a life in Christ is a life of sacrifice and action. That is the difference between the sheep and the goats in the judgement of peoples in Matthew 25. We want to treat this like a parable, but Jesus says we will be like sheep and goats – it’s a simile. The problem is that we hear a text like this and nod our head thinking of the Pharisees in the New Testament so we can avoid taking an internal inventory ourselves.

Put these first two events together and we have the perfect Scriptural text that deals with the situation: James 2:14-19 “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

The reality is that if you are saved then you will have a life of works that are in accordance to your salvation, not the cause, but the affirmation. We’ll come back to this.

Event 3: On the way home last night I heard this sermon by John MacArthur.

Event 4: Recently I had another discussion with a dear brother-in-Christ (different than event 1) whom I love deeply. His earnestness and desire to grow in the Spirit are encouraging. We got into the discussion of how we communicate to people how to take inventory in their lives in order to have confidence that they are actually saved. I was propagating that we tell people to take serious inventory of our lives and if the external evidences aren’t there than we should be asking if we are saved at all. He wondered if it wasn’t better to highlight the private devotions rather than the public dealings. He rightly pointed out that people can use this instruction as an opportunity for legalism and abuse or dismiss grace. The reality is no matter how much we preach or teach that we are not talking about the cause of salvation (hence self righteousness and legalism) that some people just will not hear what we are saying. I wish I could prevent this danger but I cannot. On the flip side, when dealing with proof of salvation Scripture uses far more examples of external actions that are in accordance with our profession of faith rather than private settings of devotion and worship. In fact a couple of places in Scripture address that this is a false dichotomy. I call it the false dichotomy of private versus public. It is a false dichotomy that thinks our private life of devotion can be proof of our enduring faith in the Lord while our public life offers no such proof. I would say that this dichotomy is not biblical. Two Scripture texts that help us here: First, let us consider Isaiah 1.

God starts out this way as he speaks to his chosen people (don’t miss that): Isaiah 1:2-10 Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the LORD speaks, “Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me…But Israel does not know, My people do not understand.”  Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him…Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah.”

Just so we get this, whatever God’s people did it made them comparable to Sodom and Gomorrah (Hint: It was not homosexuality). What we need to get is the seriousness here.

There is a pause between 1.10 and 1.11. The pause is the protestations of God’s people. They are crying out to God “What do you mean we’ve revolted against you O Lord? We are taking care of the temple! We are making all the sacrifices! We give a tithe! We come to your house singing your praises!” In our day we would translate the protestations to “What do you mean we’ve revolted against you O Lord? We are doing our bible study and daily quiet times! We go to church every Sunday and Wednesday! We give more than most! Our worship times are dynamic and uplifting! Our preacher preaches from your Word every Sunday and steps on all our toes! Surely we are not in revolt against the Lord.”

And this is God’s response to them and us: Isaiah 1:11-17 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

Today his rebuke is more like “What is your life of sacrifice to me? I have had enough of your fasting. Your coming to church week after week is offensive to me. Your come from the sewage plant with muddy boots and wipe the filth on the sactuary’s carpet. You say you give an overwhelming amount of money and time, but you have more time and money than anyone ever has had in the history of the world and your self-congratulatory pats on the back show your ignorance. I don’t want your money or time anymore. It is offensive to me. Your Easter Passover celebrations, Christmas Cantatas and Fall Festivals are burdensome. I grow weary of them. When you prostrate yourselves in prayer I’m not listening. I know you are praying a lot, but I’m still not listening. Wake up call: You hands are covered with blood! This is what I’m trying to get through to you. Y’all are doing evil in my sight. You are doing evil in the fact that you aren’t doing good. When I say do good I’m not talking about your worship services or private devotions I’m talking about the tangible things: Help the poor and defend the helpless. The widows and orphans in your city have turned to state and federal governments to do what I have called you to do.”

Second, is Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”

Consider the plural “books.” I am amazed in my ministry how often Christians discover this syntactical fact in Revelation. We grow up learning all about the Lamb’s Book of Life, but NOT the Book of Deeds. The books are in accordance with one another. So just because deeds don’t save they do confirm that you are saved. But now ask yourself “Why do most Christians in America not know about the second book?” And the answer is the false dichotomy of private and public and a misunderstanding of biblical belief. In America we are all about making it easy, which means getting your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but ease does not coincide with doing hence we say very little about the onus of responsibility that comes with being saved.

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