(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 4/20/03 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 8. I'd like to read the entire chapter:
Romans 8: (1) [There is] therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (2) For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set me free from the law of sin and of death. (3) For the Law [being] powerless, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in [the] likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those not walking according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (5) For the ones that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. And the ones according to Spirit [mind] the things of the Spirit. (6) For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the Spirit [is] life and peace; (7) because the mind of the flesh [is] enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it [be]. (8) And those being in the flesh are not able to please God. (9) But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit, since [the] Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not [the] Spirit of Christ, this one is not His. (10) But if Christ [is] in you, the body indeed [is] dead because of sin, but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of the [One] having raised Jesus from [the] dead dwells in you, the [One] having raised the Christ from [the] dead will also make your mortal bodies live through the indwelling of His Spirit in you. (12) So, then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to flesh, (13) for if you live according to flesh, you are going to die. But if by [the] Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live. (14) For as many as are led by [the] Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (15) For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption by which we cry, Abba! Father! (16) The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God. (17) And if children, also heirs; truly heirs of God, and joint-heirs of Christ, if indeed we suffer together, that we may also be glorified together. (18) For I calculate that the sufferings of the present time [are] not worthy [to compare to] the coming glory to be revealed in us. (19) For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was not willingly subjected to vanity, but through Him subjecting [it], on hope; (21) that also the creation will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (22) For we know that all the creation groans together and travails together until now. (23) And not only [so], but also we ourselves having the firstfruit of the Spirit, also we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly expecting adoption, the redemption of our body; (24) for we were saved by hope, but hope being seen is not hope; for what anyone sees, why does he also hope? (25) But if we hope for what we do not see, through patience we wait eagerly. (26) And likewise the Spirit also joins in to help our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes on our behalf with groanings that cannot be uttered. (27) But the [One] searching the hearts knows what [is the] mind of the Spirit, because He petitions on behalf of [the] saints according to God. (28) But we know that [to] the [ones] loving God all things work together for good, [to] those being called according to purpose; (29) because whom He foreknew, He also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be [the] First-born among many brothers. (30) But whom He predestinated, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (31) What then shall we say to these things? If God [be] for us, who [can be] against us? (32) Truly [He] who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all, how will He not freely give all things to us with Him? (33) Who will bring any charge against God's elect? God [is] the [One] justifying! (34) Who [is he] condemning? [It is] Christ who has died, but rather also [is] raised, who also is at [the] right [hand] of God, who also makes intercession on our behalf. (35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [Shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (36) Even as it has been written, "For Your sake we are killed all the day; we are counted as sheep of slaughter." (37) But in all these things we more than conquer through Him loving us. (38) For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, (39) nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
I'm going to do something unusual today that I didn't plan to do when I started the series. The Lord willing, I'm going to go back to a passage that I already preached on and preach more from that passage. The reason I decided to do this is that we have recently encountered some situations that need to be expounded on in light of God's Word. And in God's perfect timing, these issues came up just as we were going through Romans 8, and one part in particular of Romans 8 speaks directly to these issues. And I hope you will also see the reason I had us read the entire chapter of Romans 8, because there are other parts of Romans 8 that are relevant to this issue. So here we go, going backwards in Romans 8 instead of forwards. But I am convinced that we need to do this in this situation. The passage that we're going to be focusing on again is Romans 8, verses 15 and 16. Let's read that again:
Romans 8: (15) For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption by which we cry, Abba! Father! (16) The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God.
The particular subject of this sermon is ASSURANCE. Recently, we've encountered some people with whom we used to fellowship who say they fully agree with all the doctrine we preach, fully agree with all the doctrine in Outside the Camp, and fully agree with all the doctrine in the Christian Confession of Faith, yet they believe they are unregenerate. All of these people believe they are not regenerated because they have one or more besetting sins that they often find themselves in that they commit over and over. So, with this passage in Romans 8 as our starting point, let's go into what the Bible says about assurance. Specifically, let's answer the following questions: First, are there any regenerate people who believe they are unregenerate? Second, can an unregenerate person agree with every doctrine regenerate people believe? And third, is it possible for Christians to have besetting sins?
Let's now go into the first question. Are there any regenerate people who believe they are unregenerate? Or, put another way, is it possible for a believer to think he is an unbeliever? Are these people that we've encountered really believers who are just going through difficult times of being convicted over sin? Let's look at the passage that we have before us, which is Romans 8:15-16. The first thing we see about believers is that they did not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear. Remember when we went over this? A spirit of slavery to fear means a legalistic slavery to the law, serving in oldness of letter. They have the fear that if they disobey the law, they will be under the wrath of God, along with the belief that if they obey the Law, they will be in God's favor. How does this relate to people like the ones we've encountered? They believe that if they CONQUER these besetting sins, this will be evidence of regeneration, even WITHOUT a change of doctrine! Remember, they're saying that they believe all the same doctrine we believe, so their evidence of salvation will be a change of CHARACTER AND CONDUCT without a change of DOCTRINE! And they believe that while they are still sinning these particular sins, they cannot be saved. They have a spirit of SLAVERY to FEAR. Oh, they FEAR for their lives. They've admitted to me that they're in fear of hell. And from where does this fear stem? It is from their WORKS. They do NOT believe that they are saved based on the work of Christ alone. Their assurance does not come from the work of Christ; it comes from their own works.
Let's go to the second part of verse 15. We see that believers have received a spirit of adoption by which they cry, "Abba! Father!" Do those who believe they are unsaved have a spirit of adoption by which they cry "Abba! Father!"? As I said before when we were here last, when we cry "Abba!" to God, it means that we are confessing that we are no longer slaves but are free men. And when we cry "Father!" to God, it means that we have been adopted as children of God. Now let us consider all those who confess they are lost, not just the people we've been talking about. Let's consider ALL PEOPLE who confess they are unsaved. Are they crying "Abba! Father!"? Are they confessing that they are the free children of God? No! They are confessing that they are NOT the children of God but are still under BONDAGE!
Let's go on to verse 16:
Romans 8: (16) The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God.
Here is a clear passage on assurance. If I am a true believer, the Holy Spirit witnesses with my spirit that I am a child of God. If YOU are a true believer, the Holy Spirit witnesses with your spirit that you are a child of God. Now what about someone who does not believe that he is a child of God? Is the Holy Spirit witnessing with his spirit that he is a child of God? Obviously not, because if the Holy Spirit were witnessing with his spirit that he is a child of God, he would BELIEVE that he is a child of God. Is all this clear so far? Obviously, just from this passage, it is clear that these people are NOT SAVED. People who CONFESS they are not saved are ACTUALLY not saved. What a concept.
Okay. Now let's go to another passage on assurance. Let's turn to Hebrews 11:1:
Hebrews 11: (1) Now faith is [the] essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen.
We went over this in the sermon on "True and False Faith and Hope." As we saw before, the Greek word for "essence" means "confidence" or "assurance." The Greek word for "things being hoped" means "what is expected." The Greek word for "evidence" means "proof" or "conviction." So what Hebrews 11:1 is saying is that FAITH is the ASSURANCE that what is EXPECTED based on God's PROMISE, which is final glory in heaven, will HAPPEN. It is the CONVICTION of the fulfillment of that PROMISE. Now let us relate this definition of faith to those who do not believe they are saved. Do these people have the ASSURANCE that what is EXPECTED will HAPPEN? Are they assured of final glory based on the work of Christ alone? No. This means they do NOT have FAITH. They are UNBELIEVERS, just as they say they are.
And then we have all the religionists, even ones who come in the name of sovereign grace, who speak peace to these people, who try to soothe these people, who try to give assurance to these people, who say, "Oh, it's okay. You're just going through an intense conviction of sin, and sometimes Christians believe they're not saved when they go through these times." And there are even people like A.W. Pink who think that such doubts are EVIDENCE of regeneration! From his Studies in the Scriptures, Pink put forth the heresy that a regenerate person can believe that he has never been made a new creature in Christ, that his heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, that he is totally depraved, that he is thoroughly blinded by Satan and completely under the dominion of sin, that he is alive to sin and dead to God, and that his natural heart is set contrary to the way of salvation proposed in the Gospel. Those who speak peace to the ones who confess they are lost are giving false assurance and setting up a false refuge for these unbelievers.
When you encounter a person who tells you he's unregenerate, one very simple thing to ask yourself is this: Does this person believe he is saved based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone? The obvious answer is: This person doesn't believed he's saved at all. Okay - so if he doesn't believed he's saved at all, he obviously doesn't believe he's saved based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Is anyone who doesn't believe he's saved based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone a regenerate person? Of course not. He doesn't believe the gospel. It's really simple, and some religionists want to make it complicated. And the reason they want to make it complicated is that they want to speak peace to those who don't believe they are saved based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.
So, to answer the first question: Are there any regenerate people who believe they are unregenerate? Or, put another way, is it possible for a believer to think he is an unbeliever? The answer is an unequivocal NO.
Before we get to the second question, I want to briefly answer a question that might arise. The question is this: Are you saying that Christians never go through periods of doubting their salvation? First of all, I need to say that I am NOT saying that Christians never have bizarre thoughts and questions that pop into their minds, including the question, "Am I really saved?" But that question that intrudes is answered with a YES in a believer. The believer will NOT respond to that question with the belief that he is unregenerate. But how about periods of doubting their salvation?
Well, all we have to do is look at the passages we just read. Do Christians go for periods of time under slavery to fear? Do Christians go for periods of time believing that they are not the free children of God? Do Christians go for periods of time when the Holy Spirit does not witness with their spirits that they are the children of God? Do Christians go for periods of time not having the assurance that what is expected based on God's promise will happen? Do Christians go for periods of time not having faith? Do Christians go for periods of time not believing that they are saved based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone? Do Christians go for periods of time not believing the gospel? These are obviously rhetorical questions. You know the answer. How can a BELIEVER become an UNBELIEVER for a time? It's impossible. BELIEVERS remain BELIEVERS, meaning that they CONTINUALLY believe God's promise of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone.
That leads us into the second question: Can an unregenerate person agree with every doctrine regenerate people believe? The people we've encountered claim to agree with every doctrine we put forth. But what does it mean to agree with a doctrine? It means to agree that it is true. It means to BELIEVE that the doctrine is true. Is this possible? Well, we've already established that anyone who believes that he is unregenerate is an UNBELIEVER. Now can an UNBELIEVER believe exactly what we believe? It's impossible. If it were possible, then the word UNBELIEVER would have no meaning, would it? To be an UNBELIEVER means that you do NOT believe something.
Let's turn to some passages on BELIEF and relate them to the issue at hand. Let's first turn to John 1:12:
John 1: (12) But as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, to the ones believing into His name,
The person who believes he is lost is not a child of God. Those who are not children of God do not BELIEVE in the name of Christ.
John 11: (25) Jesus said to her, I am the Resurrection and the Life. The [one] believing into Me, though he die, he shall live.
The person who believes he is lost is dead in his sins, and if he continues in this state, he will not be raised to eternal life. Those who are dead in their sins do not BELIEVE in Christ.
Romans 1: (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek;
To the person who believes he is lost, the gospel is not the power of God unto salvation. Those to whom the gospel is not the power of God unto salvation are ones who are not BELIEVING.
Romans 9: (33) as it has been written, "Behold, I place in" "Zion a Stone-of-stumbling," "and a Rock-of-offense," "and everyone believing on Him will not be shamed."
The person who believes he is lost is shamed. Those who are shamed are not BELIEVING on him.
Romans 10: (9) Because if you confess [the] Lord Jesus with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from [the] dead, you will be saved.
The person who believes he is lost is not saved. Those who are not saved are ones who do not confess the Lord Jesus with their mouth and BELIEVE in their heart that God raise Him from the dead.
1 Corinthians 1:21:
1 Corinthians 1: (21) For since in the wisdom of God the world [by] wisdom did not know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save the ones believing.
The person who believes he is lost is not saved. Those who are not saved are ones who are not BELIEVING the preached word.
1 Thessalonians 2:13:
1 Thessalonians 2: (13) And because of this we give thanks to God without ceasing, that having received [the] Word of hearing from us, you welcomed [it as] of God, not [as] a word of men, but as it is, truly [the] Word of God, which also works in you, the [ones] believing.
The Word of God is not working in the person who believes he is lost. Those in whom the Word of God is not working are not BELIEVING.
2 Thessalonians 2:13:
2 Thessalonians 2:(13) But we ought to thank God always concerning you, brothers, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to salvation in sanctification of [the] Spirit and belief of [the] truth,
The person who believes he is lost does not have salvation. Those who do not have salvation are ones who do not BELIEVE the truth. Now the reason I went through these verses (and there are others), is to really show the obvious, which is this: since those who believe they are lost really are lost, and since all lost people do not BELIEVE in Christ and do not BELIEVE the gospel, then those who believe they are lost do not BELIEVE in Christ and do not BELIEVE the gospel. Thus, even though some might SAY they agree with everything we preach, they really DO NOT agree with everything we preach. We preach Christ crucified, and they DO NOT believe in Christ crucified.
This brings us to an important point. When God saves a person, there is ALWAYS a change of doctrine in that person. There is no such thing as a person who goes from being unregenerate to being regenerate without a change of doctrine. There is a change from being in UNBELIEF to BELIEF. There is a change from being IGNORANT to being given KNOWLEDGE. Now I won't go over the Scripture for this today, but if you've heard previous sermons, you know the evidence for this. When God saves a sinner, He gives that sinner a KNOWLEDGE of the truth. That person goes from believing FALSE doctrine to believing TRUE doctrine. But what about those who say they agree with all our doctrine? Well, again, it shows that it cannot be. If a person believed all essential gospel doctrine while being lost, what change of doctrine would there be upon regeneration? If they already BELIEVED while being lost, what change of unbelief to belief would there be upon regeneration? See how it is impossible for an unregenerate person to BELIEVE all essential gospel doctrine? If he BELIEVED all essential gospel doctrine, he would be SAVED. God says that if you believe, you are saved. So if you are not saved, you do not believe. It's really not hard to understand.
I want to briefly mention another kind of situation, which is where a person professes to believe everything we believe but is living a life of immorality. In this situation, the person also professes an assurance of salvation. How do we approach this? The same principle applies here. God says in His Word that those who live lives of immorality are NOT SAVED. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:10 says that fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, covetous ones, drunkards, revilers, and plunderers are NOT SAVED. So, since these kinds of people are not saved, is it possible that they actually BELIEVE all essential gospel doctrine? NO. No matter what they profess regarding their belief, their lives of immorality show that they do not BELIEVE all essential gospel doctrine. The antinomians hate this truth. They will continue to speak peace to people who live in immorality with the justification that these people still profess to believe the truth of the gospel. They'll say things like, "Oh, yes, he's an adulterer, but he's a believer, and his adultery is covered by the blood of Jesus." This is repugnant to all true believers. Here we actually get into a "reverse" kind of situation in which a person BELIEVES he is saved -- so he has SOME kind of assurance -- but his life SHOWS he is not saved. Thus, we can say this: Every true believer believes that he is saved, but not everyone who believes he is saved is a true believer. Just because someone has an assurance of salvation doesn't mean that it is a TRUE assurance based on belief of the TRUE gospel. Do you understand that? Okay.
Now when someone goes from being unregenerate to being regenerate, is there always a change in outward morality? No, not necessarily. Certainly, if the person was immoral when he was unregenerate, he will become moral when God regenerates him. But many people became moral WELL BEFORE God saved them. Many times, they became outwardly moral during a false conversion and stayed moral. And then when God regenerated them, they remained moral, so there was no change in their outward behavior. Their THINKING about their morality changed, but their actual outward behavior did not change.
Now for the third question: Is it possible for Christians to have besetting sins? Now the people we have encountered are confessing that they are unregenerate based on one or some besetting sins. In fact, they have used one of my past sermons as part of the rationale for their position. That sermon was the one entitled "Faith Without Works is Dead" in which I said that someone who says he believes the gospel, even the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone, but who has no accompanying good works, is not regenerate.
This is still true. Every true Christian will have good works. Every true Christian will strive to be obedient and will not live in immorality, as we saw in Romans 6. However, I NEVER said that if a person is struggling with a certain sin, even for a long period of time, he is automatically unregenerate. And as far as I know, none of these people are living in immorality. In fact, the sins that they are struggling with that I know about are not something over which I would judge them to be lost had they not confessed they were lost. But it really does tell us something about the state of their hearts when they conclude that because they are struggling with a certain sin or sins that they are unregenerate. They are navel-gazing, focused on self. We sometimes hear things like, "What sin have you conquered since you've been saved?", implying that if there isn't at least one sin that the person struggled with before regeneration that has now been conquered, then you must be unregenerate. This is a subtle form of salvation conditioned on the sinner. How's that? Because if the person DID conquer some besetting sin, he would consider himself SAVED based on that victory. It reminds me of some of the so-called "victorious life" heretics. But what does the Bible say about besetting sins in a believer? The word "besetting" means "constantly present or attacking." Now, to you Christians out there, do you have some constantly present and attacking sins? What passage of Scripture does this remind you of? Romans 7, right? Let's read Romans 7:14-25:
Romans 7: (14)For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, having been sold under sin. (15) For what I work out, I do not know. For what I do not will, this I do. But what I hate, this I do. (16) But if I do what I do not will, I agree with the Law, that [it is] good. (17) But now I no longer work it out, but the sin dwelling in me. (18) For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good. For to will is present to me, but to work out the good I do not find. (19) For what good I desire, I do not do. But the evil I do not desire, this I do. (20) But if I do what I do not desire, [it is] no longer I working it out, but the sin dwelling in me. (21) I find then the law, [when] I desire to do the right, that evil is present with me. (22) For I delight in the Law of God according to the inward man; (23) but I see another law in my members having warred against the law of my mind, and taking me captive by the law of sin being in my members. (24) O wretched man [that] I [am]! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (25) I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself with the mind truly serve [the] Law of God, and [with] the flesh [the] law of sin.
Does this sound like Paul, and all true Christians, have some constantly present and attacking sins? They sure do. Look again at the wording of verse 21:
Romans 7: (21) I find then the law, [when] I desire to do the right, that evil is present with me.
There is a powerful principle, right when I desire to do good, EVIL is right there, constantly present, harassing me, attacking me. And in verse 23, there is a powerful principle in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and taking me captive by that powerful principle in my members, meaning that the power and presence of sin is so strong and pervasive that it affects everything I do and I cannot do what I want to do, which is to obey God perfectly. Paul concludes in verse 24 that we are "wretched," meaning "afflicted." We are constantly being afflicted and plagued by our sins. Can Christians have besetting sins? Not only CAN they have besetting sins, they DO have besetting sins! We are in a constant struggle with sin! We do things we don't want to do, and we don't do things we do want to do! This is the confession of every saved sinner! And sometimes, we are so aware of our sinfulness that we temporarily lose some of the joy of our salvation. Did you get that - we sometimes lose some of the JOY of our salvation. But we do not lose the ASSURANCE of our salvation. Even when we struggle with sin, we say with Paul, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself with the mind truly serve the Law of God, and with the flesh the law of sin." At the same time we are confessing that we have these attacking sins, these besetting sins, we are also confessing what we find in Romans 8:33-39:
Romans 8: (33) Who will bring any charge against God's elect? God [is] the [One] justifying! (34) Who [is he] condemning? [It is] Christ who has died, but rather also [is] raised, who also is at [the] right [hand] of God, who also makes intercession on our behalf. (35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [Shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (36) Even as it has been written, "For Your sake we are killed all the day; we are counted as sheep of slaughter." (37) But in all these things we more than conquer through Him loving us. (38) For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, (39) nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Even though we have those besetting sins, that's our confession. That's every believer's confession. The believer CONSTANTLY, CONTINUALLY believes God's promise of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone, meaning that he is CONSTANTLY, CONTINUALLY submitted to the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, meaning that he is CONSTANTLY, CONTINUALLY assured of his salvation, through the high points and the low points, through struggles with temptation and sin and times of joyful communion. Thank God that the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and we cry "Abba! Father!" through the spirit of adoption.
If you are listening to this sermon and do not believe you are saved, it is certain that you are not saved. Repent and believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ. The only hope of salvation is in Christ. It isn't in anything you do, in any sins you conquer, in any victorious life. It is in Christ alone. And if God saves you, He will give you that blessed hope, that certain assurance based on God's promise that what is expected will happen. I pray that He will give you this hope. Amen.