Saturday, February 28, 2015

Having Assurance in Christ

John 15:1-8 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. (2) Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (3) Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. (4) Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (5) I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (6) If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (7) If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (8) By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

As Christians we so often desire to please God by bearing fruit with the life He has given us. We respond to Christ’s imperative to lead a spiritually fruitful life with a search for easily quantifiable indicatives. “One-hundred & twenty were packed into our little church this morning” or “twenty-two decisions for Christ last week” are examples of what is often heard in church circles as evidence of fruit.

I’m not saying that the calculable fruit of ministry is not important, but I will say it is not the most important fruit of & for Christ that we are called to bear.

A dear older saint recently came to me with concern that she may be “losing” her salvation due to the fact that she currently feels she is not as active in prayer & ministry as she has been in the past. I related to her that she cannot lose, of herself, what she never gained, of herself. If God working through Christ was truly the cause of her salvation in those earlier years, how could she, through herself, lose what the Almighty has gained for her?

In 1st Corinthians 3, Paul takes a rebellious church to task for their lack of good works. He warns of the day in which God will judge all the work of the elect. If there was ever a perfect place for Paul to speak on a danger of losing one’s salvation, to warn of the supposed impending doom of Hell for these rebels, this would be it. That would seem to be great knockout blow to stop their rebellion.

But that is not what he says to these self-absorbed blowhards, these empty boasters, who nevertheless belong to Christ. He, in fact, makes precisely the opposite point…

1Co 3:15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Paul confirms here what he also expounds elsewhere, that we enter into this grace in which we stand entirely by faith, & never by works, so that none will have claim to boast that we were able to finish what God started. No, one of the ways that God reveals His power is by His ability to finish what He started in us.

But, you may say, is not faith itself a work of our own due diligence? There again, Scripture declares that Christ is not only the founder, but also the perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). It is a work, but, once again, a work of Christ, with all corresponding glory due Him alone.

So He is all of our salvation, the Alpha & Omega, the Beginning & the End, for He is both our perfection in regards to righteousness & our perfecter in regards to our faith.

Paul sums this little treatise on how God deals with our works, or lack thereof, thusly:

1Cor. 3:21-23 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

If you are Christ’s possession, through no power of your own, how do you become not Christ’s possession, by any power of yourself? Paul is saying here that die has been cast; indeed, even that the elect are as bonded to Christ as Christ is to God. And that is as much an unbreakable bond as can be found in all of creation.

Once again, perhaps no one communicates the specific indicatives of the true fruit of the Vine better than the prince of preachers himself, Charles Haddon Spurgeon…

“Among my early hearers at Waterbeach was one good old woman whom I called “Mrs. Much-afraid.” I feel quite sure she has been many years in Heaven, but she was always fearing that she should never enter the gates of glory. She was very regular in her attendance at the house of God, and was a wonderfully good listener. She used to drink in the gospel; but, nevertheless, she was always doubting, and fearing, and trembling about her own spiritual condition.

She had been a believer in Christ, I should think, for fifty years, yet she had always remained in that timid, fearful, anxious state. She was a kind old soul, ever ready to help her neighbours, or to speak a word to the unconverted; she seemed to me to have enough grace for two people, yet, in her own opinion, she had not half enough grace for one.

One day, when I was talking with her, she told me that she had not any hope at all, she had no faith; she believed that she was a hypocrite.

I said, ‘Then don’t come to the chapel any more; we don’t want hypocrites there. Why do you come?’

She answered, ‘I come because I can’t stop away. I love the people of God; I love the house of God; and I love to worship God.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘you are an odd sort of hypocrite; you are a queer kind of unconverted woman.’

‘Ah!‘ she sighed, ‘you may say what you please, but I have not any hope of being saved.’

So I said to her, ‘Well, next Sunday, I will let you go into the pulpit, that you may tell the people that Jesus Christ is a liar, and that you cannot trust Him.’

‘Oh!’ she cried, ‘I would be torn in pieces before I would say such a thing as that. Why, He cannot lie! Every word He says is true.’

‘Then,’ I asked, ‘why do you not believe it?

She replied, ‘I do believe it; but, somehow, I do not believe it for myself; I am afraid whether it is for me.’

‘Have you not any hope at all?’ I asked.

‘No,’ she answered; so I pulled out my purse, and I said to her, ‘Now, I have got £5 here, it is all the money I have; but I will give you that £5 for your hope if you will sell it.’

She looked at me, wondering what I meant. ‘Why!’ she exclaimed, ‘I would not sell it for a thousand worlds.’ She had just told me that she had not any hope of salvation, yet she would not sell it for a thousand worlds!

I fully expect to see that good old soul when I get to Heaven, and I am certain she will say to me, ‘Oh, dear sir, how foolish I was when I lived down there at Waterbeach! I went groaning all the way to glory when I might just as well have gone there singing. I was always troubled and afraid; but my dear Lord kept me by His grace, and brought me safely here.’

She died very sweetly; it was with her as John Bunyan said it was with Miss Much-afraid, Mr. Despondency’s daughter. Mr. Great-heart had much trouble with those poor pilgrims on the road to the Celestial City; for, if there, was only a straw in the way, they were fearful that they would stumble over it. Yet Bunyan says, ‘When the time was come for them to depart, they went to the brink of the river. The last words of Mr. Despondency were, Farewell night, welcome day. His daughter went through the river singing.’

Our Lord often makes it calm and peaceful, or even joyous and triumphant, for His departing timid ones. He puts some of His greatest saints to bed in the dark, and they wake up in the eternal light; but He frequently keeps the candle burning for Mr. Little-faith, Mr. Feeble-mind, Mr. Ready-to-halt, Mr. Despondency, and Miss Much-afraid. They go to sleep in the light, and they also wake up in the land where the Lamb is all the glory for ever and ever.

[C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary: Volume 1, 1834-1854, 239-40 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009). A bit of editing (shape, not content) to enhance readability.]

Yes, Spurgeon wisely exposed within her a deep, long abiding, & sincere love for both Christ & His Church. This woman’s love I’m sure was not perfect, & I’m equally sure that was the source of her fears. But Scripture informs that it is not our perfection that sustains us, but His. Just like the like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, He exhibits His glory by His faithfulness even in the midst of his beloved son’s faithlessness. In that parable, the father never disowns his son; he instead looks forward with joy to his return.

Therefore, the truest characteristic of spiritual fruit is not the so easily quantitative aspects of ministry, but the qualitative aspect of the abiding presence of the Spirit of Christ.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Philippians 1:9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Hebrews 13:15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

1 comment:

Even So... said...

If you are Christ’s possession, through no power of your own, how do you become not Christ’s possession, by any power of yourself?