Many years ago, we planted a church in a township outside of the city of Bloemfontein, known as Bloumanda. Bloemfontein was popularly and poetically known as “the city of roses” because of the abundance of these flowers and the annual rose festival held there. The city’s Sesotho name is Mangaung, meaning “place of cheetahs”. Today, Bloemfontein is known as Mangaung.
I would travel from Welkom every last Sunday of the month to take services at the city church known as St. James Church (later known as Emmanuel Church) in Bloumanda. As a much younger and energetic pastor with a heart for evangelism, I would “preach my heart out” and then invite those desiring salvation to stand up and pray a prayer after me. The first month, just about everyone stood up and prayed. The next month, the same happened. This confused me. After the third month, I realized that these people stood up and prayed after me each time because they lacked assurance of salvation.
After 40 years of ministry, I have found people lacking assurance of salvation to be the one single handicap that limits and stifles the progress of Christian faith, maturity and service. Slowly, I’m chipping away at J.I. Packer’s book, “Among God’s Giants”. A subtitle is “The Puritan vision of the Christian Life”.
Packer refers to the Puritans as men who were educators of the mind because they took doctrine and proved each one through analyzing the relevant Scriptures and considered other supporting passages as well. These men worked out a spiritual curriculum for their congregations which included justification, sanctification and perseverance. A good understanding of these three doctrines will help a person to achieve two things. The first is a good understanding of the merits and requirements of the Cross and the second is an assurance of personal salvation. It might be a good idea to work through these three doctrines at length at some stage, but for now, consider:
“[Justification] is an instantaneous legal act of God in which He (1) thinks our sins forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in His sight” (Grudem – Systematic Theology). Look at the flow of Scripture:
Rom 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Those God chose before creation, He predestined to save … meaning He would fulfil what He sovereignly chose to do. So, in the history of our life span (for some at a young age and others at an older age and for many in between these ages), He calls us through our hearing the Gospel Message in some shape or the other. This call is known as the effectual call, meaning the individual hears in their heart and believes, confessing sin, seeking salvation and pursuing repentance. This is the person who is justified immediately once saving faith is exercised.
Now, this person is counted by God as if he or she never sinned and appears to God as totally righteous. This is the legal standing of the person before God. It is an act of grace and mercy … and, correctly understood, gives the believer enormous spiritual and emotional comfort being in a right standing with God. Sin is dealt with. Now, you are in a right relationship with God. Now you know you belong to God and heaven is certain, for God has “glorified” you in Christ!
Ro 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
“Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives” (Grudem – Systematic Theology). God’s purpose in choosing lost souls for salvation is specific. Although the following passage is loaded with spiritual jewels and gems, notice the purpose of choice is to be “holy and blameless” (v4), and this was done “in love” (v4).
It is further explained in verse 7 … “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”, which is an act of grace (v7) and verse 8 tells us that God knew exactly what He was doing!
Eph 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
Sanctification is holiness-making, and must be seen in two ways.
First, you are removed from the world and placed into Christ. You are now holy to the Lord. You are the Lord’s property.
Second, you are seen by God as holy (positional holiness), and through the agency of the Holy Spirit you are being made holy (practical holiness) on a progressive basis through diligence in the study of the Word and applying it through prayer. This leads to a progressive moral change as you do your part and God does His part in your sanctification.
“The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again” (Grudem – Systematic Theology). There is both comfort and challenge here. The comfort is that God’s power will keep the truly born-again person safely in Christ until death and then transfer him or her to heaven forever. The challenge is that the person who perseveres is the person who evidences being born again.
Job 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
Note the dual roles: ours–hear and follow; the Lord’s–know, give, never perish, no one can snatch.
Meditate upon these three great Biblical doctrines and enjoy the assurance of salvation. Assurance grants you such tremendous peace, even in the greatest hardships and trials.
Our Glorious Father, You dwell in superlative glory, in absolute magnificence and holiness. Your presence radiates matchless beauty and majesty. Lord, we long to be with You. Thank You that we will be with You one day. Amen.