Determined to Believe: Chapter 17 - Christian Assurance

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 17! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • calvinism does not help with assurance of salvation because before you can claim perseverance of the saints, you first have to figure out if you are one of the chosen, which can cause considerable anxiety
  • Lennox believes that a truly regenerated person has a new nature and therefore will persevere, whereas an unregenerate person who has simply tried to be more moral may return to sin because it is in their nature
  • For Lennox, the people who fall away are those who have no root - they were never saved in the first place

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is your view of Christian assurance?
  2. What do you think of Lennox’s argument that calvinism is not helpful for providing assurance?
  3. How do you think we can have peace about our salvation?

Let’s Be Practical

When it comes to discussions about assurance, I think the best thing to do is take the warnings in Scripture seriously by examining our hearts and lives. If we find anything amiss, we repent and run hard after Jesus. In other words, just skip the whole “Am I saved or not?” conundrum by repenting when we sin and chasing after Jesus, trusting in His goodness and mercy. None of us should stay as we are no matter our level of Christian maturity - further up and further in! Narnia and the North!

Quotes

A question that frequently arises is: what level of assurance may a Christian legitimately enjoy? The topics of assurance and security are important in more general contexts.

Those who trust Christ can be sure, because their salvation is not of works but by faith, and that assurance rests on the character and trustworthiness of the One in whom that faith is placed. A second way

If there is no moral consistency between our lives and our professed belief in God, then our claim to know God will not be credible.

it turns out in practice that it is one thing to believe that the elect will persevere, it is entirely another to be sure that one belongs to the ranks of the elect oneself.

Sproul’s statement shows once more that the deterministic belief that election is entirely due to a seemingly arbitrary act of God can lead to stress and doubt – here am I and I can do nothing about my salvation, yet in order to know whether I am saved or not I have to engage in deep introspection to see if there is any evidence of

Whoever said, “The Calvinist knows he cannot fall from salvation but does not know whether he has got it,” had it summed up nicely.

I hold that Scripture teaches on the one hand that eternal life is precisely that – eternal – and so, almost by definition, it cannot be lost.

Jesus clearly teaches that it is possible for some people to believe for a little while and then fall away.

The key phrase is they have no root. That is, their response was superficial: it fell short of true repentance and belief.

John says that their action showed that they were not of us, that is, they never had been genuine believers.

Peter imagines a situation (possibly borrowed from a fable current at the time) where a pig had cleaned itself up in the public baths. However, being a pig, the moment it saw a muddy pool it leapt into it with abandon. That is what pigs do; it is their nature.

Moral reformation is a good thing, but it is not the same as regeneration. It is ultimately only the power of a regenerate life that can resist the appeal of teaching that is subtly clothed in Christian garb but is actually geared to leading people back into a permissive lifestyle.

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Thank you for explaining how you understand election & predestination. Some refer to your views as being Calvinist & antinomian versus Arminian. I am of the second persuasion & I don’t know any Pentecostals who would agree with your post. Correct me if I am mistaken but I think all Calvinists’ believe only those whom God chooses can be saved no matter what they profess or believe & everybody else is predestined by God to go to hell. (Just ignore the “Whosoever will.”)
I think antinomians believe if a person has been born again they can never be lost though they die drunk in the arms of another man’s wife, and denying Jesus Christ is the Son of God’s love. It could be described as the infallibility of the soul doctrine someone said. To say that a person who does that was never saved is kinda shallow and doesn’t allow for free will and also disregards many scriptures and examples of people who backslid & lost out with God don’t you think?

See Ezekiel 18:24. Also, I believe there are about 120 “Whosoevers” in the New Testament.

@pilgrim2 Thanks for joining Gary :slight_smile: To be clear, this is a book review. I am not expressing my personal view on this topic. We are studying John Lennox’s book “Determined to Believe”. Lennox is also not a Calvinist, but Lennox does believe if we are truly saved we will live a holy life and persevere in our faith. He is not antinomian.

For more info on this topic, please see the following two threads.

Thanks Sean. John Wesley, a Arminian, and George Whitefield, a Calvinist, had a falling out about this very subject but God used them both mightily.

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@pilgrim2 It always breaks my heart to see brothers or sisters divide over nonessentials. This particular issue is not an absolute - it definitely falls under the category of conviction or opinion, so we should all be able to love our dear brothers and sisters for whom Jesus died without dividing over such issues :slight_smile:

Levels of Doctrine

Not all doctrine is equally important. Some beliefs are at the very center of our Christian faith and to deny them is to deny Christ. Other beliefs are important to how we practice our faith and are therefore the cause of disagreement between many denominations, but these beliefs do not place us outside of Christ. Still other doctrines, such as eschatology, are difficult even for very learned and godly people to understand clearly and are therefore a matter of opinion.

The below article offers a fuller explanation of levels of doctrine and gives a helpful summary list of 4 levels of doctrine.

  1. absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;
  2. convictions , while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church;
  3. opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; and
  4. questions are currently unsettled issues.

Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations:

  1. biblical clarity;
  2. relevance to the character of God;
  3. relevance to the essence of the gospel;
  4. biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it);
  5. effect on other doctrines;
  6. consensus among Christians (past and present); and
  7. effect on personal and church life.
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Thx Sean. I will check out John Lennox’s book. I don’t recall John Lennon writing much worthwhile about Bible truth when he said “God is dead!” :slight_smile:

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Hi everyone,

I see so many… is it possible for people to give their thoughts on what it is that Calvinism actually is?

Maybe firstly, @SeanO, does this book give a definition of Calvinism? What are people’s personal opinions on what it means?

Thanks

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@tsbehan If I recall accurately, Lennox acknowledged that there are a variety of views within Calvinism, but that generally people hold to TULIP:

  • T otal Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
  • U nconditional Election
  • L imited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
  • I rresistible Grace
  • P erseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

Generally Calvinism is associated with the idea that God chose those whom He would save and that man cannot choose God apart from God first choosing them. A Calvinist would claim not to deny human responsibility, though I think Lennox would disagree on that point.

Since I do not hold this position, I will be curious to hear others’ definitions.

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At the end of the day I think that is the key question for both camps, assurance. I think Lennox hit this on the head early in the chapter when he said:

It is natural and normal for us as human beings to wish for secure relationships, employment, housing, food, medical care, and innumerable other things that we associate with “the good life”. Also, much in commercial life depends on security. Indeed, we might say that central to the matter of security in all areas is trust – in other words, faith – which brings us straight back to the theme of this chapter. (Page 289)

I agree with this statement and have found it to be truth in my life that freedom from worry is an innate desire in all people and ultimately trust, faith or belief in something or some system is always part of what drives our decisions. But one of the reasons we want assurances in life is so that we don’t’ have to continuously look over our shoulder or second guess our choices and to what end? For a no-risk life? So that I can say that I don’t need to concern myself with that particular category any longer? The need for assurance of salvation is no different. Anyone who believes the Gospel some time in their life will ask the question how I can be sure that I am saved. And in that same vein to what degree of assurance do we or can we expect (think a variable between 0 and 100%)?

If my life I have gone from what I would describe as a card-carrying Christian (insurance when the time came) to a Christian that understands that this is not a static relationship (call me when you need me) it is dynamic and regardless of my level of assurance I cannot let it reach the level of presumption even though I know God is faithful. I feel that it is necessary for me to stay close to the One who is able not for need of my effort but for need of my frailties.

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I apologize as this question may not quite fit in this section or has already been addressed and I missed it, but it came up in my bible study today and it fits with this book discussion… 1 Peter 2:8b says “…They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” ESV translates as “…They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” I am strongly on the side of free will, but sometimes come across these types of scriptures. Would love any thoughts on how someone else might view or interpret this passage!

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I’m not sure that the calvinist has any monopoly on struggling with assurance, nor would they have any more assurance than another purely based on their doctrinal belief. Surely, being fallen human beings, we all have doubts at some point.

Can I say first, that I don’t really like labels. I think they are sometimes more unhelpful and divisive than they are helpful (which I seem to remember Lennox saying also). But I do understand the need of categorisation so will go with it.

I think the calvinist would not remove free will from the equation at all. Yes, they would say that God has decreed who is saved and who is not… but because we don’t know the will of God we make choices from what’s in front of us. The choice is to trust in Jesus or not. That choice is the only thing that matters (which we all agree on?). This is the same no matter your doctrinal position on predestination.

So, if you trust in Jesus as a calvinist, then you are one of the elect and saved.
And, if you trust in Jesus as an arminian, then you are part of God’s people and saved.

For me the assurance doesn’t come from whether God chose me first or not, but from a deep faith in the trustworthiness of God who fulfills his promises. The full and final promise of God being that trust in Jesus is sufficient for salvation. The trustworthiness of God is, again, not based on whether I believe that he chose specific people and whether or not I am one of them; it is based on the full revelation of scripture that shows the character of God on every page.

That’s obviously not an in-depth answer, but enough for now. :slight_smile:

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@Jimmy_Sellers Nice summary :slight_smile: Yes, it is human nature to want assurance and thankfully we can rest in the knowledge that our Father loves us and will equip us for whatever may come!

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@kelelek It’s really a chicken and the egg problem. Does the they in this verse refer to specific people or does it refer to all false teachers? Likewise, are individual people appointed to salvation or are all people chosen in Christ? The way we answer that question actually changes the way that we read these texts - our view ends up being read into the text.

So, I would personally say that false teachers, as a group to whom Peter was referring, were appointed - not individuals. And whether or not an individual belongs to that group depends on their behavior. But my view is not necessarily based on that single text alone.

Hope that helps you think through the issue a bit more :slight_smile:

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@tsbehan Lennox would agree that labels are not helpful - as would I, but we humans are just great at making labels and grouping people, so it is a reality we contend with… I agree people in both camps can certainly have assurance that they are in Christ :slight_smile:

I would have to go with the TULIP acronym. Even before I read the book I was familiar with its meaning. I have read Piper, Pink and MacArthur (MacArthur was my go to for along time) and have witnessed heated debates and church splits over the “who so ever will” versus predestine debate. Aside for from my book references I am not sure I can add anything to what @SeanO has written.
Hope this helps.

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@SeanO

Thanks for the response. It makes so much more sense. It’s been taught (even in this study that I’m doing) to read that we’re somehow “special” because we’re not one of those unchosen ones. This book has been profoundly eye opening.

Thanks again for helping me see this in a different context.

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@Jimmy_Sellers @Seano

Hi guys,

Thanks… both of those are helpful. I was just curious as I think there is a fairly wide streak of calvinism (I mean a broad scope of belief). I would count myself in this bracket, but I think (as with any view/doctrine) it can be taken to extremes that make it untenable and unbiblical. I had actually never seen the TULIP acronym, but at face value I don’t necessarily disagree with anything in it (without going very deeply into it). But I’m sure there those who take it further than was originally intended.

I think, for me, whether or not we are chosen specifically or not… the fact is that we have know idea if we are or not. Therefore it’s almost as if you act as if you’re not, while believing that you are. Does that make sense? So either way you put your trust in Jesus and just get on with it.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but I love the parable of the man who takes it to the extreme… thinking it is all God’s work and not our own…

The story (very briefly) tells of the man during a flood who is sitting on his house as the waters rise. He is confident that God is going to save him… he turns down help from several passers-by who are floating on progressively bigger things (log, kayak, jetboat, etc.). Eventually he drowns and demands from God why he wasn’t saved. God says “What more did you want? I sent you people on a log, a kayak… even a jetboat!!”

To me, that is taking it to the extreme… wanting all of God’s sovereignty, but not willing to include human responsibility or action.

Not sure if any of that makes sense when I write it down, but food for thought.

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@kelelek Glad to think through it together with you :slight_smile: I remember when I was struggling with questions regarding being chosen and what that meant - it was very difficult to find any balanced opinions or people who offered both perspectives, so I really enjoy just discussing the various angles and what makes the most sense to me.

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@tsbehan That makes sense :slight_smile: I’ve heard it said that we should preach like an Armenian and believe like a Calvinist - I know some people are not fond of that saying, but it does try to deal with the tension of believing in individual predestination to salvation while simultaneously dealing with the responsibility of man. Personally I do not think God does predestine individuals to salvation, but I understand how people arrive at that conclusion.