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January 20, 2006

Our culture has an obsession with underappreciation. Everywhere you look there are discussions about this topic. I cannot think of many subjects that are discussed more in the sports world; there are always and forever discussions about which player is the most underappreciated or which position generates the lowest amount of recognition. Look around and you’ll soon find discussions of songs, films, actors, blogs and books that are underappreciated. It seems that we are always looking for the next breakout hit, the next breakout actor or song. We’re all looking for people who are just a little bit better than we might surmise from their current position. We’re looking for people who we feel deserve better.

“Appreciate” is one of those multi-faceted words. It has several meanings, yet most of these means are insinuated when we use it. The most common meaning is “To recognize the quality, significance, or magnitude of.” I can also mean “To be fully aware of or sensitive to; realize.” Yet it can also suggest “To be thankful or show gratitude for” or “To admire greatly; value.” So when we declare our appreciation for a film, for example, we are suggesting that we recognize its quality and the magnitude of its contribution to our lives or to film in general. We are thankful for it and admire it.

Of course when we seek something that is underappreciated we are looking for something that has quality and significance, yet does not receive the recognition that we feel it deserves. We find something we admire and seek to recognize it before others so that they, too, can come to know and appreciate it. We are suggesting that something has not gotten the praise it deserves.

Though I have never met him, C.J. Mahaney is a man who has had a profound influence on my life. His books and sermons have made a deep impact on me. They have challenged me on a level that I am not often challenged. But there is something that has probably had an even deeper impact on me. Whenever I hear people speak of C.J. I hear things that affirm that he does not just write good books, but that he lives what he teaches. People who spend time with him continue to say that he walks the talk. He is the real deal. I admire that greatly. I’m sure we can all think of times that we have found ourselves disappointed in the reality of those we admire. Far too often people present themselves in one way publically, but in another way privately.

I think that the ministry of C.J. Mahaney would be considered underappreciated by many. But I also think he wants it that way. Ask C.J. how he’s doing and he’ll always reply, “Better than I deserve.” And isn’t that the truth? With that little phrase he preaches the gospel to himself and others, and allows himself to focus on what is true: that he has received far more than he deserves. He has received more talent, forgiveness, love, and appreciation than is his due. When peering into the pages of Scripture, he sees that, despite all he has done to advance the kingdom, despite all the praise that he receives, he is overappreciated. He deserves nothing, but gets so much more.

As I have pondered underappreciation, I have come to see that this is exactly where Christians ought to be. Yet far too often we seek to raise ourselves or other people to a level that is simply too high. It would be interesting to know how some people become popular within Christian circles. Sometimes we look at the men (or women) leading huge churches or massive, international ministries and can only wonder how they achieved such a position. So often it seems that they have forsaken the gospel and sound theology, yet somehow have been propelled to great heights. Surely there are people with greater talent, greater gifting and more holy lives laboring throughout the kingdom. They may preach from the pulpits of tiny churches far from the lights and the cameras. They may labor overseas as missionaries in near-total isolation. They may drive the buses or taxis you took to work this morning.

Jesus taught us “blessed are the meek.” The meek are the humble, those who show humility and submission before God. They are the underappreciated, yet those who know that in reality they are overappreciated. They have nothing to offer God, but have been accepted by Him. They are aware of the signifance of the gift that has been given them.

Blessed are the underappreciated.

January 18, 2006

As you may know, Al Mohler was a guest on Larry King Live last night, discussing homosexuality in general, and homosexual marriage in particular. The impetus for the discussion was, of course, the film Brokeback Mountain which won several Golden Globe awards on Monday night and which seems primed to walk away with several Academy Awards a few weeks from now. The members of last night’s panel were: “conservative radio host Janet Parshall; the openly gay actor Chad Allen; R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Guy Padgett, openly gay former mayor of Casper, Wyoming, the city where Matthew Shepard was murdered for being gay and the state where ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is set.”

While I did not watch the discussion last night (I just plain forgot!) I read the transcript this morning. It seems that Dr. Mohler did a very good job of presenting biblical insight into the marriage debate. He said that his main concern with this issue “is not with the gospel of heterosexuality, even though I think that’s very important. It’s with the gospel of Jesus Christ and what I find lacking in the movie, the screenplay and in the short story is any resolution that really brings these persons to know why they were created and how God really intends them to live and how they would find their greatest satisfaction in living just as God had intended them for his glory.” He shared the hope of the gospel, saying “What I hope for is that persons, heterosexual and homosexual, will come to know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, would come to know new life in him, would come to understand that sinners can find the only help that is — that is worth finding and the only salvation and solution to our problems by coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and then understanding that God, our creator, has the right to define every aspect of our lives including our sexuality.” He said that marriage is an objective reality and not something we are free to change or define as we see fit. He exemplified speaking truth with grace.

It is interesting to note that Al Mohler was defending a biblical view of marriage and sexuality against none other than Chad Allen, the actor who has been the topic of much discussion at this site over the past couple of days. Allen is, of course, the homosexual actor who was chosen to play Nate and Steve Saint in the upcoming film The End of the Spear.

Just yesterday I wrote, “I can’t help but conclude that the producers of this film erred when they hired a known, proud, activist homosexual to portray a man who gave his life for the Lord. I just hope that we, as Evangelicals, haven’t provided a platform to a person who will share a message that dishonors the One whom this movie ought to honor.” Clearly Allen was asked to be on last night’s panel because of his work on The End of the Spear. Sure enough, the platform he has been provided has already allowed him to share his views with a wide audience, even before the film has opened. Here are a few of the things he said last night:

  • “Listen, I question myself all the time to make sure that I’m operating in the right way and the way that I want to operate in the world. And this what I’ve come to, again and again and again. It’s been where my heart has been brought. You are whole, perfect and complete right now, exactly as you are.”
  • CALLER: “Chad, by whose standard do you think that it’s right to live the way you have chosen to live?”

    ALLEN: “By the standard that I judge all of my actions. These days I judge all of my actions by my relationship with God of my understanding. It is a deep-founded, faith-based belief in God based upon the work that I’ve done growing up as a Catholic boy and then reaching out to Buddhism philosophy, to Hindu philosophy, to Native American beliefs and finally as I got through my course with addiction and alcoholism and finding a higher power that worked for me.”

  • “You know, I had to sit down with that same God today and say, “Do you want me to go on this show? Do you want me to speak the things that are in my heart? And if not, I’m happy not to go. Do you want me to make this movie?” It’s the same God that I go to for every decision.”
  • “Steve Saint called me today, and he said, I need you to know that I’m sitting here with Mincayani. We’ll be watching you tonight. We love you. We are on your side. And I know that we have those differences, but we are walking through this together. That’s where we’re going to go.”

Without diving into the issue of whether or not it is right or good or proper for Christians to support The End of the Spear, we must at least concede the impropriety of casting a homosexual advocate as a Christian man in a film that (we hope) seeks to honor Christian men and the message that was of such importance to them that they were willing to die for it. Here is a man who shares a message antithetical to Christianity using the platform provided by a film dedicated to Christian men. He speaks of finding a “higher power that worked for me.” He declares that he is perfect and complete exactly as he is. He declares that he is a Christian, but one whose views were shaped by other religions as much as by Christianity.

Of course we would expect him, as an unbeliever, to have views that contradict the Bible. So the heart of the matter is not Chad Allen but the producers of the film who selected him as the lead actor in the film.

As I have spoken to people, observed the comments on this site and others, and read through emails, I have come to understand that many Christians are just plain disappointed with this choice. It is rare that a movie of this type is produced, a movie based on one of the most important missionary endeavours in the last century. People were eagerly anticipating seeing the film and were disappointed to find that the producers had made such an odd choice in casting. For some people this would remove any enjoyment they could derive from the film. For others it is simply a disappointment but not one that troubles their conscience. This is an issue that must be decided by the individual - the choice is between the individual and God.

So let me say this one more time just to be clear what my point is! As Christians we need to be careful who we select to represent us. It may be only a film, and Chad Allen may be nothing more than an actor playing a man of God, but the fact is that he now has a widened platform that he can use to share his beliefs - beliefs that just so happen to contradict Scripture.

Despite this strange choice of casting, I do hope and pray that God uses this film to bring honor to Himself. He can use whatever means He chooses, no matter how imperfect. I hope that He will see fit to use The End of the Spear to stir the hearts of those who see it, homosexual or heterosexual, Christian or non.

If you would like to read the transcript, you can do so here.

January 17, 2006

Last week I posted an article in which I pointed out that Chad Allen, the actor who plays Nate and Steve Saint in the upcoming film The End of the Spear is homosexual. In the article I simply posted the information without providing much commentary upon the decision of the producers to cast a homosexual as a Christian missionary.

There has been a lot of discussion about this article (65 comments and counting), showing that this is a contentious issue. Justin Taylor recently posted a short article in which he took issue with people somehow judging the movie based on a casting decision. “I have trouble seeing the big deal here,” says Justin. “Film acting is a sophisticated form of make-believe. Good-looking people who talk and memorize well are paid lots of money to act out stories. In my mind, the main issue is whether they do a good job with the task.”

Taylor draws a tidy little line between the actors and their roles. He suggests that what actors believe is irrelevant to their roles within the films they create.

“Most of Hollywood is out of step with most of America. But at the same time, most of us simply don’t care about the political or moral views of Hollywood. What does Sean Penn think about the Iraqi insurgency? What does Alec Baldwin think about the President’s legitimacy? What does Tim Robbins think about civil liberties? What does Barbra Streisand think about the ethics of House Republicans? Few care! Most of us want to send them a copy of Laura Ingraham’s appropriately titled book: Shut Up and Sing.”

This is, to some extent true. But Justin is missing something important here. There are plenty of people who do care what Sean Penn believes about Iraqi insurgency, what Alec Baldwin thinks about the President’s legitimacy and what Tim Robbins thinks about civil liberties. The very fact that Taylor can list these people and the issues they stand for shows that people care! The names of Hollywood bigwigs are constantly polluting adorning newspapers, magazines and tabloids. Far too many people care what these celebrities believe. Many people allow their opinions to be formed by celebrities. Penn, Baldwin, Robbins and countless other Hollywood personalities have made a stand for a wide variety of issues. Sometimes these people throw their weight behind charities or causes that do good work and behind issues that are truly important. Yet, more often than not, these people advocate what is unbiblical and even despicable. All three of the men Taylor listed advocate rebellion against God’s appointed authorities.

So here’s the rub: these Hollywood stars and starlets would not have a platform if we did not provide it to them. We provide them a platform when we support their films. The more popular a film becomes, the greater the platform we provide for the actors. Does no one else remember how often we saw interviews with Jim Caviezel and Mel Gibson before, during and after The Passion of the Christ? Evangelicals provided a platform for these committed Roman Catholics to share their unbiblical theology with millions and millions of people. The success of The Passion and the subsequent popularity of Gibson and Caviezel owed almost entirely to Evangelicals. We gave them a platform. The “success” of Brokeback Mountain (it has made little money but has garnered a huge amount of attention and praise) is another example. The actors and other people involved in the production have had many opportunities to share their pro-homosexual agenda because of the platforms provided to them through the film.

So what Justin seems to fail to understand is this: when we accept a movie, and thus accept the actors who act in a movie, we provide them a platform. This may be unintentional, but it is also undeniable. So the question we must face is, What will Chad Allen do with the platform we provide him? The answer is obvious from his web site. He will plead for tolerance to be extended towards homosexuality. He will teach what he taught through a previous production which featured a homosexual Christ-like figure. Here is what he said was the message of that production:

It’s one line in the play. It’s early on when God is talking to his son before Joshua comes to realize himself as the son of God and [God] whispers to him, ‘All men are divine.’ And he [Joshua] says, ‘What? I can’t hear you?’ And he [God] says, ‘All men are divine. That is the secret that you will teach them.’ [Then] Joshua says, ‘What if I don’t want to teach them?’ and God says, ‘You won’t be able to keep the secret.’ That’s the message of the piece as I see it. That we are all capable of the same kind of divine relationship with God that Joshua comes to find.

Allen will use the platform to teach the very opposite of what those godly men believed and gave their lives for.

Taylor concludes as follows: “On a personal level, of course, I wish that Chad Allen would find satisfaction in the way that God has designed him. But in watching the film, my concern will be with whether or not he is doing his vocation well. As one commentator pointed out on Tim’s site, Ian Charleson—who famously played Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire—was gay. (He died of AIDS in 1990.) But I don’t believe that the messenger is the message.”

Justin goes on to toss something of a red herring, stating that Ian Carleson, who played Eric Liddell, was homosexual. Yet I do not believe that we can equate these two situations. While Chariots of Fire was made only 25 years ago, it was made in a different culture than today. Charleson was not provided a platform to share his views. At the time I don’t believe that anyone knew that he was homosexual and, unlike Allen, he was not an outspoken advocate for homosexual causes.

In the comments section at Taylor’s site Steve Camp asks a good question. “If Dr. Piper went home to be with the Lord say thirty years from now and a Christian based film company wanted to make a movie about his life and ministry…would you want an actor who was also a gay-activist to play John’s life story?” What if Elton John were to portray Charles Spurgeon? Or what if it was your life or the life of your brother or father that was portrayed by a homosexual activist? It seems a little bit more dishonoring when it is the life of someone you know and love.

At any rate, I can’t help but conclude that the producers of this film erred when they hired a known, proud, activist homosexual to portray a man who gave his life for the Lord. I just hope that we, as Evangelicals, haven’t provided a platform to a person who will share a message that dishonors the One whom this movie ought to honor.

January 16, 2006

Today we will conclude this short three-part series dealing with assurance of salvation by discussing first the basis of assurance and then some marks of salvation.

We have all known people who think they are saved when all the evidence points elsewhere. It is a sad fact, and one we examined in the second part of this series, that many who think themselves Christians are not. At the final judgment many will approach Jesus convinced that they are saved only to be told that Jesus never knew them (and hence that they never knew Him). We can often discern these people today simply by asking others how they know they will be given entrance into heaven. The answer to this question reveals a great deal about a person’s understanding of the gospel.

Far too many people depend ultimately upon themselves for assurance. This applies, I suspect, equally to believers and unbelievers. A person may be truly saved yet look to himself for assurance of this salvation. This is dangerous ground to tread for when a person experiences a time of doubt he may drive himself to despair because of his misplaced assurance. In an article I wrote a year or two ago I warned against statements of assurance that begin with, “Because I…” When our assurance rests on something we have done, a promise we have made or a prayer we have prayed, we have placed our assurance on shaky ground.

Let’s turn to the Bible to discover the true basis for our assurance.

Assurance of salvation rests on God’s character

In the last article I quoted the words of the Apostle Paul as we find them in 2 Timothy 1:12 “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” What was the basis of Paul’s assurance? He rested in the character of God. He knew whom he had believed and trusted that God was good and would preserve him. He trusted in the goodness of God and in God’s desire to save His people. He rested in the words of Jesus that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He knew that Jesus would never reject anyone who came to Him with humility and sincerity.

Assurance of salvation rests on God’s promises

We must not allow our assurance to rest on the basis of the words of any mere human. It is God who saves us and thus we must hear His heart on the matter. Hear some of the promises of God regarding salvation.

  • “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31).
  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  • “And this is the promise that he made to us -eternal life” (1 John 2:25)
  • “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
  • “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

God’s promises are sure. In recent days I have been reading a new book by Mark Dever which is a survey of the New Testament with one chapter dedicated to each book. The book’s title is The Message of the New Testament and the subtitle is “Promises Kept.” The title is telling for the New Testament is a book of fulfilled promises. We should need and require no greater proof that God keeps promises than the New Testament where we witness God fulfilling promise after promise after promise. If God assures us that He accepts us on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ, how can we argue? How can we doubt? If the Bible is trustworthy in telling us how we can be saved it must also be trustworthy in how it prescribes assurance of that salvation. If we will not trust the Scripture what can we trust?

Assurance of salvation rests on the completed work of Jesus Christ.

Before the birth of Jesus, while Joseph pondered Mary’s pregnancy and formulated a plan to be rid of her, he was visited by an angel who assured him that this child was of the Holy Spirit. The angel also told Joseph what Jesus’ life would accomplish. “…He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Three decades later, as Jesus prepared to draw His last breath He cried out, “It is finished!” He cried out for all the world to hear that He had accomplished the purpose for which the Father had sent Him. When Jesus died He did not merely make salvation a possibility for those who would grab ahold of it, but He fully and effectually saved those who believe in Him.

We can build our assurance on the fact that Jesus Christ died having accomplished our salvation. His work was finished. And so the question we face as believers is, “Do we believe this?” Do we believe that Jesus actually accomplished His mission? In his first letter to Timothy Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” Did Jesus accomplish what He came to do or did He merely allow the possibility of that work being accomplished?

And so we see that the basis of our salvation is God Himself. We can have great confidence that God does wish for us to have assurance and that He is ready, willing and able to provide it to us.

Marks of Salvation

This is an area, that for some reason, I feel woefully inadequate to discuss. I am going to turn to Don Whitney, whose work on this subject has done much to shape my understanding of assurance. I will provide an outline of the marks of salvation that he provides. He begins with a discussion of the inner confirmation from the Spirit. He shows that the Holy Spirit ministers to us through the Word of God to open our hearts and minds to the Bible in ways that give us assurance. He then teaches that assurance may be experienced partly through the attitudes and actions the Bible says will accompany salvation. Here are several questions which can guide us as we seek assurance:

  • Do you share the intimacies of the Christian life with other believers?
  • Do you have a deep awareness of your sin against the Word and love of God?
  • Do you live in conscious obedience to the Word of God?
  • Do you despise the world and its ways?
  • Do you long for the return of Jesus Christ and to be made like Him?
  • Do you habitually do what is right more and sin less?
  • Do you love Christians sacrificially and want to be with them?
  • Do you discern the presence of the Holy Spirit within you?
  • Do you enjoy listening to the doctrines of the apostles taught today?
  • Do you believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ?

These biblical principals, taken as a whole, will do much to assure the believer that God is working in his life.

Ending at the Beginning

The impetus for this series was a web site I read where a Christian encouraged unbelievers to pray the following prayer. “Father I admit I am a sinner, and I will turn from my sin and do good. I believe that Jesus was your son and that He came here to die for me so that my sins would be forgiven. I ask you to forgive me and I will repent of my sins. In Jesus name I pray.” The author of the site then writes, “If you just prayed that prayer and meant it with all your heart, then God will know you as one of His own.” But is that necessarily true? This man has made the sincerity of the person praying the mark of a true conversion. It may well be that a person praying that prayer has become a believer. But I hope he will look beyond his sincerity and look to God for his assurance.


There is a great deal more we could discuss about this topic, but I am going to close this series nonetheless. I trust, though, that you have come to understand that assurance of salvation is the privilege of the Christian and that we are blessed to be able to seek after it. I trust that you have come to see that our assurance of salvation must not rest in our sincerity or in anything we have done. Rather, our assurance rests entirely in the character of God, the promises of God and the completed work of Jesus Christ. We can have assurance and I pray that both you and I will find and experience it to God’s glory.

If this is a topic that would you like to study, I would point you to Don Whitney’s excellent book on the subject, How Can I Be Sure I’m A Christian?.

January 13, 2006

Not too long ago I mentioned that my wife and I were ready to give up cable television. Perhaps strangely, our concern stemmed not only or even primarily from the content of television shows. After all, if we do not like the content of a show we can easily simply avoid watching it. Will and Grace is a show that glamorizes the homosexual lifestyle. We do not like the show and what it represents so we can easily avoid watching it. Rather, the primary reason we have decided we’ll have to abandon cable is the commercials. We can control what we watch and what the children watch but it is much more difficult to control the television commercials that play six times every hour.

This morning FoxNews has an article that deals particularly with commercials.

Ever since Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, citizens and children’s advocacy organizations have called upon the FCC, broadcasters and even Congress to re-examine television content and the guidelines that rate it.

But one type of programming that is viewed by all audiences at all hours on every network has continued to escape regulation: commercials.

From Paris Hilton’s spicy burger ad to the ever-proliferating erectile dysfunction commercials, many parents have not been happy with recent television ads. And now, domain registering Web site GoDaddy.com is fighting to reprise its controversial 2005 Super Bowl ad during this year’s upcoming game.

Senator Mark Pryor, at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation open forum on decency, spoke for many parents when he said, “I have a 10-year-old and 11-year-old at home, and my wife and I are scared to death for them to turn on the television without us in the room.” And even when parents are in the room children can be exposed to words and images that are inappropriate for them (and often inappropriate for anyone!). Another Senator, Barack Obama, described himself as “ ‘a parent who has had to sit through uncomfortable Cialis commercials while watching television with my 7- and 4-year-old daughters.’ The ad Obama cited, for the erectile dysfunction medication Cialis, features snuggly moments between couples of all ages to the tune of The Ronnettes’ ‘Be My Baby.’ And FDA regulations require medical ads to specify risks verbally, resulting in somewhat embarrassing dialogue. ‘Cialis is only for men healthy enough for sexual activity … erections lasting longer than four hours, though rare, require immediate medical help,’ the ad warns.” Of course Obama has not had to sit through the commercials, has he? No one has forced him to watch television, particularly with his daughters present. But I digress.

The article goes on to describe several recent commercials that have raised the eyebrows of many parents, including a commercial in which Paris Hilton, wearing high heels and a skimpy bathing suit, seductively washed a car (‘seductively washed a car’ - something of an bizarre concept, isn’t it?). The product she was selling? Hamburgers from Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s.

Now I’m sure none of this comes as a great surprise to anyone who has a television. We all know that the commercials are becoming racier and more provocative. In fact, advertising in general is relying increasingly on shock value in place of cleverness and innovation. There would not be much a story here were it not for another article about commercials I read only a few days ago. An article at CNET and other media venues discussed digital video recorders and the effect they are having on commercials. In the U.S. broadcasters and advertisers are growing increasingly worried about the effects of TiVo and other digital recorders on ad-watching and thus on ad revenue. After all, these devices allow people to record programs and then easily skip over advertisements.

In Japan the problem has become so prevalent that broadcasters have begun playing commercials that highlight the benefits of advertising to viewers. They point out, correctly of course, that without advertising there can be no television programming. The economy of cable television is such that subscriptions are not nearly sufficient to cover the costs of creating shows. It is advertising that allows viewers to enjoy “quality” programming.

There is something of an irony here, isn’t there? Cable programmers are demanding that we watch their commercials, yet are creating advertising that is increasingly sexual and insipid. While driving away the intended audience with inappropriate ads, they are at the same time blaming these people for not watching them. The cable companies cannot have it both ways. A parent, cuddling his young children on the couch, need only sit through a few highly-sexualized ads before guilt and common sense drive him to find an alternative. If the cable companies want us to watch advertising they are going to have to insist that advertisers clean up their act. They are going to have to regulate the advertising they pipe into our homes.

P.S. - I wanted to title this article “Be Thou My Television” which I thought was terribly clever. But then I found that I have already used that title on another article.

January 12, 2006

On Tuesday we began a short series on assurance of salvation, a series that was rudely interrupted by my site crashing. I sought to show that, in many ways, contemporary evangelicalism can create an atmosphere in which many who consider themselves may have false assurance of their salvation. A decision-based system of conversion and regeneration has been historically proven to create many who believe they are Christians, yet who show little evidence of conversion. I looked in particular at assurance given to people based on their sincerity such as in an appeal that says “If you just prayed that prayer and meant it with all your heart, then God will know you as one of His own.” Such an appeal is dependent upon at least one human factor: sincerity.

Today I will begin to tie this into assurance of salvation, beginning with three affirmations.

It is possible and even normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation.

John MacArthur calls assurance of salvation “the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ.” This assurance is not only possible but should be the normal experience for any believer in Christ. Romans 8:16 teaches that assurance of salvation is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Matthew Henry says the following about this verse: “But those that are sanctified have God’s Spirit witnessing with their spirits, which is to be understood not of any immediate extraordinary revelation, but an ordinary work of the Spirit, in and by the means of comfort, speaking peace to the soul. This testimony is always agreeable to the written word, and is therefore always grounded upon sanctification; for the Spirit in the heart cannot contradict the Spirit in the word.” 2 Peter 1:10 goes so far as to command us to pursue this assurance. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

Yet even more clear than these verses is 1 John 5:13. As John wraps up this epistle he reveals his purpose in writing it. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” God has seen fit to provide us an entire book in the Bible that will teach us to know that we have eternal life. Surely, then, we can agree that God intends that we have assurance that we are His children.

Having seen that it is both possible and normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation, we now turn to a second point which seems nearly contradictory:

It is possible and even normal for the non-Christian to experience a false assurance of salvation.

A foreshadowing of one of the most terrifying scenes the world will ever experience unfolds in Matthew 7, in a section often titled “I Never Knew You.” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” When the final judgment comes, there will be many who will be shocked to learn that they are not true believers. They will go to the grave confident that they are saved, but come to the judgment and find that they are to be cast out of Jesus’ presence. This ought to be sobering for all who consider themselves Christians. No wonder that Paul sought confidence in his salvation, declaring in 2 Timothy 1:12 “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

It is educational, of course, to look at the grounds for assurance of those who only think they are true believers. We will look at this in more detail in our next article, but for now notice the short phrase, “Did we not…” There is much we can learn from those few short words. Those who have false assurance have placed their hope in themselves and in their own efforts. They appeal to their own work rather than Christ’s.

We’ll now turn to our third affirmation, which should provide great comfort to those who struggle in this area.

It is possible and even normal for Christians to have doubts about their salvation

There is nothing unusual about occasionally doubting one’s salvation. The only thing unusual about doubt would be to experience it and not deal with it, wrestling with it, until it has been quelled by the power of the Spirit. A survey of many of the great believers of our day or of days past would prove that it is common to deal with some level of doubt. This is usually not a consuming doubt that drives a person to constant depression and despair, but a more occasional doubt that can be overcome by the ministry of the Spirit.

Don Whitney lists several important understandings about this type of doubt. First, doubting assurance is not the same as experiencing unbelief. A person can have a strong, vibrant faith in Jesus Christ while still feeling some level of doubt. We must not make doubt and unbelief synonymous terms, lest a person feel that his brief periods of doubt indicate serious unbelief in his heart. Unbelief presupposes a denial of many important points of doctrine where as doubt is mere uncertainty about them. Second, there are many causes of doubt. We can doubt because of the attacks of Satan, because of trials or difficult circumstances, because of sin in our lives or even a mental or physical condition. Doubt is not necessarily brought about by overwhelming sin in our lives. Third, spiritual immaturity may contribute to doubt. With greater maturity comes a greater understanding of God and our position before Him through Jesus’ atoning death. Thus we would generally expect doubts to decrease as a person grows in spiritual maturity. Fourth, sensitivity to sin may cause confusion about assurance. Believers, through their reborn hearts, are blessed with a greater sensitivity to sin. This heightened understanding of the gravity of sin may lead young Christians to doubt. Yet it should be noted that this increased understanding of sin is actually a mark of the Spirit’s work with a person’s heart. Fifth, comparisons with other believers may cloud assurance. Comparing oneself to other believers may emphasize the immaturity of a person’s faith. We must understand that people mature only with great effort and over a great amount of time. It is often unrealistic to compare oneself with a believer who is far more mature. Finally, childhood conversion may affect assurance. A person who was converted as a child may feel that he was deceived when he made the decision. He may feel that his decision is somehow less meaningful because Christianity is all he has ever known.

We see, then, that there are many possible reasons that may lead Christians to lose their assurance of salvation. Some of these are internal factors and some are external. Some of them may, in fact, be given by God Himself to test and sharpen us. So the believer can have confidence that some doubt is common to the Christian life and that, while doubt is a symptom of living in a sinful world, it is not necessarily sinful to struggle with it.

By way of brief review, we have seen that assurance of salvation is possible for the believer, that false assurance of salvation is possible for the unbeliever and that it is normal for Christians, from time to time, to experience doubt about salvation.

We will conclude tomorrow by looking to the basis of true assurance.

January 11, 2006

The End of the SpearMy friend Randy Brandt, who blogs at Contend 4 The Faith, has written a short article speculating on whether or not the producers of the upcoming film The End of the Spear have committed financial suicide with their casting. Let me fill you on the controversy.

But first, here is a brief synopsis of The End of the Spear: “A savage killer from a remote Amazon tribe becomes grandfather to the grandchildren of the North American man he killed. End of the Spear is a dramatic feature film based on the true story of the documentary film Beyond the Gates. The screenplay for End of the Spear was written from the perspective of Mincaye one of the Waodani tribesmen from the spearing raid that killed five North American missionaries.” The missionaries are Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully and Roger Youderian. This story has previously been told in both books and film. It is a powerful story and one most Christians are glad to see on the big screen. It seems that the film is well-made and faithful to the actual events.

However, as Randy points out, controversy is brewing. “A controversy is growing as the movie’s January 20 release date nears. It revolves around actor Chad Allen, who plays both Nate Saint and Steve Saint in the movie, with the Nate Saint role being a key part of the story.” The actor’s site tells us why this actor might cause some controversy in Christian circles. “Courageously, in the October 9, 2001 issue of The Advocate, Chad came out as a gay man. He also acknowledged past problems with drugs and alcohol. He also has spoken to a number of groups and at events about gay rights issues including taking part in a forum on Larry King Live on the issue of gay marriage.” Allen has spoken at Youth Pride events and has acted in a production called Corpus Christie which is described below:

“The play, set in modern-day Texas, features a hard-drinking gay named Joshua and 12 other gay male characters, most of whom bear the names of Christ’s apostles…

Different from other boys because he is a homosexual, Joshua grows up in isolation and torment, an object of scorn. He flees Corpus Christi in search of a more accepting environment, gathering along the way of a group of disciples who are bound to him by his message of love and tolerance.

According to Time magazine, McNally’s play is “a serious, even reverent retelling of the Christ story in a modern idiom — quite close, in its way, to the original.”

Randy also points to an article which describes his obviously New Age spirituality:

Two years ago, (Allen) co-founded his production company Mythgarden, with Robert Gant and Christopher Racster. “We’re working to bring the next generation of gay and lesbian storytelling to the screen, and we’re really excited about that.” Their upcoming project, Save Me, takes place in an “ex-gay” ministry that’s run by Judith Light, in which Allen and Gant begin a relationship. Also coming up is a project called The Way Out, which they are co-producing with David Duchovny. “It’s the story of two gay men who fall in love in a senior citizens home, and it looks at the issues of elder gay housing. It’s a fantastic love story.”

Allen also stars in the upcoming film End of the Spears, based on the true story of a group of Christian missionaries that make contact with the Waodani, a notoriously violent Ecuadorian tribe. Having grown up in a Roman Catholic family, Allen saw this project as a challenge he wanted to undertake. “There were a lot of people on both sides that weren’t particularly interested in me doing this movie. I am from a Christian background, but I have a personal spirituality that spans the distance from Buddhism to Hindu philosophy to Native American beliefs. That aside, this movie is about the power of love. I knew it was an opportunity to bridge these two disparate communities that are believed to be enemies- the gay and the Christian communities.”

Thus the question is, did the producers of this movie take too great a risk in casting a known homosexual in the role of the Christian hero? Will Christians refuse to watch the movie because of this actor? And further, should Christians support such a film or should they avoid it?

To be honest, my first reaction to this controversy was sheer frustration. Millions of Protestants were only too happy to watch a devout Roman Catholic portraying Jesus in a film written and produced by an even more devout Tridentine Roman Catholic - a film that really did little more than recreate the mass and the stations of the cross. Is it possible that many who were only too glad to watch a Catholic portraying our Lord and were willing to label Mel Gibson a great man of faith, are the same ones who will be protesting a homosexual portray a missionary? Is there not a great inconsistency here? Should we not hold that theology is of foremost importance?

And so, like Randy, I will ask you: Do you intend to see this film? Do you feel that Allen’s involvement in the film will damper your enthusiasm for it? Did the producers of this film fall upon their own spears?

January 10, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to the left sidebar of my site. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to give honor where I feel honor is due.

It should come as no great surprise that Phil Johnson’s Pyromaniac would eventually win this award. Phil entered the blogosphere only six or eight months ago, but has already made a significant impact. Always willing to speak his mind, Phil has made a great number of friends (and more than a few enemies). Phil is known in the blogosphere for his love of Charles Spurgeon, his defense of cessationism, his unique style of branding and his constant editing after he has posted an article (something which drives RSS users to distraction).

I have come to deeply respect the Pyromaniac and have benefitted greatly from his foray into the blogosphere. And so, for the next week you will be able to see the most recent headlines from his blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

January 10, 2006

If I were to ask you, “How do you know that you are a Christian?” how would you respond? Where do you look for your assurance of salvation? Do you look inside yourself? Do you look to the past - perhaps to an act or decision you made? Or do you look outside of yourself? I have written in the past about the doctrine of assurance of salvation, a belief John MacArthur rightly calls “the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ.” Today I want to tie it in to another topic that is a concern of mine. I speak of “Decisional Regeneration,” a term that describes much of what we understand by conversion in modern evangelicalism.

Before we turn to decisional regeneration we must first define regeneration. J.I. Packer thoroughly defines regeneration as “…the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His Will (Matt. 19:28; John 3:3,5,7; Titus 3:5). It is an inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8). This change is ascribed to the Holy Spirit. It originates not with man but with God (John 1:12, 13; 1 John 2:29; 5:1, 4). It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.” Regeneration, said simply, is the Spirit’s act whereby He gives to man a new nature which frees his will and gives him a disposition towards God. This definition is thoroughly Reformed, and thus thoroughly Biblical.

A survey of Christian doctrine would find three predominant views on when regeneration occurs. Do note that each tradition would have a slightly different definition for the term.

The first is known as baptismal regeneration. The Roman Catholic tradition, as well as that held by Anglican, and Lutheran groups, believe that regeneration occurs at the moment of baptism. When a child is baptized, the Holy Spirit immediately regenerates that person. The Catholic Catechism typifies this view: “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” (Pg.354, #1265) This view has been deemed false by the vast majority of Protestants who believe it undermines the plain teaching of the Scriptures.

The second view is that the Holy Spirit regenerates a person at a time of God’s choosing. We could call it “monergistic regeneration” to indicate that it depends solely on God. This regeneration does not depend on man or on any desire or decision on his part. The Spirit moves in the person, giving him a new nature and allowing him the capacity to express faith and a desire to know and trust God. This view is closely associated with Calvinism and the Reformed faith and its high view of God’s sovereignty.

The third view is the one we are concerned with and it emphasizes a decision, hence the term decisional regeneration. This view, quite a late addition to Christianity, was popularized by Charles Finney and is now the majority view in evangelicalism. In this view man has been wooed by the Spirit to the point that is now able to have faith in God and he then expresses that faith in a decision to follow the Lord. When he makes this decision he is immediately regenerated. While the decision is internal, it is often expressed in a prayer, a physical action such as raising a hand or walking to an altar or even in something as simple as marking a decision card.

Jay Adams writes “The great theological difference between modern evangelism and biblical evangelism hinges on this basic question whether true religion is the work of God or of man. At best, the doctrine of ‘Decisional Regeneration’ attributes the new birth partly to man and partly to God.” When God and man cooperate in salvation, it becomes important to appeal to human emotion and desires and to secure a human response to what the Bible tells us is God’s work. We allow man to play the role of God and decide for his own salvation. Man allows the Spirit to enter his heart through an act of decision rather than believing that the Spirit does a work apart from the will of man. Decisional regeneration, then, suppresses the teaching that God alone is active in salvation, in giving life, and that man is utterly helpless apart from Him.

The risk we take in telling people that they have been saved after they have marked a card or raised their hand, is that we know only that they have made some type of decision. This decision may be sincere and well-intentioned, but it does not necessarily indicate that the Spirit has regenerated the person. The legacy of Charles Finney in church history is largely one of failure, of creating masses of people who believed they were Christians, but most of whom showed no evidence. They were assured by their decision which they could always regard as a milestone in their lives, but while they had raised their hand, and no doubt felt sincere when they did so, they had never turned to Christ. Why had they not done this? Because the Spirit had not done any work in them and they were, thus, unregenerate. They had attempted to make themselves believers, a task which can only be done by God. The same problem prevails today. When we tell people that their decision is indicative of their salvation, we may give them false hope. We may give them assurance that is not ours to give. The biblical reality is that God gives salvation to whom He wishes. “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” (John 5:21)

In the past I have focused on the outward sign of a person’s belief that he or she has been saved, whether this sign be marking a decision card or raising a hand. Recently I have become concerned with another facet of evangelical conversions. While I have struggled with this for some time, a web site I visited yesterday spurred me to write about it. To further my research on a topic I will soon be writing about I was visiting the site raptureletters.com and noted the letter the site contains that exhorts people to turn to the Lord. It climaxes with the following prayer: “Father I admit I am a sinner, and I will turn from my sin and do good. I believe that Jesus was your son and that He came here to die for me so that my sins would be forgiven. I ask you to forgive me and I will repent of my sins. In Jesus name I pray.” The author of the site then writes, “If you just prayed that prayer and meant it with all your heart, then God will know you as one of His own.”

What struck me in that letter, which is quite typical for the content of an evangelical altar call (and, in fact, I have heard many, many similar appeals) is that there is an undeniably clear human requirement for salvation. The prayer will only be effective, we may note, if the person means it with all his heart.

Now while all Protestants affirm, at least in theory, that salvation is wholly an act of God, it must be admitted that in such an appeal for salvation there is added a human requirement: sincerity. And so I return to the question with which I opened this article. When you seek assurance of your salvation, where do you look? Will you take refuge in the sincerity of your prayer? Will you comfort yourself by saying, “I meant it with all my heart”? If you take refuge in your own sincerity or in the passion you felt years ago when you prayed a prayer, you are building your assurance on shakey ground.

I will continue this discussion tomorrow with some suggestions on how we can build assurance on the solid truths of God’s Word.

January 06, 2006

John Piper has just announced to the members of Bethlehem Baptist Church that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Please pray for him, that God would see fit to heal him and extend his ministry to his family, his local church and to all of us who have so benefitted from his teaching.

Here is the text of the letter that was sent to his church family:

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Dear Bethlehem Family,

I hope this letter will encourage your prayer, strengthen your hope, and minister peace. I am writing with the blessing of the other elders to help you receive the news about my prostate cancer.

At my annual urological exam on Wednesday, December 21, the doctor felt an abnormality in the prostate and suggested a biopsy. He called the next day with the following facts: 1) cancer cells were found in two of the ten samples and the estimate is that perhaps 5% of the gland is affected; 2) my PSA count was 1.6, which is good (below 4 is normal); 3) the Gleason score is 6 (signaling that the cancer is not aggressive). These three facts incline the doctor to think that it is unlikely that the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, and that it is possible with successful treatment to be cancer-free.

Before going with Noel to consult in person with the doctor on December 29 about treatment options, I shared this news with the Bethlehem staff on Tuesday morning, December 27, and with the elders that evening. Both groups prayed over me for healing and for wisdom in the treatment choices that lie before us. These were sweet times before the throne of grace with much-loved colleagues.

All things considered, Noel and I believe that I should pursue the treatment called radical prostatectomy, which means the surgical removal of the prostate. We would ask you to pray that the surgery be completely successful in the removal of all cancer and freedom from possible side effects.

With the approval of the executive staff and elder leadership, we are planning surgery in early February. The recovery time is about three weeks before returning to a slow work pace, and six weeks to be back to all normal activities.

This news has, of course, been good for me. The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.

For example, is there anything greater to hear and believe in the bottom of your heart than this: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)?

God has designed this trial for my good and for your good. You can see this in 2 Corinthians 1:9, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” And in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6, “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God … If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”

So I am praying: “Lord, for your great glory, 1) don’t let me miss any of the sanctifying blessings that you have for me in this experience; 2) don’t let the church miss any of the sanctifying blessings that you have for us in this; 3) grant that the surgery be successful in removing cancer and sparing important nerves; 4) grant that this light and momentary trial would work to spread a passion for your supremacy for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ; 5) may Noel and all close to me be given great peace—and all of this through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.” I hope God will lead you to pray in a similar way.

With deep confidence that

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:54-57
Pastor John

With Sam Crabtree, Lead Pastor for Life Training
Kenny Stokes, Lead Pastor for Spreading
Tim Johnson, Chairman of the Council of Elders
Ross Anderson, MD, Bethlehem Elder