If there were a Guinness Book of World Records record for “amount of times having asked Jesus into your heart,” J.D. Greear is pretty sure he would hold it. Like so many church kids he asked Jesus into his heart when he was very young, and then again when he was slightly older, and then again every time he wondered if he really loved Jesus, and then again whenever he felt the guilt of sin. For years he wrestled with assurance and fought for an answer to this question: How can anyone know, beyond all doubt, that they are saved?
It is a question most Christians ask at one time or another; it is a question every pastor faces on a regular basis. Greear’s new book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart tackles this question head-on and does so very effectively. Greear sets out to accomplish two things: to help the Christian find assurance that he has been saved, and to help the unbeliever resting on a false assurance see his danger and to turn to Christ. “My prayer is that by the time we’re done, you’ll know exactly where you stand with God. I hope to show you how to base your assurance on a promise God gave once for all in Christ and not on the fleeting memory of a prayer you once prayed.” What Greear teaches is consistent with what the best theologians have been drawing from Scripture for so long, that “what saves the sinner is a posture of repentance and faith toward Christ, that and that alone. Any ‘sinner’s prayer’ is only good insofar as it expresses that posture.”
Salvation does indeed happen in a moment, and once you are saved you are always saved. The mark, however, of someone who is saved is that they maintain their confession of faith until the end of their lives. Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.
Greear begins with his own story of praying the sinner’s prayer a thousand times and being baptized four times, using it to illustrate the importance of finding assurance. He then proceeds to show that God wants us to have assurance, saying that God “changes, encourages, and motivates us not by the uncertainty of fear, but by the security of love. That is one of the things that makes the gospel absolutely distinct from all other religious messages in the world.” With that in place he reminds the reader of the gospel and explains both belief and repentance. One chapter answers this question: If “once saved always saved,” why does the Bible seem to warn us so often about losing our salvation? Along the way he offers three bases for assurance: a present posture of faith and repentance; perseverance in the faith; and evidences of eternal life in our heart–a love for God and a love for others, particularly other believers.
Yet even then some will wrestle with assurance and to those Christians he offers wise and simple counsel.
Am I really saved? How could I be, and still have feelings like this?
What do you do in that moment? Pray ‘the sinner’s prayer’ again? …
The answer is relatively simple in that moment: keep believing the gospel. Keep your hand on the head of the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how you feel at any given moment, how encouraged or discouraged you feel about your spiritual progress, how hot or cold your love for Jesus, what you should be doing is always the same–resting in the gospel. Rest in His finished work. That’s all you can do. It’s all you need to do. It’s all God has commanded you to do.
I have just been in the South, so I can give a loud “Amen!” to that!
Two appendices round out the book and carry it to around 120 pages. The first asks who should be re-baptized and under what circumstances while the second looks at the indispensable link between assurance and the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
I want to offer just one critique of the book, and it is an unusual one, I suppose. While Paige Patterson’s foreword aptly summarizes the book’s content and potential impact, it feels as if it was written for the pastor who may hand it out rather than the concerned Christian who may be seeking assurance. This means that when I hand it to someone, the first thing they will read, assuming that they are in the habit of reading forewords, is rather technical. For example, “His angst over failures subsequent to his experience with Christ seemed to me to be more related to the family situation from which he came and the extent of the use of foreign substances in his life than it did to any substantive reason to doubt his salvation.” I believe it would have been more effective to use the foreword to pastorally convince the person who lacks assurance that he ought to keep reading, rather than to convince the pastor that he can confidently distribute it. But this is only a small and near-petty critique.
We have an enemy who is identified as the Deceiver. He loves to deceive Christians into thinking that they cannot possibly have been delivered from condemnation, and he loves to deceive unbelievers into complacency, making them believe that they have been forgiven even without true faith and repentance. Some of his most effective work is in removing assurance from those who ought to have it, and in giving assurance to those who should not have it. This book will comfort the Christian and challenge the deceived unbeliever. Full of useful illustrations, powerful insights and, best of all, gospel hope, it is exactly the book I will recommend to anyone who struggles with assurance. In fact, I am going to buy a few and keep them close at-hand; I know I will be reading it with someone soon enough.