You don’t need “extraordinary revelation” to know that you are a child of God. Through the ordinary means of grace—listening to God’s voice and using his ordinances—true believers may “be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Only Jesus’s blood shed for us gives us the confidence to enter the holy places (Heb. 10:19).
People who believe in Jesus and want in all things to please God can still struggle with assurance of salvation. Circumstances like the transition from childhood to adulthood, major trauma, and the imminence of death can trouble believers with spiritual doubts and fears.
But Scripture urges us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). To truly combat our doubt and gain rich confidence in God we have to be clear about what Scripture means by “assurance of faith.”
Assurance Is Different from Presumption
To presume is to take for granted that something is the case; to suppose without reason. One might presume that they have sufficient funds to write a check—that presumption could be false, and result in sad consequences. Many people, instead of experiencing genuine assurance of grace and salvation, simply “deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in favor with God.” The presumptuous put more stock in their own righteousness than in the righteousness of God which believers receive by faith. The self-deceived fail to reckon with God’s absolute holiness and human sinfulness. But God is holy. And we are sinful. It is the extremity of folly to simply declare yourself a child of God without warrant. Fabricated dreams of salvation will perish when hypocrites meet God.
And genuine assurance of salvation and mere presumption have different fruits. Hypocrites talk religiously, but lack the power of new life. Lacking a new heart and the Spirit working in them they continue to produce bad fruit, no matter their religious façade. Not so with real believers who gain true assurance. Contrary to the old objection proper assurance does not “[incline] men to looseness.” Instead, it results in “peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience.” Only by an assured faith can we know that our labors in the Lord are not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
Presumption is not assurance. A deep awareness of God’s holiness and our sinfulness will enable us resist taking grace for granted.
Assurance Is Possible
Scripture gives examples of believers who experienced genuine assurance of salvation. Job knew that his redeemer lives and that he would see God after he died (Job 19:25–26). Paul knew whom he had believed. He was convinced that God would guard him safely until he entered glory (2 Tim. 1:12). The Bible is written so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God … and have life in his name” (John 20:31). “And by believing you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Scripture also calls us to pursue assurance. “It is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure” (cf. 2 Peter 1:10).
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By Ruling Elder Kevin Miller TE George Sayour — 8 months ago
Overture 29: Passed Presbyteries 79-1. An Officer’s view of Indwelling Sin, Actual Sin, and Sanctification matter. This is the language that was approved to BCO 16.4: “Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. While office bearers will see spiritual perfection only in glory, they will continue in this life to confess and to mortify remaining sins in light of God’s work of progressive sanctification. Therefore, to be qualified for office, they must affirm the sinfulness of fallen desires, the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, and be committed to the pursuit of Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions.”
The Presbyterian Church in America just completed its Jubilee Assembly in Memphis, TN! This 50th General Assembly on this 50th Anniversary year was a God-Glorifying, Christ-Exalting, Body-Edifying Time to say the least. It was a week full of the joy of the Lord in our worship and work. The week flew by as we reconnected with old friends and made new ones. We’d say that this GA was a statement on Transparency and Accountability as many of these items will show.
Here are the Top 20 Key Actions or Impressions of the 50th PCA GA (loosely in the order they came to the Assembly). Go here to read the same list again with all the details and links that are needed to understand and research the items.
1) TE Fred Greco was Nominated Moderator
Implication: Fred lived up to his reputation. He ran the Assembly with precision, wit, humor, and gravitas. The assembly ended earlier on Thursday than others in recent history. A motion was made to make Fred the Permanent
2) Abuse Victim Protection Provisions (last year’s Overture)
Passed Presbyteries: 77-3, Passed GA near unanimously
Implication: Victims of Abuse don’t have to testify in the presence of their abuser.
3) Qualifications for Church Office (last year’s Overture)
Passed Presbyteries 79-1, Passed GA near unanimously
Implication: An Officer’s view of Indwelling Sin, Actual Sin, and Sanctification matter
4) Ordination Requirements and Procedures (last year’s Overture)
Passed Presbyteries 77-3, Passed GA near unanimously
Implication: Candidates view of Indwelling Sin, Actual Sin, and Sanctification matter
5) Overture 7 – Improved Reporting Requirements for Agencies and Committees
Passed 1271-88, Goes into effect immediately
Effects MNA, MTW, RUF, Covenant College, Covenant Seminary, etc.
Implication: There will be more transparency and accountability for the PCA’s Agencies and Committees. This helps ensure they are operating according to the desires of the Assembly.
6) Metro NY Presbytery Referred to the SJC for allowing a Woman to Preach
This came out of the RPR Report
Implication: Our System Works. Women Preachers are not allowed at Worship Services.
7) NW Georgia Presbytery Referred to the SJC for Congregational Meeting Delinquencies
This came out of the RPR Report
Implication: Our System Works. Following the process of Congregational meetings matters.
8) RUF Affiliation Agreement was flagged because it was not approved by the Assembly
Reformed University Fellowship will need to rework the Contract for approval next year.
Implication: Agencies and Permanent Committees need GA Approval on Major Policy changes.
9) Nominating Committee Recommendations – All Were Approved by the Assembly
Great Men were added to the SJC, MNA, MTW, RUF, Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, and other Agency Boards and Permanent Committees.
Implication: PCA Agencies and Permanent Committees will have good guidance and oversight.
10) Overture 23 – Requiring Officers Conformity to Biblical Standards of Sexuality
Passed (1673-223). This must now pass 2/3 of the Presbyteries this year.
Implication: Church officers must communicate their sin struggle according to the Biblical standard for chastity and sexual purity.
11) Overture 26 – Titles for Officers must Not be Used for Unordained People
Passed (1427-481). This must now pass 2/3 of the Presbyteries this year.
Implication: This clarifies how terms for our church offices are used and restricts them to only those who have been ordained according to Scripture as described in our Standards.
12) Overture 12 – Condemning Practice of Surgical & Medical Gender Reassignment Statement
Passed (1089-793). This takes effect immediately. Will be mailed to Federal & State Governments.
Implication: This will put the PCA on public record as taking a stance against transgender reassignment surgeries. Having a denominational stance on this issue can potentially benefit Christians in the public sphere when they may be required to take a stance against this evil.
13) Overture 28 – Reaffirm the “Message to All Churches” from 1973
Passed (1158-143), takes effect immediately
Implication: This statemen reaffirms the PCA’s 1973 so-called Declaration of Independence, showing our resolve to be faithful to our foundational principle and call our mother denomination, the PC(USA), to repentance.
14) Overture 14 –Attempt that will Hinder PCA Members who are Lawyers from Aiding in PCA Courts
Voted down by the Assembly (unanimous as part of larger vote)
Implication: This preserves that professional lawyers can participate in the church courts without undue restrictions. The language of the proposal would have severely restricted the ability of those members and elders in the legal profession from aiding members in Church Discipline cases. Language in BCO already prohibits paid counsel.
15) Overture 13 – Attempt to Allow atheists to testify in the Church courts
Voted down by the Assembly (1091-751)
Implication: This maintains the current BCO language which requires a belief in “the existence God or a future state of rewards and punishments” in order to testify in the Church courts
16) Overture 15 – Attempt to Codify that Women Cannot Preach to Assembled Christians in the PCA
Voted by the Assembly to refer back to the Overture’s authors (1725-139)
Implication: The decision to “refer back’ indicates the Assembly’s desire to address the subject of women preaching, but they would like the authors to refine and clarify the language before resubmitting the overture.
17) Wonderful Worship Services, Sermons, and Exhortations for our 50th Year
Ligon Duncan’s Call to “Stand Strong in the Lord or You will Fear Man” During His Sermon
O. Palmer Robertson’s Call to Be Ministers who Stand on and Preach the Word of God from the Bible and to Present Christ’s Bride Sanctified before Christ.
18) The Gospel Reformation Network Luncheon & its Honoring of the Late Dr. Harry Reeder
Over 700 people were present. This represents approx. 1/3 of the whole Assembly.
Shows a Commitment to the GRN Vision “To Cultivate Healthy Reformed Churches in the Presbyterian Church in America.”
19) The Administrative Committee and Host Committee Did a Wonderful Job!
Thank you to all involved in making PCA GA 50 a Christ-honoring success in Memphis, TN!
20) All indications lead us to believe that the PCA is heading in the right direction.
The last 3 General Assemblies have shown that Transparency, Accountability, and Faithfulness are increasing.
Our Membership, Pastors, RUF Chapters, Church Plants, and Missionaries are all growing in #.
May we remain Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.
GO HERE TO READ THE SUPPORTING DETAILS ON EACH OF THE ABOVE # ITEMS
By Stephen Kneale — 6 months ago
Grace, by definition, is unjust. It is not giving us what we deserve, but giving us the opposite. It is why just grace is an oxymoron. If God puts his grace upon us justly then he is giving us what we deserve. But we do not deserve God’s good favour, that is what grace is!
I wonder if you have ever thought about the opposite of grace? We all know (I suspect) that grace is unmerited favour despite what we deserve. It is more than just unmerited favour because you can put your favour on someone who hasn’t done anything warranting your ire. Grace is unmerited favour in the face of what we deserve. God shows his grace towards us by showing us unmerited favour in the face of the wrath and judgement we deserve by nature.
What, then, is the opposite of grace? Some would argue it is judgement. After all, if we don’t have God’s grace on us, we stand under his wrath. We will face his condemnation. But that is really the result of not receiving God’s grace. Or, more accurately, the result of our own sin. It isn’t the opposite of grace, just what results if we don’t receive God’s grace.
Look again at our definition above. God’s grace is his unmerited favour in the face of what we actually deserve. If we do not have God’s unmerited favour in the face of what we deserve, we must have God’s wrath in line with what we do deserve. Grace is undeserved so what happens apart from grace is entirely and properly deserved.
By Jim McCarthy — 8 months ago
Paul came proclaiming “the testimony of God.” He did not come preaching personal preferences, pop culture, political ideology, scientific theories, or sociological studies. He did not come proclaiming the testimony of man but the testimony of God. I love how Paul refers to the Word of God, that is the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, as God’s “testimony.”
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
In his book, The Soul Winner, Charles Spurgeon tells the story of a young pastor who, after preaching one Sunday, asked an older minster in his congregation for some feedback. The old minister was hesitant at first, but the young pastor pressed him until he said, “If I must tell you, I did not like it at all; there was no Christ in your sermon.” “No,” replied the young man, “because I did not see that Christ was in the text.” “But do you not know,” asked the old preacher, “that from every little town and village and tiny hamlet in England there is a road leading to London? Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, ‘There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.’” To which the young man said, “but suppose you are preaching from a text that says nothing about Christ?” The old man said, “Then I will go over hedge and ditch [to] get at Him.”
The Apostle Paul held and was held by the same Christ-exalting conviction. When summarizing his 18-month ministry to the Corinthians he said simply, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It was a reminder the Corinthians desperately needed because after Paul left them, they forgot the gospel and fell into gross sins and divisions. So, Paul wrote this letter hoping to reignite their affections for Christ and reinforce their confidence in simple gospel preaching as the primary means by which God saves and sanctifies sinners.
What is good preaching? What is a faithful ministry? Upon what and upon whom must we build our faith? We can find answers to these questions and more in the opening lines of 1 Corinthians 2 and we see that a faithful minister must preach Christ crucified in reliance upon the Holy Spirit.
I have dedicated an entire shelf of my library to books on homiletics, the art of preaching. But none of those books, nor all of them combined, can rival the simplicity and glory of Paul’s compact, how-to preaching manual before us, the first chapter of which could be entitled, What to Preach? Paul writes, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1).
Paul came proclaiming “the testimony of God.” He did not come preaching personal preferences, pop culture, political ideology, scientific theories, or sociological studies. He did not come proclaiming the testimony of man but the testimony of God. I love how Paul refers to the Word of God, that is the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, as God’s “testimony.” This is the only time he employs this phrase.
In a courtroom, witnesses sit on the stand and give their testimony. They answer questions and tell of what they’ve seen and what they know as the jury searches for truth. How infinitely valuable then, is the book in which is written the testimony of him who knows and sees all? How trustworthy is the account of him who is not like a man that he should lie or the son of man that he should change his mind? How timeless is the word of him who dwells outside of time in eternity, without beginning or end? So, like Paul faithful preachers must proclaim the testimony of God gripped by a holy fear of straying from its ancient paths. Our sermons must be riveted to the Bible and uncompromisingly exegetical.
When we used microscopes in high school biology we were told to start on the lowest magnification and then click over to higher magnifications to zoom in on the plant cells or fish scales we were examining. Paul does the same thing here. Having identified “the testimony of God” as the body of truth he preached, he zooms in on the very heart of the Scriptures, who is the Lord Jesus Christ: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Paul’s saying that to properly proclaim the testimony of God is to know “nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Why? Because the testimony of God swirls like a heavenly hurricane around Jesus. That’s why Phillip told Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). That’s why on the Mt. of Transfiguration the disciples saw Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the law and the prophets. That’s why as the resurrected Christ walked along the road to Emmaus with his disciples, Luke writes, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). That’s why Paul said all of the promises of God find their “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
But what, precisely about Jesus did Paul preach? Not just Jesus the divine teacher, or Jesus the wonder worker, or Jesus the moral example but, Jesus “Christ.” That is, Jesus the anointed one, long awaited Messiah, the Prophet like Moses whom God would raise up from among his brothers and who would speak the very words of God, the Priest after the order of Melchizedek that would intercede on behalf of his people and atone for their sins, and the King, great David’s greater Son, who would rule and defend his blood-bought people and whose kingdom would be everlasting, universal, and indomitable.
But there’s something more. Paul decided to know nothing but “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul preached every sermon in the shadow of the empty cross. Why? Because it was on the cross that Jesus, the Seed of the Woman, the virgin born Son of God and Son of Man, the Offspring of Abraham, the Lion of Judah, Son of David, the Holy one of Israel, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, became the Lamb of God who bore the sins of his people. And on that Friday long ago, atop a hill called Golgotha, which means the skull, suspended between a cruel mob and blackened sun, Jesus hung naked and nailed to a tree where he endured in his body and soul the of God’s burning hatred for the sins of his people until the magazines of Heaven’s holy wrath were empty and the fires of hell which burned for his people, were extinguished in his blood.
Paul decided to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified because that gospel of canceled sin by a loving God is the greatest news and only hope this world has ever heard; because while the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing it is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18); because Jesus Christ is all together lovely, the fairest of ten thousand, the bright and morning star, the lily of the valley, the rose of Sharon, the balm of Gilead, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, in whom the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell, bread of life, light of the world, the only door to God, the Good Shepherd, the resurrections and the life, the way, the truth and the life; because Paul’s highest hope and most ardent prayer was for his people to kiss the Son in love and embrace him in faith.
Well, if the first chapter of Paul’s preaching manual could be entitled, “What to Preach”, the second and final chapter could be called, “How to Preach.” When I served as a youth ministry intern at another PCA church, we took an annual mission trip to Mexico. And we gave our students a detailed packing list that included sunscreen, bug spray, bottled water, Bible, double the pairs of underwear you think you’ll need. But if I remember correctly, the first item on the list was not something to bring, but something to leave behind. “Don’t pack your negative attitude.” Paul begins the same way; listing what he did not bring with him to Corinth: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1).
Paul left his lofty speech and wisdom at home. He didn’t preach to impress. His style and his content were clear and plain that all might understand and believe the gospel he preached. He didn’t tickle the ears of his hearers with polished eloquence and Shakespearean sermons. There was a decided austerity to his style. He wrapped his sermons in sackcloth. He wanted his people to see Christ in his preaching so he refused to blind them by the glare of lacquered words. The old Puritan, Matthew Henry, said, Paul “preached the truths of Christ in their native dress, with plainness of speech.” Nor did he vaunt his learning to blow his hearers away. He didn’t come to make fans of Paul but disciples of Jesus Christ.
We who preach must decide the same. The temptation to make a name for ourselves is great. Sermon Audio download reports, book publishing, conference circuits, growing church attendance and budgets, even the well-intentioned praises of parishioners can become trip wires in which a proud man may become ensnared. So, we preachers must not overestimate our own sanctification and underestimate the power of indwelling pride. The 19th century Scottish theologian, James Denney, once said, “You cannot at the same time give the impression that you are a great preacher and that Jesus Christ is a great Savior.”
So, if Paul didn’t come with lofty speech or wisdom, what did he bring? Paul explained, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling…” (1 Corinthians 2:3). These three things are connected. One flows into the other like pools of cascading water. Paul came in spiritual weakness in humble recognition that the task to which he’d been called was bigger than him. Paul must have felt like Ezekiel looking out over that valley carpeted with dry bones, of which the Lord asked, “Son of man can these bones live?” Paul knew that no matter how well he preached to the Corinthians, no matter how robust his reasoning, no matter how sacrificially he served them or how genuinely he loved them he could not change a single person. He knew that only the Spirit of God, who is the Lord and Giver of life, can open eyes blinded by sin. Only the Spirit can enlighten minds darkened by depravity. Only the Spirit can thaw hearts frozen in hate for God and fill them with love for Christ. Only the Spirit can burst the bonds of Satan and liberate captive wills to choose Jesus. Only the Spirit can fill the craters of doubt and unbelief with saving faith by which we receive and rest in Christ alone for our salvation.
Some people fear snakes, or spiders, or darkness. In view of his own weakness, Paul was afraid of something too: not creepy crawlies or cruel people or even death itself; Paul was filled with a holy fear and zealous longing for the souls of his people. Paul knew that the wages of sin is death in hell forever and man’s only hope was to trust the Christ of whom Paul preached. But Paul knew that the forces of darkness committed to keeping the Corinthians from coming to Christ even if it meant convincing them to hang their faith on Paul instead of the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul’s decision to preach unadorned sermons was born of his awareness of his own weaknesses and the inability of eloquence and human sophistication to save a soul. So, he said in 1 Corinthians 2:4-6: “and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The preacher who believes that he is truly powerless and that the greatest sermon he could ever preach is insufficient to move the needle of one heart one degree towards God unless the Holy Spirit owns it will be a praying preacher. The church that yearns for the kind of preaching that saves sinners, the kind of preaching that transforms society, the kind of preaching that sparks revival in our land and rattle the gates of hell, will beg God for it in prayer.
Many years ago, I visited the historic Independent Presbyterian Church in downtown Savannah. I was blown away by the beauty of the architecture: the copper crowned steeple, Savannah shutters, hardwood box pews, vaulted ceiling, marble baptismal font, and especially the massive pulpit. As I gazed up at the pulpit, my friend who was also an intern at the church at that time, turned to me and asked, “Do you want to get in it?” “Do I!” I replied. So, he opened a secret door at the base of the pulpit which led to a secret staircase. And as I ascended those stairs something caught my eye at the top: a small brass plaque. I noticed that the finish of the wood surrounding the plaque had been rubbed away by the ministers who would touch the plaque as they went to preach each Lords Day. And as I got closer I was able to read the plaque. It said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
May we privileged preachers decide with Paul to live and preach with our hands on that plaque. May every sermon, every text, every Sunday beam with Christ and him crucified, Christ and him buried, Christ and him resurrected, Christ and his ascended, Christ and him seated ruling and reigning, and Christ returning in glory to judge the living and the dead. And may the church demand it of us, like those unnamed Greeks who said to Phillip long ago, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21). And in seeing him, may we be made more like him and bear much fruit to the glory of God.
Jim McCarthy is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Trinity PCA in Statesboro, Ga.