24 November, 2006

Bible Study: Assurance?

In our Thursday Bible Study, (cancelled this week, and deferred last week for a feast,) we have been wandering aimlessly through the scripture picking on a verse here and a verse there as it interests someone. It's been fun.

It does not really surprise me that a pattern imposed itself, but what the pattern was shocks me. 5 weeks in a row could all be described as being about "assurance of salvation." Not exactly one of the hot-button topics of the faith, I would have thought, but it emerged apart from any leading from this child.

The first two weeks the discussion edged that way. The next week was about the sin against the Holy Spirit. Then the verses chosen were actually chosen by people specifically because that was on their minds.

So, I am wondering.

Is this a topic of interest to anyone else? Is our little bible study "normal" or odd in this focus?

It so happens that I have been reading Jonathon Edwards' "Religious Affections" (for a long while now - I am ambling through it at best) so I have been amply equipped to go on about the subject.

It so happens, but not by coincidence.

I am reading Religious Affections because one of my chief questions in the faith these days is whether the church of our age is comforting too many people with promises of salvation. Is our church telling too many people that they are at peace with God, when really they are without Christ?

Imagine 2 people who have never known honey.

They are both brought to a bowl full of the golden syrup, and given a swizzle stick. They both are amazed at the color. They love its thickness, and how it slowly flows off the stick. They put it in their mouths and swish it around.

Mr. Edwards suggests that if only one of those people has the faculty of taste, only one of them will ever know that honey is sweet, but both will describe it in much the same language. The soul that cannot taste doesn't know what he's missing, so he describes the sensations of feeling honey on his tongue the same way the other person describes tasting it. When the tasting person describes a sticky sweetness, the non-tasting person will agree, and maybe elaborate even further, but not really have known honey's prime virtue.

He relates this back to the saints he shepherded through 1 Cor 2:14.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

The natural man, he reminds his reader, cannot taste the things of heaven. He can be impressed with them naturally. The wisdom of Jesus might look beautiful to him. The ideals of the church might appeal to his sense of justice. The care of the saints might impress him. The hope of heaven might comfort him. But the sweetness of Jesus he might never have tasted, having been assured too soon that merely admiring Christ was the same as having eaten His flesh, and tasted His blood.

Saying the sinner's prayer alone does not a conversion make.

So, what do you think?


Kansas Bob said...

I think that salvation and assurance of it is all about the heart (surprised?). So much of the teaching I have heard for the last 30+ years has dealt with sin management and I have heard very very little instruction about the inner man and the inner life.

Most of what I heard says something like this ... God said, I believe it and that settles it ... it is such a cliche. Yet most preachers try and try to convince folks that they are saved because the bible says that they are and never really discuss the very essence of spiritual life - we do because we are ... we believe the scripture because we are internally different. So often though we are trying to tell people that they are different when they, at a heart level, really are not - this is where it gets tricky.

In a sense no one can give someone assurance of salvation because that is the role of the Holy Spirit ... we can only show them the scriptures and let the Spirit do the rest as it says:

"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16)

Milly said...

This shines a light on those in the church that talk a good game yet don’t actually live or feel Jesus in their hearts. It’s a reminder not to become complacent in the pew and always reach for a higher understanding

pearlie said...

Is this a topic of interest to anyone else? Is our little bible study "normal" or odd in this focus?

I feel that for a group to bring up this question is mindful of their live in Christ - as a balance check. We do sometimes get on and get on - which church life and serving and praying and bible studying - with very little living in Christ. So we do need to ask if we are really doing it for the sake of doing it or because we love God and have a life in Christ. So asking that question is good.

whether the church of our age is comforting too many people with promises of salvation. Is our church telling too many people that they are at peace with God, when really they are without Christ?

That is a good observation. I tend to see that churches could be reassuring "peace" when peace is "not what is needed". "Peace" in the sense of apathy - like what Screwtape might say, "that patient is dead spiritually, don't bother him, let him rest in peace."

codepoke said...

dealt with sin management

Amen, KB!

we believe the scripture because we are internally different


codepoke said...


I'm not sure I've shined any light yet, even if I am thinking that maybe someone ought to. But how?

Assume we all agree. Light is needed. That doesn't get us much further than the mice who decided that the cat needed a bell around his neck.

How does a documented failure like myself question anyone else's spiritual sense?

codepoke said...

Yeah, Maeghan.

I am as surprised as anyone that my little group is bringing it up on their own. Makes my life a lot easier and more interesting, too. A pair of my favorite things. :-)

We'll see how I do at preaching peace to them.

Milly said...

In the end we all have to shine our own lights. I can hand you a match and a candle I can tell you how to light the match and show you how to put the flame to wick, in the end it will be up to you to do the work. Pointing out that we need to shine a light in our hearts is only that. At least it is a step, and a step not taken is a step of being still.

codepoke said...

That's a solid answer, Milly.

I wonder, though, whether there isn't something we can do to help people realize that they have an unlit candle.

Milly said...

I don't think we can do much but lead by example. For some it's a lack of confidence in themselves therefor a lack of it in God. We feel unworthy of receiving Him, what an insult to Jesus who died for us. To point out that the candle is unlit would be one more thing to deal with, I think it’s a matter of getting to know them and digging in together the more you know the word and feel worthy the better. It’s about feeling and sometimes renewing yourself we all have hit a time of just going through the motions finding a match to light the candle can be a search of our souls. Sometimes you have to take out the trash to find your candle.

(Like the Millyisms? I was afraid you folks were missing them ;-)

codepoke said...

I knew something was missing around these parts. :-D

Yes. People need to be led to take out the trash. But how to give them the nudge?

Missy said...

I've always been one to ignore the nudge. It's wrong and oh, so prideful, but I do it. God reveals my need to light the candle through the example of others.

Recently I asked someone that is often, unknowingly, that example to me how to press upon someone that they are "unlit."

She said the first thing I should do is consider that I may be wrong and pray for clarity. Huh?

Milly said...

Hmmm a post perhaps. I have two days off soon. We'll see where He put me.