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2017 Resolutions that don't stink...

Talking about New Year’s Resolutions is like asking people about their retirement investments. You know you should do be doing it, but feel condemned for not doing it well...or at all. You are likely in the 38% of those who never set a resolution on January 1, or maybe you are part of the 24% who never sees success in the goals you do set. Either way, I know that just by bringing it up you are likely to groan and roll your eyes. I totally understand.

I’d like to help by letting you inside how I do this every year. I don’t do many things like a boss, but I do happen to consider myself a professional resolution administrator. I absolutely love new year resolutions. in fact, you can access our sermons and look the week before or after January 1 and I guarantee you’ll find a sermon preaching to the heart on the importance of intentional and resolved living in light of the Gospel’s freedom. That being said, I won’t go into that here. Here, I want to take you into the mechanics of how I have done it over the last several years to great profit. 

1. Spend adequate time reflecting on the last year?

Ask probing questions to get you thinking, like “What is the biggest highlight and win this year?” “Where did I repeatedly fail this year?” “If I could have changed anything about my life this last year, what would it have been?” “What is the greatest lesson I’ve learned this year?” If you want more great questions, check out what Justin Buzzard asks when he appraises a year already gone by. 

2. Establish what your roles are?

In other words, what are the lanes you drive in - in order. For me, I'm a Christian first, a husband second, a daddy third, and a pastor and church planter fourth. This is important because it helps you “shoebox” your life in a way that makes resolving life changes a bit easier.

3. Establish what your life’s mission may be and how you may be distinctly called.

I think it’s important for everyone to have a mission statement and a stated understanding of their calling. Now, the mission statement ought to sound just like Jesus’ Great Commission, so we’re not all distinct snowflakes in that regard. But, when it comes to your distinct calling you should expect to see a “bent” or “flavor” to how you want to live as a worshiping missionary on earth. For a great book on how to do this, check out Matt Perman’s What's Best Next.

4. Establish where you keep getting stuck.

Many of your resolutions will look like refurbished resolutions from last year, and that’s because you keep getting stuck in the same areas. Diet, prayer, giving, and other potholes keep finding you likely. This is an opportunity for you to spend time looking at (1) what you wrongly believe about God and (2) what you desire more than God. Knowing where you get stuck will greatly inform your goal setting and growth. For a fantastic resource on how to be fluent in why you sin in certain areas and how to be fluent in the Gospel, check out Jeff Vandersteldt teach Gospel Fluency. 

5. Develop good goals/resolutions according to your roles.

Armed with (1) why you keep gumming down in the same areas, (2) how you did this last year, and (3) what you are called to do here on earth, begin jotting down rough ideas of how you’d like to see changes within your distinct roles. For instance, I have resolved to parent my teenage daughter differently this year (daddy goal) and I have also resolved to tangibly thank people in small notes this year (pastor goal). Don’t think too hard, just start brainstorming.

6. Rewrite them several times to make them concise and crisp and honestly ask…

    1. Are they specific enough? This means instead of writing, “I need to be healthier” you instead write down “I need to lose 25 lbs this year.” You must define what the win is. Vague end zones provide no touchdowns.
    1. Are they measurable at all? How will you know if you have done well? You’ll need to bring a way to discern win over failure or else you’ll never see change that will satisfy, nor will you know if your goal was too easy. You must build your goals in a trackable format as best as possible.
    1. Are they attainable and realistic? Do your resolutions consider your ability and time? Are they do-able? Don’t write “I want to read 50 books this year” -  unless you understand that this means reading roughly 10,000 pages, which takes roughly 10 hours per week...gulp. Work backwards to see what a goal does to your calendar and assess whether it’s even doable. Resolutions should be something to stretch and strain towards, but not crushingly difficult or impossible.
    1. Are they time-bound? Also important is nailing a time down, or even breaking the year into seasons (trimester, quarter, etc…). A wise man once told me, “Don’t think of a marathon as a 26 mile race, think of it as 26 one mile races.” Makes sense.


7. Submit them to someone close and ask them to be brutally honest with you.

I have done this at great profit. Inevitably someone always picks up where I have over-reached on a goal or have an odd motive behind a goal. Maybe I have 3 goals for “pastor” for every one I have for “dad.” Not only can close community or a spouse de-bug our strategic growth strategy, they bring accountability to it.  This seems like an unnecessary step, but change is a community project.

8. Write them in a place where you can look them over often.

I currently use an app called Trello, but Google has a task function that I used for years. Google tasks also lets you import them into a calendar. It doesn’t really matter what you use to collate your resolved goals, but you should have them in a place you are already used to looking. I check mine most every Monday and use it to help drive my calendar for the next few weeks. Every leadership coach in the world says the same thing about good goal setting: Write. It. Down. 

Wanna see a pro do this. Check out Jonathan Edwards list of resolutions...it's inspiring. 

9. Re-assess how SMART the goals are on July 4th.

You guessed it, number 6 above spelled out the acronym SMART. Now you get to see how smart the goals really were. Every July 4th (about the middle of the year) I spend a few hours to re-assess my annual resolutions. Sometimes I find I was too aggressive, and sometimes I already met a goal because it was a bit too easy. So, I take this time to adjust the dial so come December 31st, I have a good chance of meeting the resolutions in a way that they serve me and help me grow.

10. Be patient and graceful, knowing you’ll fail many times

Seriously, you’re going to fail a ton when intentionally setting out to grow as a disciple. It will require a bunch of effort to break out of the patterns you're used to living easily. Breaking into a new rhythm and way of living is going to be difficult. Be ready for setbacks and handle yourself with grace because that is how Jesus handles your resolution failures.

I hope this helps you this year. Volumes can be written on goal setting by people more qualified than me, and as much as you may find failure in the goals you set this year, you statistically stand a 10x better chance of succeeding in them if you go through this process. Happy New Year!

Posted by Luke Thomas with
in MIsc

How Do I Know if I'm Saved

There was a time in my life when I used to wrestle endlessly with this question. It was the source of no small amount of fear and anxiety, often leaving me physically shaking and in tears. It’s one of those “existential” questions every believer asks in his or her life, and never just once. I’m extremely thankful to God that He has brought me to a place of rest with this question. I hope it comes as a deep encouragement and relief to you that not only do I no longer shake with fear at asking this question, but I now find incredible hope and when I ask it. My hope is that you would do the same.

Most people come to wrestle with this question as they are introduced to the biblical truths that all of salvation is accomplished by God’s hands alone, and that it comes solely by faith in Jesus’s gifts of atonement and cleansing on the cross alone solely because He is gracious and chose to save us. However, I wrestled with this question long before being introduced to those truths myself. My struggle was not dissimilar to John Bunyan’s work, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. If you have trouble with the monotony and depression of much of that book, that was my daily life for quite a while.

I’m heavily invested in the answer to this question not only because it led to so much grief as I approached it unbiblically for so long, but much more so for the fruit it has produced now in my life. It is a question we are commanded by God in His word to ask. It is a good question, and it leads us to a good God.

An Inevitable Question

When you faithfully preach the good message of Jesus’s cross, certain words come out a lot: His people, when you believe, all who believe, and the like. It’s an irresponsible message when we tell people that are lost that they are already God’s children and just need to realize it. God is clear that until he saves us and we then believe, we are His enemies, and we deserve His wrath. When we preach the gospel, it is better to say things like, “God is calling you to believe,” “God wants you to repent and trust Him,” and “As you’re hearing this message, it’s not meant to drive you away from God in fear but to draw you near to Him in need.”

People are perceptive. They hear your message, even if they find it foolish or offensive. In talking about various gospel truths with my 7-year-old son, he was perceptive enough to ask me, “Do I believe?” It doesn’t matter your age. When you read scripture or have a faithful gospel message given to you, it will inevitably show God’s faithfulness at the root of everything and just above that: our trust. All gospel promises are attached to faith. Believers and unbelievers alike cannot help but ask the question, “How do I know if I believe?” And this question, at least biblically, is the same as asking, “How do I know if I’m saved?”

My goal here is to give you practical, ground-level helps as you engage this question, and those helps are going to be driven by scripture.

An Obedient Question

Not only are you not alone in asking this question, and not only are you clearly wired to ask it, you are actually commanded by scripture to ask it in Paul’s final words to the Corinthians. He desired them to be obedient when he next came to them so he would not have to be severe. So he commanded them to examine themselves.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5)

Since God’s commands are never bad for us, my desire is to lead you away from equating this question with only fear and anxiety. In fact, immediately after giving and explaining the above warning, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, rejoice.” The command is not to examine and lament. The command is to examine and rejoice.

The Differences Between Saved and Unsaved People

When examining ourselves to see whether or not we are saved, I think the most sensible place to start is to ask, “What are the actual differences between saved and unsaved people?” If we know the differences, it will help us look at ourselves in light of those differences and see where we fall. As we examine ourselves, it leads us to do so more biblically, and it will bring an ever-increasing confidence and joy to our lives. I don’t want to be strictly comprehensive here with a giant list, but I want to be responsible and reflect the true biblical picture.

The Unsaved

Romans 1:21-24 – When we are unsaved, our thoughts are trapped uselessly on worldly things, our hearts are completely blinded to who God really is, and (at least internally) we boastfully consider ourselves to be wise. Also, we see God as dull, colorless, and undesirable, and we see many worldly things and vivid, beautiful, and much more pleasurable than God. In short, we exchange the glory of God for creation. Furthermore, we are trapped in this state and completely unable to escape. We are addicted to desiring everything except God, and we cannot desire God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – When we are unsaved and we hear the gospel, we inevitably see it as either offensive or foolish. Our reactions range from “How dare you say I need rescue?” to “Who could possibly believe in such a ridiculous message?” We are unable to hear it joyfully and consider it to be God’s power and wisdom. We are unable to truly feel our need for it and long for it.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 – When we are unsaved, we do not have the Holy Spirit living inside us, and therefore, we are unable to desire Jesus’s desires and think His thoughts. Those things are not available to us.

1 John 3:4-10 – When we are unsaved, God’s seed does not live in us, and therefore in our tangible everyday actions, we cannot obey God (also see Romans 8:5-8). We are “lawless,” meaning that we only keep the law to avoid punishment, not because we enjoy and love the law. Please don’t misunderstand this. This doesn’t mean we do only evil all the time (“utter depravity”). It means do not obey out of love and trust toward God, and no area of our lives is beyond the control of sin.

The Saved

Romans 3:21-26 – The moment we are saved, God restores our ability to see Him for who He is. He shows Jesus off to us as a gift of righteousness we could not earn and cannot lose. Jesus appeases God’s wrath toward us by taking that wrath on Himself so that God is still just as He justifies sinful people.

Romans 5:6-11 ; Colossians 1:21-23 – We were enemies of God before we were saved, and we were foreign to Him, not belonging anywhere near Him. But when God saved us, He reconciled us to be at peace with Himself and to belong in His presence.

Ephesians 2:1-10 ; Romans 6:1-14 – We were dead before we were saved. But when God saved us, He made us alive with Jesus. Further, God ended sin’s control over us, and we are no longer “given over” to sin because Jesus was “given over” in our place to put sin to death in us (Romans 4:25). We are able to obey, and sin no longer has control over us.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – After being saved, when we hear the gospel, we feel a keen need for it, and we long for the blessings of the gospel message. We see it as God’s wisdom, and for us, the hearing the gospel is God’s power to save us out of sin’s control.

Galatians 3:1-6 – In fact, we don’t just hear the gospel once. We hear it over and over again, and by the power of hearing the gospel with faith, we have the Spirit, and we are continually perfected. The gospel rescues us frequently and not just once.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 – When we are saved, the Holy Spirit is sent to live in us, and He reveals God to us, giving us Jesus’s mind. With Him, we are able to love what Jesus loves and think what Jesus thinks.

2 Peter 1:3-11 – Now that we are saved, we are able to participate in God’s nature because of His great and precious promises. We are given everything we need to live a godly live here and now. More than that, we are commanded to practice the righteousness we now have access to.

1 John 3:4-10 – Once saved, God’s seed lives in us, and we cannot continue on in sin as though nothing at all happened. The common way people describe this is to say that God “ruined them.” And what they mean by this is that God ruined their previous ability to delude themselves into blind satisfaction in sin. We have eyes that see now. When we sin, we know clearly that it’s wrong and damaging, and not just because of Earthly consequences. We can feel the resulting distance from God. Sin loses its savor, even in callousness. We are no longer able to blindly practice sin.

How to Examine Yourself

Just Listen to the Gospel

There are some practical things in the verses above that will guide us well in how to examine ourselves wisely. First and foremost, you need to firm up your realization that salvation is a gift! It depends on God’s righteousness, not ours; on God’s obedience, not ours; on God’s faithfulness, not ours; and on God’s steadfast love, not ours. We received salvation when we were dead in our sins, able to do nothing. Salvation is a gift freely given, impossible to repay. When we talk about examining ourselves to see if we are in the faith, we aren’t looking for actions that keep salvation. We aren’t looking for actions that would supposedly lose salvation (I’ll deal more with this later). We are looking for evidences of God’s freely given salvation. Scripture gives us many tangible evidences, so let’s get into them.

The most obvious tangible evidence of God’s saving grace is how our hearts react to the gospel. This is the easiest and quickest way to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. This is how I most often choose to examine myself when I feel discouraged. 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 makes it clear that the unsaved see the gospel as foolish and offensive. They are unable to see the gospel as something they need and as their only hope for salvation. My first advice to you in testing yourself is to simply hear the gospel! Yes, it is that simple. Read it, contemplate it, and talk about it with a friend. What happens to your heart when you hear it? Is it refreshing? Is it comforting? Do you see your need for it? Does it delight you? Do you thirst for it? Does it draw you near to God instead of pushing you further away? If so, then I think you should be encouraged about your salvation. Lost people don’t do that.

More than this, our reactions to all of scripture are telling, and I’ll get a bit more into this later. When we read warnings, and we feel fear, that should be encouraging. When we read commands, and we realize that God is for us, He’s powerful, and He’s good, those commands cease to be restraints. Instead we are able to see God’s commands as loving and wise for us, even when we do not fully understand. In fact, this is exactly how the gospel changes us from lawless rebels into lovers of God. This also encourages us about our salvation because lost people cannot do that.

From here, I think it’s best to bring you to a phrase I’ve found tried and true. You’ve probably heard it said, “You don’t have to obey. You get to obey.” This statement is true and helpful, but it’s incomplete and potentially dangerous. I’d like to finish it with something more helpful: “You don’t have to obey. You get to obey. But if you don’t want to obey, then you are in danger, and you need to repent and see God for who He is again.”

Even though you’re saved, please don’t think that it’s “safe” to dawdle in sin. It’s not safe. It’s dangerous. We have many stern and frightening warnings against living in unrepentant sin. Your sight of God grows dim, your confidence in salvation wanes, and you inflict real damage on God’s reputation on Earth, on your brothers and sisters in Christ, and on your unsaved neighbors. Just read through Hebrews for a reminder of how important it is to hear and obey the gospel right this moment and not wait.

Knowing that you’re saved is not where scripture leads us. It’s not where scripture lands. God’s word paints our confidence in salvation as something we not only test but as something that we build. It’s not some binary one or zero. It’s relational, and it grows. Paul and Peter do not tell us to seek out a checkmark regarding our eternal destiny. They lead us on a journey during which we play around with and make liberal use of the promises we’ve been given. Seeing those promises come alive in real life is what grows our confidence, and more than that, leads us into growing intimacy with God.

A Growing Confidence

I don’t recommend that you only hear the gospel and watch your heart’s reaction. I recommend that you practice righteousness. The rest of the paragraphs in this section are just an explanation of Peter’s advice for how to continually grow in your confidence of salvation in 2 Peter 1. Remember that you cannot practice something you do not have. If you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you cannot truly see or delight in the gospel, and you will fail the test in the previous section. If you do have the Holy Spirit, then you are able to practice what follows. If your heart reacts with need and longing to the gospel, then you are able to practice these things.

You are also commanded to practice them. It’s not optional. And how can you be confident in your salvation if you do not seek to practice God’s divine nature as you’re commanded to do? That’s why it’s so important to do these things. They bring confidence and joy in God’s salvation. If you fail to do them, you will become blind and less confident in your salvation. Only, don’t take that resulting blindness as opportunity to despair but as opportunity to run empty handed to God, leaning into His gospel, His free gift of salvation, begging Him for grace to change.

First, practice morality and purity, and see if you are able to do it joyfully because you trust and enjoy God. This practice of morality and purity has to be coupled with meditating on and enjoying God’s many free-gift promises in Jesus. With your eyes fixed on God, say yes to loving God and loving your neighbor, and say no to ungodliness. You are able to do this, so practice it and watch it live and breathe in real life. Be encouraged by this.

Next, practice knowledge. I don’t mean just knowing things, but I mean, “I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Get a view of God, and pray with the Psalmist, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Does your heart move with knowing God intimately?

Next, practice self-control (also listed by Paul in Galatians 5 as a fruit of the Spirit). Are you able to restrain your heart from sinful excess joyfully because of the God you’ve come to know? Is knowing God as your oasis in the desert able to disarm the wild pull of idolatry and addiction for you in the moment? Practice this! If you are saved, you are able to be self-controlled with a joyful heart as you fix your eyes on God.

Next, practice steadfastness in your self-control. Don’t just practice it one moment and not the next, but practice it one moment and the next. Live your life in the refuge of our God, praying with the Psalmist, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2). As you feel discouraged and weakened from practicing self-control, refresh yourself in God’s sanctuary. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Practicing steadfastness must be coupled with finding yourself in God’s sanctuary often to release the slowly tightening grip that sin can develop over time. Our steadfastness comes from God’s steadfastness, and we only access it when we walk step in step with Him. My experience is that steadfastness brings great confidence in the Lord. We “settle” into salvation through steadfastness, and we rest there. Practice this. It’s yours, and it’s freely given.

Next, practice godliness. This word means more than obedience. It reaches more into ideas of fearing God, being loyal to God, and being reverent toward Him. Peter says earlier that this godliness comes through knowing God. Having endured in self-control and righteousness, you will find a firm, unshakable loyalty to God forming, a powerful reverence toward Him that is not forced through punishment but comes gladly from the heart, having seen His proven character over and over. More and more, we become truly “His.” This is meant to be an encouragement to you that further grows your confidence in God’s powerful salvation of your soul. You used to revere people and sin, but more and more, you revere only God. Practice this.

Next, we find the penultimate command in Peter’s list: brotherly affection. Truly loving God as we were called to, we are truly able to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Knowing God’s character and developing a firm reverence for Him, we come to see our family in Christ as God sees them, as His very own children. We love our brothers and sisters deeply, and we long for them to be blessed and cared for. Having joined in God’s nature, we live in Jesus’s humility and desire for the good of others. This is necessary for us to we build one another up in love into the full stature of Jesus Christ as Paul commands us to in his letter to the Ephesians. Practice brotherly affection by fighting contentions and by eagerly desiring the good of your brothers and sisters. Be encouraged at how this affection grows over time. This is yours for the taking. Practice it, watch it live and breathe, and enjoy it.

Finally, practice love in all things in all places. Peter said in his first letter, “Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins.” In this, we are truly like God. In this, we fully imitate Him. To be rid of self and to be full of an intense love for your family in Christ and for the world around you is to be best primed for our eternal calling, our eternal home. Practice the desire for the good of others and the putting down of loving self. This is the life we are saved to live. By practicing God’s own love, we image the trinity, who embodies love in community perfectly. This growing, intense love is an encouragement that God has indeed saved you. Practice it. Live in it.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8-22)

Peter describes practicing the gifts we have been given as though it literally escorts us into God’s eternal home. These disciplines are not sterile, cold, “you have to do this or else” disciplines; and when they are, it’s just a sign that our hearts are becoming calloused. These disciplines are life-giving, intimate, joyful disciplines that revive the soul and pry us loose from the enslaving, deadly tentacles of sinful infatuations.

The Difficulty with Callousness from Sin

Don’t forget that Peter did say, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” The author of Hebrews did say, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” When we fail to engage the righteousness we have been given, we become blind. When we do not live the life we were saved to live, and we dawdle in sin, we become hardened. It always happens. The more we entertain sin as though it weren’t seeking to kill us, the worse this callousness gets.

When we have a hardened heart because of living in sin, we often hear the gospel and feel little to no movement at all in our hearts. This is certainly not an uncommon experience for those who have lived too long with unrepentant sin in their lives, forsaking the joyful disciplines of grace God leads us to engage daily. My encouragement to you when you find yourself in this situation is to look at the gospel again. And then look at it again and again and again! Consider the gospel with others in your community. Feed off of their less calloused hearts, and follow them into the God’s sanctuary to enjoy Him. Take advantage of the truth that it is easier to feel the Lord’s presence and the beauty of His gospel when in the company of other believers. Take advantage of the fact that enjoying Him comes more readily in the presence of other believers. 

I believe it is faithful to scripture and honest of reality to say that when you aren’t actively practicing the gifts you’ve been given and playing around with them in your life, then you are meant to doubt your salvation.

Your confidence is meant to wane. It’s not like you can be confident now, then ignore God for a year, and remain confident at the end of that year. Confidence is linked to relationship, and relationships do not work that way. The waning of your confidence in salvation and the subsequent fear that brings are together meant to wake you up and drive you to God in trust that He is faithful even when you are not.

God uses these things in His infinite power that keeps you. Please know that I’m not saying your salvation waxes and wanes. It is firm and secure for all time. However, your sight of it and your confidence in it do wax and wane.

We can even become so calloused that for all practical purposes, it’s not really possible to know whether we are extremely calloused or whether we’re unsaved. I feel like this topic is dealt with so pastorally and encouragingly in John Pipers When the Darkness Will Not Lift, that it’s best to simply ask you to read that book if you find yourself currently in this situation. The seed of salvation can exist even when we are currently in such darkness that we feel we are unable to see it. One thing I do know is that when you find yourself in this situation, the last thing you need to keep doing is examining yourself. Give yourself mere moments to examine yourself. The moment you have an answer, even if that answer is, “I still do not know,” get your eyes off of yourself and onto the God they were meant for.

Can I Lose My Salvation?

This is not a dumb question, and you are OK to ask it. God is good to us, and He is clear to us in His Word. We don’t need to hide from asking this, and we don’t need to defend God by ignoring it. He can defend Himself perfectly well, and that frees us to ask this and other questions in full frankness and openness.

This question wasn’t formed in a vacuum. There are verses that make us feel like we can indeed lose our salvation. The most common of these verses are the ones that give clear notions that only those who do endure to the end will actually be saved. We see this idea in verses like Matthew 10:22, John 15:6, 1 Corinthians 15:2, and Galatians 6:9. But it’s important to realize the language used here. We are warned of what will happen if we do not endure to the end. We are commanded to endure to the end. What we are not told is that we actually can fall away from salvation.

Next, we need to realize that God actually does say quite clearly that He will keep us to the end. Verses like John 6:39, John 10:28, Romans 8:28-35, Hebrews 6:17-18, Ephesians 1:11 make it extremely clear that God saves once and for all those He chooses. There are other passages that make it clear that God knows all things that will come to pass and establishes them from the beginning (Job 23, Isaiah 46). God chose us before the foundations of the world, God is able to save us, God is able to keep us, God has promised He will keep us, and God cannot be unfaithful to His own promises. It is a firm guarantee.

Now some people will look at these two realities in the Bible and say one of several things. They might say that the Bible is erroneous and unreliable. It “kind of” has God’s revelation to us, but not really. They might say that some people thought we could lose salvation while other thought we couldn’t, though this doesn’t stand up to the fact that Paul would inevitably be contradicting himself. But at Legacy, we do not consider a God who is divided and confused to be worth worshipping. We do not consider a God who cannot reveal Himself clearly and inerrantly to us to be worth worshipping. This is not to mention also the fact that God says clearly in His word that He makes wise the simple, reveals Himself powerfully to sinner, and is inerrant in His words to us. He would be contradicting Himself if He gave us wrong words in His Word.

So this inevitably means that His words do not, in fact, contradict, but that they work together for our good. Our task then becomes asking Him to guide us in understanding how these verses work together, and our past faithful brothers and sisters in Christ have not left us barren regarding this. How this works is that the firm promises of God stand as the umbrella under which everything else resides. God’s promises to choose, predestine, save, cleanse, atone, change, perfect, and bring full to the end everyone He saves are firm, clear, and unwavering.

So why have warnings that say, “Only those who ensure to the end will be saved?” Why have commands that say, “Be sure that you endure to the end?” Because God is using them for your good. This isn’t some childish game of logic. Those warnings are intended to bring fear, and that fear is intended to draw you near to God. They act as a wake up call to spur us out of dawdling in sin. The commands are intended to be weighty. They are intended to show us the importance of hearing the gospel today and reacting to it with faith and trust today. God’s warnings and commands do not contradict God’s promises. Rather, the join God’s promises in a united front to keep us in salvation. The promises are firm and secure, and God uses the warnings and commands to spur us back into His avenues of grace as we stray from them. God uses warnings and commands in His mysterious and wise keeping power.

Friend, rest assured that you cannot lose your salvation. When God saves you, you are safe! That safety and freedom lead you to see God clearly for who He is. That renewed sight leads you to trust Him when you formally distrusted hem. That trust leads you to see His commands and warnings as the loving gifts that they are. Trust Him and His commands and warnings, you now obey from the heart, willingly, rather than reluctantly solely to avoid punishment. That is how this seemingly reckless gospel that freely forgives ugly rebels of all they’ve done and will do (past, present, and future) also changes those very rebels into new people who now love God and His law.

Am I No Longer Able to Be Forgiven?               

There are two verses in particular that instill fear in us all when we read them. I don’t seek to dissolve that fear, but I do seek to keep that fear from being misplaced and to keep that fear from drawing us away from God in distrust. All fear in scripture is intended to draw us near to Him, freely drinking in His free and lavish salvation. 

Regarding the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, Matthew Henry responds so well:

But humble and conscientious believers, at times are tempted to think they have committed the unpardonable sin, while those who have come the nearest to it, seldom have any fear about it. We may be sure that those who indeed repent and believe the gospel, have not committed this sin, or any other of the same kind; for repentance and faith are the special gifts of God, which he would not bestow on any man, if he were determined never to pardon him; and those who fear they have committed this sin, give a good sign that they have not. The trembling, contrite sinner, has the witness in himself that this is not his case. (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible)

This reaches back to the same test of seeing if you are, in fact, saved. Saved people do not tremble when the read about the unpardonable sin. Well, perhaps they care because of their fear of punishment. But they certainly do not for fear losing a relationship with God. Shaking when you hear a warning is a sign of God’s grace, as when we are lost, in our pride we typically consider ourselves beyond these kinds of warnings. If your heart longs for the gospel as it hears it, you have certainly not committed the unpardonable sin. Shake as you hear this warning. Then be encouraged as you find yourself shaking, and delve empty-handed all the deeper into God’s free gift of salvation that comes to you apart from anything you can do to deserve it.

And then there’s the infamous verse in Hebrews 10:26-27, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” And then we ask, “Is this me?” Again, I have no desire to dissuade you from asking that. You are obviously meant to ask that! And, again, those who quake in fear of this are often the least likely to belong in that category in the first place. It is such a stern warning that only a Judas would read this potentially find themselves in the category.

But you need to understand what kind of person belongs here: a hardhearted, continually unrepentant person who by no means would ever prostrate themselves before Jesus at His cross admitting full need of salvation. Jesus wasn’t unclear when He said that any who come to Him, He will by no means cast out (John 6:37). The people who fit in this category have no desire for Jesus’s salvation – of that you can be sure. Again, just listen to the gospel, over and over again if necessary. As it moves your heart to draw near to God in gratitude for His rescue, be encouraged that you are indeed His child. You cannot be beyond salvation if you are able to long for it and come to Jesus. The lost are not given that grace. They don’t want the Jesus of the Bible. They want a different god altogether.

What if I Find Myself Lacking?

You know, the funny thing is that whether you pass the test with great encouragement, whether it leaves you confused and fearful, or whether you feel you clearly fail it, your response should be identical.

If you look at the things you practice in daily life and see fruit of God’s salvation and the promises coming alive reliably and steadfastly, it is indeed an incredible encouragement. And what it leads you to do is the same thing that got you to that point in the first place: to place your eyes on God in awe and with full abandon. It leads you to deep thankfulness and joy in all of the immeasurable gifts He has not only given you but shown you more and more deeply as you’ve endured in your intimate walk through sufferings and trials.

But suppose you find yourself in a different place. If you look at your life and at how your heart responds to the gospel and find confusion and cloudiness, you will not gain more clarity by continuing to look at yourself. If you find your heart having no perceptible motion or response at all as you hear the gospel, your heart isn’t going to change by continuing to look at yourself. The only way the heart truly changes is as it hears the gospel with faith (Galatians 3). The only way faith comes is by hearing the good message of the Jesus’s gifts He gives us as He died on the cross, rose again, and glued us to Himself, killing our old nature and raising us up with Himself as new people (Romans 6; Romans 10).

Friend, the answer is the same, no matter where land when testing yourself. Your heart will only change as you gaze on God as He truly is. Your faith will only increase as you see Him. Your addiction will only loosen its grip as a deeper captivation strengthens its grip, a captivation with the God who, counter to all we deserve in our sin, slaughtered His Son for your punishment, and gave you the incredible blessings that His Son earned. Only as you see this God, only as trust for Him grows as your eyes feast on Him will the grip of sinful desire loosen. Only as you see and taste this God will the callouses of your heart fall away so that you can see Him all the more clearly and feel Him all the more closely.

Yes, please do test yourself to see that you are in the faith. But no matter the result of this, get your eyes back on the God who saves you. Get your mind back on the gospel message, which alone is God’s power to save your soul. If you fail the test, take that fear and run to the God who pours blessings freely on helpless rebels. If you pass the test, take that encouragement and run to God in deep thankfulness that He would encourage you so richly in your hope to come – heaven, where you will be with God fully with no separation at all. Regardless of where you are, friend, run full steam after God.


Posted by Matt Norman with

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