Assurance and experience

Discussion in 'Spiritual Warfare' started by StephenMartyr, Aug 19, 2019.

  1. StephenMartyr

    StephenMartyr Puritan Board Freshman

    Another topic I was wondering about is that of experience.

    Sorry for such a long post!

    When you hear of some people coming to the faith (I’m talking being born again, not coming to the reformed faith...though maybe linked?) sometimes they can talk about some experience they’ve had. It could be big or small. An “encounter with God”.

    I’ll admit sometimes I get worried because I don’t think I’ve had that “big experience” though on a few occasions in prayer I’ve felt close to God. So when people talk like that I think to myself, “What does this encounter with God” look like? If you took 50 or a 100 stories what is the common thread in them all?

    Lately I’ve really enjoyed looking / thinking about three conversion stories in the Book of Acts: Lydia, the Phillipian jailer and the Ethiopian eunuch. In reading the Lydia story again just now I noticed it said, as well as the eunuch (emphasis mine):

    Act 16:14 “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”

    Act 8:27 “And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,...”

    I’m not too sure of the jailer, but these two seemed to have a religious background, both Lydia and the eunuch knowing something or other about God and the scriptures. That I suppose can be like people today having been in church most of their lives knowing about God but not knowing God.

    But this ties into my question on what is the hallmark of being born again? One could say with Mary:

    Joh 11:25 “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (vs.26)And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

    Joh 11:27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”

    I would imagine only someone having been born again could say that.

    I want to add one more thing Spurgeon said at the end of one of his sermons (Struggles of Conscience), emphasis mine:

    Come as thou art; come in all thy poverty, and stubbornness, and hardness, just as you are now, take Christ to be your all in all. Sound your songs ye angels, smite your golden harps ye redeemed ones; there are sinners snatched from hell to-day; there are men who have trusted Christ this morning. Though they scarcely know it, their sins are all forgiven; their feet are on the rock; the new song shall soon be in their mouth, and their goings shall be stablished. Farewell, ye brethren, turn to God this morning; God shall keep you, and you shall see his face in glory everlasting. Amen.

    So here he seems to acknowledge that some people may not even have any experience! Is this correct?

    I’ve been raised up in church and I could go on how my mind has been renewed and that past doctrine and teaching has been replaced by better doctrine and teaching...but have I had this “encounter with God”? This (almost Sproulish) “aweful encounter with His Holiness” objectively experiencing the substance of His Holiness around me? (Aweful in a good way). I would say I don’t think I’ve had this objective substantial encounter like that.

    Does this mean that if someone has been going to church their whole life and believes and trusts Jesus for salvation they might not be saved but the hallmark is this “encounter”? Spurgeon didn’t think so.

    Yet their are people that say that they have. And I’m not about to rain on their parade but want to rejoice with them!

    Rom 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

    But it still bothers me. I feel sad inside and want that too. But is the substantial foundation trusting in the salvation Jesus offers? Or should experience be added to it? Can one trust and not have an experience?

    1Jn 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

    1Jn 5:5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

    I’m a very inward looking person wondering if person x had something happen it should happen to me too.
  2. Jerrod Hess

    Jerrod Hess Puritan Board Freshman

    Yeah, if you can't remember the day, hour, and minute that you received the second blessing from the Spirit, you probably aren't saved.


    You really should go through ch. 14-18 in your confession to solidify your assurance. We are saved because Christ has shed his blood for our soul, and has given us a heart that won't be fulfilled outside of communion with him. There is oft chatter going about in 'Reformed' circles that basically believes if you don't remember the hour of your salvation, you likely aren't saved. We are saved by the faith of a mustard seed, which God plants in us, and promises to give increase until the day of glorification.

    Edit: If you desire true communion with the Lord, seek his face in prayer and meditation, wrestling with him if necessary, until thou receivest a blessing indeed, as Jacob.

  3. JennyGeddes

    JennyGeddes Puritan Board Freshman

    Growing up in church, I heard a lot of “time, Day, and year” salvation stories. I always felt less than because I really didn’t have one. Don’t get me wrong, I have joyous times when I feel like God has really been leading me through something in the scriptures and especially with answered prayer. But’s just me, reading my Bible and praying. No big frills or chills, but love, comfort, and security. I think I’m good with that. Emotions go up and then they come down. The Lord keeps me very content.

    May God bless you.
  4. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    I know the feeling. It's a certain brand of evangelicalism that emphasizes this sort of experience. While dramatic conversion experiences do happen, they are not the rule.

    Sometimes people are ruled by their emotions. This can be mistaken for spiritual experience. But don't go and recollect all your emotional experiences of prayer or worship and doubt whether they were authentic. Just don't make the mistake of binding your assurance up in them.

    Fix your eyes on Christ, not on anything in yourself. Remember that Scripture is the only rule of faith and practice.
  5. StephenMartyr

    StephenMartyr Puritan Board Freshman

    I read those chapters. Thank you for reminding me of them. Here's one that helps me, Chapter 14, III:

    "III. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong;a may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory;b growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ,c who is both the author and finisher of our faith.d"

    That sounds like me. Reading and praying. Nothing fancy. Oh, and Ligonier videos too...and books.

    I like that last part, "Fix your eyes on Christ, not on anything in yourself." Why is that so hard? I know I shouldn't "look inside" but look outside of myself to that wonderful alien righteousness of Christ! There's something inside that says, "But I have to feel it!"

    I wonder how much of that part of us is related to our eyes (we have to see it) or touch (we have to physically feel it)? So maybe with faith. We as humans can't just trust but we have this expectation of something has to happen! That's not faith then is it? Christ risen from the dead! Isn't that proof enough?
  6. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I had an incredible experience one time. I was born (physically). At this time, I took a breath for the first time, saw the world for the first time, ate by mouth, etc.

    I don't remember it.

    Being born again, especially if you were young, can be similar. I've had "aha" moments, though I wouldn't describe any of these as a kind of substantial experience worth noting.
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  7. Kinghezy

    Kinghezy Puritan Board Freshman

    One of my elders is fond of saying that for membership interviews, people who don't have those experiences are frequently apologetic that they don't have something to say about a "Come to Jesus" moment. And they may not be able to point to a time of not believing Jesus. His response, is that this is God being merciful, not having you go through an experience of not knowing. Also, he points out that if we have kids, we would rather our kids always know Jesus and not go through a rebellion against God to have some experience of him finding us

    My rough heuristic, is a desire for things after God. There's obviously more detailed criteria than that, but when you boil it down, you are no an longer enemy and have a conscience that is hurt when you do sin and you want to do good.
  8. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    Reading the beginning of this post before you mentioned Acts I was already thinking "he's a Lydia". That observation about previous worship of Lydia and the Eunich is interesting. They were converted within the covenant community rather than being brought into it by conversion as in the case of the jailer.

    In reading about the lives of Christians in the past, or in accounts repeated in our circles, dramatic conversion experiences are often quite prominent because they are more unusual. So we shouldn't assume they are the normal course for a Christian and if we don't have such experiences then we are lacking something.

    However we should look for fruit in our lives as evidences of true faith, or marks of grace. My concern is that in the Reformed world today there is too much emphasis placed on an intellectual assent to the doctrines of the faith and not enough given to the subjective experience. It's alays hard to strike a balance and yes we look to Christ for our salvation and assurance that all the work has been accomplished by Him, not to anything in ourselves. But we do find within ourselves evidences or fruits of spiritual life. Just as natural life produces certain fruit so does spiritual life.

    So you shouldn't worry that you have no cataclysmic experience to recount and you certainly shouldn't worry that you can't name the time, day and place of your conversion. And there is no set list of spiritual experiences one needs to pass through before one is converted (which one tends to find in hyper-calvinist preaching). But it is profitable to be examining oneself and looking for Biblical marks of grace because these can be great aids in discerning one's own state and in finding assurance (an assurance resting in Christ).
  9. StephenMartyr

    StephenMartyr Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for these words. I totally believe that being born again isn't just an intellectual assent. There's a spiritual side. A person begins to see their sin, the work of Christ and His reconciling them to God. It becomes personal and blessed.
  10. A.Joseph

    A.Joseph Puritan Board Freshman

    I’m kind of anti-experience due to the lack of direct biblical corroboration of a one time event and the implications.

    It affects baptism, whether parents qualify to raise their children as Christians, the nature of free grace, the freedom to come to Christ and partake in His once and for all perpetual and living sacrifice. The Bible says we must be Born Again, but to my knowledge it does not directly mention or describe a one time special experience or event.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019
  11. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    What a great subject. I almost started a similar post a short on time ago. For starters, I invite you to read a post made several weeks ago that touched on the subject. There is a link to a helpful discussion by Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. I think it is an eye-opener.
  12. A.Joseph

    A.Joseph Puritan Board Freshman

    I think covenant doctrine is a vital consideration here that harmonizes acceptance in the living body and individual salvation. I believe a dependency on a special experience can isolate the person from the primary place and circumstances in which the Holy Spirit works.
  13. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Were not "special experiences" common in the days of the Apostles? Isn't that what the Filling of the Spirit was? Is? Such blessings were both prevalent and frequent. Are we not exhorted to be filled with the Spirit? If such fillings were not accompanied with super-charged emotions, why does Paul compare them to intoxication--to something as real though opposite as intoxication? To your specific objection that "a special experience can isolate the person from the primary place and circumstances in which the Holy Spirit works," what in Scripture gives you the ideas that these fillings cause a "dependency" and a tendency to "isolate" anyone? In the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, such fillings usually happened amoung gathered believers, and in the history of the Church, during revivals to the majority of the congregation at the same time.

    I speak enthusiastically on the subject because I think filling of the Spirit is to be believed in and sought after. So rare a lost re these blessings that the cumulative memory of the Church has forgotten them.
  14. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Who says it is a "one-time event." Consider just one example. The Apostles receiving of the Baptism of the Spirit was undoubtedly their first filling, but it was not a one-time event. In Antioch after a dynamic, dare I say, Spirit filled experience of preaching to both Jews and Gentiles the Jews began a ... Well, I will just use the Scripture to finish my thought.

    Acts 13:50-52
    50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.
    51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.
    52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
  15. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I decided to paste the content of the post that I linked to above. After that, I will cease posting for a while while I see if there is any interest in my point of view. I think that the filling of the Spirit is a doctrine of Scripture--an important one at that:

    Re: The filling of the Holy Spirit

    Tom Hart said:
    An emotional rise does not necessarily indicate a spiritual event.

    I think it is important to preface this by letting you all know that I was the "AMEN" to your (Tom Heart's) post.

    But I think I am safe in saying that a real "spiritual event" always leads to "an emotional rise." And sometimes to such a rise that it is an actual filling of the Holy Spirit causing us to experience emotion and affection, (as per J. Edwards) on a higher level than is possible for unaided man. It is called in Scripture a "joy unspeakable," which is "full of glory." This class of joy is beyond words and full to the brim of unearthly, otherworldly worship and praise to the exquisitely wonderful, adorable, and radiantly beautiful Triune God. This experience should be sought by and according to Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones and many others before him, is the birthright of every genuine child of God—a reality that is safeguarded from deception, that cannot be denied, and no small part of coming to the full assurance of salvation. It is as close as you will get to heaven on earth. The Apostle Paul, on at least one occasion, was not even sure he was still on earth. But I must stop for words fail me even now.

    When I shared this with my pastor, I said, "I hope you will not think that I am waxing Pentecostal on you. :)
  16. A.Joseph

    A.Joseph Puritan Board Freshman

    I think the OP is addressing an initial point of regeneration in which our eternal fate is sealed by the blood of Christ by faith.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2019
  17. Gesetveemet

    Gesetveemet Puritan Board Freshman

    We should never trust in a experience or our tears or anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Gods’ people are converted in different ways also some have assurance and some struggle. At the end of our life our desires while we were in the land of the living will come to pass. Did we desire that God would leave use alone or did we desire to be saved through the finished work of Christ. I’m not educated and don’t express thoughts very well. May you and I have that desire to put off this body of death and to be forever with the Lord.

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  18. A.Joseph

    A.Joseph Puritan Board Freshman

    Correction, I’m not anti experience. I do think all Christians undergo a supernatural ‘experience’ throughout the lifetime. I’m anti- trying to pin down a special pre/post regenerative moment in time. The fruits of faith and assurance fluctuate too much to be able to track such a moment in real time, me thinks.
  19. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    Something that I read once:
    Increase Mather in his Preface to Solomon Stoddard’s A Guide to Christ, quotes the Puritan William Pemble, ‘To tell the month, day, or hour, wherein they were converted, is in most converts impossible; in all, of exceeding difficult observation; though’ I deny not but the time may be in some, of sensible mark’. ‘That eminent man of God, Mr Baxter,’ Increase Mather continues, ‘relates that he was once at a meeting of many Christians, as eminent for holiness as most in the land, of whom divers were ministers of great fame, and it was desired that every one of them would give an account of the time and manner of his conversion, and there was but one of them all that could do it. And (says he) I aver from my heart, that I neither know the day, nor the year, when I began to be sincere.’
  20. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    And Iain Murray (in an article about Thomas Hooker):
    In the regenerate man him self the act of God by which he is renewed is so ‘secret and unsearchable’, involving as it does his sub-conscious being, that he can by no means tell with certainty when it occurs. Regeneration is not instantly recognizable either to observers or to a man’s own consciousness. Referring to the proposition, ‘All that are new born know the time of their new birth’, the Puritan Giles Firmin asked, ‘What divine, that did deserve the name of a gospel-minister, did ever deliver such a doctrine?’ Certainly while regeneration itself is hidden, its effects are known, yet the speed with which these become observable in the consciousness of a convert is subject to wide variations.
  21. SolamVeritatem

    SolamVeritatem Puritan Board Freshman

    I was going to mention Lloyd-Jones, but Ed beat me to it...:popcorn:
  22. StephenMartyr

    StephenMartyr Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you Von for both these posts of yours.
  23. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I have had pretty much the same experience, and, to be honest, it has tended to hinder me having full assurance of salvation. The fault for that is primarily my own unbelief and nothing else, but, at a practical level, I am wondering what you can do to shake off the influence of something so silly from holding you back in the Christian life?
  24. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Without meaning to be partisan, the neglect of the Book of Psalms has contributed to this problem. I often think that if one were to print off a couple of psalms and ask a congregation to sing them without telling them that they were psalms, some Reformed people in attendance would complain that they were too subjective and emotional. The dismissal of the category of experience is also silly because having to listen to people moan about the concept of experience is itself an experience, although not a particularly good one.
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  25. Jo_Was

    Jo_Was Puritan Board Freshman

    We don't all have a Damascus road experience. Some, like Timothy, are blessed to have grown up under the faithful hearing and teaching of the Word and never know what it is like to be without the Lord. Some of us deal with struggle and doubt. Some of us face greater trial and persecution. Some of us are blessed with safety and success in this life. There is not a one-for-one map of "The Christian Experience." This is why we are encouraged by being a part of the Body--that those with great assurance can encourage their struggling brothers and sisters. Those gifted with steadiness can help to temper those of us who have propensity to emotional highs and lows.

    An interesting spin on your concern: I grew up in charismatic circles that emphasized that the ultimate "sign" of salvation/conversion was speaking in tongues (being 'slain in the spirit'). I saw many kids in my youth group swayed into this practice, and it wreaked havoc on my soul. I believe that I came to faith at a fairly young age, but had little teaching and knowledge at home and church to help me. So when I saw these kids--who I knew the other 6 days were not what I, a middle and high schooler, thought a Christian ought to be like--having these "experiences" of emotion and spirituality, I sincerely doubted my faith and wondered if I was even a Christian at all. My assurance was at its all-time low. I felt uncomfortable in all these 'emotional' moments, and I didn't have any wonderful Damascus experience, encounters with a prophet of God that would set my life straight, etc--I prayed and prayed that something wasn't wrong with me because I wanted to be a Christian, but I didn't know if I was, because I wasn't the kind of Christian those around me thought I ought to be.

    It was as I matured in faith, found relationships with more solid brothers and sisters in Christ, came to the Reformed understanding, that I realized that the Christian life really is about perseverance in ALL things. Through times of struggle and deep anguish, but ALSO through times of monotony and normalcy. We are encouraged as Christians to glorify God in ALL that we do--which includes the getting up to work in the morning, or going to school, or having dinner with the family, or feeding the dog.

    I agree that the Psalms are a wonderful book to read when struggling with assurance because it lays out all of those different experiences we may face in the Christian life--highs and lows. There will be 'aha!" moments and there were be moments where the days just blink away because they're relatively steady and similar. When we are worried that we don't have an "experience" that we can look back to, it does help to think back on your life, not necessarily to "moments" but to see it in the big picture. Are you the same person, the same Christian, even, that you were 2 years ago? 5 years ago? 10 years ago? I would hope and pray not! God is faithful over time. His sovereignty does not just uphold the miraculous and powerful moments, but the everyday providence of caring for us, meeting our needs, helping us to breathe and live another day. I think this look to "the experience" is just another search after the supernatural which falls into deism or occasionalism--that God must only work in a magic manner, pulling tricks out of a hat, as if that is more special than the "ordinary." But, God works through ordinary means (the Scriptures, prayer), and his providence upholds the "small things." And, over time, we can see that compounded in our life, hopefully, as we walk the road of sanctification.

    2 Practical Places to Go For Encouragement

    1. The Psalms - They show us the breadth of the Christian life and its emotions and our relationship to God.
    2. The Heidelberg Catechism - It captures a particularly pastoral/devotional voice in how it approaches Scripture. Many Christians have looked to it as encouragement in how it summarizes our faith. Even the first question is enough to make me stop and dwell on Christ's goodness. It hits to the heart of where our assurance should be:

    Q. 1 What is your only comfort in life and in death?

    A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
  26. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Some interesting perspectives on certain NT accounts that we tend to read as conversions (none of which is knocking the concept of vital religion, but it is important to get the exegesis correct - especially in the case of Cornelius where the text is abused to justify all sorts of errors regarding good works before conversion):

    Pierre Du Moulin on the “conversion narratives” of Lydia, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Cornelius

    Anthony Burgess on the “conversion narrative” of Cornelius

    Francis Turretin on the “conversion” of Cornelius

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