Assurance and repentance

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dr_parsley

Puritan Board Freshman
I see two extremes of assurance where one might say:

1) "I'm in a bad way, there is little evidence of grace; I need to flee! It's doubtful I'm saved."

2) "There is plenty of evidence of grace year on year, a consistent growth in obedience and inner gaspings of love towards Christ. I should still be watchful but, barring an extraordinary deception, I can have significant assurance of salvation in the grace of Christ.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing most of us are somewhere in between:

1.5) "There is some evidence of grace year on year, a stop-and-start growth in obedience that I hope is not merely transference from one set of sins to another, and there is regular (if sporadic) inner gaspings of love towards Christ. I must flee to Christ, but as one fleeing into the bosom of my great friend.

This scheme contrasts with the fuzzy ideas I encountered in broad evangelicalism when I first believed. They were convenient and seductive and I fell into them and was damaged by them for a while, which is summarised by "If you believe in Christ, feel sorry for your sins and are sincerely trying to change, then you know you're forgiven by Christ's merits and not your own." This clearly leaves the door wide open to complacency as well as deception by oneself and by Satan.

At some point, then, "little evidence" becomes "some evidence" becomes "plenty of evidence"? What might constitute "plenty of evidence"? Thomas Watson had it this way: "[One type of sorrow is] a rational sorrow, which is an act of the soul whereby it has a displacency against sin and chooses any torture rather than to admit sin; [...] [this] is to be found in every child of God". That's a pretty high bar. Choose torture rather than sin? Well yes, sin in general I suppose, but one of my favourite sins? Choose torture rather than a godless overeating of my favourite food? If that's the case I'm in trouble!

Can anyone here think of what the bible says might constitute "plenty of evidence"? If (for good reasons) we discount those passages which are sometimes taken to indicate the requirement is perfection, then it seems to me that in the absence of explicit biblical advice one must look at the whole bible, it's overal message and assumptions on this, but this is not clear to me.

As examples, for assurance should you look for the grace of God providing:
  • victory over all habitual or recurring sins so that if they do recur they are like dying spasms of the old man rather than healthy breaths
  • predominant victory over habitual sins, but not necessarily all
  • broad changes in your life; how you spend your time, the little things, how you correct your children and respond to difficult people etc.

??
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Assurance can be difficult. Sometimes better felt than telt.

True assurance must be infallible otherwise it wouldn't be worth the Scriptural paper it's written on, and confirmed to the heart by the Spirit.

There can be a true underlying assurance and yet ongoing returning to certain habitual sins that grieve us greatly and sap our assurance.

Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away (Psalm 65:3)

It's probably - paradoxically - a good sign that such weeds springing up in our hearts and lives affect our assurance. It is always a good sign if a professing Christian who goes into major backsliding is troubled by a lack of assurance; so is it not a good sign if our souls are sensitive enough to have the edge taken off their assurance by ongoing struggles with sin.

Ultimately it is the Spirit that gives assurance by comparing what the Bible says about the true Christian with our own life and experience.

The old men in my Reformed background (Free Presbyterian CofS, from which Professor John Murray came) used to talk of the "marks of grace" and this I believe is the best way of looking at assurance.

E.g. the true child of God will have these marks of God's saving grace, inspite of ongoing struggles with sin and ongoing imperfection:

(a)Do you hate all your known (and unknown) sin, and is it your deepest (among your deepest desires) desire to be perfectly holy?

(b) Do you turn to Christ when you sin, for assurance of justification and cleansing from sin? Do you look to Christ alone for justification, and do you resort to Christ for sanctification?

(c) Do you put no confidence in your own good works for salvation? Have you moved from the Covenant of Works to the Covenant of Grace; from a Covenant of Works mentality, to a Covenant of Grace mentality?

(d) Do you love the brethren?

(e)Do you love God's law (ethical portions of the Bible), and all God's Word?

(f) Do you delight in seeing people saved and grow in grace?

(g)Do you love God's Day?

(h)Do you love God's Table?

(i) Do you love God's House?

(j) Do you love giving to Christ's Cause and Kingdom and serving Christ's Cause and Kingdom?

(k) Do you long for the prosperity of Zion (the Church) and long for the coming of Christ's Kingdom with power.

(l) Do the sins and blasphemies of those around you hurt and grieve your soul?

I'm sure some of the Puritans will have a better list of "the marks of grace"; the above was just off the top of my head.

If you can't find such a list anywhere, we could start a thread on the subject.

Richard.
 

dr_parsley

Puritan Board Freshman
E.g. the true child of God will have these marks of God's saving grace, inspite of ongoing struggles with sin and ongoing imperfection:

(a)Do you hate all your known (and unknown) sin, and is it your deepest (among your deepest desires) desire to be perfectly holy?

(b) Do you turn to Christ when you sin, for assurance of justification and cleansing from sin? Do you look to Christ alone for justification, and do you resort to Christ for sanctification?

(c) Do you put no confidence in your own good works for salvation? Have you moved from the Covenant of Works to the Covenant of Grace; from a Covenant of Works mentality, to a Covenant of Grace mentality?

(d) Do you love the brethren?

(e)Do you love God's law (ethical portions of the Bible), and all God's Word?

(f) Do you delight in seeing people saved and grow in grace?

(g)Do you love God's Day?

(h)Do you love God's Table?

(i) Do you love God's House?

(j) Do you love giving to Christ's Cause and Kingdom and serving Christ's Cause and Kingdom?

(k) Do you long for the prosperity of Zion (the Church) and long for the coming of Christ's Kingdom with power.

(l) Do the sins and blasphemies of those around you hurt and grieve your soul?

I'm sure some of the Puritans will have a better list of "the marks of grace"; the above was just off the top of my head.

That's a pretty good list! Thanks. My reaction to such lists is "Can one be deceived about all those things?" and I think yours stands up to that.
 

INsearch

Puritan Board Freshman
Allow me to jump in and say thanks for the list Richard. Me being fairly recently "repentant" after months of being "fallen away" however at this moment can't see very many marks :( however I do know that my patience has greatly increased, and I haven't gotten angry or yelled yet ;) I look at those kind of things as assurance for myself at the moment. though its small..its still something for me to try and grasp at (me being probably the greatest doubter anyone will ever meet..its something I think, unless God graces me with a way to overcome the doubt, I will be with it for my whole life....who knows..perhaps my "doubts" about myself are a way God keeps me diligent ;) )
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
I'll start a new thread on "the marks of grace" to find out where they are mentioned and dealt with as the means of assurance of faith - when blessed by the Spirit - in the classic Reformed literature.
 
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