The question of assurance rests at the core of a Gospel-driven versus law-driven life. A Gospel-Driven Life is an assured life.
The Gospel-Driven Life is simply a restatement of an old truth (i.e., the power of justification-based assurance as the means to motivate growth in sanctification). Without this kind of assurance, a life of holiness is not possible.
Horatius Bonar, in his book, God’s Way of Holiness, explains,
“Every plant must have both soil and root. Without both of these there can be no life, no growth, no fruit. Holiness must have these. The root is “peace with God”; the soil in which that root strikes itself, and out of which it draws the vital sap, is the free love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord. “Rooted in love” is the apostle’s description of a holy man. Holiness is not austerity or gloom; these are as alien to it as levity and flippancy. Nor is it the offspring of terror, or suspense, or uncertainty, but peace, conscious peace, and this peace must be rooted in grace; it must be the consequence of our having ascertained, upon sure evidence, the forgiving love of God. He who would lead us into holiness must “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79)” (p. 30).
A Gospel-Driven Life is an assured life.
Before coming to understand the Gospel way of holiness, my assurance fluctuated between moments of tentative confidence and despair. Despair is the offspring of Neonomianism (i.e., new law). Despair comes from not understanding one’s union with Christ and all the spiritual blessings that flow from this union. It comes from not knowing that one is already dead to sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:2). Despair comes from failing to live with the understanding that Christ has already won the victory so that I don’t have to become a “victorious Christian” (there are no victorious Christians, cf., Rom. 7; Christ is the only man, not Christian, who lived a victorious life).
Instead of recognizing and living out of one’s union with Christ by faith, the law-driven believer trusts in his own acts of will to bring himself to holiness (e.g., “surrender more,” “lay it all on the altar,” “rededicate one’s life” etc…). But, as those who are in union with Christ, we are already holy, righteous, sanctified and reconciled to God (cf., 1 Cor. 1:30). Thus, we are not called to become what we are not yet. Rather, we are called to live what we are (cf., Eph. 4:1; Rom. 12:1). Living with a Gospel-Driven perspective takes the weight and burden off the desparing. It does so because for the first time, a law-driven, guilt-laden, despairing believer begins to understand that God, through the Gospel, gives him the very righteous status that he labored so hard to attain but could not through surrendering, yielding, letting go and letting God, coming to the altar, redicating, etc…
“We are not called to become what we are not yet. Rather, we are called to live what we are.”
Those who are driven by law rather than the Gospel can expect their assurance to wax and wane depending on their “performance” (i.e., obedience or lack thereof). Those who are driven by a legal method of salvation make all of God’s blessings and favor depend upon how well they keep His law (again the focus is self rather than Christ). As long as a believer is having a “good day” (so they think), they can then be assured of God’s favor and goodwill toward them. But, should a law-driven believer experience a “bad day” (or perhaps a bad week or month!), guilt instantly smothers his life like a black cloud.
A law-driven believer lives with an acute awareness of his failures. Though he loves God’s law, he is deeply aware of his inability to conform perfectly to it. The demands of the law loom heavily upon his mind. His conscience kicks into overdrive reminding him of his ill performance. As a result, his sense of guilt and despair are only increased. On top of all this, the accuser of the brethren takes advantage of this poor soul’s plight and stokes the fires of his accusing conscience even further.
Like Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, law-driven sinners are left to struggle alone with heavy burdens in the Slough of Despond. John Bunyan, describes this pit of despair as follows,
“Guilt is not so much a wind and a tempest, as a load and burden. The devil, and sin, and the curse of the law and death, are gotten upon the shoulders of this poor man, and are treading of him down, that he may sink into, and be swallowed up, of his miry place…” (Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, vol. ii, p. 6)
Having been taught a defective view of faith and Christian living I, like Christian, frequently found myself living in the Slough of Despond. The heavy burden of my daily sin, the unrelenting demands of the law and my failure to live according to them, the constant accusations of my conscience for those failures and the enemy’s exploitation of these burdens robbed me of the joy and freedom that Christ freely gives in the Gospel.
Despair is the offspring of Neonomianism precisely because Neonomianism remodels the Gospel into a conditional faith. The law always places the practice of holiness before life. The law says, “Do and live.” But, the Gospel says, “Live! Now do!” Law-driven sanctification reverses the order of the Gospel and destroys any possibility for true holiness. A conditional Gospel does not heal one’s sinful condition or lead to holiness. Rather, it actually stirs up sinful inclinations in those who pursue holiness by fleshly means. The strength of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56) and the strength of holiness is to be freed from the law (Rom. 7:6). Love, not law, drives the believer to live unto God (2 Cor. 5:14).
A conditional Gospel destroys the means and power for holiness because it replaces the grace of the Gospel with self. Self rather than Christ becomes the focus of one’s attention. Am I in God’s favor or out of God’s favor? Is God pleased or displeased with me? Have I done enough? Do my good days outweigh my bad days? Thus, a conditional Gospel imprisons believers in a state of doubt and anxiety concerning their standing before God.
A believer will never be motivated to obey God and pursue holiness without the assurance that God loves him.
Trusting in Christ alone for salvation is the only way believers find acceptance with God (i.e., sola fide, solus Christus, Rom. 3:21-28; Eph. 2:8-9) as well as the means and power to pursue true holiness. In other words, a man is justified by faith and sanctified by that same faith. The Gospel-Driven message cannot be repeated too much. Jerry Bridges has correctly stated that we must learn to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. A believer will never be motivated to obey God and pursue holiness without the assurance that God loves him.
The root and soil of Gospel assurance and Gospel holiness is justification.
Horatius Bonar writes, “The Gospel is the proclamation of free love; the revelation of the boundless charity of God. Nothing less than this will suit our world; nothing else is so likely to touch the heart, to go down to the lowest depths of depraved humanity, as the assurance that the sinner has been loved- loved by God, loved with a righteous love, loved with a free love that makes no bargain as to merit, or fitness, or goodness. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us!” (1 John 4:10)…He (i.e., God) knows that there is nothing in heaven or earth so likely to produce holiness, under the teaching of the Spirit of holiness, as the knowledge of His own free love” (p. 37).
To be continued…