Editor’s Note: This issue is from our latest Journal of Biblical Counseling for the Philippines and addresses the need to know that the counselee and the counselor have a firm Bible-based faith in Christ for eternal salvation.
Good reading my friend.
I am afraid! Yes, I am filled with fear; my blood runs cold! Horror grips me and holds me in her cold icy hands as she chokes my heart and squeezes my soul! And this is a long-time fear, a chronic fear, a growing fear, and sometimes a crippling fear. What is the cause of such fear? Simply stated, it is the growing conviction that many Christians so-called are not Christians at all. And not merely Christians, but also Christian leaders. A plague of false professions has hit the Church like a demonic tsunami and it is crushing everything in its path. The church is filled with the “many” who say “Lord, Lord” to a Lord they know not at all. And to compound the matter, she seems blissfully ignorant of it!
I will never forget the experience of meeting a pastor who was not a Christian. No, he was not the pastor of a liberal Christ denying church, he was the pastor of Bible believing church. Not only was he a pastor, he was a scholar with an earned doctorate in theology.
But as I talked to him and listened to his repeated doubts about his salvation and his confession of struggling with chronic sin, a growing suspicion in my mind came to the surface. I suspected that he had never been born again. And so I asked him, “Tell me how you came to know Christ as your personal savior.”
“Well,” he replied, “I asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was a little boy.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me about how you were saved”?
“No,” he said. “I prayed and asked Jesus to come into my heart.”
Not being satisfied with that response I asked a follow-up question; “If I were an unsaved man who had never opened the Bible or the door of a church and I asked you how to get to heaven?, What would you say to me”?
“I would say to you, you need to ask Jesus to come into your heart”, he said, and then fell silent.
He had had doubts initially as a child, but his mother and others assured him that he had “asked Jesus to come into your heart” so, “of course you are saved”!
I believe that this reliance upon a non-biblical prayer is traceable to a method of evangelizing children that has grown very popular over the years. In an effort to make salvation understandable for the children, Christian workers encourage them to picture Jesus standing at the door of their heart and knocking to be let in. (based wrongly on Rev. 3:20) Despite the fact that the Bible says nothing about being saved by “asking Jesus to come into your heart” children throughout the world have been presented the gospel with that very language. I recall reading a newsletter from one international children’s ministry that had included the phrase “ask[ed] Jesus to come into your heart” eight times as representing the means of salvation, in a one-page article.
While it is true that Jesus coming into your heart is a result of salvation this is not a method of finding salvation; a crucial difference. It is tragic that in an effort to simplify the Gospel Christian workers have complicated salvation. But I was staggered at the thought that a preacher with an earned doctorate in theology could not give a more thorough answer!
As I considered this man’s words, his testimony, his utter inability to explain salvation in any other way than “asking Jesus to come into your heart”, and other things that I knew about his life, I could come to no other conclusion but that he was not a Christian. Reared in a godly Christian home, attended Sunday school and church all his life, attended a Bible college and graduated with a doctorate in theology and not saved! How sad!
You may say, “well Brother Binney, that must be a very unusual situation.” Unfortunately, it is not. I have encountered many professing Christians, pastors, pastor’s wives, missionaries, and evangelists, who had no evidence of personal salvation. This is tragic my friend.
It is because of this shocking realization that this issue of the Journal is being produced. I am convinced that much of Christianity in general and Baptist churches in particular contain many professing Christians who are not Christians at all. As you read the following pages it is my prayer that you would be helped in the process of examining yourselves, your converts, and your counselees lest all of you come to the end of your lives without a biblical basis for your salvation. It is with good reason that the Holy Spirit led the Apostle Paul to exhort us to examine ourselves.
And obviously many professing Christians need to do just that. For example there are those who claim they are saved but they are afraid of losing their salvation. There are also those who believe they cannot lose salvation but are afraid that they do not have it. Then there are those who claim that they have salvation but in fact have never been saved. It is for this third category that this issue of the Journal is being published. This is a tragic reality in the church today and we dare not overlook it or minimize it. The reality of such a soul damning assumption, the consequences of it, as well as the reasons for it, are the focus of the articles in this issue of the Journal.
This is not a new problem. Jesus Himself exposed this tendency when He said;
“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;… Many will say to me in that day, Lord Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Obviously Jesus believed the majority of religious people who professed to know God (the “many”) did not know him at all!
It is a matter of fact that many counselees come to the biblical counselor with faulty assumptions about their salvation, even some like the pastor above who are trained, educated, and experienced in the Scriptures and the Christian life. Others coming to a counselor may be struggling with serious doubts about their eternal state.
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobates?” – II Corinthians 13:5
The great Apostle Paul wrote these words as a rebuke to his enemies who were unconverted Jews who openly opposed him and his message. They desired to cling to the Jewish practices of “dead works” with which to earn salvation and therefore they fought Paul and attacked his message of free grace. Not only did they attack his message, they also attacked his person, his claim of apostleship and therefore his very right to preach his God given message.
Therefore, from chapter ten of Second Corinthians through chapter thirteen, Paul’s message is one of establishing his authority as a true Apostle and thereby affirming the truth of his message of free salvation.
In a bold counterattack, he turns the tables on his critics. He challenges their false claim of being Christians. He throws out a bold challenge heard around the world and which still echoes down through the centuries; “EXAMINE YOURSELVES”! Instead of destroying God’s message and discouraging God’s saints, let the critics examine themselves.” Instead of examining me”, he was saying, it’s you who needs examination.
For Believers Also
But this challenge is not restricted to the enemies of the Cross; Paul is also addressing all professing believers (II Cor 1:1), even present-day readers which includes you and me. Paul’s apostolic command is for every professing Christian!
It is also clear from the word “examine” that this is not a one-time event he has in mind. The meaning of this word involves continuous, repeated action. In other words, “keep on examining yourselves”! Barnes says, “All Christians should be often [encouraged] to examine the foundation of their hope of eternal salvation.”
Reasons to Examine Yourselves
He probably has in mind the ancient truth; “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3) And what greater foundation of faith does the believer have than his very salvation. If that is wrong, everything will be in vain.
Jonathan Edwards said much the same thing about this scripture; “…take great care to see that the foundation is right. Those that are in doubt should not give themselves rest till the matter be resolved.”
J. Vernon McGee believes that this examination should take place often; “…two or three times a year we should do this”
Spurgeon gives the great reason for this exercise; “We must again and again examine ourselves…because if you make a mistake you can never rectify it, except in this world. If you do not test yourself, you may sit down and say ‘Oh, I am all right’ [but] you may be fastening within your spirit a peace which will end in your final ruin, and you may never open your eyes to your deception till you lift them up in hell”!
Strong language indeed! But so needed in this age of casual decisionism, quickie conversions, and abbreviated if not non-existent “gospel presentations”.
Paul’s exhortation is to help the reader avoid the horror of realizing in eternity that you were “reprobate” all along. In other words, that you were never saved at all. This can only be done with a prayerful, thorough, and conscientious approach. This is no exercise to be hurried or rushed. Too much is at stake!
We are helped in this process in several ways.
A Scholastic Idea
This verse has a scholastic or academic idea such as an examination to see if the student is ready for advancement to the next academic level. Every Christian should take such an exam for the higher purpose of determining if he is ready for advancement to Heaven itself!
A Military Context
It is also a term with a military context. When I joined the U.S. Navy, we went through a rigorous multi-week boot camp where we were pushed to our limits and observed very carefully. We were required to pass academic tests as well as physical tests to examine whether we were truly fit for active duty. Paul wants the reader to be fit also.
A Legal Issue
I have spent numerous hours on the witness stand in a court of law. In three different trials in three different courtrooms I sat for hours while I was “examined” and “cross-examined” by the prosecution attorneys and the defense attorneys. In one of these courtrooms it was me and my Christian school that were on trial. I was facing a jail sentence for daring to operate a Christian school in our state. I was being examined to determine if I was “guilty” or “not guilty” of breaking the law. Witnesses were called, attorneys waxed eloquent, and I sat for hours with my freedom at stake while the judge determined whether I should go to jail or go free. Fortunately, I was exonerated in the end with a “not guilty” verdict and the very state agency which sought to put me in jail ultimately sold us a beautiful piece of property with a turn-key school building and playground equipment for a bargain price! But I had to be “examined” to determine my innocence. In like manner, the examination of our salvation is to determine if indeed we are guilty or innocent in the eyes of the Great Judge.
A Traveler’s Term
When Moses sent the twelve spies into Canaan he told them to examine or explore the land for its blessings and dangers and bring back a report with which to encourage the people of Israel. “And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said…’See the land, what it is and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strongholds; and what the land is, whether it be fat or lean…” (Numbers 13:17-20)
You will notice that Moses wanted a realistic survey of the dangers and the blessings of the Promised Land of Canaan. He sent the spies to explore or we can say to “examine” the land so they could be fully excited about the potential but also fully aware of the dangers and battles ahead of them.
In like manner you as a traveler are facing a new and exciting life ahead and are urged to fully examine the blessings and challenges of your salvation. To fully examine your salvation is to fully explore all that it entails. I believe the primary purpose is to understand more fully the great blessings of salvation to encourage you to continue the journey to the Promised Land and look forward to the great clusters of grapes!
Examining yourself is a biblical command with a rich history and legacy behind it. You can join millions who have done this very thing. It is a challenging exercise to say the least but has great and eternal benefits.
To help you in this process, we have included a “Salvation Inventory” in this issue of the Journal. I recommend that you fill it out and ask the Holy Spirit to bear witness with your spirit that you are indeed a child of God. Also, it is a wonderful tool for you to use as a counselor.
Self-examination is especially needed by those who struggle with doubts about their salvation. Sometimes the doubts originate in an indecisive spirit, sometimes they are planted by the evil one, but sometimes they are due to a false profession. Whatever the case, they need to be brought into the light and thoroughly evaluated. Doubt is to the human spirit what pain is to the human body. It is a signal that something is wrong and needs to be checked out before proceeding in life.
In closing, permit me to quote at length from “The Making of A Man of God” by the late Alan Redpath, former pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. I believe his heartfelt words especially fit this theme;
“...I would wish that some folk who are so positive of their salvation would [humble themselves] some time to examine themselves by the scriptural qualifications. Of course, we must never doubt the Word of God or His promises, but the question is, “Is my confidence that I am God’s own well founded? Is there any evidence of it in my life? What is my response to His love and grace?
“Are you afraid to go back to the foundation with David and say, “Search me, O God...And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24)? If you go on through life blindly confident but never examining your own heart, that is a token of delusion—you are believing something that is not true.
“...I would urge upon all to have full assurance of faith in [the knowledge] that He died and rose again, you are justified and saved. But I would beg that you be careful to distinguish between presumption and assurance. Preaching privilege to a congregation [in the absence of preaching] precept will produce dangerous lethargy in God’s people. What many of us need today is a burning examination by the Holy Spirit which may be bitter to the taste but which may awaken us to the disaster of imagining that we are Christians when there is no evidence in our lives of His grace.
“God’s choice of a man of God is conditioned upon heart response, not head response. I do not ask you if your heart is perfect, or if it never goes astray—God knows how prone we are to wandering and sin. But I ask you pointedly, praying that the Spirit may really challenge you with the question: Is your heart resting upon Jesus? Do you have a believing heart? Does it meditate upon God’s Word and find comfort in the Scriptures? Does your heart desire and seek after holiness? Is it a grateful and humble heart, ever thankful to Him? Is it eternally fixed upon God, or is it a fickle heart, flirting with the things of the world?
“[My prayer for you is that the Spirit may literally pull from under your feet any false basis of assurance in your salvation. May He never let you rest until you have an assurance based upon what your heart has received of the grace and character of Jesus Christ, not simply upon what your heart believes. One who believes with the head only, without evidencing grace, love, gentleness, humility, or other tokens of the indwelling Christ, has no right to say he is a Christian.
“...I wonder what the effect of all this has been upon your heart. I trust that some have been greatly disturbed—if your life and character are destitute of the evidences of God’s grace, if you have been going along without self-examination, simply believing with your head what you have [heard and] what you have read in the Bible but without its becoming part of your character...Are you among God’s people, or are you believing a lie? Does your life bear examination? Is there evidence of the marks of His grace? If you are His, is the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon your testimony, or is your life cowardly, afraid, uncertain of itself, not knowing where you stand? God wants to meet with you, for He loves you and wants you to be a man after His own heart, one who is chosen, having the seal of the Spirit of God upon your life, the anointing of the Third Person of the Trinity.” (Alan Redpath)
May God bless you as you “examine yourselves” and help others to do the same. May God deliver us all from any fears regarding false professions in the pulpit, the pews or the counseling chamber.