Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sober Reflections

One of Scripture's strangest biographies contains a warning for us as we start this new year.

Imagine with me for a moment. Imagine you're a pagan who suddenly encounters the Living God. Imagine that, over the course of a few remarkable days, you are repeatedly and powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit. Imagine having a face-to-face meeting with an angel and witnessing an undeniable miracle. Imagine your Spirit-controlled tongue speaking words of high praise and loyalty to God. Imagine being used by God to speak words so important and powerful and beautiful that they are actually included in the canon of Scripture. Imagine being so moved by the might and majesty of God that you were willing to face the wrath of a king in order to obey Him.

Would it be possible to do all of that and still be a lost, hell-bound soul?

Does a brief encounter with God mean that you're saved? Is it possible to look back in the past and point to a single, isolated experience upon which you can rest your eternal security?

The Bible answers a resounding "No" to that question. While the Bible certainly does teach eternal security, it can't be found in an isolated experience.
Faith in an isolated experience
is faith displaced from
its proper object,
which is God Himself.

Faith displaced from God Himself
is idolatry.

Consider the remarkable story of Balaam. You can find it beginning in Numbers chapter 22. Many of you are no doubt familiar with it.

Balaam experienced all of the miraculous, God-touched events that we imagined above. Filled with the Spirit, he refused the king's order to curse the nation of Israel, and instead powerfully blessed them several times over (Num. 23:8, Num. 23:20, Num. 23:23, Num. 24:10). He spoke magnificent words about the sovereignty and greatness of God (Num 23:19, Num. 24:4). His prophecies ranged so far that they even promised the coming Messiah (Num. 24:17-19).

Oh, how wonderful that experience must have been!

And yet...

Balaam was not changed. When the Spirit of God was finished with him, Balaam returned to his sorceries and conspired in a plot to bring the children of Israel to gross sin (Num. 31:16). He was eventually killed by the Israelites (Jos. 13:22), and ended up being mentioned three times in the New Testament as a warning example (2 Pet. 2:15, Jude 1:11, Rev. 2:14).

Now, the Scripture clearly teaches that when a person is truly saved, the Spirit comes and abides in him forever as a "seal" and a "guarantee." (see, for example, 2 Co. 1:22, Eph. 1:13-14). This indwelling of the Spirit is not a passive thing. He makes changes when He moves in. He produces holy living and fruit (Gal. 5:16-25) and He guides us (John 16:13). As the Seal of the New Covenant, He gives us a new heart and keeps us from departing from God (Jer. 32:38-40). He shows us God's love and gives us love for Him (Rom. 5:5, 1 Co. 12:3). He makes us entirely, utterly new (2 Co. 5:17).

But not every work of the Spirit is a saving, indwelling work. And Scripture tells us we must examine ourselves as to whether we're in the faith (2 Co. 13:5). Since New Year's Day is traditionally a day of reflection, I can't think of a more important thing to reflect on than this.

What has He done in you lately?
Legalism would ask, "What have YOU done for HIM lately," but that's not my question. We are not saved by our works, but by His work in us. So I ask again, "What has HE done in you lately?"

Do you feel the newness taking over? Is He changing your heart, your desires? Are your "good works" coming more easily and naturally through Him, or are they still forced by the flesh, by guilt, by religious expectation? Is love for God growing more fervent?

I'm not asking about perfection. (If I asked about perfection, and you answered "Yes," then we'd have real reason to worry!)

When you ask yourself about your assurance of salvation, do you consult a one-time experience? Or do you consult Him, whose work you are experiencing?

When you hear questions
about His work in you,
do you feel confused,
or do you know
what His work feels like?
Can you understand what I mean when I say, "When He's the one doing the work, you know it's Him, and you can't help giving Him the glory for it"? Or is His work something you've yet to experience?

The last thing I want to do is hurt the tender sheep, the true children of God with sensitive consciences who doubt their salvation whenever they see that they're still sinners. Salvation is a progressive work. We are saved once and for all from the penalty of sin, we are progressively being saved from the power of sin, and after death we will be saved from the presence of sin. How glorious is our God, and how wonderful are His ways!

To you, tender sheep, I give the words of our Savior:
Do not fear, little flock,
for it is your Father's good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.
(Luke 12:32)

But as bad as it would be to hurt the tender sheep, in some ways it would be even worse to lull the self-deceived goats back to sleep. So I leave you today with this challenge, based on James 2:19. It is my prayer that, after this challenge, the sheep will rejoice in their assurance, and the goats will come to Christ in truth so they can rejoice as well.

Think deeply about the following challenge question:
How does my faith differ from the faith of demons?
(James 2:19)
Seriously, make a list. Write it down. What do the demons believe? Keep in mind that the demons know God, they have known God all of their lives, they have always seen Him with their eyes, they have witnessed every work He's ever done. Everything you know, they know, and much more. They have knowledge and belief, but not saving faith.

What do you have that they don't have? What is your faith that theirs isn't? Write it down. Seriously. Do it.

If your answers give you assurance, ask yourself one more thing. Is that assurance based on what you've done, or on what He's done? If it's based on what He's done, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice in Him!

If your answer does not give you assurance, if your faith doesn't differ from the demons' faith, or if your assurance is based on something you've done, then drop all other priorities. Drop all other hopes, all other sources of confidence, all spiritual crutches. Come to God with the salvation you've made for yourself, and ask Him to replace it with the salvation He's made for you. Refuse to let go of Him until He blesses you (Gen. 32:26). Ask to be made new, to have not just a forgiven heart, but a new heart that grows in love for Him and hatred for sin. Ask not only to be His in Heaven someday, but ask to be His now. Refuse to put confidence in anything you can manufacture, any emotions you can generate, any words you can say. Put confidence in Him and only Him, even if you don't feel His answer right away.

Saving faith has no "Plan B." Come to Him, to Him, to Him alone.

And here's a word from the Savior to encourage your confidence in Him.
The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37)
Please leave a comment to let me (and other readers) know how we can pray for you or rejoice with you. You can leave your comment anonymously if that's easier, but please let us know.

Candle photo from stock.xchng by Alexkalina


Sherri Ward said...

Betsy, this is well-thought out and written. Personally I believe that those who point to a one-time "salvation experience" have their focus on a desire to be saved "from hell" and those who are new creations in Christ have their focus on, and rest in, their reconciled relationship with the living God. In other words, their focus is not on what they have been saved "from" but what they have been saved "to" - a real relationship with a real God.

Slowly Dying.. said...

Hello Ms. Betsy and thank you so much for "Sober Reflections." My prayer request is that I stop asking God, "Are you serious? That's not what You really want to do right?" I say with my lips that I want to be lead by Him, but I fight God when He leads. I guess I'm saying that I do not want to do it His way because it hurts and seems hard. I tend to have amnesia when it comes to the things He has done in me before in spite of myself.

Mary Moss said...

Oh, my! there were so many points at which I wanted copy a few lines so I could use them as a quote in my comment . . . but the more I read I realized I would just have to copy the entire post and merely leave you a resounding AMEN.


Yvonne said...

Yes, this is a good time to evaluate our walk with the Lord. We can always see ways where we can draw closer to Him.

I believe that our salvation is sealed at the time we surrender to Him. We need not be saved again and again. We may need to be forgiven to restore fellowship, for we still have our old nature.

I also believe that there is a difference between the Old Testament times and after the Day of Pentecost, when God filled Christians with His indwelling Spirit. In OT times, His Spirit came on men only when God was using them. Today, He promises never to leave us.

I am desiring to memorize more Scripture... learning John 15 (Vine and Branches), one verse/week. Join me at my blog ( if you wish to join me in this challenge.

Betsy, thank you for your thoughtful insights and spiritual challenges.

Betsy Markman said...

You're absolutely right, Yvonne. Once saved IS always saved. The problem is that so many believe themselves saved who have no indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I know, because I was one of them for decades. I had no idea that true salvation was a miraculous event, and not just something I decided to do!

So that's my desire for this entry (and many others)...not to inspire saved people to look for sin in their lives and then say, "uh-oh, I failed here, I'd better get saved again!" Heaven forbid! No one is saved OR lost by their own works.

My desire is to inspire people to look for the Holy Spirit in their lives, because if He's there, He makes His presence known. He convicts of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He gives us a new love for God and new priorities in our lives. His presence is unmistakable, as are the changes He makes, even though we still sin. When we sin, we feel differently about it because He's there.

And if He's not there, we need Him to be!

Thanks to everyone for your comments!

Yvonne said...

Whew! I'm glad we agree... I was hoping so. I love your blog!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

How does my faith differ from the demons? Boy, nothing like a good spanking. I'll be honest Betsy...your mind and capacity to articulate your thoughts often leaves me speechless. You touch on issues I wouldn't dare...not because I don't deem them extraordinarily worthy, but simply because my faith doesn't reason itself out in print as well as yours does. I imagine you as a true apologist, and that, my friend, is a gift I wish I had...

being able to defend the Gospel with clarity of thought, words, and deed.

I find it easy to hide behind my words. But walking them is quite another matter. I don't even know what to write at this point.

Your voice is a piercing bullet to my soul. I appreciate it, need it, and encourage you to keep speaking it.

Even when it hurts.


karin said...

So much to ponder - will do just that! Thanks!

Laurie M. said...

I am one of those tender sheep, partly because, like you, I spent years as a false-professor of faith. I get this notion, usually when I find myself harboring sin in my heart, that maybe I'm fooling myself again. So I turn to Christ, who is my only hope, again and again.

As far as what I belief that the demons don't - I can say, that one of the biggest differences between me now and the woman I was before my conversion is that I can be comforted in suffering by the thought that God will be glorified in it. Before, the thought that God would cause me to suffer "for His purposes" was entirely repugnant to me. I didn't care a hoot about His glory, only my own. Now the thought of Him not being glorified in my life is dreadful to me - though I wish it was more dreadful!

Thank you for writing this. The Lord has spoken to me through you words more than once. Blessings to you as well.

Jennifer said...

This is so good. I will be referring back to this one for sure! I know we should examine ourselves as we read these things but I can't help thinking of my father. He thinks that God will save him because of a dream he had when he was five years old. But I have not seen any real growth or hunger for the things of God. These examples you give are wonderful. I'll keep them in mind the next time I witness to my dad.

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