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Friday, December 17, 2010

Two Forms of ID

How do you know if someone is a Christian? The question was actually asked, "How can I know if I'm among the elect?", but the idea is basically the same. Some would argue, "If they claim it, believe it." On one hand, that's anti-biblical. Jesus said that many would claim to be His followers whom He never knew. On the other hand, it doesn't answer the real question: How can I know? I would like to suggest two forms of ID.

The first form is purely biblical:
Applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:5-10).
Peter's answer may be a little lengthy, but here's the gist. If you are living a life of ever-increasing godliness, you can "make certain about His calling and choosing you". So, if you're one of those who thinks, "Well, I prayed the prayer and they told me that I'm saved and it doesn't really matter if nothing ever changes 'cause I'm saved", be afraid ... be very afraid. You see, a changed heart makes for a changed life. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. If you are conforming more and more to biblical godliness, that's a good form of ID.

The second form is more experiential. I can't support it from Scripture, but I have also never seen an exception in my experience. It seems to me that those who have the surest salvation are the ones that are most concerned about their salvation. Read that sentence again, because it's likely counter-intuitive. It's not the ones who never consider that they might not be saved that should be completely confident. It's the ones that are deeply concerned that likely are saved.

You see, here's how it works. In a genuine, vital relationship with God, we become more and more aware of two factors in life. First there is the majesty and holiness of God. And then there's our continual failure to match it. The more we mature in Christ, the deeper the gulf between the two becomes. So if you are pretty sure that you're not doing badly at all and you're likely accepted by God, or if you never really think about it much, I'd suggest you reexamine yourself.

The Bible is quite clear. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Mat 7:22-23). Note that Jesus said "many". It is a common thing to convince ourselves that we're saved. It's an easy thing to claim to be a Christian. It's even fairly easy to claim godliness in today's watered-down view. While Scripture offers evidence and reasons for assurance, it also warns against false assurance. I'd recommend, then, that you start with at least two forms of ID.


Marshal Art said...


The first form suggests a works-based salvation. It speaks of those things that, should we do them we will never stumble. Now I believe that the more we believe, the stronger our faith in the existence of God, the more likely we will act as Peter indicates. But it is presented in a manner that suggests our salvation depends upon our doing those things before later speaking in terms of "if these qualities are yours and are increasing." Then still later he speaks of us practicing these things. It's a little contradictory/confusing without really clearing up the question of "how can I know?"

To practice something requires a willful desire, wouldn't you say? One doesn't practice if one is compelled by his belief or faith, but simply does. And the word here is used in a manner that suggests improving one's ability to perform an action as opposed to "practicing one's faith" which I've always taken to mean simply living it.

I've a bit of a problem with the second form as well, in that though I get the implication that one's concern suggests a serious focus on God, but it also can suggest a weak faith. Would this be the same as having doubt?

The biggest problem here is in the fact that one can never know until they die. One can be firmly convinced intellectually yet still be drawn to temptations. Paul spoke of always wanting to do(or even doing) that which he doesn't want to do and he had definitive proof of Christ's existence.

There still seems to be contradictions in that one can possess all the qualities listed and still doubt, even not believe. One can believe strongly and still struggle with temptation to the point where those qualities never increase within him in any measurable way. Setting aside the total non-believer, which one is among the elect? Which one can know he is?

Dan Trabue said...

Here's my thoughts on the topic:

Every time (that I can think of) the Bible points to evidences of salvation, it points to people's lives. When John the Baptist asked Jesus if he were "the One," Jesus replied, "look at my ministry - I'm healing the sick and preaching the good news to the poor. There's your evidence."

When Jesus told the story about the sheep and the goats, who made it into heaven? The ones who lived aright - that is, the ones who took care of the least of these.

In Jesus' example that you reference, it wasn't the people's CLAIMS to be followers, but their lawlessness that was a sign. ("Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.")

In the apostolic letters, the evidence is the fruit of the Spirit, in increasing amounts. When John is speaking about who is saved, he says clearly, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren"

You get the idea. Are we saved by works? No! Of course not. But any time the Bible looks at who is and isn't saved, they look at the way the lives are lived.

I'm hesitant to suggest that other criteria (our ideas of orthodoxy, a hunch because they seem too sure or because they disagree with us on some behavior/sin) override biblical measures. Not saying you are, just stating my position

Stan said...

Okay, Marshall, you seem to suggest that Peter was likely wrong for his statements. First he said, "Applying all diligence, in your faith supply ..." This demands 1) diligence and 2) work. It seems as if you would reprimand him. "No, no, Peter, that suggests a works-based salvation." Then Peter said in reference to this diligence and work, "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you." "No, Peter, you see, that's not right at all. It's entirely possible to add moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love ... and still not be a Christian, not be chosen by God." So Peter, it seems you are saying, was wrong on both counts.

Now, note, I am not saying "You are saved by doing these things" and neither was Peter. I am (and Peter was) saying that an ever-increasing diligence and application of these things can identify you as among the saved. Martin Luther said, "We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone." Or, as James said, faith without works is dead. The works that accompany salvation demonstrate the faith that brought the salvation about.

Of course, those who "cast out demons" and "prophesied" in Christ's name in Matthew 7 demonstrate the lengths to which we humans can go to deceive ourselves (which is one of the reasons I wrote this post), but I think that the Bible is quite clear that "by their fruits you shall know them." For example, a person who defends his homosexual behavior and calls it "Christian love" fails to meet the "moral excellence" clause of Peter's list (or the "knowledge" clause or the "self-control" clause ... or even the "Santa Clause". Okay, just threw that last one in for fun).

As for the second one, I'm not talking about doubt. I'm talking about (as I thought I explained) folks who are overcome with their own unworthiness, who think, "How could God possibly forgive me, chief among sinners?" Not "Is any of this true?"

As for the claim that no one can ever know until they die, I'd have a hard time with that claim. I know that there are many who claim it, but John said, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). If, indeed, it is true that we can never know until we die, then John was a fool, wasn't he? "Come on, man ... writing something that can never be known in this life. What a dolt! Waste of an entire book of the Bible!"

Stan said...

Dan T, just for clarity, the primary question I'm addressing is "How can I know if I'm saved?" Because it's so easy to deceive ourselves.

There are four types of people. There are those who are not saved and know it. There are those who are saved and know it. There are those who are saved but don't know it. And there are those who are not saved but think they are. I'm convinced that the largest group is the last. I think that most people think, "I'm okay. I'm good enought to get to heaven." Or something like it.

I will continue to hold to orthodoxy and recommend that others do the same. I am unwilling to say, "Well, even though he denies the Resurrection ever happened and that any atonement ever took place or that Jesus even ever lived, he loves the brethren, so I'll assume he's a Christian." Can't do it. I just can't.

(Please note: That fanciful description was not of you. It was an unnamed third party whom you likely don't know and whose identity isn't important. It's just someone I know who openly denies all the essential components of Christianity but "loves the brethren".)

Dan Trabue said...


I will continue to hold to orthodoxy and recommend that others do the same.

Me, too. And part of orthodoxy is seeking God's ways and seeking to rightly divide the Word of God. And the Word of God holds little support for the notion that orthodoxy-claims are the evidence of salvation, but that people's lives are. Right?

Jesus taught the story of the two brothers - one who said he'd do what the father wanted but didn't, and one who said he WOULDN'T do what the father wanted, but did. And which one was "saved" in the story? The one who did the will of the father.

Saved by his acts? No, but saved by grace as evidenced in his acts.

Is it possible that you've left off (at least) a fifth category of people? People who don't know they are saved but actually are?

Doesn't the Bible tell us that we will sometimes be surprised to find out who is saved and who isn't?

And them's all my thoughts on this topic, unless you have a question.

Stan said...

Dan T: "Is it possible that you've left off (at least) a fifth category of people? People who don't know they are saved but actually are?"

You mean the group about which I said, "There are those who are saved but don't know it."? (FYI, a basic truth table where the categories are "saved or not" and "know it or not" would require four categories.)

Dan T: "The Word of God holds little support for the notion that orthodoxy-claims are the evidence of salvation"

So, you would argue that a person can believe anything they want as long as they act like a Christian? Good to know. All clear now. (Actually, I guess that explains a lot.)

Dan Trabue said...

Stan asked...

you would argue that a person can believe anything they want as long as they act like a Christian?

Did I say that? No. I was quite clear I thought, but allow me to repeat:

I said that THE WORD OF GOD does not present "believing rightly in the tenets of orthodox Christianity" as a signpost for knowing whether or not one is saved. Instead, it tells us to look to the way people live. THAT is how we can know.

Now may I ask: Are you saying that people (you know, "utterly depraved, hopelessly sinful people") can live lives increasing in the fruit of the Spirit of God, can live lives of grace and love for their brothers and not be saved? I thought you were of the group who believed in the utter depravity of humanity. If that's the case, how can some utterly depraved humans be increasing in grace and love beyond God's good grace and salvation?

No, I did not say that people can believe whatever they want and still be saved. But I'm much more concerned about someone who says they're a Christian but have nothing in their lives to show for it, little grace, little love.

You know, like the brother who SAID he would do the father's will but didn't. Words are cheap. Give me orthopraxy over orthodoxy.

Stan said...

Marshall Art: "The stronger one's faith, I would imagine, the more likely one would lead a Christian life."

You'd think, wouldn't you? And I suppose there is something to that. However, Paul says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (something we do) "for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure" (something He does). If it is strong faith that makes us lead a Christian life, that's one thing. In my view, two things are required. First, it is the desire to do so, and second it is the ability to do so. According to Paul, both of those are provided by God.

But, here, let me put these together a little different and see if it works for you. Imagine this one of whom we are speaking ... the one who is saved but doesn't know it. He is concerned. "I'm such a sinner; how could I possibly be saved?" (The "second form" of ID.) And when he shares that with a fellow believer, she says, "Well, I'd say you are because look at what God has done in your life!" And she points out how he has stopped doing these sins (moral excellence) and he's learned so much about God (knowledge) and he finds it so much easier now than before to spend time in the Word (self-control) and when times are tough he keeps going when he used to give up so much more easily before (perseverance) ... well, you get the idea. Peter does not say, "If you've arrived" or "If you've achieved perfection in these things." He says, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing." That is, a changed heart makes a changed life.

You see, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which" (get this) "He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." The Natural Man lacks this synergistic capability. The Natural Man is spiritually dead. The Natural Man has one option. As a slave to sin, he can only sin. He does no good. But the regenerated man is spiritually alive. He can choose, with the Spirit at work in him, to walk in the good works that God has prepared. So even if I see my condition (like Paul describes in Romans 7:14-24) and weep, if I can see that God has been changing my life over time -- that these qualities, although not fully formed, are increasing -- I can make my calling and election sure.

Truthfully, though, there are a variety of conditions as I've listed. The one that is the worst, in my opinion, is the one who is not saved but thinks he is. The one who is saved but doesn't know it ... is saved. But the one who thinks he is but is not won't be doing anything to change it. A horribly dangerous condition. So I prefer the questioners to those who never wonder.

Stan said...

How can you determine orthopraxy without orthodoxy? Indeed, in every one of Paul's letters he outlined orthodoxy as the basis for orthopraxy.

But, hey, you go right ahead with your orthopraxy in a void. Since the Bible is largely about truth claims and right thinking ("orthodoxy"), I'll stick with orthodoxy as the source of my orthopraxy.

Stan said...

Marshall, one important thing that occurred to me on the subject. I mentioned 1 John 5:13. You said that it seemed to be a matter of faith. That's only if you take the verse completely out of context. That's because it starts with "These things have I written unto you ...". That is, it isn't the faith by which you can know that you have eternal life; it's "these things". And "these things" refers to the entire epistle. The book of 1 John is written almost entirely as a "test", a way to see if you are among the elect or not. Do you walk in the light? Do you confess sin? And on and on. Not simply "do you believe?"

Dan Trabue said...


How can you determine orthopraxy without orthodoxy?

Orthopraxy - right living, loving one's neighbor, helping the least of these, living lives of grace, giving a cup of cold water in Jesus name, being just, being fair, being loving... I can do each and every one of these without understanding a single LICK about atonement, about the Triune nature of God, without understanding God's creation, without understanding how we're saved by God's grace, right?

I think understanding and "getting" orthopraxy is not rocket science. Most of us understand the notion of living the golden rule, right?

Do you think one has to rightly understand orthodoxy to get orthopraxy? I see no basis for that conclusion - in the real world or in the Bible - but perhaps you can try to make it.


Indeed, in every one of Paul's letters he outlined orthodoxy as the basis for orthopraxy.

Again, perhaps you would like to support this conclusion. I don't know that I see it. At all. Not saying it's not there, I just can't think of anything biblically at all to support this claim.

Dan Trabue said...


you go right ahead with your orthopraxy in a void.

Please refrain from summing up my positions like this. You inevitably get my position wrong. If you have a question (Do you really think you can have orthopraxy in a void, that sounds like what you're saying?) then ask it. Thus far, usually when you make an assumption about my position as you have done here, you assume wrongly.

Thanks, Stan.


Since the Bible is largely about truth claims and right thinking ("orthodoxy")

There is indeed much about right thinking in the Bible. And even more about right living, if I'm not mistaken.

I prefer to see both, myself. I'm with James, who said...

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says [ie, orthopraxy -dt]...

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds [orthopraxy -dt]? Can such faith [orthodoxy?? dt] save them?...

Show me your faith without deeds [orthopraxy -dt], and I will show you my faith by my deeds [orthopraxy -dt].

When James was looking for evidence of salvation, it is fairly clear here that he was looking for practice. He was much less concerned about what faith claims they had if they had no actions to back it up.

Both/and, seems to me. A point on which I imagine we agree.

Stan said...

"Show me your faith" ... faith in what?

So, look, what's the real difficulty here? One might think that the fundamental problem between you and I is that I misrepresent your view and you misrepresent mine, and that's a problem, but not the real one. One could argue that we use the language (English) in a different manner. That's a problem, but not the real one. The fundamental problem is that you read a different Bible than I do. You can't see where Paul's letter to the Romans leads with orthodoxy (like the first 11 chapters) followed by orthopraxy (Rom. 12ff, starting with "therefore"). I see it with abundant clarity. Mine is an inerrant Bible and yours isn't. Mine is much easier to understand than yours. And so on. Since we do not share a common basis of understanding, we cannot come to common conclusions or agreements. And while, in an idealistic world, one might think that continued dialog could lead to better comprehension, I think we've proven repeatedly that attempting to common to better comprehension with a different basis of understanding produces nothing. What I've seen is the people who share your basis go away nodding -- "See? Those idiotic right-wing, whacko, fundamentalists ... what idiots!" -- and those who have the same basis of understanding that I do seem to walk away saying, "That Dan! What's his problem? Why can't he see this stuff? It's clear as day!" But since both seem to do the same thing -- walk away -- so shall I.

Stan said...

I'm sorry, Dan. I suppose I didn't make myself clear enough. When I said I would walk away, I meant that it was over on this topic. Thus, I'm not posting your additional comments on the certainty that the Bible isn't inerrant or that we're reading the same Bible. (Note, by the way, that "We're reading the same English translation" completely misses the point. Or, to put it in your terms, you have misrepresented my position. Since I'm not posting your misrepresentation, I have no need to try to correct it.) Merry Christmas.