It is a job of preachers of the Gospel to give their congregation assurance of sins forgiven. A number of people have a huge problem with that statement, and I wonder why. Of course the common objection is “only God can give assurance of sins forgiven”, or there is the fear that a preacher would give someone assurance who really should not have assurance. Certainly I understand the objections, but I am not convinced that they are biblically founded. The question comes up, “How can you know they are forgiven, or how can you know who to assure and not to assure?” The simple answer is that I do not know, nor do I need to. Yet this begs the question, “Jay, if you do not know who is redeemed and who is not, how can you attempt to give blanket assurance to an entire congregation?” This is a reasonable question, but it is not a question that is scripturally informed. Consider when Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Jesus, and three times he was met with “Feed my sheep”. Question; who was Peter to determine who Christ’s sheep were? Nonetheless he was give the command. Or what about Paul’s blanket statements of blessing to the churches he wrote to? Were there not bound to be unbelievers gathered in their midst? If Paul can write words of assurance to a group of people he has not even met, how much more appropriate is it for preachers of the Gospel to seek assurance for their congregations!
Unfortunately a lot of preachers, many who are rising greatly in popularity are making a great name for themselves in doing the very opposite of what I propose here. Now I have a great respect for men like Paul Washer and I certainly would agree that he possesses a great gift for preaching. His stuff on marriage and manhood has been indispensible to me, his preaching on Song of Solomon is some of the most beautiful preaching I have ever heard. Moreover when he preaches the Gospel, and paints a picture of the magnitude of the cross and the substitutionary work of Christ of Christ on behalf of the believer I would contend that there are few who are more gifted than him. Nonetheless I greatly diverge from Washer and others like him when it comes to preaching assurance. I am not sure if people would consider Washer reformed or not, he is certainly a Calvinist when it comes to his soteriology, but not sure beyond that. He calls himself a “5 point Spurgeonist” which I think means a Baptist with a soteriology that mirrors Calvin. You can, however, see that he diverges from reformation theology when it comes to assurance, and the role of ecclesiastical authority in giving assurance.
Now, whether you know of Washer or not, the issue at hand here is whether or not the church, specifically the preaching pastor, should attempt to give assurance to the congregation. The reason this post is pertinent to this blog is that the conservative or ‘confessing’ Methodist is typically very Washeresque when it comes to giving assurance. Of course the favorite passage is “examine yourself to see if you are in the faith, test yourselves, or do you not know this about yourself that Christ Jesus is in you, unless of course you fail the test.” The very conclusion of that chapter, which is the last chapter in II Corinthians, is a passage of assurance. When looking at this passage in context you will see that Paul is giving assurance to the weak, not calling to looking inwardly at the strength of your profession or the fruit of your life to determine whether or not you are really a believer. The other text that seems to always come up when folks who hate to give people assurance take to the pulpit is the end of Matthew 7. The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (which concludes at chapter 7) establishes assurance for the disciples who were listening. The clear wording of Matthew 7 is ‘beware of false prophets’ and that passage qualifies the later words ‘many will say unto me Lord Lord... and I will say depart from me I never knew you.’ That passage in Matthew 7 is a very powerful means of making people question their assurance and I have preached that text myself to do just that. However the force of the text has nothing to do with your personal assurance (which you should go to the beginning of Matthew 5 to get) instead it is to put you on your guard against false prophets. Preaching that portion of Matthew 7 and making it about biblical assurance is out of bounds.
The point is that the role of the pastor is to shepherd the sheep, grow the sheep, and lead them to take comfort and refuge in their king. It is about proclaiming grace to them, and ASSURING them of the work which Christ has done for them. Pastor, your job is not to get into the pulpit and make people question their salvation, it is to get into the pulpit and remind them of the salvation which is in Christ for them. Don't beat up the sheep by misappropriating 2 Corinthians 13:5 or Matthew 7:21-23 to be passages designed to cause believers to question assurance.
I am not sure why people fear giving false assurance. What is it? Are we afraid that someone might actually believe that Christ died for their sins and then trust him as their redeemer? Isn’t that kind of the point? The problem with preaching 2 Corinthians 13:5 and Matthew 7 as a means to bring us to question our assurance is that we are always left looking inwardly to determine whether or not we are saved. We are always looking to our work, our desires, our evidence, to see if we indeed are Christian. The only reason we have for assurance is an external work of God in Christ for us, that we are given belief in by the work of His Spirit.