Morbid Marvin

So here comes a brief post straight atcha to respond to a couple of comments in my previous post on regeneration.

The first issue has to do with a question about my comment that an Augustinian view of regeneration leads to fatalism. An extreme form of the kind of fatalism I have in mind can be found among the Muslims. (Christian forms are much milder, but still problematic.) Islam means submission. You simply submit, and leave the judgment to Allah as to whether you submitted “enough” or the “way he wanted.” His judgments concerning this are sovereign and absolutely inscrutable. You die and find out. There is nothing to see in the context of your own life that enables you to have any kind of real confidence. There is nothing you can put in the bank.

But in the biblical approach, God comes down. He came down in the Incarnation, and He comes down when He descends into our lives and hearts. He gives Himself to us as a guarantee (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14). One of the things I do not want to find myself doing is to affirm that God is like a manufacturer who issues a “lifetime guarantee” for His products, and then when it breaks and you take it in, you discover that the guarantee was for the lifetime of the product, which appparently ended at the very moment it broke. The Spirit-given guarantee needs to do something — it needs to guarantee.

If two customers take their warranty back to the factory, and their circumstances are identical (the product broke), and one has the warranty honored and the other does not, there are only two real possibilities. One is that the manufacturer is a cheat, and the other is that the customer who was turned away is a cheat.

Those are the options. What is it that voids the warranty? Where is it? All Christians agree that the problem is on the customer’s end, not on God’s end. Let God be true, and every man a liar. But what are the possible problems on man’s end? — there are only two. The first is the presence of sin, and the second is the absence of living faith. If the former, then every Christian is going to Hell. If the latter, then, son of a gun, we have worked our way back to the classic understanding of regeneration.

If there are two kinds of Christians, one with the gift of perseverance and the other not, but their gifts are absolutely identical in the pre-perseverance stage, then this reduces to fatalism. You have to die and find out. This is because any evidence of God’s work in your life could just as easily be found by someone who is not elect, and whose enjoyment of that same work is simply temporary. Once the logic of this settles in, there is nothing to do but shrug.

This leads to the second issue, raising the question of whether I can have assurance (1 John 5:13) without prying into the decrees of election (Dt. 29:29). The biblical answer is yes. So the second issue is my response to the idea that the doctrine I am promoting about assurance of salvation will lead to morbid pathologies of introspection.

First, I grant that there are such morbid pathologies out there, and nobody wants to encourage them. But it is not possible for the teaching of Scripture, taken straight up, to encourage such pathologies. When troubled believers start circling the drain of assurance, it is either because they are looking for the wrong thing, or are looking in the wrong way. The problem is not that they are looking at all.

Now one of the most glorious truths of Scripture is that we can say that we are saved “because God . . .” Our salvation was accomplished before we were born, and the whole thing was settled outside of us. When we are converted, we are summoned to look away. This is all true, gloriously true.

But having been saved, I am in a relationship, and when I am in a relationship, it is necessary for me to have some awareness of my end of it. I must do this without being self-absorbed (which is another destroyer of relationship), but I cannot be so absent that I am as good as not there. Self-knowledge is possible without the soul that knows itself somehow curving back upon itelf in a destructive way. When it happens rightly, this too is a gift of God.

“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Rev. 2:17).

Notice that the man who is saved is given a name for himself, and he alone knows it. That is assurance, and there is nothing whatever that is morbid about it. The white stone is a beautiful thing. My secret name, written on that white stone, is not Morbid Marvin.

“Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 Jn. 4:13).

We know something here because He has given us something . . . but that something turns out to be Himself. When I look to myself in evangelical faith, therefore, I do not see myself. Jesus is everywhere I look — including His work inside me.

Take heed to yourselves (Luke 21:34). Remember Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32), and not because she was a typological proclamation of the gospel, like the bronze serpent. We are to examine ourselves to make sure we are really in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). This is what the Bible teaches us to do. It must not be bad for us to do it.

And this requires us to return to one of the central points that we have to make whenever we are dealing with subjects like this one. We must always allow the words of Scripture to speak to us, straight up, and not modify them for the sake of a theological system. Receive the Word as spoken, and let the system (which will form necessarily) take care of itself.

 

 

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