The Reign of the Servant Kings
By Joseph C. Dillow
Chapter 13—Self-examination and Assurance
There are only four passages of Scripture (other than the so-called “tests of life” in 1 John) that have been adduced in support of the contention that believers are to “examine themselves” in order to discern whether or not they are actually Christians. In reality, they lend little support for this endeavor; but they will be discussed in this chapter.
The Scriptural Admonitions
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end.
The text is often used to support the notion that Christians can prove their election to themselves by means of good works and thus, through examination of them, become assured of their salvation.
But there are several factors that make this interpretation unlikely:
Considering only the lexical meanings of pros and plerophoria together, the author of Hebrews appears to be exhorting the readers to “show diligence with regard to the assurance of hope that they now have to the end.” (This use of pros is found in Hebrews 1:7; 5: 1; Romans 10:21; Luke 12:47) Or more simply, “Be faithful to the end of life.”
But contextual and biblical factors are what ultimately decide an issue. In favor of this rendering of pros is:
The meaning by Hebrews’ author is that, just as they have shown diligence in regard to these external matters—loving others, vs. 10—they should show diligence in regards to this internal matter, maintaining their assurance of hope to the end. He is not fearful that they will lose their salvation, but that they will lose their testimony, their faithfulness, and their perseverance.
Thus, the meaning of the passage is completely unrelated to finding out if one is a Christian by means of perseverance. Rather, it is an exhortation for the readers to be diligent in regard to their sure hope of salvation as they have already been diligent to their love for the brothers. In other words, it is an exhortation to persevere to the end.
2 Peter 1:10, 11
This is the central passage of the Experimental Predestinarian tradition, which reads:
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Arminians see this as an exhortation to guarantee that one does not fatally fall and lose one’s salvation. Others understand it to apply to the conscience—by doing good works, by adding the various qualities of the preceding context (1:3-7), to prove to the conscience the reality of salvation. Others, such as Calvin, do not connect this with conscience but simply with the need for some external evidence as proof one is saved.
This interpretation is unlikely because:
The word babaisos, in this context, is a verb that also may mean “to strengthen, to establish, to make firm, reliable, durable, and unshakeable.” The context strongly favors this translation.
Of particular interest is the passage regarding the metochoi in Hebrews 3:14: “We are partakers (metochoi) of Christ if we hold firm (bebaios) the beginning of our assurance to the end.” The similar contexts seem to suggest that “to hold firm” may be a similar idea to “make your calling and election sure.” In other words, to make our calling and election sure is simply another way of saying persevere to the end. It has the simple sense of “remain firm,” or “strengthen.” This is the meaning in Colossians 2:7, where Paul exhorts them to be rooted and built up in Him and “strengthened” (bebaioo) in the faith.
Christians are to make their calling and election “sure” as protection from stumbling in their Christian lives. This thought is central to the epistle and is brought out again at the end: “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on you guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).
To “make [our] calling and election sure” means to guarantee by adding to our faith the character qualities of 1:5-7 that our calling and election will achieve their intended aim, which is:
Similarly, we are elected so that we might be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4), that we might be obedient (1 Peter 1:1, 2), and that we might proclaim His name (1 Peter 2:9). Because they already knew they were chosen of God, the Thessalonians lived consistently with the intended purpose of the election and became examples to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thessalonians 1:4-7).
The aim of “calling and election” appears to be holiness in this life, perseverance in suffering, and inheriting a blessing in the life to come—the two words are united under the same article, which often signifies that they refer to the same thing. A first-century reader would have seen the terms as signifying the totality of their Christian experience.
Peter’s meaning is that believers must make their Christian lives impregnable against falling into sin by adding the virtues in the preceding context to their foundation of faith. They must strengthen their lives. This will make them unshakable and firm in the midst of suffering. To say it differently, to make their calling and election sure is to purpose that they will achieve their intended aim: a holy life, perseverance in suffering, and inheriting a blessing.
Instead of this passage meaning that a believer should look at his works in order to verify his salvation, Peter is saying that to make one’s calling and election sure is to add virtues to one’s faith so that (1) he builds a firm foundation, impregnable against falling into sin, and (2) he will obtain a rich welcome when he enters the Millennial Kingdom.
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
Here the apostle tells his readers that self-examination can result in knowledge as to whether or not one is “in the faith.” A failure of this test is proof that Christ Jesus is not “in you.” If having Christ “in you” refers to salvation, then this passage would seem to lend credence to the idea that we should examine our lives to find out if there are sufficient evidences present to establish to our consciences that we are in fact among the elect. However, it does not mean this.
“Yourselves” is first in the sentence; it is emphatic. Paul is referring back to vs. 3. The Corinthians wanted proof that Christ was speaking in Paul (“in me”). Paul now turns it around on them. “You, yourselves, should test yourselves to see if Christ is really speaking in you.” The object of this examination is not to find out if they are Christians but to find out if they are “in the faith.” Why do some assume that being “in the faith” is the same thing as being regenerate? In other uses of this phrase it refers to living according to what one believes.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13 Paul says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” Being “in the faith” here seems to mean something like “live consistently with what you believe.” Paul spoke of fellow Christians who are “weak in the faith” (Romans 14:1). Doesn’t this mean something like “weak in living according to what one believes”? Paul wants believers to be “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13), and Peter urges the Christians to be strong in resisting the devil, “steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8, 9). In each case, being “in the faith” refers to consistency in the Christian life, not possession of it.
Christ “in me” in vs. 3 does not refer to salvation but to the demonstration of powerful speech and deeds. The test is to determine whether or not Christ is manifesting Himself in their words and deeds. Paul, of course, doubts that Christ is in them in this sense. Salvation is not in view at all.
Christ is in them, unless they fail the test, i.e., unless they are disqualified (Gk. adokimos) or unapproved. This word is used seven times in the New Testament. It is found in the often quoted passage in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where the apostle himself fears he might become adokimos. Its basic meaning is “not standing the test, rejected.” It is a technical term for a runner not standing the test before the master of the games and therefore being excluded from the award’s ceremony.
The meaning of adokimos is simply “to fail the test.” It is used of Christians four times (1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 6; Hebrew 6:8). The result of their failure is determined by the context. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 the message is not the loss of salvation but the loss of rewards in the Isthmian games. In Hebrews 6:8 it is used of the unfruitful believer. He is a worthless field because he yields thorns and thistles and is close to being cursed.
In 2 Corinthians 13:5 to “fail the test” is to fail the test that Christ is mighty in them in the sense of mighty words and deeds. This was their charge against Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:3. He turns it around on them in verse 5.
1 Corinthians 11:28-32
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
The passage raises two questions:
The teaching that assurance of salvation is based upon evidences of works in one’s life is potentially most damaging to Christian growth. A child’s greatest need when faced with doubt about his acceptance is to have the Father’s unconditional love reaffirmed. No human father would treat his child any less.
How then is assurance of salvation to be obtained according to the Experimental Predestinarian?
Reviewer’s comment: The author then expands on how the Experimental Predestinarian determines his salvation through a series of tests, which the author finds to be a path to contradiction. The reader will need to obtain the book if interested in these tests and the author’s evaluation of them.
The secrets of a man’s heart are known only by the Spirit of God. We do not know the hidden struggles. Neither can we know of an underlying genuine faith that for a lengthy time does not manifest itself in righteous living. It is not for us to judge. In fact, the entire preoccupation with “giving assurance” is a presumption on our part. The apostle Paul specifically refrained from giving or denying assurance: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motive of men’s hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5). On the contrary, the apostle specifically left the provision of assurance to the Holy Spirit.
The Calvinist can offer no real assurance—a man has no assurance he is saved unless he is in a state of godly living at every moment. He therefore does not derive his comfort from Jesus’ death; he derives his real comfort and assurance from his own works. Jesus may have saved him, but he can have no real assurance unless there are good works to show that Christ has really saved him.
However, nothing more than looking to Christ is required, insofar as assurance of heaven is concerned. If more were required, then we would have to say it is “by grace through faith plus works” or “by grace through faith on the condition of faithfulness.” As long as assurance is grounded in an examination of our good works, submitted to our conscience, real assurance will not be possible for many. Yet the gospel promises it to all. A sensitive person will never be persuaded that he is holy enough. Even a mature saint, sincerely agonizing over his sin, would in this context often doubt whether or not his faith is real. How could it be, he will reason, since he falls so short of perfection?
How then is one who lacks assurance of salvation to be comforted? The answer is by bringing to his attention the four questions and their answers in Romans 8:31-39:
What is striking about all four of these answers is that Paul never asks the believer to look inwardly and test for evidences of regeneration, as some require. Rather, in answer to all four questions he directs the reader to Christ. A believer may lack subjective assurance due to doubt, trials, or even due to an inconsistent Christian life; but for the sincere Christian, the Bible does not ask him to examine his life but to look outwardly to Christ. Attention must be focused on Christ and the answers to Paul’s four questions above.
The Bible says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” How else could a biblical writer make it plainer that assurance is the essence of faith?