G.K. Beale on the Assurance of Salvation

At the recommendation my dear friend Nathan Martin (@nater_Martin) I spent some time last night reading the excursus in G.K. Beale’s “A New Testament Biblical Theology” on the assurance of salvation (pgs. 865-870). Assurance is one of the most important doctrines for a new believer to comprehend, but unfortunately it is often presented in ways that are at best unhelpful and at worst can be unbiblical. Instead of offering trite sayings or clichés, Beal provides us with a clear, simple and Biblical model for understanding the assurance of salvation. He argues that we can understand assurance as a triangle, “with each angle contributing to an aspect of assurance. “

BealeTriangle

Trust in God’s Promise of Salvation

 Beal states that, “First, God promises throughout the NT that those who place their faith in Christ and his redemptive work will receive an inner assurance that they have truly benefitted from Christ’s work (the top of the triangle).” (p.867) He then cites 1 John 5:9-15 as a classic example of this teaching in Scripture:

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

This passages teaches us that “God ‘has testified’ that ‘eternal life’ comes through belief in ‘His Son,’ and those ‘who believe’ in the Son ‘have the testimony in ‘themselves.’” (p.868) We have the assurance of God’s Word that He has given life to all who believe.

Good Works

The Bible clearly teaches that no one will be saved by their good works, but it is also equally adamant that those who have been saved will produce good works. Beale uses Ephesians 2:8-10 to demonstrate this point:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Verses 8 and 9 are universally used to demonstrate the Biblical teaching concerning justification by faith alone, however; we often skip the next verse. Verse 10 is important because it teaches that as believers we are saved to do “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” Beal says, “..one who has truly been resurrected (Eph 2:4-6) and thus becomes a part of the new creation will inevitably and increasingly be characterized by good works (Eph 2:10) instead of behaving like “dead people” in bondage to “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1-3).” (p.868)

One of the ways that I explain this to new believers is that the greatest evidence of genuine salvation is a changed life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This new life is exhibited through a change in behavior and attitudes that lead to good works. These good works not only demonstrate to others that we have received a new life, but also serve as assurance to us that God has indeed transformed our lives through the gospel. Beal says, “…believer’s assurance of truly being part of the new creation comes as they look back at their former life and see the changes that have come about as they look back at their former life and see the changes that have come about since they became Christian.” (p.869)

Conviction by the Spirit

Many years ago I heard an evangelist say that one of the ways that we know we are saved is that “whenever we fall into sin we are immediately convicted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.” He summed this teaching up by saying, “We can’t get away with anything.” Looking back this was one of the most evident signs to me that something had changed in my life. I can remember shortly after I was saved falling under tremendous conviction for uttering a curse word on the playground. What had been a regular activity before now suddenly felt out of place and wrong.

Beal closes by saying, “…faithful, growing Christians should receive multiple assurances from these three angles, which have a cumulative force, enhancing the overall sense of confidence about the reality of their Christians experience.”(p.870) But also warns that, “no confidence should exist in those who profess to believe in Jesus but who reflect no discernible change for the good in their lifestyles and who have no conviction about changing their sinful ways.”

G.K. Beale “A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011)

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Thoughts on September 11th

That day is permanently etched in our mind and the very sound of the words 9/11 awaken within us the deepest feelings of sorrow.  At 8:15 am on that cool, crisp September morning I drove to Open Door Baptist Church just like I did every morning.  Walking through the parking lot into my office I couldn’t help but to think how beautiful the deep blue sky was that morning.  As I opened my Bible and started working on my sermon for Sunday morning, I could not help but think how it seemed like a perfect morning.  A little before 9 am that morning the phone rang and my wife was on the other line asking me if I’d seen the news about the plane crashing into the World Trade Center.  I had no television or internet access at the church so she was explaining the scene to me when all at once she gasped and cried “Oh No!”  It was 9:03 AM, the second plane had just struck the South Tower and everyone in America realized that we were under attack.

The remainder of that day is a haze now.  I remember going to my son’s school to pick him up early and Carla Brady asking me, “Is this the end of the word?”  Thirteen years later, I can’t remember how I answered her that morning but I know that the same question was running through my mind.  The world didn’t end that morning, but life as we know it was changed in so many ways.  The blanket of security that we slept with at night was suddenly taken away and for the first time America seemed vulnerable.  A lot of has happened since that morning.  We’ve fought long drawn out battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars on defense and security.  We’ve hunted down and killed the mastermind behind the plot, Osama Bin-Laden, and most of his cronies.  Thirteen years of nearly constant battle and yet last night our President announced that a new threat has emerged named ISIS and once again America must send our military resources to fight.

While I’m supportive of the President in this endeavor and believe military force is necessary in order to protect innocent lives and secure peace, I also can’t help but think that we are missing a key ingredient in this formula.  Let me explain what I mean.  The basic premise that I would put forth is that we can never defeat an ideology with mere military force.  Think back for a minute to the Second World War.  While the war was necessary and just, it alone did not secure the ultimate defeat of socialism in Nazi Germany and Japan.  Ultimately, it was what happened after the war that changed the hearts of the Germans and the Japanese.  When the war ended, the United States and other allies did something amazing, they went back in and rebuilt the very nations they had fought so hard to destroy.  This astounding act of courage, wisdom and altruism brought about a dramatic change and produced a peace that has lasted until this very day.  Compare that to what happened at the end of World War I, when the allies crippled Germany with harsh reparations and thus set the stage for the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Second World War.  It seems to me that we are creating the vacuums that ISIS is filling.  Perhaps the answer is to have a two-pronged approach.

My thesis is that if we resort only to military force in the Middle East we will continue to see the rise of militant, radical Islam.  What we need to do, therefore, is to combine strategic military strikes aimed at protecting the innocent with a massive effort at winning the hearts of the people through acts of kindness.  In other words, we need to help to rebuild the Middle East in a manner similar to what we did in Germany and Japan after World War II.  Specifically, I have in mind building hospitals, schools, highways, and other vital infrastructure that can improve the daily lives of people living in these lands.  Such actions will speak louder than words and will certainly do more than bombs at changing the hearts and minds of the people.  In the end, what do we have to lose?  We can keep on going down the endless road of frustration that we’re on or we can try something different.  Total disengagement isn’t a viable option so we need to adapt our strategies to include a balance between force and kindness.

As a follower of Christ and Pastor I also recognize there must be a supernatural element in the overall strategy.  The church in the United States and around the world committing ourselves to the task of praying for the middle east.  Specifically, we need to be praying for Christians in the region to be emboldened to preach the gospel and for God to open the hearts of minds of millions of Muslims to it’s saving truth.  In Romans 1:16-17 the Apostle Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believers, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  The Gospel is more powerful than any bomb or device invented by man.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts and bring peace where there has been no peace.  Let’s pray that by this time next year, God will send a great spiritual awakening not only here in the United States but across the globe and especially in the middle east.