Shepherding the flock into assurance, part 2
This is a bit of a generalisation, but I reckon that if we asked our church members to state the main benefit we gain from repentance and faith in Christ, then in many churches ‘forgiveness’ would be high up the list – maybe at the top. It may also be the case that if someone listened for six months to everything we said, both in the pulpit and privately, about what the gospel offers, then they’d also conclude that forgiveness is the main benefit. (That wouldn’t be true of every gospel minister, I know, but I think it would apply to many.)
What’s the problem? In a sense, nothing. Forgiveness is a glorious benefit of Christ’s work for us which has calmed many troubled souls. Praise God for it, and let us never forget it or undervalue it!
But a problem does arise over time if forgiveness is the gospel benefit we primarily mention on 90% of the occasions (or 80%, or 70%) that we speak of Christ. Why? Because it’s so easy to think that God could re-think his forgiveness if he looked hard at what I’m really like. Or that he might withdraw it if I go and do something truly heinous. Solid assurance is then harder to hold onto.
However if our talk of God forgiving us (which we mustn’t lose!) is mingled in with regular talk of God adopting us as his children, coming to dwell in us by his Spirit, uniting us to Christ, causing us to die with Christ and rise with him – ideas very commonly found in the NT – then we are laying down the full foundation of assurance that the NT gives. The definitive and assured nature of God’s action of salvation for us and in us is expressed especially powerfully in these things.
A church family is, I think, quietly but deeply influenced over time by the ways in which its pastor regularly describes what a Christian is. So let’s not be single-issue people on salvation. Forgiven, certainly. But so much more than that, too.