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John F MacArthurThe Revd John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.  Dr MacArthur is a conservative (Reformed) Evangelical who has been a minister for over 40 years.

His ministry extends beyond Sun Valley and includes radio broadcasts, books, pamphlets and articles.  One of his booklets is entitled ‘A Believer’s Assurance: A Practical Guide to Victory over Doubt’.  It addresses practical doubts which all of us have from time to time, but it also deals with the doubt that we have about whether our sins are truly forgiven.

Have you ever had a day or days when all your sins come flooding back to you in merciless recollection?  If so, you’ll know how much you want to set things right with people you’ve offended or short-changed in word or deed, even if it was a long time ago.  If not, count yourself lucky.  You probably don’t even need to read the rest of this post! 

That involuntary and spontaneous dwelling on our sins sometimes makes us wonder if we’re saved and what God really thinks of us.  This, of course, only adds to our confusion and torment.  MacArthur says:

Be warned: Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He will do all he can to obscure the love and graciousness of God. 

He explains that what the Devil is doing is trying to make us doubt Christ’s mercy to such an extent that we feel hopeless and useless.  If this carries on for a long period of time, some people end up giving themselves over to him, feeling they are unworthy of divine mercy and salvation.  Essentially, they fall into the ‘there’s no hope for me’ trap.  What begins as doubt can turn into a rejection of God.

MacArthur writes:

If you allow Satan to crush your head with the holy requirements of God stripped of the love of God, you will doubt. 

He explains that, although we might wonder how God can forgive us our sins, salvation is ‘an utterly divine, totally sovereign operation’. As such, how can we fully comprehend it?

He reminds us of those magnificent verses in Isaiah:

Come now, and let us reason together … Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

MacArthur makes the following points about sin and forgiveness:

  • God’s forgiveness is complete
  • Once He forgives us, our debt is paid
  • We might not have forgotten our sins, but God has
  • Salvation is not dependent on living a perfect life but on being ‘sheltered by the blood of Christ’
  • Jesus’s Resurrection has secured our salvation

If we are still uncertain, MacArthur invites us to develop our sense of assurance of God’s love and trust in Christ Jesus.  He offers two New Testament verses for us to consider:

God ‘has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, emphasis added)

He then gives us these questions to ponder:

  • Knowing that we once lived in sin (okay, some of us more than others!) and enjoyed it, are we now relieved to be freed from it?
  • Recalling that we once rebelled against God’s authority, do we now freely accept that we must obey Him?
  • Do we want to develop a closer relationship with Him and follow His Word as best we can?
  • Do we find happiness in doing the Lord’s will and submitting to Him?

If you can honestly say ‘Yes’ to these questions, you have repented … And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.

Do you see the impulses of the new nature in your life? If so, that’s indicative of salvation. If God’s will has become your highest joy, and submission to His lordship your greatest delight, you are indeed a child of God–no matter how strong the pull of sin.

Even the trials we suffer in our daily lives can strengthen our faith and turn us away from evil.  They increase our perseverance and build our moral character.  God will not forget the good things we have done in His name.  But, how can we build this assurance and our trust in God?

MacArthur counsels:

Perhaps the most obvious reason for lacking assurance is disobedience, because assurance is the reward for obedience. Hebrews 10:22 strongly points that out: ‘Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’ It’s been well said that high degrees of assurance cannot be enjoyed by those who persist in low levels of obedience. To live in sin is to live in doubt.

He advises:

… deal with a major sin in your life and the rest will follow. When the general is killed, the troops scatter. By the means of grace available to every believer, slay the sins you find most compelling and familiar–your pet sins–and the others will soon disappear. And when you fall into sin, quickly set out to conquer that sin and be aware that Satan will try to make you doubt your salvation. Fall back on the forgiving grace of God, and it will strengthen you for battle.

Therefore, the more we are willing to truly love God, the happier we are obeying Him.  And, the more we obey Him, the more faith we have in Him and the less likely we are to doubt His love. And when we doubt less, we sin less often.         

And what a life that is — in harmony with God and assured of His love!

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