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Monday, March 25, 2013

Consciousness of God and Assurance of Salvation

The Consciousness of God as the basis for assurance of salvation.

Several authors report having had a strong sense of God as children or youth - much stronger than what they have now. I believe this is sufficient reason for thinking belief in God is rational as long as it has not been defeated by counter-argument or counter-evidence, based on a principle of charity toward our cognitive faculties of intuition and memory. We can't move forward accept by a raw prima facie confidence in our abilities.

But we might ask why our sense of deity seems to diminish as we get older. Surely, it has to do with becoming more learned and experienced. But I don't think that this is necessarily because we discover some truths along the way that force us to reject as false or improbable belief in God.

The Bible gives it's own suggestion here. When we are young, we are more innocent and naive and we do not yet have the judgment to implicate our own behavior with our own sense of the good. But as that naïveté fades and we see more and more how culpable we are in evil while at the same time establishing a greater track record of evil deeds, then we are not so delighted at the prospect of seeing God and so spend more time in self distraction. We get to the point were we would rather God didn't exist at all than dwell before His face. So we don't see God because we don't want to. Thus is explained by Paul in Romans 1. It is also illustrated by Adam and Eve in Gen, 2.

We do this in part because we are incapable of bringing about an alternative choice besides trying to avoid God. But if there were a way to own our sin before the face of God with no occasion to fear we might take it. I believe that if we were willing to admit out sins to God we would discover the truth of the biblical claim that he has been already seeking us. The outcome of the ordeal of facing God in the plagues, on the Flood, in the Fire depends on weather we oppose God stiff-necked or humble ourselves and be prepared to do what he says.

Of course, according to the history and prophecy in the Bible, God has already been making provision in His rescue plan in Christ to answer the question, "Where can I find a gracious God?".

According to the Gospel, Jesus has in Baptism taken the condemnation that was due to us so that we by our baptism are saved from condemnation. Because of Jesus death on the cross we who are united to Him by means of faith and baptism have died to sin with Him and were resurrected to new life in Him. Those who heed this news admit and turn from their sins and receive the baptism of Christ are saved. Thus without Shane they may behold God who makes discloses Himself in His revelation and creation with joy.

This suggests that our ability to perceive God in creation as we mature is a confirming feed back of genuine faith. As Jonathan Edwards saw, delighting in the beauty of God's holiness is proof that we genuinely trust Him.

Can we be assured of our salvation? According to Catholicism the only way to be assured that one us saved is to endure until the end. He who endures to the end will be saved so this us certainly sufficient. But is it necessary to be assured of ones standing before God?

It seems not since the gospel assures us that they are saved who trust in Christ. If I trust in Christ then I'm saved, right? The I just need to know that I am trusting. This suggests to many that assurance is of the essence of faith that saves.

The trouble with this conclusion is that both our experiences and those of saints in the Scriptures make clear both that a saved person can experience doubt of that fact and that one nay boast of confidence in salvation and be lost at the end. This discrepancy may be reconciled to our simple argument from faith to assurance by saying that assurance is of the essence of faith ideally considered. In experience, a person's faith may be subject to all kinds of difficulties such besetting sins, stress, resistance, and so on, which prevent faith from optimally functioning. Consequently, we are not entitled to think that just because a person has no sense of assurance that he must not really have faith.

This is consistent with the biblical exhortations to examine ourselves to see that we are I'm the faith and to strive to make our calling and election sure. We need to check to see if the complacency of sin has not sapped our energy in devotion and our zeal to obey the Lord. The Bible makes clear that those who our united to Christ will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh. That is, they will put off selfishness and put on faith, hope, and love.

But this may lead us into another trap. The Bible makes clear that there would not be any fruit unless we have the Spirit. So exhibiting some fruit is sufficient to show that we have the Spirit even if there are still works of the flesh to be mortified. But we may fall into obsession with how much fruit and be tempted to make comparisons with others which are misleading and feed either pride or despair. There us no real criterion about what counts as sufficient progress at any time to warrant assurance. So we encourage Christians to keep moving forward. The problem is that self examination can be confused with introspection and lead to a death spiral.

But another evidence if faith can be discerned by a self examination that is focused outward rather than inward. As we grow in faith we become aware more and more of our sinfulness. But we also grow more and more in our delight of God in Christ. As we put our confidence in the sufficiency of the cross we may yet recover our sense of God speaking to us in His Word and in His creation. We may in adulthood recover our sense of deity. Rather than being a complicated comparison of fruits and works, this is a simple judgment with immediate feedback. By focusing on looking for the sense of God again we no longer dissect our conduct and are less tempted to become paralyzed in analysis. This form of seeking assurance involves forgetting ourselves. It also, encourages us to wait patiently for God to appear to us in our awareness.

This leads us to the following conclusion: eternal life is consciousness of God in grace and truth.