Assurance And Works: An Evangelical Train Wreck -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 22:42 (Spring 2009)
Article: Assurance And Works: An Evangelical Train Wreck
Author: Zane C. Hodges

Assurance And Works:
An Evangelical Train Wreck1

Zane C. Hodges

The controversy over Lordship Salvation reached high visibility in 1988 with the publication of John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. Since then the discussion has taken a significant turn. Increasingly the issue of assurance has come to the forefront of the debate.

MacArthur himself published a book on assurance (Saved Without a Doubt, 1992) and returned to the subject again in the volume Faith Works (1993; see pp. 157-73). His view of assurance can hardly be distinguished from the one that has been so prominent in the Puritan and Reformed traditions. In this view, the evidence of good works is an indispensable verification of saving faith. Without works there can be no certainty at all that one is saved.

For instance, MacArthur writes in Faith Works:

The evidence we seek through self-examination is nothing other than the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), the proof that He resides within. It is on this testimony that our assurance is confirmed.2

This way of stating the issue, however, is disingenuous. What would “unconfirmed assurance” be for MacArthur? The answer is that it would be false assurance (see Faith Works, pp. 172-73). The bottom line then is this: Any assurance we think we have could be fallacious unless it is verified by works. But false assurance can be more candidly described as a spiritual delusion. If at the moment of faith I cannot discriminate between true assurance and a spiritual delusion, then clearly works become the true basis for genuine assurance.

The logic of this is inescapable. Under this Puritan view, the man who “thinks” he has believed cannot be sure that he really has done so until he performs works.

From this perspective, the biblical promises that the believer in Christ has eternal life are stripped of their value. Verses like John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; etc. (or even Acts 16:31 or Rom 4:5) contain no adequate basis for assurance at all, for I cannot know if they apply to me unless I do good works. The transparent fallacy in this ought to be evident to all. Instead, by a devious piece of sophistry, we are told that we cannot know that we have truly believed these promises...

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