Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, April 13, 2015

How Do We Know?

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! -- James 2:19

Jonathan Edwards wrote a treatise called “How Do You Know If You Are a Real Christian”.  Edwards’ approach is traditional but insightful, and, since I’m out this week, we’ll just pull a few excerpts to let him make his case and see if we agree.

How do you know if you belong to God? We see in these words what some people depend on as an evidence of their acceptance with God. Some people think that they are all right before God if they are not as bad as some evil person. Other people point to their family history or church membership to show that God approves of them. There is an evangelism programme in common use that asks people certain questions. One of the questions is, “Suppose you were to die today. Why should God let you into his heaven?” A very common response is, “I believe in God.” Apparently the apostle James knew people who said the same thing: I know I am in God’s favor, because I know these religious doctrines.

Of course James admits that this knowledge is good. Not only is it good, but it is also necessary. Nobody can be a Christian who doesn’t believe in God; and more than that, the One True God. This is particularly true for those who had the great advantage of actually knowing the apostle, someone who could tell them of his first-hand experience with Jesus, the Son of God. Imagine the great sin of a person, who knew James, and then refused to believe in God! Certainly this would make their damnation greater. Of course, all Christians know that this belief in the One God is only the start of good things because “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb. 11:6.)

However, James is clear that although this belief a good thing, it is definitely not proof that a person is saved. What he means is this: “You say you are a Christian and you are in God’s favor. You think God will let you into heaven, and the proof of it is, you believe in God. But that is no evidence at all, because the demons also believe, and they are sure to be punished in hell.” The demons believe in God, you can be sure of that! They not only believe that He exists, but they believe that God is a holy God, a sin-hating God, a God of truth, who has promised judgments, and who will carry out his vengeance upon them.

This is the reason the demons “shudder” or tremble— they know God more clearly than most human beings do, and they are afraid. Nevertheless, nothing in the mind of man, that devils may experience as well, is any sure sign of God’s grace in our hearts.

This reasoning may be easily turned around. Suppose demons could have, or find within themselves, something of God’s saving grace—proof they would go to heaven. This would prove James wrong. But how absurd! The Bible makes it clear that demons have no hope of salvation, and their believing in God does not take away their future punishment. Therefore believing in God is not proof of salvation for demons, and it is safe to say, not for people, either.

Let’s let Edwards catch his breath for a minute.  His opening paragraph is something that has been used over and over by preachers in altar calls.  I do not know if it is original to Edwards, but it reflects the image of God as Judge that the Bible often presents.  We are asked to imagine that we will stand before God as before a magistrate and argue our case or make our case for entering heaven.  We’ll cut to the chase a little and suggest that perhaps we should consider that our present life is where we should be "making the case".  

I suppose there have been views of the relationship between this world and heaven or between this life and the next one such that a person might conclude there was some "great gulf" between the two that made them separate and distinct.  I know that many who have called themselves Christians have lived and acted as if this were true.  I see one in the mirror who has thought that way at times.  I've learned better -- but my memory isn't perfect.


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent post, Mush.
We must make our case everyday, working out our redemption.
Actions speak louder than words, but it's the Word in our hearts that motivates us to act.

Rogelio Bueno said...

Good stuff. I need to read more Edwards. Looking forward to the next post.

Ann Kellett said...

Dang! As a descendent of Mr. Edwards, I thought I was a shoo-in for sure!
Thanks for another excellent post. I look forward to reading your blog every day.

Ann Kellett said...

Regarding the gulf you note in your last paragraph, I just finished an excellent book, "Everywhere Present," by Orthodox Father Stephen Freeman, that discusses how the notion that God is "up there" is profoundly and tragically incorrect from a theological perspective.

mushroom said...

Yes, we like Father Stephen.