Why So Many are Depressed in SBC Churches, part 2- Martyn Lloyd-Jones Speaks on Assurance of Salvation

March 7, 2009

Yesterday I posted on the word Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has to give to us about the spirit of bondage as written in his book Spiritual Depression.  Today I want to focus in on another topic he hits which I think is a major cause of spiritual depression inside of our SBC congregations, that being the issue of assurance of salvation.  Now, I know, for those of you who read here regularly, this is a horse I beat and ride and beat again, but I think it is crucial that we really get this.  I even shared a couple of weeks ago about how creating false assurance in “Christians” is my biggest fear in sharing God’s Word.  So, since this is my blog and I honestly feel this is worth the time, I’m going to jump on this once more.

The place I would like to start, which is the same as where Dr. Lloyd-Jones approaches the matter from, is in the first passage of the second epistle of Peter.  Many of us probably have a general idea of what 2 Peter 1.10 says, that roughly being “make your calling and election sure,” but my fear is that very few of us actually have embraced, understood, or even read the several verses preceeding this.  Here they are:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1.3-10)

This passage seems to me almost surely damning to the position of Free Grace theology, as it does to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, for this is what he has to say:

‘Surely,’ Peter argues, ‘you have not forgotten that “you have been purged from your old sins,” surely you have not forgotten that you died with Christ and are therefore dead unto the law and dead unto sin?’  ’How shall we that are dead unto sin live any longer therein’– that is Paul’s way of putting it.  That is Peter’s argument.  We have to realize that, and what a tremendous encouragement it is as we face the fight of faith. 

But you do not stop at that.  Realize further, say the apostle, that if only you do these things you will have great joy and happiness in the present.  ’Wherefore, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure’; and you can make your calling and election sure by doing these things [i.e. 2 Peter 1.5-7, emphasized above].  You will never be happy if you do not.  It is not enough to say: ‘The Word of God says “whosoever believeth, ” and I believe– therefore. . . . ‘  That is true but it does not always satisfy.  It is right that we should reason so, that is a part of our assurance, but if we think assurance stops at that we are making a profound mistake.  If we want to make our calling and election sure we have to give diligence to do all these things that the apostle lists, and as we do so we shall have great joy and peace and happiness.  We shall know where we stand and we shall reap these first-fruits of the glory that awaits us. [p.215]

Dr. Lloyd-Jones calls it a “profound mistake” to let our assurance stop at simply saying, “If I believe?  Well I have believed.”  But this is the message in many corners of the SBC (see here for the example).  They will argue that if your assurance is based on experience than you are trusting in works righteousness, or that it is dangerous to trust in an emotional experience because our emotions lie.  Yet for what reason will we take our own word that we have faith in Christ based on nothing else?  You may say, “I believe it truly in my heart,” but if one is not truly regenerate, what does the prophet Jeremiah have to say to us about such reasoning?  ”The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17.9).  So one must not trust in their heart.  Then it becomes a mere mental exercise?  Except Paul tells us in Romans 8.5 that “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” and thus if one has never left the flesh, then the exercise of their minds will only be upon the flesh and will never lead them to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

Therefore, it is essential that we embrace what Peter says.  It is essential that we trust in God’s grace, that our hope is in justification by faith, but that our assurance also lies in “if these qualities are yours” (v.8).  Nothing is more sure to cause depression in the life of a believer than a failure to be able to “make [their] calling and election sure,” and if we are to lift our people, and ourselves, out of such a darkened spiritual state, we must fully and completely understand how the Scriptures prescribe handling this condition.