A reader (let’s call him Jack) of this blog recently emailed me, asking me for my thoughts on his spiritual situation because he’s read/listened to a preacher that I’ve quoted on this blog (Paul Washer) and has also listened to a few of Pastor Prince’s sermons – both of whom preach pretty contradictory messages in one sense. I asked for his permission to put an edited form of his email on my blog for others to respond to his struggles, as I think some readers will have some helpful things to say . He was fine with this. So below is his email (edited) followed by an introductory response by me.
In subsequent posts, I’ll write more on this topic. For now, I welcome the responses of other Christians from all tribes of Christianity!
…I recall reading on your blog that you like the way Paul Washer preached about the gospel, though you didn’t agree with some of the things (too legalistic if I remember correctly?). I’ve been reading/watching his sermons/teachings, including his Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church in America and his shocking youth message. I have to admit that I’m really shocked/afraid after reading his teachings. I have not had time to find opposing teachings, but I have listened to one or two sermons from Joseph Prince.
Just to give you some background:I’ve been a “Christian” for about 5 years – I’m in my late teens now. I’ve attended 3 different churches (Anglican, Pentecostal and now an Independent church). My spiritual life has never been really good and sadly ,although there have been bouts of improvement in my struggles with anger/vulgarities/insecurity, my struggle with lust has led me down a road to where I’m now nearing a point, I believe, of no return. =/ I’ve doubted my salvation many times, wondering if I’m one of seeds that has no root or will fall away due to the worries of life/wealth (Matthew 13:18-23). This is especially so because every time I make a re-commitment/dedication to start living my life for Christ, I either give up quickly or forget after a few days… eventually going back to square one or worse, regressing.
I would really appreciate it if you could share your opinion on Paul Washer’s teachings. I have nothing to go by, as his teachings seem biblically sound and logically valid. However, if ALL are true, it would terrible news for me because it would mean all these years (5yrs), I have not grown, or worse, not been saved at all.
The post where Jack encountered my quote of Paul Washer is here, written in 2006. This was before I started regularly attending New Creation, though I still held to pretty much the same view of grace then as I do now. As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I learned about grace over 10 years ago before I even heard of New Creation Church.
It’s interesting he mentioned that Paul Washer post because I remember that post very clearly as I’ve been wanting to revisit his teachings again in a future blog post. I wanted to do another post on Washer’s teachings because while I absolutely love his passion for missions, I also profoundly disagree with his view on salvation and assurance of salvation.
I agree 100% when Paul Washer said:
I don’t wish the same things your parents want for you. They want for you security and insurance and nice homes. They want for you cars and respect. I want for you the same thing I want for my son. That one day he takes a banner…the banner of Jesus Christ. And he places it on a hill…where noone has ever placed the banner before. And he cries out, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Even if it costs my son his life.
This was taken from Paul Washer’s famous message here. But I also wrote, as Jack correctly noted, that other stuff in his sermon was too legalistic for my liking.
I’ve listened to a bit of Paul Washer’s stuff and while I am inspired by his passion for missions and agree with his call to go and really reach the lost even if it means great sacrifice and even his view that Christians today (especially in the Western world) are too comfortable and not really living as we should, I’m less fond of his views when he questions whether such Christians are saved.
I’m all for calling Christians to live sacrificially for Jesus and His Kingdom. I’m all for missions. I’m all for (honestly) mentioning that we’ve failed and there is so much more we can do. I’m 100% with him in being against the typical Western comfortable middle-class lifestyle in the light of the fact that there are billions lost out there. We middle-class Christians are big-time hypocrites in many ways. We proclaim our first love is Jesus, but most of us are focused on ourselves and our life. So in all honesty, the church has failed greatly in many ways.
But, I will not go so far as to say that Christians who struggle with sin and do not live “godly” lives should question their salvation. To me, that crosses the line into legalism and works-righteousness.
You see, I’m really enthusiastic about missions and all that. But I’m not about to scare Christians into thinking that if they’re not doing enough for God, or do not show enough evidence that they are saved, they may not be saved at all! That’s my great disagreement with Paul Washer, which I’ll mention more in my subsequent posts.
I know where Paul Washer comes from because for over 5 years of my life I was really into the Reformed/Calvinistic theological tradition. Many young Reformed/Calvinistic Christians nowadays admire Washer’s sermons greatly because he’s extremely passionate about what he sees as compromised Western Christianity. And he’s preached a lot of on this area – e.g. his Biblical Assurance series and Examine Yourself sermon that can be found here. The issue of grace and legalism was one of my two pet topics for those 5 years plus (the other being bringing together the best of the Reformed and Charismatic worlds) and I read and discussed a lot about this issue with many Reformed Christians. So I think I know a bit of where he’s coming from and the theological issues involved.
The main thing I want to address in Jack’s post is the issue of “assurance of salvation”. To me, this is an extremely important topic and one that gets to the core of what the gospel is all about. Christians believe different things about how one can be assured of their salvation. Most (not all) Reformed/Calvinistic Christians believe that we ought to look at our lives to see if we have evidence that we’re saved. They believe that we should not naively think that just because we believe in Jesus, we’re saved. Instead, we need to also look at our lives to confirm we’re saved. Such Christians believe that too many Christians have the false assurance that they’re saved when they actually are not saved so they preach about assurance of salvation and tell Christians that if they are not living godly lives then they should not have any assurance that they are saved. And they think preaching like this would wake Christians up! This is what Paul Washer does a lot in his sermons. And other preachers too (from the Reformed tradition mainly but also from other traditions).
Such preachers sincerely believe that the reason why Christianity is in such a bad state is because many Christians aren’t actually saved. So they preach sermons that make their hearers question whether they are saved. They want Christians to examine themselves and to be more introspective – i.e. to look inside themselves to see if they have the qualities that are meant to be in the hearts of every true Christian. And they are happy when Christians do look inside themselves and feel that they are not saved because they don’t see any evidence. They are not sadistic people who delight in seeing people doubt their salvation. They are sincere preachers who believe that “Christians” will start to wake up if they start to examine themselves and find they are not saved. And the result is these “Christians” would become “true” Christians and live godlier lives. And I think they’ve been quite successful in getting Christians to question their salvation. That’s why Jack wrote above, “I’ve doubted my salvation many times.”
I disagree with Paul Washer’s teachings in this area of teaching though I know many, if not most, evangelical preachers would agree with him. Maybe not as hard, forceful or direct as Paul Washer, but definitely they would preach something similar. I’ve heard it many times in many churches. It’s not that these churches or preachers don’t believe in justification by faith alone. It’s not that they believe we have to earn our salvation. On the contrary, they believe in justification by faith alone and believe we can’t earn our salvation, yet preach in such a way that is confusing and legalistic. Perhaps Michael Eaton, a Reformed theologian and pastor, said it best in his scholarly book No Condemnation – A New Theology of Assurance, a revision of his doctoral thesis, when describing his own experience:
These evangelical commentators seemed to offer freedom with one hand, only to take it back with the other. Having liberated the believer with wonderful expositions of grace, they then took everything back again with dark mutterings about temporary faith and works confirming salvation and talk about self-examination. (p. 7)
It is because such confusing and legalistic teachings pervade many evangelical churches that many people have found New Creation Church such a breath of fresh air. I’m sure some from there can share their thoughts with Jack here.
In my subsequent posts, I’ll share a bit more about why many Christian leaders and theologians disagree with such legalistic messages that cause people to doubt their own salvation.
interestingly, what was brought up and communicated between you and Jack seems to be close to wat that had been going thru my mind for the past couple of weeks.
short of regurgitating all that you have posted, suffice to say i agree with you on washer as well as new cre.
in addition to washer, lately i’ve been reading packer’s Knowing God and picking up sermons on sermon index, most of which i really liked. however, the materials seem to lean more towards the fearing and trembling in the face of the sovereign God.
That said, most angles could actually converge at the knowledge of Christ…..which possibly is the point of it all….
looking forward to read more about how you think prince is a breath of fresh air too.
Steve Mcvey in his books, Grace walk & Grace walk experience puts it like this:
“Next to the knowledge of God, a knowledge of who we are (in Christ) is by far the most important truth we can possess
God doesn’t determine identity by behaviour but by birth.
God intends for us to experience victory in our Christian Walk by trusting, not by trying. We may have tried to improve ourselves to become victorious, but God never asked us to do that. He only asks that we trust Him and let Him transform us. But if we keep taking the same wrong approach we’ve always taken, we’ll get the same defeating results.
That’s what legalism still causes people to believe today. A person who is trapped in legalism examines himself, determines he is not good enough like he is, and goes out and tries to do something by his own efforts to make himself presentable to God.
What we need is not a change in behaviour. What we need is a change in our attitude about our life source. ( A renewal of mind ) We need to experience living out of the life of Jesus Christ“. (brackets mine)
I find that there’s so many approaches out there, none that seems totally wrong? We need to go back to the Word of God and what it says.
Paul in Col 2 tells us to
(Verse 7) “have (our) the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.
(verse 8) “see to it that NO ONE makes you captive by his so-called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit, following human tradition (men’s ideas of the material rather than the spiritual world), just crude notions following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding [the teachings of] Christ (the Messiah).
Roms 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (or even the patterns of certain groups of believers), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” that “you are IN HIM, made full and having come to fullness of life [in Christ you too are filled with the God-head – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and reach full spiritual stature] Col 2:10, AMP (brackets mine)
Only then, will our walk reflects our beliefs. :)
They are sincere preachers who believe that “Christians” will start to wake up if they start to examine themselves and find they are not saved. And the result is these “Christians” would become “true” Christians and live godlier lives.
Thats one way to do it…. another way would be to say : “You are a King and Priest, a Son of God… why are you acting like a monkey?”
Instead of telling people they are not there and asking them to “buck up”, why not tell them “Hey, now that you are there, why not let others see how good it is through your actions? Be a testimony !”
Yes, Pastor Prince said that yesterday, which was not only funny but actually contained a very important biblical truth regarding how we ought to counsel those who sin (including ourselves!). The answer isn’t to question the person’s salvation, but reaffirm their identity in Christ and exhort them to live up to that. “Become what you already are”, as some would put it. I think that’s exactly how Paul does it in his Epistles (e.g. in 1 Cor. 6:15) and I hope to touch more on this in future posts!
I must say i disagree with your views on Paul Washer; more specifically, your views on the Reformed/Calvinistic tradition because the principles they preach from the pulpit are not of themselves, but of the word of God.
James 2:26 clearly states that faith without works is dead. 1 John 2:3 says that we know we have come to know him if we keep his commandments.
2 Cor 13:5
5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?
The apostle Paul himself said we must continually examine ourselves, examine our faith. The Reformed tradition holds firmly to the word of God, and it says that works are characteristic of any regenerate Christian, because of the Holy Spirit in him.
In my own Christian walk I have questioned and doubted my own salvation many times; this desperation has not pushed me to being legalistic or to focus on the law, but rather to understand the extent of my own depravity and the greatness of the work Jesus Christ did on the cross; the fate he saved me from.
Law and grace cannot be separate doctrines; it is only because we were unable to be justified by the work of Law that the work of Grace is valid. Knowledge of both and study of both have to come hand in hand. Both are of God’s righteousness and should be treated as such.
To Jack I would say, examine yourself and see if Christ has borne any fruits of the Holy Spirit in you. If he has not, you should fear. Just know that struggling with sin does not mean you are disqualified from the prize.
Romans 7 says very clearly that the struggle that is present is what characterizes every Christian’s walk in Christ- the law of sin and grace and at work in us all the time, but it is the Christian who does what he does not want. The unbeliever does what he wants. Be thankful that you have this turmoil, because James 1 says that the testing of your faith brings perseverance. :)
I pray that God might reveal his nature to you, that we might grow in the knowledge of God, building each other up in the church.
yup. I totally agree with you Dan. Paul washer , john piper and the rest are not preaching legalism.. they are meerly preaching the bible , all of it, which is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as he himself said to teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. The glorious gospel of jesus christ is the whole bible , not just afew lines. The gospel is not an insurance policy when u said you receive Jesus when you are 7, 17 , 27 or 57 and start living a life that doesnt fit what or who u believe. simply put it, the gospel is that we believe in Jesus the Son of God as our Lord, Saviour , king, treasure…because he made us a alive! And this is not our doing, as we are born, not of blood , nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
James 2:17 ” So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”.
I am not saying that the christian life is gonna be perfect, but we have to know that there is battle in the christian life and we have to fight this battle. The gospel doesnt promise good health or good wealth or prosperity , it promises suffering! Just read romans. Romans 8 :17-18 “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
John 8: 32″So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
please site biblical evidence of how you think one attains salvation.
“The apostle Paul himself said we must continually examine ourselves, examine our faith.”
Paul certainly said that but how does one do that while supposedly holding to eternal security? It seems to me if you believe that salvation can never be lost, a one-time check to see if one is saved would be sufficient (assuming you pass the test) but Reformed preachers would deny that.
These calls for regular self-examination to see if you are saved WOULD make sense if salvation could be forfeited but of course, Reformed believers like Washer and Piper deny that can happen.
Has anybody else noticed it? Whether you believe in eternal or conditional security, you are basically in the same boast when it comes to assurance. If fall away from bearing the fruit and living for the Lord, you won’t go to heaven. The one camp says you lost your salvation, the other says you were never saved in the first place. But you both arrive at the same position in the end.
I don’t quite see how anyone can know that they are going to be saved in the end. If you are an eternal security proponent, you have to allow the possibility that you were never saved in the first place (no matter what evidence of salvation you might be bearing right now) and that the reality of it is going to manifest itself one day. If you are conditionalist, you have to fear that you just might not gut it out to the end; you could lose your salvation.
Sorry if this was little off topic but I had get this out there.
So for this “Jack” fellow, I would have to say if he has seen any evidence of Christ in your life, he might have been saved but better save the hallelujahs for the very end.
I can’t tell somebody he is saved when there is always a chance that the evidence he sees now could actually be false or if he could later lose his salvation.
One more thing, I notice this post referred to Michael Eaton’s book No Condemnation. Consider this quote from Eaton from that same book.
“If Christ did not die for all and if it is possible to have a sorrow for sin that is not true repentance, a faith that is not true faith, a possessing of the Spirit that falls short of true regeneration, if despite any and every experience of the gospel ‘there is a way to hell even from the gate of heaven,’ if Paul himself feared loss of salvation, then what remains of the Calvinist’s assurance? It has died the death of a thousand qualifications.”