December 2, 2015

Soul Diagnostic: How to Know if You Are a Christian

by Eric Davis

It’s about as puzzling as it is pervasive. Especially in our nation, people assume the label, “Christian,” for themselves as easily as a food preference. A 2014 survey revealed that about 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians. Often at funerals (in an understandable grasp in grief) individuals—even clergy—will proclaim with certitude the individual’s presence in the eternal place for Christians, despite an absence of Christianity in the individual’s life. Some of the more common answers to the question, “How do you know that you are a Christian?”, are things like, “I have always been one,” “I believe in God,” “I was baptized or confirmed,” “At camp I came forward,” “I just grew up that way,” “I prayed a prayer,” “Because I am a decent person,” or, “Because I grew up going to/go to church.”

But how do those reasons match up with the Christian manual—the Bible—on what it means to be a Christian? Are 70% of 300 million Americans characterized by the Bible’s definition of Christian characteristics? What does the Bible say about what it means to be a Christian?

It’s critical that we use God’s objective word when evaluating whether or not we are a Christian, and not our subjective opinion. Scripture, not experience or sentiment, is the say on the status of our soul. After we die, when we stand before God in the judgment (Heb. 9:27), he is not going to ask, “So, did you think you were a Christian in life? You did? Oh, OK, come on in to heaven.” He will judge by his standard. And, according to Jesus, on that day many will be surprised when they are shut out from heaven for all eternity (Matt. 7:21-23).

So, this matters. Eternity is at stake. This is a matter of our own souls and those we love. Thus, it is inappropriate, and even more, perhaps, spiritual suicide, to respond, “Who are you to question me?” The answer, of course, is, “someone who cares about you and your eternal well-being.”

Before some Christian evidences are given, a word of encouragement.

do it

Evaluation is a normal thing. We do it with our diet, our car, our dentist, and our golf swing. A willingness to evaluate one’s soul is also to be normal. The Apostle Paul exhorted a local church, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5).

If we have zero willingness to evaluate whether or not we are a Christian, there is a problem. So, though a willingness to do so is not the means by which one enters heaven, it evidences the presence of a healthy humility.

I have personally witnessed far too many people appear to live as Christians for years, only to walk away from Christ. These are people who said they were Christians, talked like Christians, acted like Christians, and even believed that they were Christians. They had no major outward evidences that they were not. Yet, after a time, they ended up openly denying the Christian faith. It happens far too much, which is why a little soul diagnosis is necessary.

Even the Apostle Paul—a fairly godly guy—was willing to go in for periodic soul-check-ups (1 Cor. 9:27). He did not see himself as above the need for such diagnoses. Where does that put us? So, if you never see the need to evaluate whether or not you are a Christian, you might not be one. And if we are eager to, unforced, evaluate our teeth at the dentist, should we not be all the more willing to do so with our soul?

With that, here are a few signs which evidence that an individual is a Christian.

  1. Awareness of, and sorrow over, personal sin and moral imperfection.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:3-4).

For being such a large city, we were surprised that there weren't more people begging on the streets. Of course, there were a number of people with their hands out, but not that many. This was a statue in front of one of the churches. The hand had a little hole in it that you could drop coins into.

Here in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), Jesus is not giving prescriptions for how to get to heaven, but descriptions of those already going there. In v. 3, he speaks not of physical, but spiritual poverty. The Greek word translated “poor” did not mean, “barely making ends meet each month.” There was a word for that in Greek and this is not it. This word refers to a beggar in abject destitution; destitute of both provision and the ability to provide. If you were to see this individual, they would be the raggedly covered (if covered at all) beggar, cowered over with head down and hand out (TDNT, 6:886).

A Christian is someone who understands that morally/spiritually, they are destitute before God. They have nothing, morally, to offer God, in and of themselves. A Christian personally embraces the truth that they are infinitely in the red morally before God, and thus, contribute nothing to their right standing with God and entrance into heaven.

Steve Lawson said, “No one giggles through the narrow gate, but all who enter come mourning over their sin.” John Owen wrote, “This is the test of the real efficacy of the gospel: It keeps the heart humble, lowly, sensible to sin, and broken on that account. The Spirit of grace moves us to repentance and teaches us to detest sin” (Triumph Over Temptation, 80). Octavius Winslow remarked similarly, “The contrite heart is a blessing of the Holy Spirit.”

  2.  A confidence in Christ alone for acceptance with God.

“[A]nd may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9).

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God…” (1 Pet. 3:18).

This is the big one. Jesus Christ did for man what man could never do for himself: render him in permanent right standing with God. Christ’s substitutionary atoning death and resurrection is that single package in the universe which removes sin’s penalty. Heaven’s doors fly open to the sinner who clings to Christ and his cross alone by faith for moral status with God.

A Christian possesses total confidence that, apart from Christ’s finished work on the cross, he deserves to spend eternity in hell. He agrees with Richard Baxter who said, “So then, let ‘deserved’ be written on the floor of hell but on the door of heaven in life, ‘free gift.’”


It is by Christ’s work and not our contribution, not 1%, that contributes to acceptable standing before God. If we believe that one act of morality provides us with even the slightest lift into heaven, we are condemned (Gal. 1:8-9). If we presume that Christ’s hands push open heaven’s doors, and our hands help just a tad, then we are not a Christian. We cannot place an ounce of confidence, for example, in sacraments to be a Christian and go to heaven. I am not trusting in a past emotional experience I had for assurance of my salvation, but in Christ and his sin-bearing work. I am not placing confidence in reassurance from a family member, clergy, or friends, but in the righteousness of Christ.

Becoming a Christian means sprinting from any supposition that our nature and deeds leverage acceptance with God. Becoming a Christian means we look to Christ’s death on the cross as that which diverted God’s righteous anger from us to himself, and quenched it all. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 3:28, 5:1, Gal. 2:16).

We trust the glorious biblical truth that our standing before God the Father depends on Christ’s standing before God the Father. A Christian trusts that his daily moral performance does not achieve justification. As Sinclair Ferguson has written, “We are as fully justified before God as our Lord Jesus is. We are as finally justified as our Lord Jesus is. We are as irreversibly justified as our Lord Jesus is.”

The other day, I asked a young woman who had been a Christian for about two weeks this question: “If you died today and God asked you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ What would you say?” Without anyone having to tell her, she answered, “He shouldn’t let me in. I don’t deserve it.” She went on to express her faith alone in Christ alone for acceptance with God. She answered that way because she is a Christian, by the grace of God.

  3.  A love for Christ.

“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22).

I am not saying, “Do you we love Christ as much as he deserves and we ought?” A Christian will not do that until he/she has been entirely exterminated of sin in heaven. Rather, the idea is, do we actually love Christ? And what does it mean to love Christ? We cherish him. We respect him. We are attracted and drawn to him. We are impressed by him. We desire to be loyal to him because of him. We are happy in him. We seek to spend time with him and prioritize him, and we want him to be known and embraced. We obey him.

  4.  A progressive victory over sin.

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:13-14).

That you are a Christian is not evidenced by a guilt or grief over personal moral imperfections alone. Judas Iscariot, in and through whom the devil was at work, showed sorrow in the wake of his sin (Matt. 27:3-5). But he never turned to Christ. It’s possible to experience self-centered sorrow in response to sin (2 Cor. 7:10).

In addition to grief, a Christian will experience progressive victory over sin. Christians are those whose subjection under law has been discontinued. Sin is no longer master because we are under grace (Rom. 6:14). And, we are under Christ’s grace, not to perpetually lengthen our no-worries-if-we-keep-sinning leash, but so that sin may abound no longer. That’s just what grace does. Dan Phillips writes, “Grace is the sufficient, efficient, indispensable and unerring cause for practical holy living, for obeying the written word of God. It isn’t our ‘get out of obedience’ card.”

lion wins

Understanding what it means to be a Christian has much to do with a correct understanding of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace through the indwelling power of the Spirit, the Christian experiences victory over sin. We often do not experience that victory at the rate we would like, but we do experience it. A pitbull is a fairly strong beast. But, throw a lion in the yard with a pitbull, and that pitbull will be progressively put to death. So it is in the soul of man: before he is a Christian, sin roams freely in his heart. But, upon conversion, the Spirit enters his heart, and inevitably will do progressive damage to sin. Much of this simply comes down to this: God the Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian, is more powerful than the Christian’s indwelling sin.

  5.  A presence of personal godliness.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).

From the inside, these virtues comprise the work which the Holy Spirit progressively brings about in God’s people. It’s not automatic or effortless, but, by the power of God, it’s inevitable. The tree may be low on fruit at times in our lives, but it will never be without fruit, because it is the Spirit who produces it.

  1. A desire to plug into a New Testament kind of local church.

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:4-5).

The NT teaches that God saves us into the body and family of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-14, 18). Becoming a Christian is, in part, the act of God adopting a sinner into connected, corporate life with other Christians. That’s why the phrase “body of Christ” is used.

The book of Acts, for example, demonstrates that the practical outworking of this truth is sinners being lovingly saved and gathered into local churches. The consequence of the Spirit’s work in saving sinners was Christians becoming connected members in local bodies. It was natural and desirable. D.A. Carson said, “It would have been inconceivable in the first century to call yourself a Christian but not join a church.”


If you are resistant to expressing yourself as a member of the body of Christ, then it’s doubtful that you are a member of the Body of Christ. If you are averse to expressing yourself as a member of a NT church, then you’re probably not a member of the NT Church. If you will not gather regularly with Christ’s people, then you should not consider yourself as one of Christ’s people. Now, going to church no more makes you a Christian than wearing a Bronco’s jersey makes you a player for the Denver Broncos. However, involvement in a NT kind of local church will characterize a Christian.

The Holy Spirit in Christians is like a magnet who draws us towards doing local church life with other Christians. “There is one Spirit…” (Eph. 4:4). That Spirit moves in every Christian, propelling us inward towards each other into biblical one-anothering as NT local churches. It’s not something that the Christian creates. It’s just what the Spirit does by the sovereign church-building of Jesus Christ. So, Christians love the church and they love church.

7.  A love and hunger for the Bible.

“I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Ps. 119:47-48).

One thing is sure about God’s people: they love God’s word (Ps.19:9-10; 119:34-36, 97, 103-104, 161-162). A Christian is someone whose heart beats for Scripture. The beat may be slower at times, but it does not flatline. Christians are awakened to God’s word because they are awakened to God (1 Cor. 2:14-16). They want to sit under biblical preaching corporately and biblical reading privately.

love itMaturing in God’s word characterizes God’s people. As a child matures physically through the intake of food, so the Christian will mature spiritually as they take in the Bible (1 Pet. 2:1-3). A person never hungering for the Bible is spiritually dead in the same way that a person never hungering for food is physically dead. Hunger characterizes the living in matters spiritual and physical.

8.  A love for people, especially other Christians.

“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

The Apostle John could not be more clear. In addition to practicing biblical righteousness, a Christian is someone whom God has transformed to have an ever-growing love for people, especially the family of Christ. We cannot receive the magnitude of love from Christ in forgiveness, and that freely, while remaining unchanged or unloving towards people.

9.  Obedience to God’s word.

“[B]y this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4).

By the rebirthing power of the Holy Spirit, a Christian is someone who delights to obey the word of God. Because of indwelling sin, our delight will not always match our doing. Sadly, we will often fail to obey we desire. And, though this grieves the Christian deeply, there will be a growing pattern of obedience, by God’s grace.

John MacArthur has written, “Freedom in Christ, then, is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin—freedom to live as God intends, in truth and holiness (cf. 1 Pet. 1:16).”

10.  A persevering in the Christian faith. 

“But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). 

The story of redemptive history, in part, is the story of God sovereignly keeping those who could not keep themselves. Saving faith is a sustained faith. A Christian is someone who has, and will be, kept as such even through the thickest of times (1 Pet. 1:3-7). There is no such thing as, “I used to be a Christian,” because there is such thing as God losing his children (John 10:26-30).

One final encouragement: consider evaluating yourself with the help of other mature Christians who know you. When taking ski lessons, you hire someone else to help you. And you don’t hire another beginner skier, but an expert. Consider asking your pastor or biblically mature Christian friend to assist you in this. And when you do, consider asking your pastor and closest church leader something like, “If you had to do my funeral tomorrow, could you say in good conscience and with biblical certainty that I was with Christ in heaven? If so, why? If not, why not?”

More could be said when it comes to soul check-ups. And if you find yourself without evidence of conversion, be comforted that Christ holds out his loving, pierced hands to you, ready to eagerly receive you and forgive all your sin through his substitute death on the cross and resurrection. He loves you. Abandon your sin and throw yourself on him, trusting in him alone. By faith in him, you will be rendered right with God, a child of God, and one day welcomed into heaven for all eternity.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 5:21-6:2).


Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Dave

    Eric, I appreciate these kinds of “check-up” or “test” articles, though I have a question: How do the “U” and “P” of TULIP correspond to these self tests? Whenever I hear something along the lines of “Is it real?” I wonder why the concepts of TULIP are never associated with the test/check-up questions.

    • Charity

      He has the “P” in his text, “I have personally witnessed far too many people appear to live as Christians for years, only to WALK AWAY FROM CHRIST (they did not persevere). These are people who said they were Christians, talked like Christians, acted like Christians, and even believed that they were Christians. They had no major outward evidences that they were not. Yet, after a time, they ended up openly denying the Christian faith. It happens far too much, which is why a little soul diagnosis is necessary.”

    • Eric Davis

      Dave, thanks for the question. I implicitly had “P” included towards the beginning, but I see what you are saying. I think it’s important to explicitly include it, so I made a minor adjustment to the article to do so. Thanks again.

      • Dave

        Eric (and Charity),
        I guess I associated the P of TULIP with John 6:39, in that it is Christ that assures the perseverance of the elect, not our activity (think of “righteous Lot” in 2 Peter 2 — other than Peter telling us Lot was righteous, did his actions prove otherwise?).
        And if I could, I’d still like to learn what taking tests like this (and passing, hopefully) has to do with the “U” of TULIP. The whole “truly” modifier gets lost on me when the concept of Unconditional Election is factored in. (“Find out if you are TRULY saved!”) I get that man has a responsibility to believe, but taking tests and wondering “is it real?” etc. seem somewhat confusing for man, who–like Job found out–was not there at or before the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4, Eph 1:4)
        I appreciate your insight on this.

        • Nicki Ann

          Dave: Yes, it is Christ that keeps us, but in the practical, the truly redeemed do persevere. As for Lot, remember that he was tested because he was righteous. If you look at his not passing the test with a perfect score, you are looking at only a moment in time and we all will have failures. Perseverance does not mean perfection.

          I am anxious for someone more knowledge than me to contribute on the “U,” but again, on the practical, we do not know who is elect or even if we are elect except that we are in fact redeemed. To me, some of this is truth only for the believer who understands he cannot be proud because his redemption was not at all of himself. However, for the lost they need only be concerned with they are commanded to repent and believe and thus this little “self-examination.”

          • Rachel

            The “U” is unconditional election,
            it’s about on what basis does God Himself elect a person, is it based on a
            condition they must fulfill, i.e. Believe in the Gospel, I chose God so he
            chose me, so I can take some credit for my entrance into heaven? Many believe
            God foresees who will believe, which yes God knows all, but to foreknow in the
            elective sense of Scripture’s use of the term does not mean that God foresees
            decisions and so he elects, it is far bigger and more assuring imo, it means
            that God Himself for His own glory and according to the counsel of His own Will
            and according to His own plan, He elects People.

            So it is not our faith, our decision, the moving
            of our will that is required first in order for God to then elect us (Pelagianism is the philosophy
            that original sin did not corrupt our nature and we are still “Free” to choose
            or reject God if we want and we don’t need God’s Grace to enable us to desire
            him), but God has determined to elect (see Ephesians 1-2) a
            people for Himself and He Himself turns their will and grants them repentance
            and faith to desire Him and respond with the faith He has given them. So
            salvation is truly ALL of God. God in His grace grants the new nature, new
            heart, heart of flesh and takes out the heart of stone and makes the once
            spiritually dead person turn from sin and to Christ in obedience (Ezekiel
            36:25-27). ALL on the basis of God’s Will to do so, according to His purpose,
            to the praise of His Glory, not His and ours because we made the right decision.

            Apart from God’s doing—God’s grace (Romans
            11:6) No one seeks after God, No one
            understands, All have gone astray (Rom 3:11)…Those who are In the Flesh (not
            born again) have minds hostile to God, cannot submit to God’s law and cannot
            please God (Romans 8:7-8 & 1 Corinthians 2:14)

            So how can any person in and of
            themselves move their own will or change their own heart (Jeremiah 13:23) to now love what they hated (God’s law) and
            now love who they hated—God, or how can anyone make any kind of “prerequisite
            move” towards God who are by nature opposed to Him? We cannot, and that is why
            election is Unconditional, because God’s choosing is not based on what man can
            or will do, because man cannot DO anything—to the humanist this teaching is

            Man by nature Hates God, and if God let
            us freely choose what we desire we would All reject Him and perish, because our
            desires are based on our nature and our nature is fallen.

            Notice the order

            When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
            Acts 13:48

          • Nicki Ann

            Rachel: I believe the question is how does Unconditional Election dovetail with the article, with “How to Know if You Are a Christian.”

        • Ray Adams

          Perhaps the point of such a “test” is to enable people in the responsibility to make their calling and election sure.

          • Dave

            Thanks. Understand your point, but if election is election and before the foundation of the world, my test is moot for that purpose. A test for “are you truly…” is different from “here are the things to provide you confidence and assurance…” and “here are the things you should be doing…”
            I have no vote, no percentage of items that I pass/fail, no means of contradicting the Sovereign God of the “U” or the “P” (if they are what they purport to be).
            However, I cannot make my election sure, but I can rest in the confidence I have been given. If I have to take a test, and if I have to pass it to be “truly/really” saved (100%? 70%?), then I would be responsible for my salvation — which I am not.
            I understand the evangelical doctrine on being “sure” of your salvation (compared to, say, a “works-based” religion). I do not understand “tests” to humanly confirm something that, if the “U” and “P” are correct, is not up to me.
            My point is that we somehow have gotten into the habit of wanting people to keep asking themselves “is it real?” while teaching that they were elected/predestined/chosen before the world began.

          • Jason

            Salvation is not up to man. God sovereignty acts to save those he chooses. However, that alone leaves every single human in a Schrodinger’s Cat type situation.

            The purpose of testing the sincerity of our faith is to open the box and find out if the cat is alive or dead instead of being clueless.

            We should never teach that everyone is chosen. Which is the only way such a self-evaluation would be pointless.

          • Nicki Ann

            Dave: Agreed that a test cannot tell if a person is elect or not… unless there is biblical evidence of regeneration. From my limited experience, the norm long was to try to give people assurance of their salvation and it ended up with many people believing they were born again, when there was absolutely no evidence in their life pointing to regeneration.

            The Colorado shooter last week was raised in a Baptist Church and believes himself to be born again. Before the murders he reportedly had a history of spousal abuse, pornography, an online ad for sadomasochistic sex, some connection to a marijuana website which may have been sex related or to “evangelize,” and other “minor” crimes. There is no report of his being part of a church any time recently, of loving others, growth in godliness, sorrowing over his sin, etc. But if we were to simply ask does he “believe” the right things and has he “prayed the prayer,” the answer would be yes… so would you proceed to give him scripture on the assurance of his salvation?

          • Dave

            Nicki Ann,
            Great question. But his actions remind me a lot of Samson, who somehow found himself in Hebrews 11:32. A test of the good things he does and a test of the bad things he does all point me to Rom 3:10.
            That shooter isn’t dead yet. A test today does not work for him. A test for me on my worst day won’t work either (probably wouldn’t work for me on my best day either).
            I don’t think there’s any different Scripture for him than there is for any one else. As an example, the Roman Road verses should apply to all. Will he accept Christ in the future? There have been jailhouse conversions before, so it’s not up to me.

          • Nicki Ann

            Dave: How is the Colorado shooter like Sampson?

            I am not speaking only of the shooting last week but of a lifetime of debauchery. He prayed a prayer as a child and was taught a hyper-grace salvation, he believes it does not matter how he lives that he will still go to Heaven. There has never been spiritual growth of any kind in his life; there is no evidence of conversion.

            Many people who claim they came to Christ as a child but never lived for Him until decades later when “rededicating” their lives really were only then born again.

            A test on our worst day amidst a life of spiritual growth is not at all the same thing as no spiritual growth at all. The very conviction of sin on that bad day that makes us examine our hearts is one evidence of genuine conversion.

            Certainly, the shooter may accept Christ in the future, but that is a different topic. I have actually known someone in prison who came to Christ and lived a radically transformed life until God released him directly to Glory. But I have confidence that conversion was genuine because of the changed life, changed affections, goals, etc.

            This conversation makes me wonder if you are struggling with habitual sin. That is not an accusation, but if that should be the case, I would encourage you to get some good biblical help addressing both the sin and the matter of salvation.

          • KPM

            Holy smokes! You’re really obsessed with the dirty little secrets of this man’s life. I’m not sure that’s healthy.

          • Nicki Ann

            Holy Smokes KPM! Did I ask any detains about “dirty little secrets” that would make you think I’m obsessed with them?

            I was part of an evangelical church for 50 years believing the church and the Bible should have answers to life’s problems but never knowing anyone who knew how to “make it work” in any practical way. But I have found people who know and this is just one beggar sharing with another where to find bread.

            We all have areas of sin in our lives in need of sanctification even you my friend.

          • Nicki Ann

            Dave: By the way, if you pass the “test” it is only because of God’s grace and not of anything in you yourself. It is all of Grace. Justification happens in a moment, but Sanctification is a lifetime process that is never ending. There should always be growth. That does not mean there are no valleys, but overall the pattern is growth.

          • KPM

            You’re not the only who finds it confusing. This kind of thinking nearly led my to suicide. I spent 10 years in a MacArthurite church, depressed almost constantly.

            As scripture teaches that baptism unites us to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, Lutherans believe that baptism actually does unite us to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and that it is not just an outward sign of an inward reality, or some made-up slogan with no foundation in scripture. When you are wondering, “I am I really saved?” You must simply ask yourself two questions:

            1) Have I been baptized into Christ?

            Romans 6:

            Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him BY BAPTISM into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

            For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall CERTAINLY be united with him in a resurrection like his.

            2) Am I continually confessing my sins and trusting in Christ?

            1st John 1:

            If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

            If the answer to those questions in yes, you have no need to doubt whether or not Christ is your savior. Recall your baptism, confess your sins, and move forward, end of story. You do not need a long checklist, or a whole series of checklists that vary depending upon who is writing an article for Cripplegate or T4G or TGC this week.

            Read this older post on Puritan Board if you’d like some perspective from truly Reformed folks (i.e. people who accept more aspects of Reformed Theology than just TULIP).


            Comment #22 is especially insightful and mostly sums up my experience. I would also commend to you Michael Horton’s book Christ the Lord. Horton is more of a historic Calvinist in his understanding of Law and Gospel and the Sacraments and is less influenced by the Puritans and other “pure church” type movements.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            KPM, I remember from prior posts that you are trusting in your baptism as evidence of your salvation, but let me ask you this, why then do you think John the Baptist drew the distinction between water and spirit when he said, “I baptize you in water for repentance, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

            When Romans speaks of being “baptized into death” it is referring to the spiritual death of self and being born again through the Holy Spirit. I guess my question is, have you received that baptism?

          • KPM

            Hi Jane,

            I have been baptized into Christ, thank you for asking.

            Christ said that a man must be born or water and the Spirit. Mark 16:16 says that he who believes and is baptized will be saved. Peter says that baptism saves as the answer of a good conscience before God.

            No where in scripture does it say that this is “spiritual baptism,” as distinguished from physical baptism.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            KPM, just to clarify, when Christ said that we must be born of water in John 3, He was referring to physical birth. That is why the very next verse says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit.” Being born (baptized) of the spirit is the only way we enter the Kingdom of heaven.

          • Nicki Ann

            KPM: Context is King.

          • KPM

            I’m not sure how context changes the meaning of “he who believes and is baptized will be saved,” as our Lord says in Mark 16:16.

            Or Peter’s words in Acts, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.”

          • Lynn B.

            What does it mean when someone is wanted “for” murder?

            Is he wanted to cause murder or because of murder?

            There is you answer on Acts 2:38.

          • Lynn B.

            Here is a great easy to read article on Mark 16:16. It explains in detail why this verse does not say baptism is needed for salvation.

            Question: “Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?”


          • Matthew

            Hi Jane, thought you might want to read this. It’s taken from Dr. Robert Utley’s NT commentary.

            3:5 “unless one is born of water and the Spirit” This is another third class conditional sentence. There may be a contrast (so typical of John’s writings) between
            1. the physical versus the spiritual (no article with “spirit”)
            2. the earthly versus the heavenly
            This contrast is implied in John 3:6.
            The theories for the meaning of “water” are
            1. the rabbis use it of male semen
            2. the water of child birth
            3. John’s baptism symbolizing repentance (cf. John 1:26; 3:23)
            4. the OT background meaning ceremonial sprinkling by the Spirit (cf. Ezek. 36:25-27)
            5. Christian baptism (although Nicodemus could not have understood it that way, first mentioned by Justin and Irenaeus)
            In context theory #3—John’s water baptism and John’s statement about the Messiah’s baptizing with the Holy Spirit-must be the most obvious meanings. Birth, in this context, is metaphorical and we must not let Nicodemus’ misunderstanding of the terms dominate the interpretation. Therefore, theory #1 is inappropriate. Although Nicodemus would not have understood Jesus’ words as referring to later Christian baptism, John the Apostle often interjects his theology into the historical words of Jesus (cf. John 3:14-21). Theory #2 would fit John’s dualism of above and below, God’s realm and the earthly realm. In defining these terms one must determine whether they are contrasting (#1 or #2) or complementary (#4).
            D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, mentions another option: that both words refer to one birth, an eschatological birth following Ezek. 36:25-27, which describes the “new covenant” of Jer. 31:31-34 (p. 42).
            F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, also sees Ezekiel as the OT allusion behind Jesus’ words. It may even have been a reference to proselyte baptism, which Nicodemus, a noted rabbinical teacher, must also do! (p. 67).

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Thanks Matthew. I know this has been a long debated verse and I am certainly not closed to the idea of water and spirit being one in the same. The problem however is when it is used as justification that water baptism is required for salvation as KPM is asserting.

          • KPM

            Hi Jane,

            I don’t believe baptism is required for salvation. Baptism is a means of grace. It gives faith when infants are baptized and it strengthens faith when adults are baptized. Likewise, God’s word is a means of Grace. The hearing of God’s word gives faith to the hearer. For believers, the hearing of God’s word strengthens faith and builds up the believer.

            For adult believers, baptism is a wonderful means of assurance because Christ clearly says that he who is baptized and believes shall be saved.

            In Romans, Paul says that those who have been baptized into Christ will be raised with Christ.

            When Christians start to say, do I meet the checklist standard of whether or not my “faith” is genuine, I would argue that they are looking to themselves as their source of assurance rather than God’s grace.

            When Christians look to their baptism for assurance, they can look to something objective and real. They can look to God’s work, baptism, and the promises that he has attached to it. Christians do not need to spend hours in introspection. Christians do not need to read John Owen’s Mortification of Sin, with Chapter 16, Section 7, paragraph 3…. and though also might not be a Christian if….. and though might not be a Christian if…..

            God intends for us to have joy and assurance in his Son. If we take away the sacraments of God and the promises attached to them, we have no basis for assurance but our own sinful selves.

            So I affirm Sola Fide as you do. But like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the majority of the Christians throughout the ages, including most of the Reformers, I believe that baptism is means of God’s grace and that it is actually effecacious, not merely symbolical. As Paul teaches in Romans 6, it can be a wonderful means of assurance.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            KPM, first you say,”I don’t believe baptism is required for salvation” and then you say, ‘”If we take away the sacraments of God and the promises attached to them, we have no basis for assurance but our own sinful selves.”

            I say this in kindness, but perhaps it would be best for you to focus on what the Bible says about the assurance we have through the Holy Spirit. I say that because I was sad to read that you struggle with despair and doubt and I know that God would want more for you. Having the joy of our salvation is what marks us as God’s children.

            So, maybe pass on the sermons for awhile and prayerfully spend some time with God in His word. I believe He has much to share with you that will give you a greater measure of peace.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Matthew, after thinking about this a little I wonder if theory #1 might be plausible in light of rabbinical terminology and John 1:13 where he said, “But to those who believed he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Interesting to think about.

          • Matthew

            Always happy to stir up affection and meditation on God’s Word. But to your point, absolutely baptism (physically dunked) doesn’t save. God bless!

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Hi Matthew, so this morning during my quiet time I was reading 1 John 5 and read about Jesus not coming by water only, but by water and blood. Then is says that the water, blood and spirit testify and are in agreement.

            I know these are strange verses and I’m sure are debated, but I wonder if the testimony of the water, blood and spirit was referring to the birth, death and resurrection of Christ? If by water he meant physical birth, he would be refuting those who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh (2 John 1:7). The blood of course would be death of Christ and the spirit meaning the power of the resurrection. To be sure, this is our testimony. It is also interesting that it says, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” (1 John 5:10).

            Anyway, no theologian here, but I do love to study these things! 🙂

          • Lynn B.

            Actually, Mark 16:16 does not say that one who is baptized will be saved it says that one who is saved will be baptized – they are not the same. Detailed explanation here:


          • KPM

            Hi Lynn,

            Please try to simply read the text and ask yourself what the plain meaning of the scripture is. You can find a way to explain every thing away in the Bible that you don’t like, but a better approach is to simply let the Bible speak.

            Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. It’s not a complicated verse to understand.

          • Nicki Ann

            KPM: You said “I spent 10 years in a MacArthurite church.” Would you mind for us to know what church exactly and the city.

          • KPM

            Hi Nicki,

            I’m not sure it would be beneficial to the name the church, but I’m guessing members of that church who see my initials here know who I am.

            I can tell you that the pastor is a TMS grad, one of the members is a TMS grad, the college group went to Resolved every year, the elders still go to the Shepherds Conference, and practically everyone is handed a JMac Study Bible if they stick around for more than a couple of months.

            Debates on theology are almost always handled by checking the MacArthur Study Bible, almost as if it has become the confessional standard of the church, which makes sense since they do not hold to any historic Christian confessions.

            This post represents my biggest problem with MacArthurism, as it tends to create in Christians either a depression from obsessive introspection and questioning whether or not they’re saved, or a very haughty thumbing their noses at those who don’t give enough evidence of being “really” saved. I believe we can have objective assurance of being saved that is based on Christ’s work, rather than our works. I think the modern “Lordship Salvation” camp believes they are responsible for separating the wheat from the tears, and sadly, in the process, they also root our much wheat. I believe it’s better (and more biblical) to let the wheat grow up with the tears, and only remove the tears if their are gross issues of sin in their life that must be removed through church discipline.

            The “are you really saved” approach gives the joy of the gospel with one hand, but then takes it right back with the other.

            RC Sproul once told a story where he asked a congregant struggling with assurance whether they had any love for Jesus. The congregant responded yes, though that love was small. Sproul’s point was that to have any love for Jesus is a gift from the Holy Spirit, so that ought to be an indication of genuine faith. I think that is a better approach.

            A somewhat popular Lutheran theologian, maybe the most popular in the modern era, did a sermon “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.” I would commend it to anyone interested in what the implications of Sola Fide truly are.


          • Lynn B.

            KPM: You are not the first person I’ve heard of to consider themselves “wounded” by the church but this is the first I’ve heard of MacArthur associated with that problem. However, a graduate of TMS is not MacArthur and does not necessarily represent him. If you do not believe that salvation is by faith alone I can see why you would have issues with that fellowship and their doctrine. I can also see why you would struggle with assurance of salvation.

          • Nicki Ann

            Morning KPM: You actually answered what I wanted to know more than the name of the church and this is how you are defining “MacArthurite church.” TMS grad, Shepherd’s Conf., Resolved, JMac Study Bible, obsessive introspection, haughty, Lordship salvation, and Sola Fide (salvation by faith alone).

            I wonder how many other people you knew there who experienced depression as a result of the theology?

            You reject Lordship salvation and Sola Fide so I would guess people there believed you were unsaved and that was the source of your depression. Correct?

            I esteem MacArthur fairly highly but when I had a chance to meet him in person I declined. I would not want to lose my MacArthur Study Bible, but it is not the only study source I use. There is a danger in esteeming any mortal man too highly, including adopting his theology carte-blanche. If we are good Bereans it is likely, we will disagree with most anyone on some point of theology and personally, I find that healthy. But the way of salvation is non-negotiable. Remember that the gospel is offensive to the lost.

            I wonder if you have read MacArthur’s “The Gospel According to Jesus” for yourself? I wonder also if you know that his “Gospel According to the Apostles” answers the critics of “The Gospel According to Jesus?” I would commend them both to you in sequence.

            Rhetorical Question: Why are you posting here and discussing this with us whom you know are of a similar theological mind to MacArthur? Blessings so you!

          • KPM

            I don’t reject Sola Fide and neither did Martin Luther. Martin Luther is credited with starting the Protestant Reformation. Without Luther, you wouldn’t be reading The Cripplegate Blog.

            Please read Luther’s Small Catechism on Baptism.


            Here’s Calvin on baptismal regeneration:

            “God in baptism promises the remission of sins, and will undoubtedly perform what he has promised to all believers. That promise was offered to us in baptism, let us therefore embrace it in faith” (IV: xxv, 17)

            If you read the Ante-Nicene Father’s, you will see that Luther’s teaching on baptism is consistent with the teachings of the direct disciples of John, Paul, and Peter. Unless you believe that the church got off track in the very first generation and remained in error for 1600 years, you might want to reconsider what the Bible teaches regarding what is accomplished through baptism.


            I would also encourage you to look around the internet for forums created by other people who formerly went to a MacArthurite church and left for similar reasons to me. There are plenty of disaffected souls out there.

            In fact, at the Lutheran Church I’ve been attending, there are people who used to members of either Reformed, or Baptist traditions who left for similar reasons.

            What Calvin and Luther understood is that when you destroy the sacraments of God, you destroy the means by which God gives grace and strengthens and keeps faith. Yes, God does that through the preaching of the Word, and generally MacArthurites do an excellent job of preaching, but it is sad that you’re deprived of a proper understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the grace that is offered in them.

          • KPM

            I also never rejected Lordship Salvation until about 6 months ago. I always bought into full blast. I read The Gospel According to Jesus, and that was in large part the source of my depression, along with John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin.

            I work for the State Government, and so I often have very mindless paperwork to do. When my job doesn’t require me to think, I listen to sermons and podcasts. I used to listen to JMac Sermons every day. That was another source of my depression.

            While listening to the White Horse Inn, I discovered that there are Reformed Christians who believe that assurance can be given to us based on something objective and real. Some of them are Calvinists (Horton and Riddlebarger) others are Lutherans (Rosenbladt). The more I studied and learned from these guys, the more I came to realize that MacArthur is about as Reformed the Pope. Most of MacArthur’s distinctive teachings are in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Reformers. I wouldn’t say he’s not a Christian minister, but I would say that his teaching is not consistent with the legacy of the Reformation.

            Why do I check out Cripplegate? Stateworker = underworked = bored. I read other blogs when I have nothing to do, but I occassionally circle back here to see what’s cracking. Sometimes, I find articles that, frankly, bother me a great deal. I tell myself not to comment, but I give in. Then I get into arguments, and try to keep it loving and civil. I hope it’s not too bothersome.

          • Eric Davis

            KPM- I’m glad you read the Cgate and comment. It’s good to interact with people of differing views at times. I’m sorry that you feel depressed in response to some teachings. Could I ask you, have you ever sat down with an elder or shepherd in your life, or someone discipling you, to ask what the source might be of your depression? As hard as those type of feelings and experiences can be, and they are hard, sometimes they are not an absolute adjudication on a teaching.

            Also, I think it is out of line and inaccurate to say that MacArthur is as reformed as the Pope. If you read some of his commentaries, for example, you will notice that he holds to many of the critical teachings of the Reformation, like the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace and the 5 SOLAS, for example. He might differ on some points of eschatology, these bigger issues of the Reformation he certainly embraces. Thanks KPM.

          • KPM

            Thank you for the welcome, Eric. I’m glad you guys are willing to put up with me from time to time.

            In my experience with shepherding over issues of assurance, it general circles back to “are there any unconfessed sins in your life.” It feels like the whole thing gets thrust back upon me, so that it’s still about what I am or am not doing and how I might be doing it wrong. That sin you struggle with, are you sure you’re really sorrowful and repenting? Are you sure you’re not just upset because of the consequences of your sin. Maybe you’re not upset about the actual sin itself. Are you praying enough? Are you reading the Bible enough?

            I’ve gone through self inflicted wounds and many tears over sin, but then I go to church and I hear guys say, “well if you sin, it just boils down to a simple choice. There’s no excuse. You just need to stop.” Yeah, I want to stop. Trust me. It seems that there is an unwillingness to believe Paul when he says, “the things I want to do, I do not do, but the very things I hate, that I do.” If Paul struggled in that way, why do we expect the Christian life to be this simple pattern of slow but continually growth in obedience? I think the picture is much muddier and more complicated than that. I think the Old Man clings much harder than we want to admit, and the whole “checklist” thing seems to minimize the reality of indwelling sin and the strength with which it weighs us down. It seems that those who take an oversimplified view of sanctification are willing to gloss over their own sins and although they confirm that they really are sinners, they won’t own up when confronted with sin issues or doctrinal errors. They become very good at deflecting blame and justifying themselves.

            I’ve gone through years of counseling with various elders over sin, doctrinal issues, assurance, etc. In the end, I always came away with a “time to pull up your bootstraps and get to work impression.” It always becomes about me and my works and why I’m not doing enough.

            What attracted me to Lutheranism is that I think they are more realistic about the reality of indwelling sin, without falling into the errors of the “carnal” Christian. In my experience, they try to be clear that Christians must obey and grow in holiness, but they keep questions of sanctification and justification separate. In the broader “Lordship Salvation” camp, there’s a tendency, at least from my perspective, to get those two muddled. You’re saved by faith, but can only be sure you’re saved if you have the right amount of sanctification. I think that is going beyond classic Reformed theology that says we are saved by faith, it is finished, and we therefore must now pursue sanctification. Both are required for Christians, but they must be kept separate.

            The difference is subtle, but important. The same can be said with the difference between Reformed theology and Roman Catholicism. Catholics believed we’re saved by grace through faith, too, they just like to add a “but” after it. Practically speaking, isn’t that where Lordship salvation ends? We’re saved by grace through faith, but you better have works to prove your faith is real. Pastorally speaking, where are people encouraged to look for assurance of their salvation (i.e. where is their faith)? I think their trust inevitably ends up in their works, not Christ. I really like Mike Horton on this issue. His position is more nuanced and I think that is appropriate.

            As far as MacArthur is concerned, its not just eschatology where he differs. He also differs greatly from Calvin and Luther on the nature and meaning of the sacraments. Luther and Calvin didn’t agree completely, but I believe Calvin was closer to Luther than he was to Zwingli. Calvin still affirmed that the sacraments were sacraments and that they were not merely symbolic. He believed them to be effacacious and he believed them to be a source of assurance for the believer.

          • Eric Davis

            KPM – thank you for clarifying your experience in battling through the sanctification and assurance issue. Appreciate your willingness to share what you’ve been through. So, you understand that through the Spirit’s power, the mind of the believer is transformed more and more. One of the products is a deeper knowledge, intimacy, and stability in Christ. In light of that, one thing that has been helpful for many is to dive into a study of 1 John for an understanding of assurance. That is why John wrote the book. You might try reading it a few times per week for 4 weeks or so, to see if you gain some clarity there. You may have done that, but we know that keeping our souls steeped in Scripture is key to our joy, knowledge, and growth in Christ. I’ll pray for you, KPM. Thanks

          • chrisleduc1

            2 Cor 13:5 sure seems like a silly command if all we need to do is confirm that we have been 1. water baptized (or sprinkled) and that we 2. “confess” our sins….

            The entire book of 1 John is a series of tests. John did not stop writing at 1:9. Matter of fact, John even says that one of the primary reasons he wrote the book was for the assurance of faith and MOST of what he writes about is works that demonstrate saving faith..

            There are plenty Roman Catholics who 1. have been baptized and 2. go to confession regularly and according to the whole counsel of God, are not saved.

            As well-read as you appear to be I am quite surprised by your over-simplification….

            Further, I cannot believe you would tell someone that they should “have no need to doubt whether or not Christ is your savior” as long as they can simply affirm that they have been baptized and confess their sins! John did not stop a 1 John 1:9 and we do not have the right to either….

          • Jason

            I grew up in a very loose Lutheran church. The teachings presented there were in direct contradiction to how Luther actually viewed sin and salvation.

            If you read his writings on the matter (for instance, his Treatise on Baptism) it could certainly be said that he held that baptism saves a person, but it is also clear that he would take offense to the idea that a person being baptized and then living according to the flesh is saved.

            “Sin and evil inclinations must be recognized as truly sin; that it does not harm us is to be ascribed to the grace of God, who will not count it against us if only we strive against it in many trials, works, and sufferings, and slay it at last in death. To them who do this not, God will not forgive their sins, because they do not live according to their baptism and covenant, and hinder the work which God and their baptism have begun.”

            The idea that a rituals seal a person to salvation is the very thing that had put him off of the Roman Catholic church to begin with.

          • KPM

            You’re right, Jason. Lutherans have not traditionally taught that a person can live in sin there entire life without ever repenting and still be saved, but they do refrain from giving “tests” to see if a person is “really” saved or not. They talk John at his word when he says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.

            Luther frequently used baptism as a pastoral means of encouraging his own soul and his congregants. When struggling with assurance, he would remind himself that he was a baptized child of God.

            Here’s an article from Calvin College that you might find helpful.


          • Ray Adams

            Fascinating idea – I think I grasp what you are saying. Either I am truly saved or not. Regardless the testing provided. And testing can certainly have the effect of making some feel they have scored too low. Failure!

            It is a given that Christians require some certainty as to their eternal destiny – Paul makes that clear in Phil 1:6, confidence that what he began he’ll complete.

            Maybe the fault lies with the imagery (human prejudice) bound up in the term “test”. 2 Cor 13:5-6 the NAS uses the word “test” (peirazo to examine) and “are not approved,” (adokimadzo). But the idea is clear from the verse itself that we have a responsibility to check out the validity of our standing in the faith.

            God’s perspective is that of the Sovereign Eternal of the Universe. Our perspective is that of temporal finiteness. We need to be reassured.

            Back to the word test. I remember when I first encountered pass/fail at school. It seemed full of inequity. But in this instance it applies well, doesn’t it? There’s a list of ten. As I read through that list I didn’t have far to go before my soul sang, “Hallelujah!”

            And that was enough. I could have walked away confident at having passed the test with just the one item. But I didn’t. I read the rest and continued to rejoice. Grace upon grace. Of His fullness we have all received.

        • KPM

          Dave, you can run yourself in circles asking if it’s “real” faith, and whether you’re “truly” saved.

          Don’t fall prey to that trap. If you are honest with yourself, you will have to admit that you do not live up to whatever test is being administered. You are a failure, my friend, a miserable failure like the rest of us.

          Christ is your righteousness through faith. In baptism, you were united to his death burial and resurrection. Therefore, you can have assurance that you also will be raised in an eternal and uncorruptible life like his. If you continue to believe, you will be saved. Questions of assurance should not be any more complicated than that.

          Make point number 2 the goal of your life, but recognize that you will even fail to do that many times.

          • Matt Mumma

            Are you saying that if someone has not been baptized, then they are not saved?

            And what if someone has been baptized, and they are confessing their sins, yet they evidence no fruit of the Spirit and have no victory over sin? Are they saved?

            Look, the goal in this article and other like it is not to force everyone to turn inward and become consumed with how am I passing these tests. And I am sorry that you were driven to depression and suicidal thoughts. Those are not the desired outcomes of bringing up examine our hearts.

            The goal is to show that the Bible describes what a Christian truly looks like and that there are many professing Christians who look nothing like what the Bible describes. It is loving to point people to Scripture that will reveal their sin and the reality that they are probably not born again.

            Eric quoted Paul in 2 Cor 13 urging people to examine their lived to see if they were truly saved. Peter does the same thing 2 Pet 3:14. There are many in the church who have just prayed a prayer, even been baptized, but their lives show no fruit that they are in the Vine (John 15).

            If this examining and doubting causes someone great pain and causes them to question their salvation, I say that is a good thing. This happened to me. I was struggling deeply with my faith and wrestling through if I was truly saved. And then I repented. This struggle, pain, and at times depression, forced me to come all the way to Christ. Not everyone who struggles with doubts is unsaved, nor will the struggle of doubt cause everyone to be saved, but it is better for someone to doubt and then realize they need to be saved, then to have a false assurance for their whole lives and then go to hell.

          • KPM

            Let me ask you a question. Does Romans 6 say that we are baptized into Christ? Yes or no? Please read it and just ask yourself that simple question. Does it say that? Be honest.

            Does 1st John say that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Does it say that? Yes or no?

            The whole of Scripture can be divided into two basic categories: Law and Gospel. The Law convicts of sin and the Gospel points us to Christ.

            If you read a passage of scripture that says Christians ought to do x, y, or z, and you look at your life and say, “I don’t really do that, at least not very well,” the solution is simple. Confess your sins and repent! Upon confession and repentance, trust that God will forgive your sins just as he says and move forward.

            When you doubt whether or not you’re really save, you’re doubting whether or not Christ will be faithful to his promise to forgive your sin. That’s not faith.

          • Matt Mumma

            So does baptism save then? Because if so then that is a work and not the gospel. Rom 6 is not talking about physical baptism.

          • KPM

            God commands us to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So yes, it is a work. It is the work of God, not the work of man. Is believing the gospel a work? No, it is the gift of God that we believe. Please read the text and ask yourself if it says anything about a non-literal baptism. Peter also says that baptism saves us. I would encourage you to take these verses literally as the church of God always has. The church always understood these texts to refer to physical baptism.

            If you read church history, you will see that these verses have unanimously been understood as referring to physical baptism. Was a correct understanding of baptism absent from the world for 1600 years after the time of Christ? Were the direct disciples of the apostles mistaken? Did the church get off track in the very first generation? Were Zwingli and Bullinger correct and all Christian men who came before them mistaken?

            Luther believed in baptismal regeneration. Calvin also held a sacramental view of baptism; “they who regard baptism as nothing but a token and a mark by which we confess our religion before men… have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism. It is to receive baptism with this promise: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).”

            Start reading church history for free if you want to know what God’s church has always believed. You will see that Baptist theology represents a significant departure from the historic faith. That’s not to say Baptists are heretics or that they are not brothers in the faith, but they would benefit much from reading more church history.


            The Holy Spirit uses the proclamation of the Word of God to impart faith to the hearer and to strengthen their faith. Faith unites believers to the Lord Jesus Christ so that they receive his benefits.

            Likewise, the Holy Spirit imparts faith and connects believers to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ through baptism. For those who have been given faith prior to baptism, it seals their faith and gives them an objective ground of assurance. So yes, Baptism does save, but no you will not go to hell if you have faith but are not baptized.

            That is why the church has almost unanimously baptized infants throughout history. It connects them to the death and resurrection of Christ. The seed of faith is planted, but it must be nurtured and the infant must persevere in the faith.

          • HFK

            I figure no one here questions the importance of a literal baptism as an expression of obedience, but that it is necessary for salvation. We can find believers who have not been baptized and yet are saved. Best example that comes to my mind is the thief on the cross, Luke 23,42:

            “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

          • KPM

            You’re absolutely right. Faith alone in Christ alone saves. But what does the Bible say about baptism? Doesn’t the bible also repeatedly say that baptism saves? Just grab your iphone, pull up your ESV app, and do a search for “bapt” as is baptism. Read those verses. Ask whether or not baptism is consistently linked to salvation, and be honest about what those verses say. Leave your theological presuppostions behind.

            I can tell you that I don’t have all the Ordo Salutus type details worked out, but I can also tell you that the bible links salvation and baptism and it teaches that through baptism we are united to Christ.

            Please read some church history and you will find that this was the unanimous teaching of the church up until Zwingli upended the whole thing.

            Even Tertullian, who believed in an age of accountability and rejected infant baptism still believed that physical baptism was efficacious for our salvation.

            I’m just starting down this path, I don’t have the finer points of theology handled, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading of church history and the Reformers over the past couple of months, and I can tell you with certainty that a strictly symbolic view of baptism is a-historical for the first 1600 years of the church. It also contradicts a plain reading of scripture.

          • Fibber MaGee

            KPM, If I get baptized, confess my sins and trust Christ
            I’m good to go? That’s way easier than that other list…especially if I don’t
            have to trust Christ all the time. Thanks, FM

          • KPM

            Mr. Fibber,

            Thank you for your full-hearted endorsement of the historic Christian faith.

            I pray that you truly would trust Christ always and that doubt, unbelief, despair, or self-righteousness would never enter your heart. However, I can tell you for certain that I don’t measure up to that standard. I know that I subtly slip works-righteousness into my thinking. I know that I am prone to doubt. I know that I am prone to despair and disbelief. I know that if it were not for the Spirit of God constantly calling me back to the faith I would have walked away long ago. It is only by his power that I continue to repent, even of my failures to believe. It is only by his grace that I continue to repent of my failure to whole-heartedly repent. All of my repentance, I must admit, is half-hearted and pathetic. May God forgive me even of my repentance, marred as it is by sin.

          • Fibber MaGee

            I’m not really sure if I understand you. In defense of your position you encourage others to read the words
            literally and I’m good with that.

            “I know that I am prone to despair
            and disbelief. I know that if it were not for the Spirit of God constantly
            calling me back to the faith I would have walked away long ago. It is only by
            his power that I continue to repent, even of my failures to believe. It is only
            by his grace that I continue to repent of my failure to whole-heartedly repent.
            All of my repentance, I must admit, is half-hearted and pathetic. “

            To clarify; There are times when you don’t believe in Christ and have not really repented?

            If this is truly the case then I understand why this post has upset you. It is a call for us to truthfully and
            biblically examine ourselves and that is not a pleasant thing to do.

            Note: church history is not a hermeneutic, analogy of scripture is.

          • KPM

            I can tell you that sometimes I have doubts. In my experience, every Christian, if they are honest, will admit that they also have doubts at times. When I seriously consider arguments for evolution, or when I read about horrible things done in the name of Christ, I sometimes question, “is this really what I believe?” I think most Christians would affirm that they have this experience at some time.

            Likewise, there are times when I sin and I look at myself and I question, “am I really saved? Why can’t I just stop sinning.” In those moments, who am i looking to? I am looking at myself, not Christ. In those moments, I need to be pointed to the sufficiency of Christ, not the insufficiency of myself. I will always come up short. I will always be prone to look at my own deeds and think “God really cannot be favorably disposed toward me! Just look me, I’m a mess.”

            But the end result is that the Holy Spirit brings me back to Christ. Despite my doubt, despite my despair, despite looking to my insufficient self rather than Christ, the Holy Spirit always brings me back to Christ. I endure in the faith because He keeps me.

            As far as church history not being a hermeneutic, MacArthur often says that if someone is teaching something new or innovative, that you should not believe them. He likes to claim that his teaching is consistent with the historic Christian faith. Whether or not MacArthur’s teachings are innovative, how old is dispensationalism? 200 years?

          • Fibber MaGee

            I think I understand now. It’s really just doubt and I’m with you that we all have that at some point. Personally I’m past that, but I still am convicted over my shortcomings concerning my ongoing sanctification. That said, I see posts like this one and the recent one by Mike R (Triage) as exhortation to do better.

            What does MacArthur have to do with hermeneutics? I only mentioned that because in one of your posts on baptism you said,

            “ But like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the majority of the Christians throughout the ages, including most of the Reformers, I believe that baptism is means of God’s grace and that it is actually efficacious, not merely symbolical.”

            That is interesting, but not definitive. Luther, Calvin, and (MacArthur) are not inerrant. The scriptures are and we need to intrepret them correctly, that was my point. However, I think you misrepresent MacArthur. He has said many, many times that he is not preaching what he thinks, but what the scriptures say. I have never heard of anyone more dedicated to the truth of scripture than John MacArthur; whether you agree with his exposition or not.

            The critical thing is how we interpret what scripture is saying, right? So when you are defending baptism as a means of grace then we would like to
            hear scripture (which you have done), but you also need to address the other side’s position in a bit more depth.

            “As scripture teaches that baptism unites us to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, Lutherans believe that baptism actually does
            unite us to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and that it is not just an outward sign of an inward reality, or some made-up slogan with no
            foundation in scripture. “

            Contrary to this statement, the other side does have a foundation in scripture, so what may be helpfull would be to deconstruct their position. That is why I mentioned analogy of scripture.

          • Lynn B.

            At the Strange Fire Conference last year MacArthur, speaking of himself in a Q&A, said that he had previously been a “leaky dispensationalist.” I’m not sure entirely what that means but the topic was error in the doctrine of good men and I took it to mean he has changed his position on dispensationalism. Does anyone have more detail?

          • Fibber MaGee

            I was reading some of John Hendryx’s work at regarding Dallas Theologicals 4pt Calvinism view and he mentioned that MacArthur went 5pt in 1997. Maybe thats the “leak” or at least one of them.

          • John Byde

            KPM, apart from the final para about JM, isn’t this what most Christians feel at least some of the time? Perhaps you feel more guilt than most, but I’m sure most of us here have experienced those feelings. I am sure Jesus knows this and us and understands. We’re all with Christian in the Slough of Despond and as long as we keep going, we are saved.

          • John Byde

            KPM, I think God knows all that and still loves you. He knows we’re human and deeply fallable. I just hope you don’t drive yourself too deep down into depression with all this questioning. I’m pretty reprehensible (just ask my wife!) but I do trust Jesus that he knows I’m trying! Blessings from Swizerland!

          • John Byde

            Yes, that’s about all the abstruse theology I can handle too! I just pray, read the bible, try to do some good and hope I’m good to go too.

          • Fibber MaGee

            Had to look up abstruse.
            Check out gty’s website, there is nothing else out there that comes close to the outstanding resources they have.

  • Charity

    The classical evangelical answer an unregenerate person gives for believing they are saved is “I prayed the sinner’s prayer.” It will be a sad day to find out how many went to hell on that heresy.

  • FHA

    Hi Eric, thank you for this helpful article. I understand that my question may fall outside the parameters of this article but I was wondering if you would you be willing to expand a little on the unique Christian doctrine of the Trinity and its relation to conversion in a future article? Is acceptance and faith in the doctrine of the Trinity required at salvation? When does it become a non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith?

    • Eric Davis

      FHA – good question. I think embracing the biblical doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for salvation since we are talking about the true God. If I believe error about God, then I am not believing in the true God of the saving gospel. Now, I am not saying that one must be able to articulate every nuance of the Trinity. However, if one is asked, “Do you believe that God is one living and true God, one in essence, eternally existing in three Persons; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and they rejected that, then we have a problem.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    When I was first saved and understood there were other born again believers out there, I would wave and smile at everyone with a fish sticker on their car. I would walk up and talk to people wearing Jesus t-shirts or hats about how awesome it is to be saved. Let’s just say after so many blank stares, I realized there was more to being a Christian than stickers and shirts. That was a sad day for me.

    • Bernie

      This happened to me too!!! I did not understand why people weren’t excited to meet another sister in Christ! I learn things the hard way.

    • Eric Davis

      That’s discouraging, yet not surprising, Jane. I know many who have had similar experiences. It’s a commentary, in part, on the state of Christianity in our nation.

    • John Byde

      Jane, by mistake was even worse: I believed that everyone who has a cross dangling from their car’s rear Mirror was a Christian too. Wrong! Even Madonna (the wrong one) wears a cross. Blessings!

  • Ray Adams

    Great post. Clear identification marks without a scant hint of personal works. Thank you!

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you, Ray.

  • rob999

    Eric, thanks for the article. One can easily succumb to the evil one’s doubt planting. If you have had an effectual call, you know the Spirit lives in you and will show faithfulness and you will repent of your sins, proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

    1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Revisit the “church membership” thing a moment:

    That’s not a NT concept; it’s a convention of more modern times. The Bible speaks of fellowship, gathering together, loving one another, etc. But no one in the NT was ever said to be a formal “member” of anything but the Body of Christ, not a member of a local church. It mentions church offices, like elders and deacons. But there’s no command to see to it that we take a class, or sign a statement of faith to be welcomed into fellowship with other believers, or any such thing.

    In my own case, since I don’t agree 100% with my church’s entire statement of faith (over a matter that isn’t a cardinal doctrine anyhow), I’m not even permitted to join if I wanted to. I think that’s ludicrous.

    So I attend regularly and give regularly, and my kids were raised in their fellowship. But I can’t be a member. What sense is that?

    • Eric Davis

      4C4 – great question. If I understand you correctly, I am sorry that you are prohibited from becoming a member of your church since you are not in agreement w/ 100% of the doctrinal statement. In my opinion, that somewhat misses the point of church membership. Now, a few things regarding your comment:

      1. In #6 above on membership, the point I attempted to make was not, “If you are not a member of a church, you’re not a Christian,” but more along the lines of desire. In other words, a living faith is evidenced by a desire and effort to meaningfully gather and belong to a NT kind of local church. Hope that difference makes sense.

      2. I would disagree that membership to a local church is foreign to the NT for a few reasons taken together:

      1) The example of the early church in the book of Acts.

      Phrases such as “the whole congregation”(6:5), “the church in Jerusalem” (8:1), “the disciples” in Jerusalem (9:26), “in every church” (14:23), “the whole church” (15:17), and “the elders of the church” in Ephesus (20:17), all suggest recognizable church membership with well-defined boundaries (also see 1 Corinthians 5:4, 14:23, and Hebrews 10:25). In the NT, churches had membership. Church leaders were instructed to put certain people in need on “the list” implying a careful and loving documentation of members (Acts 6:1-2, 1 Timothy 5:9). Also, recommendation letters were sent from one church to another (Romans 16:1-2).

      2) The existence of local church leaders/government (elders, deacons).

      Among other passages, Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, Hebrews 13:17, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 demonstrate a localized, recognized body of qualified and ordained leaders to administer care to local churches.

      3) The exercise of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:2, Titus 3:10-11).

      If you can be excluded from something, there must be an explicit, visible way to be included. Church membership was the way in which the early church did this. “Consider what church membership and discipline are. They are anticipatory acts of judgment by a local congregation that foreshadow the even greater judgment or assize to come. They are a declaration on earth of who will belong to God’s people in heaven (Matt. 16:19). They are an assessment of who belongs and who doesn’t. If God most loves God, then God may freely choose to judge those who do not love him. Indeed, he must judge. If that’s the case, then the anticipatory judgments of church membership and discipline can be seen as merciful and kind. These practices become a gracious warning of an even greater judgment to come.” (from The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, Jonathan Leeman p. 93)

      4. The command to mutual edification.

      The 40 or so different “one-anothers,” instructions given predominantly to local congregations, imply a recognized, visible community of believers with whom God’s people were in committed, consistent, and candid relationships.

      5. The accountability principle.

      Church leaders are commanded by our Lord to exercise Christ-like oversight of locally gathered believers, keeping in mind that they (leaders) will give an account one day (Heb. 13:17). I have to know those for whom I will give an account. An expressly committed body assists leaders in this weighty task as well as provides a spiritual safeguard for the membership.

      Also, I would point you to these articles which go into additional detail on the importance of a Christian belonging to a local church:

      • John Byde

        Eric, I live in a small village in Switzerland with a protestant Church that blesses homosexual “unions” and a gooey, Pope Francis-type catholic Church. I don’t know of any genuine NT Church. I feel bad about this but don’t see what I can do. I try to evangelise, let people know as appropriate that I am a Christian, find and engage with other Christians and read good blogs. Just my centimes Worth for the record! Blessings from the land of Cheese and chocolate!

    • Nicki Ann

      4: What Eric wrote you about evidence of the local church in scripture was excellent and one I filed.

      I am curious to know what point of doctrine keeps you from church membership if you care to share. Likely, most church’s require absolute agreement with their statement of faith for membership but not all. Allowed exceptions of necessity are rather narrow though. I could share some bad experiences along that line but likely that would not be profitable. Suffice it to say there is no perfect church. I wonder if you have been with that body a considerable length of time if you have considered revisiting this matter with the church leadership, depending on the doctrinal point in question.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        The church has, as it should have, a constitution which spells out its beliefs and practices as to how the church is organized, the election of elders & deacons, what the pastor’s role is or isn’t, etc., and it includes a “Statement of Faith” which details what doctrines it teaches from the pulpit and in all its classes. That, too, is informative for anyone considering membership. Why waste time considering a church to join if it departs from what you think is important? And what church wants to admit to membership anyone who they think could pull their apple cart in a different direction? Perfectly understandable.

        This church–which my wife and I have attended for about 15 years now–is like the vast majority of “Bible believing” churches in their eschatology, i.e., they are down with the premillenial dispensational school that Hal Lindsay popularized back when the Beatles were still together and Watergate was still a few years away.

        But that was 45 years ago now and after years of study and consideration, I had to abandon that view decades ago for what to me are good and sufficient reasons. But the church constitution specifies one must embrace all their beliefs, including the DP view, to be a member there. Well, that’s not going to happen; and they aren’t about to drop the requirement, as too many have been invested in that teaching for a very long time. One may as well expect Obama to embrace Milton Friedman’s economic views. Don’t wait up.

        My view is that they can certainly hold to that belief and teach it, if that floats their boat, but to make that a prerequisite to membership means that some very prominent and respected theologians–many of whose books the leadership reads and respects–would also be refused membership there. That makes as much sense to me as a public school refusing to let Einstein teach a math course because he doesn’t hold a teaching certificate.

        I think a church constitution should just stick to the core beliefs of the faith and recognize that Christendom embraces a lot of things. As long as what it allows in the door does not have an erosive effect on its spiritual life and encourages Bible study, it should be ready to welcome into fellowship anyone who believes the cardinal things. Leave the debatable stuff to the individual.

        • Nicki Ann

          Wow! Eschatology, that really is too bad. I agree that is a non-essential and not something where disagreement disrupts fellowship. I have heard of people taking a hard line on that for fellowship but I have not personally encountered the problem. I am so sorry.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Oh yes–for some, it’s a sign that you’re just not taking Scripture seriously if you’re not with “the program.” Well, I used to be–back before I considered and studied other views and asked some questions that didn’t yield very satisfying answers.

            I know end times isn’t the real subject of this thread, but it bears asking if membership (which IS the subject) shouldn’t be something that encompasses just the essentials. I know a man who was a pastor of a small New England church and was compelled to resign, within a short stint there, because he insisted that everyone in his congregation use only the King James Bible. He couldn’t understand why they wanted him gone.

          • Eric Davis

            4C4 – Sorry to hear about those experiences. So, again, my attempt in the article was to focus on the heart-stance of the individual towards the local church and the body of Christ. If I persist in an aversion towards immersing myself into candid, committed, consistent relationships in a good local church, that’s a problem. It’s the heart of the matter. It does not seem to me that you have such a resistance.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Well, they’ve gotten several thousand dollars from me over that time, so I guess I’m as committed to them as they’ll allow.

            Thanks for your insights.

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  • Dave

    I appreciate the response about the “P” and all the interesting twists and turns of the conversation, though I was hoping you might help me understand the correspondence with the “U” and self diagnostic tests. Thanks.

    • Jason

      Introspection is great for determining if a person has new life in Christ. If we find that we do have faith in Christ than we can be certain of our election (because if God hadn’t acted we wouldn’t have new life). In that way self-diagnosis can relate to the “U”.

      However, if a person’s life shows no signs of a life in Christ there’s nothing certain that can be said about their election. If they are elect they will eventually be called, justified, and glorified (Romans 8:30), but that’s God’s choice and whether that applies to any single person who is still dead in their sins is completely unknown to anyone but God.

      • Dave

        Thanks Jason. I appreciate it. I guess I’m being too subtle in seeking Eric’s thoughts (as the author of the post).

    • Eric Davis

      Hi Dave – Apologies for jumping in here late. Was tied up yesterday. So, if I understand the question correctly, you are asking how obeying the command to humbly test ourselves (cf. 2 Cor 13:5) correspond to God’s sovereign choice of his church before creation (Eph 1:4-5, etc.). Now, on the one hand, God’s sovereign grace in that choice is all his doing. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). A sinner is made a Christian b/c of sovereign grace. And, by God’s grace, they will persevere in the faith, to heaven.

      On the other hand, we have a responsibility to strive against our sin, to flee sin, to discipline ourselves for godliness, etc. God works in and through us to do so (Phil 2:12-13). By God’s grace, the regenerate (who have been previously elect) bear fruit. Now, b/c apostasy is real (Heb 3:12-14, 6:1-8) and eternity is at stake, it behooves us to humbly examine ourselves to be sure that we trust Christ and are bearing fruit appropriate to repentance. So, examining ourselves to discern the condition of our soul, by God’s grace is the same thing as examining ourselves to discern if we are regenerate, and, therefore, elect. If we find ourselves to be unregenerate, then we need not wonder whether or not we are elect. Instead, we repent and turn to Christ for mercy. It’s not our job to “find out if we are elect,” so much as it is to obey the gospel call (Acts 17:30) and trust in Christ.

      • Dave

        Thanks Eric. I appreciate the distinction. For me, hearing the question “is it real?” confuses what aspect is real. The “U” in TULIP to be “real” is not a human “test.” It’s a done deal because of sovereign grace as you note. The human/earthly living “real” is by-product, but not causative. I believe this distinction is necessary for such a subject.

      • KPM

        Hi Eric,

        What do you do if you find that you are not “regenerate?” Do you confess your sins, strive to kill them and look to Christ as your Savior?

        What if you’ve already done that thousands of times, and after introspection you still think, “maybe I’m not elect, maybe I’m not regenerate?”

        Can a Christian ever have any objective, outside of himself, genuine source of assurance? Will our assurance always be based upon our subjective assessment of ourselves?

        It seems to me that no man can have any genuine assurance of his salvation if it is based upon introspection. Was I sincerely repenting? Maybe not. Let me repent of not sincerely repenting… but that repentance might not be really sincere. Do I love God? I think so… but maybe I’m deceived. Was my motive pure? What about that ulterior motive that caused my motive?

        We are like onions. We can peel back layer after layer of the onion, always questioning how pure our motives are, how genuine our faith is, how true our love for God is, how sincere our repentance was, and in the end we will get to the bottom and find nothing left.

        We must be able to look outside of ourselves for assurance of salvation. We will never find it inside. Salvation must be based upon the work of Christ on our behalf, not the sincerity of our hearts.

        We must look to the clear and simple promises of God. Christ has promised that if we come to him, he will not cast us out. I can be assured that I am saved because I came to Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. Yes, it was an imperfect coming. Yes, my coming was based on mixed emotions and half-hearted efforts, but by his grace I came, and I do not believe that he will cast me out.

        Of course, Christians must repent and must pursue good works. That is the nature of true faith. But we must be very nuanced here and we must be careful that we do not make our works the source of our assurance, which practically speaking can lead Christians to live as if works are the basis of their salvation.

  • tovlogos

    Right to the heart of the matter, Eric, Amen.

    “So, though a willingness to do so is not the means by which one enters heaven, it evidences the presence of a healthy humility.”

    Humility is itself key to pleasing God; and not always easy. So much can be said of it. We can’t be perfect, but we can be humble.

    I don’t believe one can possess agape love without it. I don’t believe one can build on the benefits of having received Christ without it.

    “a willingness to do so is not the means by which one enters heaven.”

    The willingness is to be conscious of our walk in conformity; knowing that we are often like the disciples in the boat; knowing that the wind and the water will periodically become choppy. It’s not the means by which we enter heaven — as the disciples cried out to Jesus on the water — that’s when peace ensued again. It wasn’t that they reached perfection; but that they looked at only Jesus — not in being perfect, but in the discipline of not taking our eyes off the Source.

    I like the story of Matthew 21:28-32. Though much can be said about it, exegetically; It reminds me of the reality of human nature; how patient and understanding our Lord is with who we are.

  • S

    I’m not qualified to engage in a big brain discussion over this, but I think the simple point is that we are told in the bible to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, so we do it out of obedience and love for Christ. It’s not unlike the call to prayer. We may not understand how the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man reconcile themselves, but that doesn’t let us “off the hook”. And it’s a joy to obey Christ, not a burden, so we should look at self examination as such.

    • Eric Davis

      S – some times the simple answer is the best. Thank you for that insight.

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