Whether someone is a false convert or a Christian struggling with assurance, the remedy is the same; repent and believe the gospel. A person has to look away from all their past experiences or decisions and look to Christ for their hope. They also cannot put trust in other men or in books. They must go to where those men and books point them to: the Lord Jesus Christ.
For instance, when someone comes asking, “Am I really saved?” I may have my opinion. I may think this person is showing great fruit and they look like a Christian to me. I may have doubts, but I never tell that person, “Yes, you’re saved.” I want it to come from them. I want the Spirit of God to bear witness so that they know it and see the truth for themselves. But as I always tell them, whether someone is a completely false convert or whether someone is just a believer lacking assurance or backslidden, the remedy is exactly the same. Repent and believe the gospel. Believe Christ now. Because what I often find is the person in this predicament, they’re looking to an event in the past, or they’re looking to a decision or some experience they had in the past to try and trust in that. And they’ll never get peace looking there. They’re thinking I must be saved because this happened to me in the past and this changed in the past, but they’re not looking to Christ. So whether they’re saved or not, they’re not looking to Christ. So, it really doesn’t matter. It’s when they’re looking to Christ now that matters. Sometimes people come to us, for instance, new to the church. And they think they were saved at a certain point, and when I listen to them, it sounds like they were saved a bit later in their testimony – years later or whatever because their life doesn’t sound like a Christian in between, but I’m not too concerned about whether they were saved at point A or whether they were saved at point B. What I’m concerned with is are they looking to and walking with Christ now. So that’s where I always try to point people to that question. What would you say it means to look to Christ? Even when I say I tell them to look to Christ now, I wouldn’t literally say that. It’s more of a figure of speech I’m using. I often hear people tell people that – “Look to Christ.” But what does that mean to them? But really, I tell them what Christ has done for them. The promises of the gospel. “He who comes to Me, I will in no wise cast out.” The one who comes trusting in Christ, He will not refuse. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I would tell them that the promises, that He is faithful, because again, He is true to His Word, and He is just. He has already paid for those sins. So I would go over the promises of the gospel. Christ came to save sinners and so forth, and what He’s done, about Christ bearing our sin. We’re at peace with God now because it’s not of our works. So it’s really explaining the gospel and trusting, resting in what He’s done there. But also, repentance is another important thing; coming under Christ’s reign and rule. It’s not just an intellectual belief in the gospel as in ticking a box. Because that’s sometimes what people are looking to do in belief – turn it into a box to tick, rather than, there must be a coming to God there. And there must be coming under His reign and rule. Having Jesus as your God – I think that’s a good way of describing it. You know, that He is Lord; following Him. Again, that’s not what saves us. It’s the merits of Christ that saves us. But it’s getting people to realize these things, go over the promises and open their eyes. Basically, you want to take their eyes off their sin and self, up onto Christ. Have your answers changed over the years as you’ve grown in wisdom? The way my answers have changed over the years, is one: not letting people lean upon me. Sometimes people want to come to a pastor or someone else all the time to talk to, rather than Christ. I can only point them to Christ. And I try my best to do that. It’s like if I give someone a book to read, like a classic Spurgeon book, “All of Grace,” “The Wicket Gate,” which is not for everyone, but it’s for someone who’s convicted and they’re trying to trust Christ – they’re almost there. I tell them, look, the answer is not the book. The book points you to the answer. Because so many people will pick up a book like that and they’re looking again, they’re thinking if I read this book by doing this; you know, if I tick that box, but again I say the book’s only trying to do what I’m trying to do, and that is point you to Christ, and that He’s done it all for salvation and to follow Him there. So having people not lean upon me is one thing that’s certainly changed. The other thing is not go around in circles. Now this, not just on a salvation issue, but whether it’s marriage counseling, or counseling Christians in the workplace, or a struggle with sin; sometimes people just want to talk and talk and talk for hours and hours and hours, and I’ve learned they’re not really interested in putting anything into practice. So now I will limit time, limit the things we’ll talk about. Okay, put this into practice, because if the person just wants to go on and on and on and on, they end up losing what you’ve told them anyway. And people will always do that in their struggles. I remember Mason Vann, a dear brother, pastor in Kirksville, once telling us that early on in his Christian walk, he went to Conrad Murrell for counsel, and he said he just sat there pouring his heart out, and at the end of it, Conrad Murrell just gave him two verses of Scripture. And he went went, yeah, right. But that is often how it should be, because again, it’s applying the Word in practice. So, not letting people go on and on is making sure it’s profitable.