Where do we look for assurance and what syllable do we place the emphasis on in the Christian life?
Today, most people in the church seem to place the emphasis on sanctification and the individual. According to Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc. many pulpits across the land consistently preach the Christian and not the Christ
The problem with this emphasis is that when we look internally to our actions as Christians we will never have enough assurance and the foundation of assurance shifts from Jesus to us. We end up turning inward focusing on our life, looking at our sanctification, assessing our accomplishments, taking our spiritual temperature, and become fixated with navel gazing; we become overtaken by the Monster of Uncertainty. That’s right, looking to self is engaging with what Luther calls, “The Monster of Uncertainty.”
This Monster of Uncertainty has always been prevalent in the Christian faith. It was beaten back by the 16th century Reformation only to emerge again from hiding after the reformation. The Dutch Theologian Herman Ridderbos summarizes the shift which took place following Calvin and Luther saying,
“While in Calvin and Luther all the emphasis fell on the redemptive event that took place with Christ’s death and resurrection, later under the influence of pietism, mysticism and moralism, the emphasis shifted to the individual appropriation of the salvation given in Christ and to it’s mystical and moral effect in the life of the believer. Accordingly, in the history of the interpretation of the epistles of Paul the center of gravity shifted more and from the forensic to the pneumatic and ethical aspects of his preaching, and there arose an entirely different conception of the structures that lay at the foundation of Paul’s Preaching.”
According to John Brenner the emphasis shift of the 17th and 18th century still impacts our Biblical interpretation today for, “much of evangelical literature today puts an emphasis on sanctification rather than justification, on what we are to do rather than on what Christ has done for us.” Over 60 years ago, E.H. Wendland stated the fact that, “modern Protestantism today is saturated with a theology that is basically pietistic…”
Tullian Tchividjian in a recent post commented on the effects of the shift that happened after the reformation,
“With this shift came a renewed focus on the internal life of the individual. The subjective question, ‘How am I doing?’ became a more dominant freature than the objective question, ‘What did Jesus do?’ As a result, generations of Christians were taught that Christianity was primarily a lifestyle; that the essence of our faith centered on ‘how to live’; that real Christianity was demonstrated in the moral change that took place inside those who had a ‘personal relationship with Jesus.’ Our ongoing performance for Jesus, therefore, not Jesus’ finished performance for us, became the focus of sermons, books and conferences. What I need to do and who I need to become, became the end game.”
Michael Horton once said something to the effect, “When one generation assumes the Gospel the next generation ends up inevitably losing the Gospel.” In other words, if one shifts the emphasis from justification to sanctification and places justification in a secondary assumptive role, there is a probable chance that the doctrine of justification will be lost.
Today, much of evangelicalism is in danger of doing just this, losing justification. For if/when justification is lost then the theological atmosphere will be that of the pre-reformation culture of the 16th century and the church will once again be consumed by the Monster of Uncertainty.
So, how is the Monster of Uncertainty defeated? How is the Monster of Uncertainty challenged? The Monster of Uncertainty is challenged when our eyes are taken off of self and placed upon the certainty of the Cross. Just think about this for a second. The cross is something that is framed in unmovable and unchanging history. There is nothing that you or I could do to go back into history and prevent Jesus from going to the cross. There is nothing that we could do to go back into time and keep Christ in the grave. Jesus died. Jesus rose. Jesus lives today. It is just that certain! On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.” His words were not in the subjunctive mood but the indicative mood communicating the certainty of the cross and His atonement.
Certainty, my friends, is found in Christ, not self. Certainty is found in Jesus’ life, not ours. Certainty is found in the historic event of Jesus’ atonement, not the events of our life. Certainty is found in the Christ, not the Christian. Certainty lies outside of us, not within. Certainty is in Jesus. The good news of the Gospel is that it is the certainty of the cross that truly devours the Monster of Uncertainty.