1 Peter 1:2-9 (My emphases added)
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
There are a number of “faiths” and practices called “Christian” (regrettably) running loose on the landscape in our day. Seemingly, with people’s tiring of the mega-church / church growth trends and theological shallowness of much of evangelical fluffdom, many have been driven to what is being currently called postmodernism and/or emergent theology, in search for something more. What they then find is postmodernity has no answer, either, for it is nothing but a “faith” of questions and fosters nothing but mystery and skepticism. In response to the pat, shallow, and meaningless answers of the mega-church, many have altogether left the visible church (if they can even be called churches) in disgust, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment.
If we could peg one thing which most heavily influenced this exodus, what might it be? I think the argument can be made that the revivalistic and decisionalistic “Christianity” -stemming mostly from the age of Finney and being perversely enlarged and widespread to our day- is a primary culprit in the deformation of our age. The visible church, or at least what most people think of as “the Church” has embraced -regrettably, even in churches which identify themselves as Reformed– a threshold Christianity whose hallmark identification is a point in time where a convert “got saved,” and this moment is the ground from which they draw their assurance of the truth of their final destiny. They “made a decision for Christ,” but as my dear Pastor is fond of saying, “Christianity is not making a decision for Christ, but making every decision for Christ from now until eternity.”
This decisionalism, rather than placing the Christian’s assurance in the objective promises of the Lord to save to the uttermost all those who call upon His Name, seeks to have the Christian look for an assurance in his perceived conversion experience, which may or may not have been (if there was one at all) the point in time where the Lord regenerated him! We see, however, that the Scriptures teach us no such practice! If there is one thing which I have read/heard time and again in reading the Scriptures, the Westminster Standards, various writings of Puritan and Presbyterian divines, and solid Reformed preaching at church, it is that Christianity has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In order to get to that end, one must stay on the track! Consider question 32 of the Westminster Larger Catechism (my emphases added):
Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and, requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.
Threshold Christianity, then, is no biblical Christianity at all. In the parable of the sower, we see those who, not being rooted [in the Lord Jesus Christ, true regeneration and justification] endure only for a little while. It is not that these folks truly “got saved,” then fell away. It’s that their “conversion” was never precipitated by a saving faith at all. The book of James warns us of a substance that has a semblance of faith, but is no saving faith. Why? Because it is a faith that does not result/is not accompanied by “good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10b), thereby proving it is not that faith which the Lord gives to His elect, resulting in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and finally, glorification.
Thus, while we should be quick and vigorous in proclaiming that we are saved by the grace of God through the alone and empty instrument of faith, we must be equally careful not to disregard the Scripture’s teaching on what the process of our final salvation is: ultimately and finally the total conformity to the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ (which is, mind you, the Lord’s work from beginning to end, and never merited by our own filthy rags). The devilish teaching that we can rest on the laurel of “I got saved at such and such a time” is foreign to what the Scriptures teach pertaining to salvation. Instead, we look to the promises of God in the gospel, and we may draw our assurance from those, and such assurance is supplemented as we see progress in our sanctification, and even as we lament our failures and lack of progress therein, confessing our sins and being, once again, shut up to faith in Christ, trusting in His work alone.
Again, here, our Westminster Divines are of great help in their articulation as the proper balance between looking to our works and looking to the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ when we consider assurance (Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 18.1 and 2):
I. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God and estate of salvation,a which hope of theirs shall perish:b yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace,c and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.d
II. This certainty [of assurance of being in a state of grace] is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope;a but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation,b the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made,c the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God:d which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.e
And follow that up with WLC 81:
Q. 81. Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?
A. Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God, as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.
These biblical concepts, replete throughout the Scriptures, should disabuse any thinking of embracing the modern decisionalism so rife in evangelical fluffdom. The full-orbed teaching of salvation we see in Scripture militates directly against such shallow notions of Christianity. “Carnal” Christians do not exist, for they are no Christians at all. This is not to say that Christians will not sin, and even sin heinously at times, for each hour, whether in thought, word, or deed, we are indeed violating God’s holy standard. But our fighting against such tides, and our resting in Christ’s work alone, and our lamentations over our sins, are God’s work of sanctification in us, pressing us on to new obedience, and shutting us up to faith in Him alone.
Is there, then, a point in time wherein the Spirit of God moves in the heart of a sinner, removing the veil from his blinded eyes, that he might see his condition and cast himself on the mercies of Christ? Absolutely! Does every man know or remember or sure of this exact moment? I do not think that assertion can stand, given the noetic effects of sin on all of our affections, potentially masking just what is what. This, I believe, is why the Lord has given us the objective, sure, and confidence-inducing gift of the Scriptures, for our strengthening and reminder of His sure promises to save to the uttermost any and all who call upon His Name in truth, sincerity, and longevity.
If one is to read through the Scriptures, and more immediately the passage referenced above in 1 Peter, he would be hard pressed to make a case for what most understand as Christianity in our day. We see the apostle’s mention of words like sanctification, obedience, and lively hope. We notice in verse five that it is God who keeps us unto salvation. Christianity is a journey, and its end is salvation. God’s elect are initiated into this narrow road journey and, commensurate with God’s promises, are kept until they reach the finish line. In verses six and seven, we see that this journey is not met with mere lilies and pillows of softness, but “manifold temptations” and much “trial,” but that “at the appearing of Jesus Christ,” our faith will “be found unto praise and honour and glory.” This is no decisional or threshold Christianity.
So, then, dear Christian, while we our saved at a point in time, we are also being saved as we journey on, and finally, ultimately, will be saved “receiving the end of [our] faith, even the salvation of [our] souls” (1 Peter 1:9). Let us be encouraged by the Scriptural teaching on what Christianity is. Surely, from beginning to end, it is the work of God, through faith, and our being kept, by His power, unto the end.
Every faithful Christian is daily receiving the salvation of his soul; salvation is one permanent thing, begun in this life, not interrupted by death, and continued to all eternity. – Matthew Henry