How to Have Assurance of Salvation, According to the Apostle John

An illustration of John the Apostle from the Book of Kells, circa 9th century

“How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (Job 25:4)

Questions like this have been plaguing human beings since the beginning of time. Those who believe in a righteous God naturally wonder, “Am I righteous as well? Does He approve of me? Will I escape judgment? Does He love me?” This desire for assurance has sent people on lifelong journeys, many of which fail to provide them with the clarity they lack. Some conclude that it simply isn’t possible to know if God approves of us.

While scripture tells us that, “There is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3b) it also promises hope of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Moreover, it teaches that it is possible to be assured of one’s salvation, and that those who are truly in Christ will persevere to the end. Sadly, not all Christians cling to these scriptural truths. Instead, they spend their lives chasing any number of things that they hope will grant them some measure of assurance: the sacraments, good deeds, church attendance, etc. It is not difficult to see how this changes the Christian life entirely. Those who put their trust in these things have only a false hope, and many who try find their confidence ultimately shaken.

The Apostle John wrote a letter to address this very problem. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” he said. (1 John 5:13) Not a hope that you have eternal life. Not an attempt to gain eternal life. No, he said that we can know that we have it. Continue reading

The Reformation was a Tragedy

“Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers” by the German School, circa 1625-50

We haven’t hit the month of October yet, and already I have read so much about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that I would just assume be done with it. Actually, that’s a lie. I could probably read articles about the Reformation until kingdom come. I am what is popularly called a history geek. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this year has been so full of solas, beer steins, and papal anathemas that I hesitated to add to the deluge unless I had something to say that was rather different from what had already been said.

Well, here’s something you may not have heard from many Protestants this year: the Reformation was a tragedy. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of all this celebrating, I think we ought to take some time to mourn what we have lost. Great damage has been done to the cause of Christian unity, and 500 years later we have yet to recover.

“Hold on a minute!” you might be thinking. “Are you suggesting that the Protestants were wrong to break away from Rome? Do you really believe we should ignore major doctrinal errors in order to maintain a superficial unity?” No, that is not what I am saying at all. There are certainly aspects of the Reformation that we should be celebrating. The recovery of the doctrines known as the Five Solas (scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and the glory of God alone) was an absolutely essential development in the history of Christianity. Many of today’s doctrinal errors occur when we fail to cling to those biblical principles. Even so, I think we must celebrate with a twinge of sadness. Continue reading

Why Did God Make Me a Woman?

“Why did God make me a woman?”

That question surely crossed the mind of my ancestor, Empress Matilda. She was one of two legitimate children of King Henry I of England. When her brother was killed in a shipwreck, she was the last one standing: the only legitimate child who could succeed her father. If you think having a woman in charge now is controversial, just imagine what it was like in the 12th century! That was the time period in which Matilda lived, and somewhat predictably, the nobles of the kingdom – all of whom had sworn to make her queen upon her father’s death – threw their support behind her male cousin and crowned him king. This led to a bitter civil war in which Matilda surely wondered why God had decided to make her a female, or at the very least why He had killed off her brother.

For the past three years, I have been writing a series of novels based on Matilda’s life. The first one is about to be released as an eBook by Amazon. (Shameless plug…) It was never my intention that these books should join the feminist literary canon or be an exercise in man bashing. You will find within those pages examples of good and bad men, along with good and bad women. Nevertheless, Matilda’s sex is an unavoidable part of the plot. It affected nearly every aspect of her life. She must have been painfully aware of the fact that she was assigned the lot of the weaker sex.

All of this has caused me to reflect upon my own femaleness. Much like my ancestor, I live in a world in which I am constantly reminded of my place in both subtle and unsubtle ways. I am not referring to the way I am treated by society as a whole, for it is increasingly embracing the idea that gender doesn’t exist or can be assigned artificially, without regard for biological realities. I am talking about the Christian world: specifically, the evangelical Christian world. Continue reading

Taking a Break to Study Covenant Theology

Friends,

As you might have noticed, I have been writing a lot about baptism recently. I have approached the issue from a number of angles. The last one I intend to tackle is how New Covenant baptism fits in with the other covenants mentioned in scripture. It has become apparent to me that I need to do a lot more studying before I can write about this topic. I am currently tearing apart several passages, conducting word studies, looking for links, etc. I am evaluating and reevaluating. This is a complicated puzzle that is not easy to put together – at least, not for me. Therefore, please grant me the luxury of some time to try and tie this all together with a pretty bow. People have been fighting over this for hundreds of years. I shall reach some conclusions and present them to you.

Blessings,

Amy Mantravadi

Council of Google Plus Podcast on Suffering

I was honored this week to appear on the Council of Google Plus podcast, which is part of the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network. We discussed the issue of suffering in the life of the Christian, and I talked about what I have been learning in the midst of my health issues this year. We also had a special guest drop by: Coleen Sharp from the Theology Gals podcast! Drop on by and have a listen. I also recommend that you read Coleen’s recent blog post about her own experience of suffering.

The Ascent of Trump and the Impact on Evangelical Ethics

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit the Sistine Chapel in this official White House photo by Andrea Hanks

Yesterday, I saw something in my Twitter feed that made me cringe: a story in The New York Times titled “Trump Says Jump. His Supporters Ask, How High?” What I objected to had nothing to do with the fact that Trump was elected, although I have previously shared my concerns on that score. It was not even anything particularly new. What caused me to cringe was the article’s mention of a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution last October, the month before Trump was elected. I seem to recall seeing it when it initially appeared, but being exposed to it again seemed to double the effect.

The issue considered in this poll was whether “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life”. I understand that this is a complex issue. Even in scripture, we see examples of people who did something terrible at one point or another (e.g. Moses or David) and yet were described as godly leaders (though somewhat compromised by their sins). Therefore, I would be willing to accept a certain variety of responses to this question, but what I am not willing to accept is the result of this poll. Continue reading

The Sight of God

“Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness” by Francesco Cozza, circa 1665

One Bible story that has resonated with me for some time is the account of Hagar, the maid of Abram’s wife Sarai through whom he became the father of Ishmael. The story tends to receive attention these days for political reasons, but I see it as a shining example of God’s grace in reaching out to a woman who was in great distress.

Hagar enters the story of Abram (later Abraham) when he and Sarai (later Sarah) are unable to conceive…even after receiving God’s promise that they would have a child. The custom at the time was evidently for the patriarch of the family take on a concubine and raise up heirs through her. Thus, Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband. The two of them slept together, and Hagar indeed became pregnant. Predictably, Sarai had a change of heart about the whole situation. She complained that Hagar now despised her. Abram allowed Sarai to deal with his pregnant concubine however she pleased. When she began to be treated harshly, Hagar ran away. That is where we pick up the story. Continue reading

What I Think About When I Think About Immigration

An acquaintance of mine on Twitter asked if I would be addressing the current controversy over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and illegal immigration here in the United States. My initial reaction was, “Are you trying to get me in even more trouble?” This is a touchy subject to say the least, and I have no intention of offering a firm solution to something so complex and nebulous. Instead, I will briefly mention some of the factors that I tend to weigh when considering such issues, in no particular order. This is not going to be based on in-depth research, but rather the kinds of things I would say to you if you put the question to me on the spot. Therefore, you should take all of this with a shaker of salt. It is just one person’s opinion. It is not the gospel. Continue reading

Critiquing my Critiques

This year, I have written a few articles that are critical of certain people, organizations, or trends in the evangelical Christian community. While these comments have not necessarily been out of character for me, they have proved to be more significant than some of my previous blog posts, for I now have more people paying attention to what I write. My recent tendency to stir the pot has done nothing to help my mother’s digestion, and quite frankly, I myself have questioned my actions at times.

This has led me to meditate on what it means to criticize in a Christian context. Scripture lays out principles for how we should evaluate one another. I must ask myself, have I been abiding by these principles? Reconciliation within the church is very important to me. Am I really helping to bring about reconciliation when I criticize? Is it ever appropriate for me to call into question the words or actions of someone I have never met? Continue reading

The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage

Friends, I hesitated to write this, but I believe what I have to say needs to be said. Please know that the criticisms in this article are not aimed at every person associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or all the signers of the Nashville Statement. More to the point, I consider the signers to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love them, and I welcome a respectful dialogue between us.

Two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement, a document composed “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture”. It presents a series of affirmations and denials that touch on such issues as marriage, gender roles, homosexuality, and transgenderism. Having reviewed this document, I would say that those final two issues seem to be creating most of the concern on the part of the authors. Consider this portion of the preamble.

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

It seems like every day we hear news reports about children sent to the principal’s office for failing to call a classmate by his or her desired gender pronoun, bathroom laws being changed and then changed again, Christian leaders vacillating on the issue of gay marriage, or liberal politicians labeling traditional Christian teachings as hateful bigotry. That is the era in which we live, and it has come at us at a dizzying pace. There is an urgent need for the church to declare the truths of biblical orthodoxy regarding human sexuality. We cannot possibly expect the world to obey God’s commands when it has forsaken the God who gave them, but we must nevertheless refuse to live as the world lives and believe the lies that they believe. If we forsake the Word of God, we forsake God Himself.

Therefore, I should begin by saying that I broadly agree with the content of the Nashville Statement. I am not even opposed to the concept of an ecumenical group of Christian leaders getting together to draft a new confessional document. I am by no means suggesting that we forsake our historic confessions, which are of utmost importance. Nevertheless, every confession was new at some point in history, and every generation of Christians has been forced to rise to new challenges. The Westminster Assembly of 1643-1653 did not address the issue of transgenderism, for it simply wasn’t a real issue at that time. Science had not advanced to the point where one could safely undergo gender reassignment surgery. We live in a different age, and it is vital that we address the challenges of that age.

The question is, has the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (hereafter CBMW) gone about this the right way? Indeed, are they even the best organization to be putting out such a statement? That may seem like an odd question to ask, given that manhood and womanhood are in their very name, but given some of the things this organization has promoted over the years, it is a question that we must ask. Several prominent Christian voices have already been raised in response to the Nashville Statement. They have pointed out the fact that it discusses God-designed gender roles but is ambiguous as to what those include. This has raised suspicions in the minds of some. They have also noted that some of the initial signatories have taught a doctrine of the Trinity that is not in line with the traditional Reformed confessions or even the Nicene Creed. (Here I refer to the doctrine known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son.) I am sure that other authors will develop these issues in greater depth, but I am choosing today to focus on something that might be missed by others who are not as sensitive to the pain it can cause. Continue reading