|Who Is My Brother?|
|Written by David Lawrence|
|Wednesday, September 03 2008 14:23|
"I worry about (fill in the name), whether he/she is saved or not."
As we consider the reasons that Satan robs us of our legitimate joy and comfort in Christ, one persistent cause of worry and distress is doubt about the salvation of people who are close to us in this life. We worry because they don't attend the same church as we, or perhaps they don't attend church at all, or because they haven't been baptized or baptized in the same way as we, or baptized at the same age or with the same level of knowledge. We worry because they don't worship as we do, take communion as often as we do, or because they struggle with certain sins or lack the zeal we think they should have. Of course, church attendance, baptism, communion, worship, struggling with sin, and maintaining zeal are all important matters and not to be taken lightly. However, for any number of reasons we frequently doubt the salvation of others, and to that extent we suffer and are deprived of joy in our spiritual journey.
Can we know of someone else's salvation? Before we answer that, let's remember that our first obligation is to make certain about our own salvation. Peter tells us to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10), and Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, whether we are reprobate or not (2 Cor. 13:5). Only God and you can know your heart, so the only person about whose salvation you can be absolutely certain is yourself, and that only if God sees fit to grant you the grace of the gift of assurance (1 John 5:20). There are certain tests, like the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16), and the matter of whether or not we really have put our faith in Christ alone for our salvation (1 John 5:1) that can be known only to the individual. John wrote his letter to Christians so that they would know of a certainty their salvation (1 John 5:13), and I suggest that you begin with yourself.
Now, what about those whom you love? Indeed, although there are some evidences of calling and election that are inward, there are others that are external, and, as such, obvious to other Christians. Let's begin with the critical matter of faith, which really separates the regenerate (born again) from the reprobate (eternally lost). John 3:16 says that "whoever believes in him shall have eternal life," and Paul told the jailer in response to his question of "What must I do to be saved," that he must "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:30-31). He also wrote that "no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:3). If your friend or loved one denies faith in Christ, then it is obvious that he/she is not saved. However, if he/she confesses such faith, then you have wonderful grounds for hope. (See 1 John 4:15.)
But there is more. If you have taken your own test of salvation from the first letter of John, you will note that on two occasions John mentions that we know we have eternal life by the Holy Spirit (1 John 3:24, 4:13). The same Holy Spirit that enables people to confess Jesus as Lord provides a testimony to their salvation, and the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of eternal life to the one in whom he dwells (Eph. 1:13-14). Although the Holy Spirit testifies personally and inwardly to us, he also bears fruit in our lives. When we see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of those whom we love, and that fruit is coupled with confession of faith in Christ, we have substantial reasons to rejoice and feel confident about their salvation. Paul discusses not an exhaustive list of the Spirit's fruit but a representative picture of it in Gal. 5:22-23. But I caution you to remember that no fruit is ever borne in perfection in this life, and that all of us, including you and me, still struggle with sin: sin that indwells us and sin that manifests itself in disobedience and failures before God and man again and again. But if you see in this loved one evidence of love, joy, peace, long-suffering (patience), kindness, goodness (outward expressions of love in good deeds toward others), faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, you may be reasonably assured that this loved one is a Christian.
Again, we should remember that we can never be totally sure about others, and some hypocrites can play their role well, but they will be exposed at the judgment. However, it is better to err on the side of grace than on the side of judgment, and I would rather be wrong about accepting a man as my brother than face the disapproval of God for judging and rejecting one whom God has accepted as his own. Paul teaches us clearly in Rom. 14:1-12 that we are not to judge someone because he has different convictions than we do. In that text he writes, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (v.4).
Please do not make yourself miserable about a loved one simply because you and he/she do not believe or practice things alike. Yes, be concerned if he/she denies Christ or lacks the evidence of the indwelling Spirit. But if you find both, then accept him/her as your brother/sister, and don't miss out on your blessed fellowship with this person, nor deprive yourself of your rightful joy in Christ. How sad and how tragic that many people have done just that!
But should we not hold our own personal convictions? Of course! I have sincere and deeply held convictions on doctrinal matters, on how a church should function, and how worship should be offered to a holy God, and I am not ashamed to share them with anyone interested. However, I know that not everyone will agree with me, and I am ready and willing, having stated the reasons for my beliefs, to accept my brother and let the Spirit guide him along his journey according to God's calling for him. And we shall have blessed fellowship together in those matters in which we agree, especially our common salvation in Christ.
We sincerely hope this short article has been a blessing to you and a help in a difficult personal matter. If we can be of further service, please contact us at Engedi Ministries. Use our cds, articles, other written materials, radio programs, or any of our resources to help both yourself and your loved ones in a joyous and productive Christian experience.