Psa 119:9-16 Beth How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (10) With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! (11) I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (12) Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! (13) With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. (14) In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. (15) I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. (16) I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
Most of you married an abuser who was “a fine Christian.” You believed he was. His claim to be in Christ seemed genuine. And even after the abuse began (which was probably from the very first day you met him, but was so deceptive), you continued to want to believe he was a believer. He said so. Your pastor said so. The people in your church were just sure of it. And yet….
So how can we know if a person’s claim to be a Christian is the real thing or not? How can we be wise in this respect? And in fact, as a very important side note – how can we have the assurance that we are born again? These are the things I would like to talk about here.
As you can see from the scripture above, and in the entirety of this long Psalm 119, the Psalmist had a hunger and thirst for God’s Word. It was a superficial ability to quote Bible verses, nor was it a love for theological systems. Yes, it is a good thing to know sound doctrine. To know that man in his sin is totally depraved, that God in His mercy elects His people to salvation based on nothing within themselves, that Christ actually accomplished the salvation of His own whom the Father had given Him, and so on. These truths are vital.
But being skilled and knowledgeable in theology like this is an ability that unregenerate people can have, and which many of them do. There are lots of seminary professors who are not born again. Many pastors preaching on the planks of the confessions of their faith, are not born again. And so many of you have told me how your abuser could debate and discuss theology like a pro. How he could quote big chunks of scripture, and so on. Yet in fact he was evil, a child of the devil. By the way, I have no doubt that the devil himself is quite a master at theology – and you know how he quoted and perverted Scripture to Jesus in the wilderness.
An indispensible and sure sign of the new birth, of becoming a new creation in Christ by faith alone in Christ alone, is something quite different than all that. It is what Psalm 119 talks about –
Psa 119:46-48 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, (47) for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. (48) I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
See it? A love for God evidenced by a love for His Word. A desire to know God’s Word so that he can keep that Word. A delight from the heart in Scripture. It is in fact a love for God and a love for God’s people, fueled by a love for God’s truth. The wicked man knows nothing of these things.
Let me illustrate further. Recently and with increasing frequency, I am receiving notes and emails from people, most of whom are abuse survivors, which have a common theme. They are extremely thankful that they have found our online sermons and Bible studies (livestreamed and uploaded to Facebook, Youtube, and Sermon Audio). Why? Because they are being fed God’s Word which they love. They tell me that they are watching every video of every sermon and every midweek Bible study, that they have begun to follow, for example, the podcasts of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and so on. That is to say, they have a real hunger and thirst for God’s Word. They don’t have to be pushed. They don’t have to be told “get with it now! Read your Bible. Know the Lord!” Because they DO know Him and it is evidenced by their zeal for His truth. They hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the Word and they are sick and tired of listening to strangers who are false shepherds.
Now, I say all of this to emphasize that this love and hunger for God’s Word is an inevitable aspect of knowing Christ. Where it is absent, there is no reason to conclude that a person is a Christian even if by outward word and appearance they seem to be. This thing is not about buying all kinds of theology books, becoming expert on what the Puritans said about a certain doctrine, knowing everything John Calvin or Luther or Augustine taught. Those things can have value if pursued out of the right motivation. But they are also things that a wicked man can excel in. What he cannot fake however is this genuine love for Christ and His Word, so that it is sweet to him, so that it corrects and reproves him when necessary, so that he can keep his way from sin, so that he can love others more and more.
When a “christian” lacks these things, you can be sure that this is no person to trust.
Now, when it comes to pre-marriage counseling, this is what I am doing. I tell the person inquring about it, this – “Tell your perspective spouse that you want to go through the Bible studies we have put online. For example, tell them you want to go through and discuss together, the series on First John. And then keep doing this with the other series we have published. Keep doing it. And watch carefully what happens.” Because what will happen in the case of a fake is that he/she is not going to have that hunger and thirst. He might try to fool you for a time, but it won’t last. There will be excuses. He won’t “like the style.” He will argue. He will be the teacher. Or in other cases he might just go through the motions of listening, but that is all it will be.
And that will tell you just what kind of a person you are really dealing with. Make no mistake. The majority of people who claim to be Christians….aren’t.