On My Shelf: Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur

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As someone who struggles personally with the issues addressed in this book, I knew Saved Without a Doubt was going to challenge me.

I started reading this book by John MacArthur when I was a freshman in college. I was really struggling with eternal security once again (Unfortunately, it’s been a pattern in my life)*. I stopped reading soon after beginning at that time because it was just too much for me. I felt too overwhelmed facing my fears then.

At this time in my life I have more free time than I care to admit. I’m currently reading through the books I own before I buy new ones or rent too many from the library. That’s how I came across Saved Without a Doubt once again.

This time, I went in prepared … Or at least a little more aware of what I was getting in to.

*Vulnerability Moment: While I was reading this book, I was going through another bout of spiritual doubt. This is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. I’ve struggled with accepting grace. I’ve worried about whether I repented enough, whether I loved God enough, and whether I followed God for the right reasons. I’m a worrier. Unfortunately it comes naturally to me.

Going into this book, I knew I would be anxious, my fears being brought to light. But I knew I had to face them. I feared what I might find — that I really wasn’t saved and that my doubts were founded on truth. But I read anyway. Because the truth was important to me. Because I wanted assurance if it was mine to have. And because I’m OCD and needed to cross this book off my list.

The book consists of nine chapters and is divided into three sections:

  1.  IS IT A DONE DEAL? What the Bible Teaches  About the Lasting Nature of Salvation
  2.  IS IT REAL? How You Can Tell Whether You Are Truly a Christian
  3.  IS IT SOMETHING I CAN FEEL? How You Can Experience the Assurance of a Secure Salvation

First MacArthur establishes the eternal nature of true saving faith and addresses the verses in the Bible that tend to confuse people regarding the subject. For example, he explained that the branches referenced in John 15 that do not produce fruit and are consequently cut off and burned represent people that were never saved to begin with. He asserts that these people never really had true saving faith and that is why they were not producing fruit.

Having just read Who Do You Say That I Am? by Becky Harling, I found the contrast between hers and MacArthur’s views on this passage interesting. Harling seems to believe that the pruning and cutting off of branches refers to believers that are in need of more sanctification, not punishment. She believes all branches attached to the Vine are true believers. I found comfort in this interpretation, but found MacArthur’s compelling as well. He did a fantastic job overall of addressing these tough passages.

After establishing the unchanging nature of genuine salvation, MacArthur presents several tests that people can use to measure the results of their supposed faith. To close, MacArthur provides insight on how to make assurance of salvation more a reality in one’s life. In the back of the book, MacArthur also provides discussion questions and applications to accompany each chapter.

Although I read the book in its entirety within the span of a few days, I struggled. I knew that true saving faith cannot be lost, but I felt like I was facing more doubt than assurance as I read. Especially as I read the ‘Is It Real?’ section, I saw myself falling short.

Until I read this:

Test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly say “Yes” to these questions, you have repented…. and remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.

Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Savior whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more and more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness.

After some prayer and reflection, I started to see more evidence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I was reminded that even the realization of my own sinfulness and my need for a Savior was by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to turn from our sin and desire redemption as well as produce fruit in our lives after salvation. In light of this, John MacArthur’s words convinced me to lean a little more on the Calvinist side regarding the issues of predestination and foreknowledge.

After providing tests for discovering whether one’s faith is real, MacArthur addresses the issue of really experiencing assurance. He provides practical ways to increase the feelings of assurance that believers should possess.

At first I was confused on how this striving to create assurance in one’s life could possibly be founded on grace. This seemed backwards and legalistic to me. To me this seemed more like trying to earn salvation than live it out. But I received some clarity after reading an Icebreaker provided in the Chapter 7 Study Guide:

Suppose you have a gifted teenager who was selected for the lead in a school play. While she has a love for the theater, has been well trained, and is able to deliver an outstanding performance, she decides to give up the part and do the bare minimum to get a passing grade in her theater class. What would you say to motivate her to reconsider her decision?

The fact of the matter is that works are proof of salvation. When we don’t actively spend time with the Lord and allow Him to live through us, when we don’t use our salvation and the power from the Holy Spirit to overcome sin, we forget we have it in the first place.

In Saved Without a Doubt John MacArthur is honest and thorough. He uses Scripture to back up his claims and is not afraid to share truth that is hard to hear. Through his writing, it is clear that he relies heavily on the sovereignty of God while still maintaining man’s responsibility. I appreciate all of this, but there is only one thing more I wish he had done:

I wish he had clarified more. Whether it was the translations of Scripture or the wording of his assertions, they were sometimes difficult to understand, not because of the concepts, but because of the word choice and order. Especially in the last section, I wish he had connected his ideas more clearly, showing the reader how the concepts related to one another. I wish he had more clearly stated the role of grace in the believers life after salvation. He did a fantastic job of establishing this role in the beginning of the book, but I wish the theme had been carried just a little farther.

Other than those few complaints, I have nothing against this book. But others do. I’m interested to look into these objections on a deeper level and see if I change my opinion of the book.

As of right now, I believe it contains truth that’s hard to swallow at times, but I suggest everyone read it. Whether you’re certain of your salvation or drowning in doubt, this book will make you think.

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