Helpful Questions for Discerning a Credible Profession of Faith by Jeffery Smith

Ebenezer Morris was a powerful preacher in Wales, little known about today. He lived and preached during times of great revivals there and went home to be with the Lord at the age of 56 on Monday, August 15th, 1825. There’s a whole chapter devoted to his life in Volume Two of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, (reprint 1897, trans. John Aaron 2008 [Carlise, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008]).

A couple of days before his death two young preachers came to him seeking his advice. What he told them included a very important caution. Before I quote it let me explain that the term “seiat” was the Welsh term for a Welsh Calvinist society meeting. These were organized societies of converts gathered for prayer, teaching and mutual exhortation. They were really, in essence, local churches, operating outside of the established Anglican church of the time. Morris told these two young preachers:

“If you two are allowed to live long then no doubt you will see a period for religion when hardly any new convert joins the seiat. At that time, do not drag unexercised men into the church but wait for God, and seek him, who in his own good time will succeed the work. God gave a promise to Abraham of a son, but Sarai felt the time was long and despaired that she would ever have the privilege of becoming a mother, and so she gave Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. He was not the son of the promise and this brought much sorrow to Sarai afterwards. So also, you must wait for God’s promise, and not go after the flesh, unto the children of the promise are found for the Church.” (italics mine)

This is very wise counsel, counsel much needed by many of us who are pastors. It speaks to the necessity of requiring a credible profession of faith before receiving a person into the membership of the church. In our church we have what we call a membership interview with any one asking to become member, as do many of you. Below I give a sample list of suggested questions that can be helpful in charitably discerning the credibility of a person’s profession insofar as we are able and required to do so as men who cannot see the heart. In fact, we have actually sometimes given these questions to younger converts and asked them to take them home and write out brief answers to bring back to us in a subsequent meeting. I’m not suggesting that all of these questions should be asked in a membership interview or that all, or any, of them should be handed out to take home to write out answers. I just mention these to give some ideas of the kinds of questions that might be asked. Good, carefully thought out, questions can go a long way in helping us discern where a person is and in guarding the church from the danger Ebenezer Morris spoke of in the quote above. Perhaps, pastors reading this blog might find these helpful.  Some of these have been picked up from the suggestions of others.  In cases where we actually hand out a document with these questions for a person to take home, at the top is the following introductory paragraph:

Please take the time to think carefully over these questions and answer them in your own words. These are not trick questions so don’t be nervous or worried. We simply desire to know about your understanding of the gospel and what God has done and is doing in your life and to encourage you to think about these things. This will also help facilitate profitable interaction in our membership interview.

Here are the questions that follow:

  1. Are you a sinner? What makes a person a sinner?
  1. Have you ever felt that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment because of your sins? If so why do you think that?
  1. Besides outward sins what are some sins in your heart that you’ve been guilty of that God has shown you?
  1. When Jesus died on the cross what was he doing that has to do with the salvation of sinners?
  1. Can God just forgive sinners or was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross for God to do that? If so why was it necessary?
  1. Are there any good works that you have done that you believe make it right for God to receive you as his child and take you to heaven? If not what are you trusting in for acceptance with God?
  1. What are some verses of scripture that give you hope and comfort when you think about your sins and your relationship to God?
  1. Do you ever pray and read your bible? If so how often?
  1. What are some ways God has changed, or is changing, your attitudes and behavior?
  1. What are some things God has been teaching you lately?
  1. Do you desire, with God’s help, to follow and obey Christ in everything with no exceptions?
  1. When God convicts you that you have sinned in some way what do you do?
  1. Are there any problems you have in your relationship to any of the members of the church?
  1. Do you ever get anything out of the sermons? If so could you give an example of a sermon, or of something in a sermon, lately that has helped you? If so how did it help you?





The Gospel is Not Only for the Lost, by Jeffery Smith

In Romans 1:16 Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek”.  Paul is not ashamed of the gospel and one reason he is not ashamed is because of the commodity the gospel conveys: salvation. It’s the gospel and only the gospel of Jesus Christ that brings and conveys salvation to every lost and hell deserving sinner who by God’s grace believes.

But have you noticed in this passage that for Paul the gospel is not only for lost sinners. It’s for believers.  It’s clear this is included in Paul’s thought here and is, perhaps, the main idea because he is especially and specifically speaking in this context about his eagerness to preach the gospel to people who were already Christians. It’s easy to miss this but notice the connection with v.15. “So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome”. To whom? To you very folks to whom I’m writing this letter; to people he described up in vv.6-7 as the called of Jesus Christ, beloved of God, called saints. In other words, Paul was not only eager to preach the gospel to unbelievers in Rome so that they might be converted (no doubt he was eager to do that) but he also wanted to preach the gospel to those there who were already believers. I am eager to preach the gospel to you. Why? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”

The verb is in the present tense and could be translated, “for everyone who is believing. “ It is a gospel that conveys salvation, not only initially in conversion, but it continues to be the means through which God’s power works to bring about the continuing and the final salvation of all who believe this gospel. It is the primary means by which God preserves his people and brings them safely all the way to glory.

Now this perspective on the gospel is very important. This reminds us that the gospel is not only for the lost. It’s for believers. It reminds us that we never get beyond the need to hear the gospel and to exercise faith in the gospel. It is the gospel that is God’s power, not only to bring us to initial faith and justification, but it is the gospel through which God continues to work in our hearts to sanctify us and to preserve us in a state of grace until the very end. It is the gospel continually heard and continually believed and increasingly appreciated and understood in all its fullness that is the power of God by which we as God’s people are enabled to triumph over every obstacle and every foe that would seek to destroy us and are enabled to make it safely all the way to heaven.

There’s an attitude I’ve sometimes sensed in some professing Christians that the gospel is something specifically for the lost. We Christians don’t really need the gospel. We need to get beyond that to other more important things. We need practical how-to teaching. The gospel is for the lost. Well it’s true that the lost need to hear the gospel. It’s also true that as Christians we need to grow and mature and be exposed to the whole counsel of God. It’s true we need practical teaching about the living of the Christian life. But it’s not true that we no longer need the gospel. The gospel is not just for so-called evangelistic services. The gospel is for Christians.

If somehow I could know, or it was revealed to me, that every person who attends the services of the church I serve as a pastor is already converted, I would still preach the gospel there. It wouldn’t matter. I would still on a regular basis preach what you might call, in one sense, evangelistic sermons, sermons that contain and proclaim the evangel. Why? Because it’s the gospel, the good news of God’s free unmerited grace to sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ, that not only arouses and produces faith, but sustains and maintains our faith. It’s the gospel that strengthens our faith and enables our faith to triumph in all of the conflict of the Christian life. And it’s the gospel of God’s grace to sinners in the person and work of His Son that motivates us and inspires us to a life of holiness and devotion to Him and His glory

We never get beyond the need to hear the old, old story of Jesus and his love. I don’t know about you, but I need the gospel every day. I need it every time when, in the painful consciousness of my past and present sins, I go to God in prayer and seek to draw near to Him with any degree of confidence. It’s the gospel that keeps me from giving up in despair in all the daily conflict with remaining sin and in all of the trials of this life. It’s the gospel that is the power of God by which I am continuing to be saved and will finally be saved in the end. Therefore, I need to know more and more about it. I need to see more of its glory. I need to understand more fully all that Christ is for me and all that Christ has done for me and all that He continues to do for me. I need to go back to the very basics of the gospel over and over again and learn to rest my faith more confidently upon Him.

Yes, the gospel is for Christians, just as much as it is for the lost. Remember, to whom did Paul write this letter; a letter that gives the fullest exposition and explanation of the gospel in all of the scriptures? He wrote it to Christians, to believers in Rome. So brothers and sisters, let us never think that we are beyond the need of hearing and learning more about the gospel. We need to hear it all the time and to be constantly growing in our understanding and appreciation of all that it is and all that it means.

For more on this topic I recommend three sermons by John Piper entitled How Does God Save Believers? ( Also consider reading for your own devotions the excellent, simply-written, paperback commentary on Romans by Stuart Olyott entitled The Gospel as it Really Is.  Another book that addresses the ongoing place and power of the gospel in the life of the believer is The Gospel For Real Life, subtitled Turn To The Liberating Power Of The Cross…Every Day by Jerry Bridges. Of course, most of all feed on the truths of the gospel directly from the fountain of God’s Word itself.


Peace Sought but Not Found: Why?

I was reading Spurgeon recently and in a section of one of his sermons he took up the very practical pastoral question as to why some who are to some degree anxious about their souls can never seem to find peace. They seem to be concerned at times and enquiring after salvation but never obtaining. Most of us who are pastors have probably met with situations like this from time to time. Here is a summary of some of the reasons Spurgeon mentions for this condition. Of course, other reasons could be given but I list these with quotes from Spurgeon under each point:

1. Unbelief

“In most cases unbelief is the damning sin. You will not believe God’s word. You reject the testimony of God concerning his Son Jesus, and thus put away from you eternal life. You say, ‘I cannot believe.’ But that will not do, for you know that God is true; and if God be true how dare you say that you cannot believe Him? If, when I stated solemnly a fact, you told me, ‘I cannot believe,’ I should understand you to mean that I am a liar. And when you say, ‘I cannot believe God,” do you not know that the English of such an expression is this—you make God a liar by refusing to believe on His Son? This unbelief is sin enough—sin enough to destroy you forever…May God help you to roll it away by saying, ‘I will believe; I must believe. God must be true; the blood of his dear Son must be able to wash away sin. I will trust in it now!’”

2. Impenitence

“Are you hardened about your sin? Do you refuse to quit it? Is there no sorrow in your heart to think that you have broken the divine law, and have lived forgetful of your God?…he who will not own his sin and forsake it is wedded to his own destruction. May God soften your heart, and help you at once to repent of sin!”

3. Pride

“Are you too big a man to become a Christian? Are you too respectable, too wealthy, too polite? Are you too deep a thinker? Do you know too much? You could not go and sit down with the humble people who, like little children, believe what God tells them. No, no; you have too much brain for that: have you?….You read reviews, and you like a little dash of skepticism in your literature. You could not possibly listen to Jesus when he says, ‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ You do not care for such old-fashioned doctrine, for you are too much of a philosopher..One’s pride may carry him far if he is a great fool; but let him not suffer his pride to carry him into hell, for it certainly will never carry him out again”

4. Secret, hidden sin

“I have been frequently puzzled to know why certain persons cannot attain peace. Do what we may with them they appear to have a tide of disquiet for ever ebbing and flowing and casting up mire and dirt. They have seemed to be in a fair way to salvation, and yet they have never reached it: they have been one day near and the next far off. In one or two instances I have not discovered the reason why the gospel never succeeded with them, till they were dead. When they were gone the sad truth was revealed which accounted for all their uneasiness…There was a secret which, if it had been known, would have made their character abhorrent to those who in ignorance respected them. Does any man here carry about with him a guilty secret? Does he persevere in shameful acts which he labors to conceal? How can a man hope for peace while he wars with the laws of morality? What rest can there be while solemn vows are broken, and the purest of relationships are treated with despite? Nay, while there is any uncleanness about a man, or about a woman, there cannot be peace with God: such sins must be given up…Would you for a moment insinuate that the Lord Jesus died to allow you to sin and yet escape its penalty?”

Submitted by Jeffery Smith