John H. Gerstner



UP TO THIS POINT our interest has been in coming to Christ. We have considered our lost condition by nature, our need of a Saviour, and Christ’s remarkable qualifications for that role, and the way by which we are persuaded of it. But now we address ourselves to the question of how we know that we have truly come to Christ, or how we know that we truly know Christ. Conceivably a person could come to Christ without being certain that he is actually united to him. Presumably, a person could think that he had come to Christ without really doing so. And presumably a person could truly come to Christ and know it. Now what we here want to discover is how we know that we know Christ.

In previous chapters we have thought about our sinfulness and how we came to be sinful, and about Christ, His deity and His mediatorial work. All of these were doctrines which could be ascertained objectively and were in a sense external to us. Now we are dealing with something which we can only know by our self-examination. We are to search into our own souls to see if we have a certain experience. At the same time we are being objective, in this sense: we are studying the Word of God to ascertain the evidences for which we must search. While we are considering what the evidences of a saved condition are, we will be asking ourselves whether we possess these qualifications. At that point the discussion is both objective and subjective.

Many indications of a regenerate condition are mentioned in the Scripture. As a matter of fact, there are too many of them for us to consider in this brief chapter. We will, therefore, restrict ourselves to one passage which we will use as a guide in this discussion. We will, however, refer to other passages incidentally but not primarily.

The passage which will serve as a foundation of our discussion here is Romans 5:1-3. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” In this passage the Apostle is giving us the argument from experience. In the immediately foregoing passage, the fourth chapter, he has shown the experience of the patriarchs of old, Abraham and David. Now he turns away from the past to the present and speaks of the experience of the Roman Christians, saying, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have . . .”

I. First Indication of Justification: Peace

The first fruit of justification, or, we may say, the first evidence of our being in a justified state, is peace. Says the Apostle, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Before we can consider the peace here mentioned, we must first of all notice a minor textual matter. The King James and the Revised Standard Version represent Paul as saying, “we have peace.” However, Paul did not actually write that. He wrote, rather, “let us have peace.” There is little doubt among the scholars that he did indeed actually write echômen and not echomen. He very probably used the subjunctive and not the indicative. Why, then, do they not simply translate it “let us have” instead of rendering it “we have”? Well, most of the scholars are frank enough to say that they render it in the indicative because they believe that is the thrust of Paul’s thought even though he does use a subjunctive word. That is, most interpreters feel that the argument of Romans is so logical and so relentless and so obvious that at this particular point Paul can be making nothing but a declaration. There cannot be anything tentative or uncertain, hypothetical or hortatory, about it. So, in spite of the language which the Apostle uses, the translators construe him otherwise because they feel his thought demands it. We sympathize with these translators and agree with their general appraisal of Paul’s thought here. Nevertheless, we consider it a very serious matter to change an inspired author’s word. We prefer, therefore, to leave the subjunctive just as the Apostle gave it to us.

What is the significance then of the fact that Paul did use the subjunctive and that he wrote: “let us have peace”? Does it somehow diminish the force of this passage because he used a subjunctive rather than an indicative? We think not. As a matter of fact, we are inclined to think that it may, if we understand properly, show a greater significance and contribute more to the movement of Paul’s thought than the indicative would.

We mean this: Paul could never tell these Christians, or urge them, or exhort them, to have peace unless he believed that peace had actually been established by God through justification. His subjunctive, in other words, presupposes a prior indicative. That is, Paul is exhorting the Romans here to have peace in the sense of experiencing peace because peace already has them. That is, peace already has been established and they therefore have every right and duty to appropriate it, to enjoy it, to revel in it. So I rather suspect that the Apostle is far ahead of his translators here. The translators are holding back at the indicative which Paul has already assumed and moved beyond. The point, however, as far as we here are concerned is that the subjunctive necessarily implies the indicative. The exhortation to have peace presupposes that peace has already been established. That is, a man could never be urged by Paul to experience a peace which the Apostle did not believe was already effected between that man and God. We remember that in Romans 1:18 Paul had already said that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, . . .” Now if the wrath of God were still burning against mankind the Apostle would certainly never urge men to have peace. Nowhere in these early chapters where he is shutting up all under divine judgment and exposing them to the wrath of God does he, or could he, urge them to have peace. It is only after the grace of God in Christ and justification by faith is introduced that Paul urges his readers to have peace with God.

Coming now to the peace of God itself, we notice the first great fruit or mark of justification here mentioned. This is indication that there is no longer any estrangement between the holy God and the former sinner who was under His wrath and judgment. If a person has peace established and is in a position to experience, feel, and rejoice in this peace, this is a true indication that he has actually a genuine union with Jesus Christ.

This, however, immediately raises a question. Is it possible that a person could wrongly think that he was justified and therefore think that he had peace established between God and him and then actually feel in his heart this peace to which the Apostle exhorts him? In other words, while a truly justified person will have this fruit of justification, namely peace, is it still not possible for people who only think they have justification to feel a peace which flows from it, which peace is spurious and quite misleading? Is experienced peace a true indication of a person’s converted state? Putting it in the form of a question, Can we know that we know Christ because we have the experience of peace? Obviously, if it is possible to have a spurious feeling of peace, the feeling can be no sure indication that a person has justification or has Jesus Christ.

Yes, it is possible to distinguish between true and spurious peace. Peace may be a feeling, but it rests on some presumed fact which may be logically grasped and evaluated. If you ask some persons why they feel at peace with God, they will answer, “Because God never hates or becomes truly angry with anyone.” They suppose that God need never be feared. So they have a variety of peace. The doctrine on which it rests is unscriptural and therefore false and ipso facto; it is spurious. If, however, a person feels peace and knows that it results from faith that Christ satisfied divine justice for him and converted his soul and united him to the Saviour, the peace he feels is genuine since it rests on the truth of God.

II. Second Indication of Justification: Fellowship

The second proof of one’s salvation that the Apostle mentions is a gracious state. “We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” The grace here mentioned signifies a condition of fellowship with God. It introduces us to a second level of Christian experience. It is a distinct advance upon the previously mentioned peace which we have and may experience with God. There could have been peace established without any subsequent fellowship. Peace itself signifies merely the cessation of hostilities. It does not necessarily mean the resumption, or the introduction, of friendship. It could be an armed truce or a state of belligerency or a cold war. Peace simply means the absence of hostilities, expressed hostility. Of course, the peace of God is more than merely an armed truce. It does signify that there is no remaining hostility, outward or inward, hot or cold. Nevertheless, the word “peace” itself does not signify anything more than precisely that. Peace can be established without a condition of intimacy and love and fellowship obtaining. But this word “grace” signifies precisely that a condition of fellowship and love does obtain after the peace has been established.

This grace which follows the peace of God could only follow peace. That is, there is no possibility of anyone having a cordial relation of friendship and love with the living God until peace is first established between them. So long as the war was on between the soul and Heaven, the soul could not suppose that God was his friend and was pleased with him. So long as the soul was at enmity with God, there could be nothing but a sense of apprehension, fear, shame, and fleeing rather than boldness, rejoicing, and loving communion. As we said, peace could be established without communion necessarily following. But now we are noticing the other side of the coin; namely, that there could be no communion without this peace.

Indeed, a part of this blessedness of fellowship with God consists in the realization of the peace which has been established. Just as truly as fear of God’s wrath and judgment destroys any tranquillity between the soul and God, so the overcoming of that wrath of God suffuses the soul with a very great joy. Not only does the soul experience a vast relief, which follows the knowledge that God is no longer angry, but a positive joy as well in this wonderful knowledge.

Perhaps the most blessed characteristic of this Christian experience of fellowship with God is its inalienability. It cannot be lost. Paul indicates this by saying it is the grace “in which we stand.” His word translated “stand” signifies “stand rooted,” “immovable.” So this fellowship, exquisite as it is in itself, is also of permanent duration.

All other joys with which we ever have any acquaintance in this life are what we may call “furlough” pleasures. As a pastor, during the last war, I often visited families which had been torn apart by the demands of the military forces. Sometimes I visited these families when the loved husband or son or brother was home on a furlough. What a joyous occasion it was to have the family circle completed again, if only for a few days. But I doubt if I ever visited on occasions like that without seeing a mother or a wife in tears. Why? Because she usually would be anticipating that in three days or a week the loved one would be gone again. Even when she was enjoying the company of her husband or her son the joy was spoiled, to a degree, by the realization that it was soon coming to an end. Is this not true of all earthly pleasures? Are they not properly called “furlough” pleasures? They all have a terminal date. Sooner or later they will come to an end. The awareness of this fleetingness of the most exquisite of our pleasures diminishes the pleasure itself very greatly. The anticipation of the termination spoils the present enjoyment. Perhaps, in an ultimate sense, we are incapable of complete happiness unless we are relieved of the apprehension that the present phase of that happiness will be lost or diminished.

On the other hand, how wonderfully the knowledge that these pleasures will continue contributes to the present enjoyment of them. Just as truly as the realization that a present pleasure is coming to an end tends to spoil the pleasure even now, so the realization that a present pleasure is never coming to an end tends to augment the pleasure even now. When I realize that some joy will never come to an end, that realization in itself is a joy and accentuates the original joy, just as thinking that a present joy will come to an end is a disturbance and that disturbance detracts from the present joy itself.

Christian joy, fellowship in the Holy Ghost, is the only kind of pleasure, with which we are familiar in this world, which is pure, unalloyed, and augmented pleasure, because it is a grace in which we stand rooted, immovable. This is what our Lord had in mind when He said that He came that you may have life and have it abundantly. This is what the Apostle was speaking of when he called Christians conquerors and more than conquerors through Christ Jesus. This is the blessedness of those who have and to whom it shall be given which contrasts so sharply with the misery of those who have not and from whom shall be taken even that which they have.

III. Third Indication of Justification: Hope

The third fruit of justification which the Apostle mentions here is rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. The preceding joy of fellowship with God was augmented, as we have said, by its promise. In a certain sense, that present joyful fellowship was partly from anticipation of its continuance. This matter of the future of Christian experience comes into focus when the Apostle says, “We . . . rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Here he is taking a full view of the future and telling us that the true Christian rejoices in the anticipation of it. Indeed the word “rejoices” is not quite what Paul actually said. His term would be more adequately translated as “rejoiced triumphantly.” This is not only a note of happiness but of exuberant happiness. There is a certain confidence as well as a delightful anticipation. These are more than great expectations; these are great certainties for the Christian. After all, Jesus Christ gave himself that we may have life eternal. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is the point of emphasis in the gospel. Not this world but the other world is the center of interest in the message of the evangel. Secularism has so permeated Christian thinking in our time that it has foreshortened the gospel picture. Even many Christians are more absorbed in this world than the other. However, Christianity and true Christian experience live under the aspect of eternity, and the Bible ends with these words, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” The Lord’s return is ever “our blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). However glorious the experience of peace may be, however unspeakable the felicity of the Holy Ghost may be, even these blessed experiences are as nothing in comparison with what lies before. The famous evangelist, Moody, used to say, “Some day you will read in the obituaries that D. L. Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I will have just begun to live.” That is no exaggeration. As some other person has said, “The most wonderful five minutes in a Christian’s life are the first five minutes after death.” Jonathan Edwards, in an unpublished manuscript, said something like this: The blessedness of Heaven is so glorious that when the saints arrive there they will look back upon their earthly pilgrimage, however wonderful their life in Christ was then, as a veritable Hell. Just as truly, on the other hand, will those who perish in Hell look back on the life in this world, however miserable it may have been, as veritable Heaven [the Christian answer to those who think that Hell is here and now].

How do we know that we know Christ? If we have the above experiences growing out of a sound evangelical belief in the gospel, we know Christ and we know that we know Christ.


Dr. John H. Gerstner was born in Tampa, Florida, and raised in Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Dr. Gerstner pastored several churches before accepting a professorship at Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, where he taught church history for over 30 years. He served as a visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and adjunct professor at Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Dr. Gerstner was also professor-at-large for Ligonier Ministries for many years, and recorded numerous lectures on audio and video for that organization.

Dr. Gerstner was a stalwart champion of the cause of reformed theology and, in particular, the teachings of Jonathan Edwards. This article is taken from his book, Theology for Everyman.

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