Salvation Thermometer?

I don’t want to open a debate about judging whether or not someone else is saved – I fully understand that only God can know where any individual stands.  However, pastorally, I know it is important that we don’t invest our energies in assuring someone of their salvation if they are not saved.  This happens all too often!

Several verses come to mind.  Have they believed in the Lord Jesus?  (Acts 16:31)  Have they confessed Jesus as Lord? (Rom.10:9)  Have they confessed their sins?  (1John 1:9)  Have they repented?  (Acts 2:38)  There are others that could be added, and issues that could be raised.  But I want to bring our attention to a verse that seldom, if ever, gets mentioned in this kind of situation.  Yet it seems to be a verse of inestimable value as we seek to care spiritually for those around us.

In the closing remarks of 1st Corinthians, Paul states that “if anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.  Our Lord, come!” (16:22)  Wow, what a statement!  It is easy to focus on the uncomfortable term “accursed” and thereby miss the first half of the statement.  It is about whether they love the Lord or not.  Pastorally, this is remarkably helpful.

I remember a young lady we knew some years ago.  She had “prayed the prayer,” confessed, believed, knew all the right answers.  But something was missing.  We noted that there was no sense of delight in the Lord, no hint of any love for Him.  While some insisted that she was the strongest Christian in the group, we remained concerned for her salvation.  Sadly the spiritual story is not positive in the years since then, which only seems to confirm our concerns.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is highly practical.  He wrote to address issues in the church that he had been asked about or that he had heard about.  But this letter is no pragmatic set of theology-lite suggestions.  As with all the epistles, it is a thoroughly theological application of the gospel to the specific situations of the recipients.  What is telling to me is to trace the theological emphasis on the themes of love and grace throughout the letter.  The grace of God is unashamedly emphasized at the beginning of the letter, at the end, and frequently throughout.  In the concluding statements he seeks to review key themes, and stir emotional response in the listeners.

In respect to those last four verses, I like how Thiselton states it (p1531 in the  NIGTC):

“Thus Paul’s handwritten afterword to his beloved Corinthians is the love command in a covenantal setting which gives blessings for those who follow and curses for those who do not. Paul has repreached the kerygma of the cross and the content of the gospel through the array of pastoral, ethical, and theological issues that bubble away at Corinth: “Come on, he concludes; are you ‘in’ or ‘out’?”

Our task is not to judge the salvation of others, but it is to care for souls, and it seems that the thermometer offered by 1Cor.16:22 can be most helpful!

13 Responses to Salvation Thermometer?

  1. Esther Dexter October 12, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    Thanks so much for drawing attention to this verse which is another helpful one to remember and a very important one to consider in working with people. There needs to be a response of love in relationship with Christ. An aspect of loving Christ is obedience to Him. (John 14:21, 23; 15:10 etc) I heard recently of a young Japanese child who was 4 when she made the decision to trust Jesus. This isn’t a very common occurrence here because often the parents themselves can’t see how it can take place. This little girl was very head strong and rebellious and one day her mother was in tears about her behaviour. She asked her mother why she was crying so her mother told her. Then she asked, “What can I do about it?” The mother took her to Jesus and she prayed for forgiveness. Apparently she changed overnight and three years later there is evidence of the work of God in her life as in her way she obeys the word of God as she looks out for and cares for younger children etc, an unnatural response for her. Sorry if this is off track, but it was a joy to hear her grandfather tell the experience and for them to see the evidence of a young child being changed by the life of Christ. and the work of the Holy Spirit. Her prayers are very conversational as though she is talking to a friend – wonderful!

  2. Bobby Grow October 15, 2010 at 1:23 am #


    Do you think there can be an equivalency made between “checking” to see if someone “loves” and “checking” to see if someone has “good works” in regards to a “thermometer.” The Puritans had their “practical syllogism,” and experimental predestinarianism to “check.” How would you avoid a slippery slope on this in re. to “Affective Theology” providing something of the same kind of thing? Or how would you determine if someone has “enough” love or the “right kind” of love; would it be by looking at what they do, at their good works?

    This is an area that has increasingly been concerning me in re. to “Affective Theology.” Unless we’re careful we can offer the same kind of spirituality that the “Puritans” offered; but instead of emphasizing God as a Law-giver we will emphasize Him as a Love-maker albeit with only an equivocal difference (which could amount to no difference at all).

    Any thoughts on this? I’m genuinely concerned about the line of thinking you’ve presented here within the context of Affective Theology. Ron’s thoughts would be instructive on this, as well.

    Thanks guys :-).

  3. Peter Mead October 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Bobby, thanks for the comment. I know what you mean and I would be inclined to agree with the danger of ending up in a functionally equivalent position. Perhaps it is fair to suggest that while the thermometer cannot be used positively, it can be a helpful indicator negatively. That is, I cannot judge if someone is saved or not based on their manifestation of love responding to God (not least because there is so much variation in expression between temperaments, cultures, etc.). However, when there are indications of a lack of love, then I have to take this verse seriously and pastorally I need to be dealing with the person as one in need of salvation, rather than as one in need of assurance. I suppose the matter of offering assurance is worthy of another post sometime too.

    For example, I recently spoke with two different men. Man 1 seemed to be delighting in God’s love, enjoying God’s Word, responding to God. I say seemed to be because I am not in a position to run a ruler over his faith to see if it measures up in some respect, either to the Law (as in the practical syllogism you refer to), or to the Love of God (as in some affective equivalent).

    Man 2 freely stated that he had confessed Jesus as Lord, was obeying him, etc. (i.e. he passes the “law” test, if there were such a thing). But he also freely offered the fact that he has no sense of any love for God, or even love from God. He knows with his head the fact of God’s love as demonstrated at Calvary, but he has no sense of genuine personal relationship with God, other than the routine of his good “christian” life. He says the right things to get a check on the other references, but the indications in respect to 1Cor 16:22 are troubling. So I would pursue man 2 with the gospel, rather than with affirmations of assurance based on his “repentance” and “confession” already in place.

    I don’t know if this satisfies or deals with the important issue you raise. I would like to hear Ron’s thoughts at some point, too.

  4. Bobby Grow October 17, 2010 at 6:35 pm #


    This is something I’ll need to continue to ponder. I don’t think, though, even pastorally that “we” are in the place to say if this person is in or out (to be crude). I’m not sure, really, what it means to say that they have the “love” and they “don’t have it.” Is it just a sense we get when talking with them, is it by their lifestyles, is it by their “good works” that we make such judgements? This line concerns me . . .

  5. Peter Mead October 18, 2010 at 4:04 am #

    Thanks Bobby – I agree that it is a complicated issue. It is so easy to slip back into a judging based on good works, even though Jesus was most condemning with the religious of his day. This is a good subject for us to ponder, but my point is pastoral. We must keep 1Cor.16:22 in the mix, even as we try to figure out how to evaluate it, because otherwise we may be failing to care for the souls of those in our sphere of influence. I’ve seen too many people being assured of their salvation and reinforced in their religiosity when there are red flags flying in light of 1Cor.16:22. Some would say that all ministry should be “gospel” – even for believers, and I tend to agree, but nonetheless it is something to ponder more. Assurance can be the topic for another post, but this matter of loving Christ is critical. However we define it, or evaluate it, we must be pursuing it as our pastoral goal for those around us. If it is actually immeasurable and indeterminable, then we have a challenge!

  6. Bobby Grow October 18, 2010 at 6:12 am #


    I agree with you on the need to reflect on this further. My belief is that we have to take someone at their “profession.” If they profess Christ then that’s all we have, if they are living lives that contradict that profession; then that’s where “Church discipline” comes in, we follow those steps, and entrust them into the Lord’s hands. Other than that, objectively, I agree with you and Paul on I Cor. 16.22; but only insofar as that goes, that is in an “objective” reality. Paul doesn’t anathematize anyone (even the guy in I Cor. 5), but “ultimately” if someone does not have the love of Christ (which the Lord alone knows cf. I Cor. 4:1-5) let him be “anathema,” indeed.

  7. Ron Frost October 19, 2010 at 6:17 am #

    This was a nice (even lively) exchange that I missed while I was in China this past week (the Great Wall was impressive, as promised to me!).

    I’m puzzling a bit, Bobby, over your reflection that I’ll cite from above: “This is an area that has increasingly been concerning me in re. to ‘Affective Theology.’ Unless we’re careful we can offer the same kind of spirituality that the Puritans offered; but instead of emphasizing God as a Law-giver we will emphasize Him as a Love-maker albeit with only an equivocal difference (which could amount to no difference at all).”

    The question, to my mind, isn’t so much a matter of one theological construct versus another (e.g. “affective theology” versus “classical theism”) but a determination to listen to God’s heart in the Scriptures while asking him to correct us as needed, while maintaining the humility to listen to how others are reading the Scriptures too. And what I find is that love is the touchstone of true faith in this respect: “God is love” in his Triune bond of communion, and that love is poured out in our hearts as the signal presence of the Spirit (his “fruit” in us).

    That said, what I hear Peter saying is that we must take that touchstone seriously because we’re told to by Paul, and because the apostle said as much in 1 John 4 too. They both reflected the statements of Jesus in John 13:35 (“by this all men will know that you’re my disciples, that you love each other”); and in the language of “abide in me . . . in my love” in John 15.

    So I do believe that, pastorally, we need to ask people very bluntly: what do you love, or better, who do you love? It’s the deepest question of all questions. But we, in turn, aren’t called on to answer that question for others (a caveat Peter included). This is very different to the Puritan use of the “practical syllogism” in that they were using a rationalizing/cognitive test for the sake of finding assurance in their good works.

    I much prefer Calvin’s view of faith: that faith IS our assurance of God’s loving benevolence to us, revealed to our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit who uses God’s unconditional promises to communicate that love.

    So the anthropology and the theology are very different in the two models we’ve noted in this round of exchanges.

    Thanks, Bobby, for stirring the pot for us!

  8. Bobby Grow October 22, 2010 at 5:46 am #


    I was hoping you wouldn’t see this one ;-) . In my reading (and maybe “over-reading”) of Peter, the since I picked up on was one that has been causing me some pause even prior to Peter’s post here — the language of “thermometer” rings of “measurement” (even performance) in my theologically tinnitus sensitive ears (although it may be just my aversion to medical devices in general that turned my head a little ;-).

    I absolutely agree, that we need to ask people where their allegiance lies; in fact I think that is our job as brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. Heb. 11.24; Gal. 2.16; etc.). But it seemed like Peter was saying more than that, it is this sentiment:

    I remember a young lady we knew some years ago. She had “prayed the prayer,” confessed, believed, knew all the right answers. But something was missing. We noted that there was no sense of delight in the Lord, no hint of any love for Him. While some insisted that she was the strongest Christian in the group, we remained concerned for her salvation. Sadly the spiritual story is not positive in the years since then, which only seems to confirm our concerns.

    I understand the idea that we aren’t able to “sense” delight in particular people who profess Christ, but I don’t think that this, as corollary, necessitates any further conclusions. In other words, my only real point, is that this really seems a very subjective approach (which of course we’re subjects so this should be there, subjectivity); what if a person, in the same kind of scenario that Peter mentions, has a particular disposition that never exemplifies “delight” (at least not in the terms that we would expect)? Basically, it seems a hard call to make if or if not someone loves the Lord simply by listening to intonation or watching body language as indicative of whether or not said person actually does love Jesus (esp. if that person says they do).

    If we ask someone if they love Jesus or not, and they say they don’t, then I think we should feel rather persuaded that we need to relate to them, through the Gospel, in a certain way (like call for repentance and salvation). But, to me, the waters get muddier if a person — like in Peter’s scenario — professes Christ (yet for whatever reason doesn’t “seem” to have a delight in Jesus [whatever that means]). In Peter’s case, apparently, it turns out that this lady truly doesn’t have a sensitivity to the Lord; but again, this example may not hold true for all cases.

    Having said all of this, I think a “positive theology,” which I recognize that Affective Theology is about (which is one of the reasons I appreciate it), engages in an approach that presupposes that a love of Christ is indeed what it means to be a Christian. Of course, my caveat, is that how that looks and is expressed is certainly on a continuum with various nuances and personalities involved.

    I hope you’ll still coffee with me, Ron :-)! [you too Peter]



    PS. I’m still “Affective,” just trying to be a rascal in Christian love of course :-).

  9. Ron Frost October 23, 2010 at 4:04 am #

    Of course we’re still good for that cup of coffee, Bobby, mainly because it’s your turn to treat, isn’t it?

    Seriously, though, I think I catch your point. I remember, for instance, one occasion when I was teaching and one student caught my attention for her black goth garb, dour looks, and countercultural cues. She was always quiet, which I took to be a negative. Until one day when she caught me after class: “Dr Frost, I’m so touched by what I’m learning in our class. I’m a new believer and I’m anxious to share all this with my parents but just don’t know how; can you help me?” I had absolutely misread her in yet another episode of “you can’t tell a book by its cover.”

    Yet I think Peter is addressing something important that I wouldn’t want us to miss: that Christians today are improperly shy in reading another person’s heart and then asking, “Where’s your heart in this?” Instead we too often treat assertions of faith by a person as virtual certainties, disregarding a central thrust of Christ’s affective teaching that you can tell a tree by its fruits.

    As you know, this isn’t a small issue. As Christ cited the OT prophet in his charge that “these people draw near me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” he shows this to be a perpetual problem. In John 8:30ff (a passage I regularly revisit) Jesus quickly exposed a group of professing believers as those who were “of your father, the devil” because they didn’t respond to (“abide in”) Christ’s teachings. Jesus set up a predictor, then, that linked a love for his words with a love for God, “if God were your Father, you would love me”. Love is God’s main DNA (e.g. my reference to John 13:35 in the earlier comment).

    Where I agree with you (assuming this is your main concern) is that it’s clear in Christ’s teachings that even when there is absolutely NO fruit apparent in a person’s life (indicating a likely weed among the wheat and weeds in a given spiritual field), it’s never our job to try to do the separating: we’d sometimes get it wrong; and even if we were mostly right, the efforts of culling would certainly damage the church. A day is coming.

    So my question is this: how do we navigate these truths? Do we ignore a person’s persistant disinterest in growing spiritually, but then make them into deacons or deaconesses when it gets to be “their turn”? That’s been the bane of too many churches I’m afraid. It’s a matter where I see a dramatic distance between the spiritual ethos I find in my Bible read-throughs and what I experience in today’s churches of every stripe.

    I’d love to hear some other voices in this conversation: Bobby doesn’t need to stir this important pot all by himself. And I’m honestly curious to hear if others feel the weight in this that we do. In the meantime, Bobby, you and I need to head over to Tully’s and have that coffee!

  10. Bobby Grow October 23, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Like a good Bible teacher would do, responding in inclusio (i.e. coffee at Tullys) . . . are you saying that my love of Christ is demonstrated by whether or not I buy you a cup of coffee (I knew this reeked of some sort of precisianism ;-) )?

    Seriously, I see what both you and Peter are after, and there is no doubt in my mind that there are too many times when folks in the church really disqualify themselves from serving in the church (in particular roles — I realize this was just an example) by attitudes that look more like our friends the Pharisees than that of the Disciples. I agree, we need to be discerning, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and making sure that we are challenging others unto love and good works, and that we are willing to be challenged (expectantly so) in kind.

    To not have a fervency for Christ, and be a follower of Christ, baffles me. In fact I feel a holy zeal for the church (well sometimes I think it’s holy ;-) ). I want to see God’s people built up, edified, and warmed over with the love of Christ shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 5.5)!

    I am prone to run from anything that I sense could relay or emphasize “performance,” I saw something in Peter’s points that made my attenna rise; but I can admit that I over-read and reacted a bit here. Nevertheless, I think we should be cautious, as you Ron just affirmed, with avoiding “performance” based “tests,” and at the same time holding each other to a level that is above reproach — which I realize that this is really all that Peter was calling for.

    This was a great post, and a good challenge — thanks, both Ron and Peter!

    You know I don’t even drink coffee, it’s always green tea for me (it has great cancer fighting qualities ;-) ). I’ll be in touch, Ron . . .

  11. Ron Frost October 24, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    Then tea it is! See you soon, Bobby.

  12. Gretchen October 24, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    I don’t have the benefit of the theological training of many of you who seem to comment here. Nevertheless, I’m venturing to offer a few thoughts, as this is a subject which is in the forefront of mind at the moment. Clearly, as Ron pointed out, we are not the ones who are to separate the wheat from the tares. However, I do believe the Bible gives us some direction for discerning those who are truly followers of Christ versus those who are “whitewashed tombs,” and much of that direction concerns how we love. Do we love God, love our enemies, love our brothers? The Bible says that no good tree bears bad fruit, and that the fruit we are to bear (and, in fact, what we will be known by) is love. God’s love for us is incomprehensible to those who don’t know Him, and when we encounter His love, it radically changes us and allows us to love others in a way that isn’t otherwise seen in the world around us. His love in us is what is shines forth—not because of us, but because Christ, though us, “spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” I really appreciated Ron’s recent blog on his Spreading Goodness site, and I’m copying over a section of that here because I think it illustrates the point:

    “In Trinitarian terms, we were made to be the Bride of Christ: to be his immediate and beloved companions for all eternity. So the measure of our goodness comes in our relationship to him. As we taste the goodness of his love for us we’re rewarded with joy and peace. When he tastes the goodness of our love for him, he’s rewarded with delight as we reciprocate what he initiates.

    What, then, is corruption by this measure? Our humanity begins to decay whenever our love is misdirected, and self-love is the ultimate nemesis of our souls. Self-love—whether expressed in a love of personal security, of wealth, of status, of sensual pleasure, or in simple lethargy—always makes us distasteful to God and to others. We are no longer true “persons” in the sense of having a place of honor with others as God meant us to experience, but instead we become soulless manipulators who are, in fact, being degraded by an ultimate power of decay—by God’s adversary, the ultimate Liar.

    Nobility, on the other hand, grows as life breeds more life. Like an unripe fruit that becomes properly ripe, a mature person is one who gives himself to others to feed them with the goodness of his own life.”

    God’s love, in us, becomes “a spreading goodness.” So, while it’s true that we are not to judge others in the sense of deciding whether or not they are saved or in some manner condemning them, we certainly have a framework for discerning whether we ought to continue to share the hope of salvation with a person who claims the name of Christ but lacks love—for God and for others. And, I believe, it would be wise to look closely at such a person if considering a marriage, a business partnership, a position of leadership in a church or ministry, etc.

  13. DUANE WATTS October 24, 2010 at 6:52 am #

    Hi Peter, Bobby and Ron!

    Ah Bobby, you’re a Roly Poly ;O)

    I still have a big problem with the argument, maybe. But why is scripture almost always interpretted to the worst case scenario? My liberal Lutheran friend over at our social network site said that her church is “not as Hell happy as some others”. I’m afraid she’s right to a degree. I argued her error, against her, now I will to a degree take her side
    Ron, you wrote “Jesus quickly exposed a group of professing believers as those who were “of your father, the devil” because they didn’t respond to (“abide in”) Christ’s teachings.”
    Jesus also said to Peter “get behind me Satan”. Was Peter of his father the devil? I doubt it. It may have been hyperbole that Jesus used to awaken those to whom He spoke. I suppose that many of them had never trusted God, and so rejected Jesus. I imagine that some others were corrupted by bad company. There are so many places in scripture, where the believer addressed is warned not to continue or they will suffer great loss. In Corinthians 13 (1st or 2nd?) Paul warns that the person who builds on ‘this foundation’ only corruptible things will suffer loss, yet he himself will escape, yet so as one escaping through the flames. I imagine anyone exhibiting the Love of Christ will bear much fruit, if only happenstantially, but this one bears no fruit.

    So, actually, not to deny your point, I would wonder in the back of my mind the truth of their faith, but having gotten their word, I would begin with re-re-expressing the Love of our Lord and what He it cost Him, and what is available, in terms of love, and meaning and a mission and fulfillment in this life, in knowing Him intimately, and connecting with the whole family of God and a sense of belonging. This is you guy’s strength! This is your forte’! Don’t backslide!
    I’ll tell you truly, that this prodigal son walked away angrily for 3 or 4 years because I did not get my way. Because I was not a true Christian? I don’t think so, my foundational faith today is as useless today as it was when I 1st believed. If it was rotten then, it is the same today. But, what I had in trust for my salvation, I lacked in discipleship.

    And, by the way, there are many levels of maturity, levels of committment, and gifts, so to say that one is fit to be an elder, based on whether he confesses Christ, is comparable to saying “he can do brain surgery, he’s an MD”.
    I love you guys!

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