Assurance of Salvation
II Peter 1:10
rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if
ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”
Some folks say that you cannot be assured of your salvation. You can never know whether you are saved or not. They say it is presumption to think that you can be spiritually secure. That is a scary thought. You must always be working for a salvation that you can never be sure that you have obtained.
All this goes back to what you believe about election. If you believe that election or salvation is a joint effort by people and God, and that salvation is maintained through the doing of good works, you conclude that the believer can never be absolutely sure of salvation, because believers can never know when they have done enough. Not only that, even the best of believers foul things up sometimes, and if we are trying to work out our own salvation, where does that leave us? When you have people involved in salvation, there can be no security because human beings mess things up.
But salvation is not a joint effort between human beings and God. Salvation is entirely the work of God, and God cannot fail to save his people.
But that leads us to another question. It is a question that has caused a great deal of anxiety to many people. How do I know right now that I am one of God’s people? How do I know that God accepts me? How do I know that I am bound for heaven and not going the other direction? You can see how that is a question that might bother a lot of people.
You might say, “I made a profession of faith in Christ. Does not that mean that I am a Christian?” Maybe. Certainly a Christian will make a profession of faith, will say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” However, we all know people that have come into church with big talk about Jesus, and a few years later they have departed from the church altogether and are living as if there is no God and no tomorrow. What happened to their profession of faith? It was just talk.
After the London Crusade, Billy Graham’s organization went back some years later and surveyed all those who had come down during the Crusade and had signed a statement that they believed in Jesus. The survey discovered that the large majority of those folks never gave any other indication of believing in Christ. That was just something they did that night. They went down to sign the statement because others said they should or because their friends were going down, but really they never had any kind of relationship with Christ, and they pretty much admitted that some years later. It was just talk—which brings us back to our question today. How can I be assured that I have a real relationship with Christ?
If we asked medieval Christians this question, they had an immediate answer. We were talking this in Bible Study this Wednesday in our beginning study of the Reformation. A medieval Christian would say, “I was baptized as a baby in the church and having remained in the church until I die, I can be assured that I will go to purgatory, and eventually I will be prayed out of purgatory and go on to heaven.” In effect then, the church is my salvation and belonging to the church assures me that I am saved.
There is some truth there. A Christian does join the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The visible church … consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (25,2). That is a high opinion of the church. Ordinarily, people hear the proclamation of the gospel through the church, and Christians are to be found in “the house and family of God.” But having said that, unbelievers, for many reasons, may also join the church. I had a man tell me once that he joined the church because he liked to be around people. Now, It is all right to like people, but that is not a reason to join the church. So, the rule seems to be that Christians will join the church, but other people may also join the church, so church membership, in and of itself, does not guarantee that we are of the elect.
Some evangelical Christians try to make assurance of salvation an easy thing. They say to a new convert, "You admit that you're a sinner?" "Yes, I do." "You believe that Christ died for your sins?" "Yes, I do." "I'll lead you in this prayer, and you repeat after me." After the prayer, evangelical Christian says, "Now you're a Christian." New convert says, "I guess so, but I don't feel any different." "But you prayed that prayer?" "Yes." "Then you are a Christian, and you can now have the assurance of your salvation." "What's that?” new convert asks. "It's the confidence that no matter what happens from this point on, you are a Christian and will go to heaven, no matter what. No matter how you live or whether you go to church or whether you love Christ and the brethren, you can be assured that because you repeated some words in a prayer that you are forever saved.” But we are back to same thing. How does that person know he or she is really saved? If saying words saves you, you are saved by words, not by Christ not by faith. No one believes that. Repeating a prayer that someone else gives you does not make you a Christian.
But now let us go to the opposite end of the problem. Many people have an undeserved assurance of salvation. That is what our confession of faith is talking about when it speaks of “hypocrites, and other unregenerate men” who “vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish” (18,1). They think they are saved, but they are not. they think that they are going to heaven but they are not. Perhaps the writers of the Confession have in mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 7
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Those verses should cause all of us to say, “Wow, How are we saved then?” Saying the name of Jesus, doing works in the name of Jesus, does not get it. How is anyone saved? We are not saved by anything we do, not by professing the name or doing the works. God saves us.
All right, but that brings us back to our original question: How do we know when God has saved us?
The Westminster Confession says, “Such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace” (18,1). What they are saying is: In your heart of hearts, you know if you truly believe in Jesus. You know if you love Jesus. So you may “be certainly assured” that you “are in the state of grace.”
You do not have assurance about other people, because you do not know their minds and hearts. Thus, you cannot judge another person’s salvation. But we are not talking about that. We are talking about my own salvation. We can judge our own salvation because we know our minds and hearts. You know whether you love Jesus. If you love Jesus, that is a sure sign that you are of the elect.
The Confession goes on in the next paragraph to say, “This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.”
What they are saying is that our assurance is not founded upon human logic and reasoning which is always fallible. Rather it is founded upon a combination of spiritual factors. First of all, we have the promise of salvation in the Bible. Do you believe the Bible? Your faith is evidence of your salvation. Secondly, the Confession speaks of “the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made.” The graces referred to here are Christian character and Christian life. Is it your intention to live in love with all people? Again, this is “inward evidence.” No one else can judge you on this. But you know whether you are trying to be a good person and a good citizen of your community.
This is the point of 2 Peter 1:10: “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” How do we “make our calling and election sure”? By doing good things, by making an effort to develop those characteristics and traits that the bible tells us God loves. Peter goes on to say, “If ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Notice you are already saved, but the good works you do can give you an assurance of salvation.
Lastly, the confession mentions “the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.” This is almost a direct quote from Romans 8:15-16
15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Fathr!"
16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
How do you know that you are a child of God? The Holy Spirit assures your soul that you are adopted into God’s family. Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of confusion about this in the church. People argue about when the Spirit comes and when the Spirit goes. And, yes, you can have more of the spirit at one time than another. But understand this vital point. God chooses his people. God sends his Holy Spirit to his people, enabling them to believe the promises of the gospel and to love the lord Jesus. This same spirit then gives them an inner assurance that their faith is not in vain, that they are indeed God’s elect.
Now we do not want to overdo a seeking after assurance. We are not saved by an assurance of salvation. We are saved by faith, through Jesus Christ. You may be saved without an assurance of salvation.
The Westminster Confession recognizes the human difficulties involved here. Paragraph 3 says, “This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it.” You can be a true believer and have great difficulty attaining an inward assurance that you are a true believer. Some of the greatest saints I have ever known have had real problems dealing with the assurance of their beliefs. So we should not leap to judgment just because a person says that they do not have an assurance of salvation. This is something they need to work out, and we cannot work it out for them. But we can work it out in our own soul. We can receive the witness of the Spirit and have the assurance of salvation, and know that we are truly God’s saved, chosen, elected people.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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