Assurance of Salvation
In nature man is unaware of his fallen, sinful state in the sight of a Holy God, but when one is born again he sees his sin and his need for the Savior. Some display their fallenness by denying the very existence of God while others, like the Pharisee, claim to be worthy on the basis of their self-righteousness. But what a contrast when the Spirit of God has broken the proud heart and one is made to cry, as did the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” This great sense of need is expressed by the hymn-writer.
Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
The Good News
Now the concern is, “How can I know there is hope for me?” The question is no longer, “How could a loving God punish me for my sin?” but “How can a Holy God have mercy on me?” The gospel is good news to this burdened soul. What joy it is to hear that Jesus Christ came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance, that through His substitutionary death the guilty are forgiven, the condemned are set free. Now this soul sings:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee,
Let the water and the blood
From Thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
As the burdened sinner embraces Christ by faith, there is evidence of his salvation.
Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica he said, “Knowing brethren beloved, your election of God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4). How did he know that? It was not because of their natural lineage or because of some great work they had done.
The apostle based his conclusion on the fact that, when he preached the gospel to them, they received it in power and assurance, became followers of the Lord, and turned from idols to serve the living and true God. All of this was evidence that they were of the elect of God.
We cannot base our assurance on lineage, nationality, or even church membership. We must not build it (or tare it down) by comparisons with others, either. Every child of God is unique. We each have individual experiences, sorrows, joys, temptations, weaknesses, strengths — therefore, it should not surprise us that God calls each of us to individual ministries and strengthens us for our particular set of challenges; nor should it surprise us that we may struggle all our life with a sin to which others seem to be almost immune.
Therefore, God alone must be our hope. It is comforting to know that God “knows our frame” and deals with each of us as an individual, not just as one of many people He must care for.
Assurance Can Be Found
On the other hand, there are some experiences, some affections, some desires that the Bible tells us are common to all God’s people. By these clear markings we can find our way and know that we are, after all, one of His beloved children.
For instance, Romans 8:14-16 informs us that “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” and that the Spirit leads us to commune with God as our “Abba”, our Father. In John 8:47, Jesus also tells us “he that is of God heareth God’s words.” Similarly, Jesus teaches “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine…my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:14, 27). Paul told the church at Corinth: “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
As the book of Acts reminds us, this rejoicing in the preaching of Christ crucified, when we are blessed to experience it, often happens in the midst of great adversity and opposition. We were touched recently to receive the following email from Paragon Communications:
I just received a telephone call from the station manager of ____. He wanted you to know that you have quite a Muslim following in the ____ area. He said he receives calls from the Muslims expressing how they enjoy your preaching. In fact, he received a telephone call this morning from a Muslim lady who called to say how much she appreciates your program and wished she could order your tapes. Unfortunately, her husband is the reason she cannot place an order. They said this woman has a long road ahead of her and they wanted us to relay to you just how much your program is a blessing to many in the Muslim community.
What a blessing it is to know that God is able to provide the strength and help that each of His children needs, no matter how difficult the situation or how trying the circumstance.
Although the believer may display great evidence of grace, he sometimes struggles to find assurance in his own heart.
In fact there are those who feel that to claim assurance would be presumptuous. But notice that the apostle John’s statements, in his first epistle, are purposefully comprehensive (e.g. any man, whosoever, whatsoever, every man, every spirit, everyone). John gives us this guidance, without exceptions, so that we might have a sure consolation. John tells us that he is writing “that your joy may be full” and “that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (1:4; 5:13).
Here he declares the same truth taught by Jesus as recorded in his gospel, “whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (5:1). John wants the person who believes in Jesus as the Anointed One, the Savior of sinners, to have assurance. The fact is that all who believe are justified. “By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). There is great comfort for the believer in knowing that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him.
Further evidence is seen by one’s willingness to receive the apostolic witness. In chapter four of his first epistle, John warns about false prophets who deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, but he gives assurance that the believer has been enabled to overcome the world and the spirit of antichrist because “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (4).
He then says that the world will hear the false prophets, but at the same time provides evidence for God’s people. “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (4:6).
How is it we hear the apostles today? It is in the inspired Word they have written.
So if we hear them, receive their message concerning Jesus Christ, we have evidence that we are of God. In contrast, the false prophets are of the world and the world hears them.
We are further informed that obedience is an evidence of grace. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (2:3). Keeping the commandments is not the cause of salvation but an evidence of it. Certainly there are times when the child of God wanders, he is intrigued by the world, he neglects the commandments. It is during those times that doubts arise and assurance may be lost (2 Peter 1:9). Of course no one ever keeps the commandments to perfection. That issue is dealt with clearly in 1 John 1:8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But the comfort given is not in a path of disobedience but in keeping Christ’s commandments.
Another theme that permeates John’s writings is love. This love is not a mere human affection, but has divine motivation. This love, first and foremost, is from God and for God — “we love Him, because He first loved us” (4:19). The love that we have for God then emanates into an interpersonal love for each other: “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (3:14). Again he says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (3:18-19). Love is a fruit of the Spirit.
This love is not just human affection but the love that is of God (4:7). The love of God is antithetical to the love of the world: “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2:15). This love will move us to provide help for one with material needs (3:17), it will restrain us from hating a brother (4:20), and it may even lead one to die for his brother (3:16). This is not a love that is motivated by selfish personal interests, but is a love of self-denial, a love that seeks the good of another (4:11) and evidences itself in joyful obedience to God (2:5; 5:2,3).
What Assurance Is Not
Remarkably, many of the sources that we frequently look to for assurance are not the ones that the Bible gives. Rather, we often see a lack of affliction, or abundant prosperity, as signs of God’s favor in our lives. Or we feel that we cannot be His children if we are continually faltering and failing in our obedience to Him.
Meanwhile, the Bible lays out repeatedly and clearly that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6); and in Revelation, Jesus declares “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19).
This reveals two things to us: first, God’s children will falter and fail (otherwise, they would not need His chastening); secondly, chastening is not a sign of God’s hatred, but rather of His love.
As John writes extensively on the evidence of salvation in an effort to provide assurance, he is not suggesting that we should become focused on evidences, rather than on Christ Himself — obsession with “fruit inspection” can become little more than self-serving, or self-exalting, idolatry. John begins his epistle with that marvelous declaration of who Jesus Christ is, the Word of life. He provides an eyewitness account. He says we have heard, we have seen, we have looked, and our hands have handled this very Word, which was made flesh and dwelt among us.
John heard Him speak, he observed His miracles, he saw Him transfigured, he laid His head on Jesus’ breast at the last supper, He saw Him nailed to the cross, and he saw Him after the resurrection. He presents the message of Jesus Christ as one who knew Him personally.
What hope do we have in this fallen, troubled world? It is not in a system of religion or a set of rules, but in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He is not one of many ways: He is the way. It is in Jesus Christ and Him alone that we have salvation.
As one who believes on Jesus Christ, we are assured we have everlasting life. As one who keeps His commandments and overcomes the world, we have evidence we are His. As one who loves the brethren for Christ’s sake and desires to help them we can see evidence of His love in us.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.