The Basis of the Christian's Assurance
Yesterday I offered 3 statements on assurance of salvation. Today I’d like to follow that up with a brief word on the right basis for assurance of salvation. After that, I will offer a few book recommendations for those who struggle with this issue.
It is a sad but undeniable fact that many people who think they are Christians are not. At the final judgment many will approach Jesus convinced that they are saved only to be told that Jesus never knew them (and hence that they never knew him). The fact is that many people ultimately depend upon themselves for assurance of their salvation. This applies to believers and unbelievers. A person may be truly saved yet look to himself for assurance of this salvation. This is dangerous ground to tread; when a person experiences a time of doubt his misplaced assurance can drive him to despair. When our assurance rests on something we have done, a promise we have made or a prayer we have prayed, we have placed our assurance on shaky ground.
Let’s turn to the Bible to discover the true basis for our assurance.
Assurance Rests on God’s Character
In the last article I quoted the words of the Apostle Paul as we find them in 2 Timothy 1:12 “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” What was the basis of Paul’s assurance? He rested in the character of God. He knew whom he had believed and trusted that God was good and would preserve him. He trusted in the goodness of God and in God’s desire to save his people. He rested in the words of Jesus that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He knew that Jesus will never reject anyone who comes to truly comes to him, who rests in him for salvation.
Assurance Rests on God’s Promises
If our assurance of salvation rests on God’s good character, then we can also trust in his good promises. Here are a few of the promises of God regarding salvation.
- “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31).
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25)
- “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
- “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).
God’s promises are sure and true. If God assures us that he accepts us, who are we to argue? Who are we to doubt? If the Bible is trustworthy in telling us how we can be saved it must also be trustworthy in how we can have confidence in that salvation. If we will not trust the Bible, who or what can we trust?
Assurance Rests on Christ’s Completed Work
We can build our assurance on the fact that Jesus Christ died having accomplished all that was necessary to reconcile us to God. His work was a work of completion. The question we face as believers is, “Do we believe this?” Do we believe that Jesus actually accomplished his mission? In his first letter to Timothy Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” Did Jesus accomplish what he came to do or did he merely allow the possibility of that work being accomplished?
When we understand that Christ’s work is a work of completion, we find great comfort. It is not a work that remains to be done, but a work that has been done, that has been accomplished, and that has been accepted by the Father.
And so we see that the basis of our salvation is God himself. We can have great confidence that God wishes for us to have assurance and that he is ready, willing and able to provide it to us. How, then, can I have this assurance? How can I have confidence that I am truly a Christian?
Marks of Salvation
To begin answering this I will once more turn to Donald Whitney, whose work on this subject has done much to shape my understanding of assurance. I will provide an outline of the marks of salvation that he provides. He begins with a discussion of the inner confirmation from the Spirit, showing that the Holy Spirit ministers to us through the Word of God to open our hearts and minds to the Bible in ways that give us assurance. He then teaches that assurance may be experienced partly through the attitudes and actions the Bible says will accompany salvation. Here are several questions which can guide us as we seek assurance:
- Do you share the intimacies of the Christian life with other believers?
- Do you have a deep awareness of your sin against the Word and love of God?
- Do you live in conscious obedience to the Word of God?
- Do you despise the world and its ways?
- Do you long for the return of Jesus Christ and to be made like Him?
- Do you habitually do what is right more and sin less?
- Do you love Christians sacrificially and want to be with them?
- Do you discern the presence of the Holy Spirit within you?
- Do you enjoy listening to the doctrines of the apostles taught today?
- Do you believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ?
These biblical principals, taken as a whole, can do much to assure the believer that God is working in his life, or to show the unbeliever that he needs to be made right with God.
There is a great deal more we could discuss about this topic, but I am going to close this article nonetheless. I trust, though, that you understand that assurance of salvation is the privilege of the Christian and that we are blessed to be able to seek after it. I trust that you have come to see that our assurance of salvation must not rest in our sincerity or in anything we have done. Rather, our assurance rests entirely in the character of God, the promises of God and the completed work of Jesus Christ. We can have assurance and I pray that both you and I will find and experience it to God’s glory.
Here are just a few useful books on the topic: