Today I would like to make 3 statements about a subject that is always relevant to Christians: assurance of salvation. This is an area of great confusion for many believers and an area that can lead to great discouragement. I am going to make 3 statements about assurance and then, Lord willing, follow up tomorrow with a word about the true basis for assurance.
John MacArthur calls assurance of salvation “the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ.” This assurance is not only possible but should be the normal experience for any believer in Christ. Romans 8:16 teaches that assurance of salvation is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God...” Hear what Matthew Henry says about this verse: “Those that are sanctified have God's Spirit witnessing with their spirits, which is to be understood not of any immediate extraordinary revelation, but an ordinary work of the Spirit, in and by the means of comfort, speaking peace to the soul. This testimony is always agreeable to the written word, and is therefore always grounded upon sanctification; for the Spirit in the heart cannot contradict the Spirit in the word.” 2 Peter 1:10 goes so far as to command us to pursue this assurance. "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall."
Yet even more clear than these verses is 1 John 5:13. As John wraps up this epistle he reveals his purpose in writing it. "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." God has seen fit to provide us an entire book in the Bible that will teach us to know that we have eternal life. Surely, then, we can agree that God intends that we have assurance that we are his children.
Having seen that it is both possible and normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation, we now turn to a second point which seems very nearly contradictory:
A foreshadowing of one of the most terrifying scenes the world will ever experience unfolds in Matthew 7, in a section often titled "I Never Knew You." "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" When the final judgment comes, there will be many who will be shocked to learn that they are not true believers. They will go to the grave confident that they are saved, but come to the judgment and find that they are to be cast out of Jesus' presence. This ought to be sobering for all who consider themselves Christians. No wonder that Paul sought confidence in his salvation, declaring 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."
It is educational, of course, to look at the grounds for assurance of those who only think they are true believers. We may look at this in more detail tomorrow, but for now notice the short phrase, "Did we not..." There is much we can learn from those few short words. Those who have false assurance have placed their hope in themselves and in their own efforts. They appeal to their own work rather than Christ's.
We'll now turn to our third affirmation, which should provide great comfort to those who struggle in this area.
There is nothing unusual about occasionally doubting your salvation. The only thing unusual about doubt would be to experience it and not deal with it. It would be unusual not to wrestle with it until it has been quelled by the power of the Spirit. A survey of great believers of our day and of days past would prove that it is common to deal with some level of doubt. This is usually not a consuming doubt that drives a person to constant depression and despair, but a more occasional doubt that can be overcome by the ministry of the Spirit.
Donald Whitney has listed several important things to understand about this type of doubt; each of them is worth considering.
We see, then, that there are many reasons that Christians may doubt their assurance of salvation. Some of these are internal factors and some are external. Some of them may, in fact, be given by God Himself to test and sharpen us. But through it all the believer can have confidence that some doubt is common to the Christian life. While doubt is a problem caused by living in a sinful world, it is not sinful to struggle with it.