Assurance of salvation is one of the most precious Christian doctrines, but in some ways also one of the most difficult. Why? As Sinclair Ferguson so aptly explains, because some outstanding Christians experience it only through the greatest struggles while others never fail to experience it. In this brief excerpt from his book Maturity, Ferguson explains four distinguishing characteristics of truly Christian assurance.
Some come to experience assurance only after a long struggle. That has been true of many outstanding Christians. Others have never known what it is to be without it. For some it comes through sorrows. For others it emerges through joys. It is true here as in so many other aspects of the Christian life that the same Spirit works in a variety of ways. His activity is as individual as it is sovereign, and necessarily so, because he brings us individually, one by one, to say “The Son of God… loved me and gave himself for me‘ (Gal. 2:20)—which is, surely, to express assurance in its simplest but also its highest form.
Yet this assurance of salvation, for all it is experienced individually, is typically accompanied by four distinguishing features:
1) Satisfaction with God’s way of salvation
Now the humbling of our sinful hearts before a crucified Saviour is exactly how we would want it to be. We realize that we owe everything to him, and nothing to ourselves. Now we no longer rest in ourselves and our record as a reason to be assured of our salvation. Christ now fills our horizon. He is our assurance.
2) A new sense of security in Christ stimulates a new desire to serve him
This in turn becomes a stimulus to live in obedience to him. Paul tells us that he worked harder than anybody. But the motivation to do so, and the energy in which he did, lay not in his own strength but in the grace of God given to him (1 Cor. 15:10). He learned that his security was found in Christ alone. That set him free to live and labour for him.
3) Assurance fills our hearts with love for Christ.
He is not only the foundation of assurance, but he is himself the fountain from which we daily drink. He quenches our thirst. Assurance of salvation is assurance of Jesus. He becomes everything to us.
4) Boldness to live our lives for Christ
If we know that we are Christ’s, we have nothing to fear. This is the quiet confidence that encourages us to believe that we are ‘more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37).