ASSURANCE OF GRACE AND SALVATION
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 18)
I suppose everyone knows some of the words to the old song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” That song is kind of repetitive having to sing the first line, “He’s got the whole world in His hands” four times. But the question I’d like to ask is this: Do you believe that God has got the whole world in His hands?
If God has got the whole world in His hands, do you believe that He has got you in His hands? That’s what we’re looking at in the following. We’re looking at your belief that you are safe in God’s hands – that God has got the whole you in His hands.
That the Lord would wish His people to have true assurance of His grace and salvation is revealed throughout Scripture. Perhaps one of the most clear and concise statements is that made by John, where he says under inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
Notice that John is speaking to those who already believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. So we see that Jesus Christ and His righteousness is the object of the believer’s faith. He is the One in whom they are putting their trust. For faith, i.e., saving faith, is more than mere assent to the truth. They are trusting in Him to save them. Christ is the rock of our salvation. Therefore saving faith is that which has attached itself to Christ like a limpet to a rock. Believing in the name of the Son of God is the source of true assurance.
True assurance is not the same as, but derives from, faith in Christ. This is what John in 1 John 5:13 is teaching us. There He is teaching us that a believer can know for certain that he is safe forever. The Christian can know, i.e., be aware that he or she has eternal life. That’s what true assurance is.
If saving faith were the root of a tree, true assurance is its fruit. The fruit is connected to the root but is not identical to it. And just as not every tree has fruit on it, so not every Christian has true assurance of God’s grace and salvation.
True assurance must be sought after by the Christian. And it doesn’t come immediately and all at once. But, the point we’re making at this juncture is that it can be attained this side of glory against the unfounded objections of Rome and, sadly, certain branches of Protestantism. For how could you keep a people in bondage to your deformed church if you teach them that they can know infallibly that they are truly saved! And yet is not freedom and liberty from false doctrine the essence of the Gospel? For, as it is written: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” John 8:31-32. And His Apostle says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage” Galatians 5:1.
So, those who are looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith can have true assurance of God’s grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. For if your faith is truly rooted in Him, then He in time will produce the fruit of assurance in you.
Now, it is possible for people to delude themselves into thinking that they are truly saved when they are truly not. Jesus, in the same eighth chapter of the Gospel according to John met a group of men who were claiming God as their father. There could be no more deluded people than this group. John 8:41&43, “Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God… You are of your father the devil…’”
So, how mixed up can a person be? They can be so confused that they think that God is their Father when it’s really the devil who’s their father. Therefore, we need to be really careful to make sure that God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ is the object of our faith. Otherwise our assurance will be a false assurance, and it will be as Job says, “And the hope of the hypocrite shall perish” Job 8:13b. But we’ll let the hymn writer Frances Jane Van Alstyne express it for the true believer, Blessèd 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. / This is my story, this is my song, / praising my Saviour all the day long; / this is my story, this is my song, / praising my Saviour all the day long.
Is that your story? Is that your song? Are you praising your Saviour all the day long? True assurance of God’s grace and salvation is something that every Christian can truly have. And we believe that this assurance is as infallible as the Scriptures themselves. This is because true assurance is founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation found in the infallible Scriptures.
Listen to Hebrews 6:17-18, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.”
In a court of law we promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God. Thus we make a promise and confirm that promise with an oath, which oath is to call God as witness. God’s counsel is immutable, i.e., unchangeable. Whatever God in eternity past has counselled to do He does. What He has promised He has also confirmed by an oath. These are the two immutable or unchanging things – God’s promise and God’s oath.
Think about it, only those who believe in the infallibility of the sixty-six Books of the Bible can have true assurance of God’s grace and salvation. All others deceive themselves because they can never be sure that the promises found in Scripture have actually been made by God. Therefore how can they possibly have the strong consolation or the great encouragement the writer to the Hebrews speaks of here?
How can you possibly flee to God for refuge if you don’t take Him at His Word? How can you possibly lay hold of the hope set before you in Scripture if you don’t hold to the plenary inspiration of the sixty-six books of the Bible – every little jot and tittle? Therefore assurance is only true assurance when it, like a railway carriage, is coupled to the engine that drives it. The motive power of true assurance of grace and salvation is the completed Word of God.
Doubt the promises of God in the Scriptures and you must doubt your own salvation. To doubt the infallibility of the Scriptures is to take the axe to the root of faith. There can be no true assurance where the promise and oath of God are doubted. The Bible, the whole Bible is the promise and oath of God. And God has made this promise and oath to the heirs of promise, i.e., true believers.
You know you are a true believer when you are taking God at His Word in His Word, which is to say that you are repenting of your sins and believing in the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The evidence of this is in your exercising saving faith by producing good works, and persevering. In a word, assurance of grace and salvation is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit who works grace and salvation in the heart of the believer.
As the Apostle says to believers in Romans 8:15-16, “For you did not receive the Spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
How does the Spirit bear witness or testify with our spirit? If it were by some secret inner prompting how could we be sure that it was the Spirit of God? And how could we then have an infallible assurance of grace and salvation? Therefore, the Spirit testifies with our spirit with the Word of God. So again, infallible assurance is only infallible because the Word of God is infallible. Therefore the Holy Spirit guarantees our inheritance by sealing us for the day of redemption.
His Word, even the very Word of God, is His bond. If you are one of those that pick and choose from the Word of God, holding some bits, and discarding others, then clearly you have not the seal of the Holy Spirit! True assurance of grace and salvation, therefore, comes only from trusting that God’s Word is true. And it comes from believing that the divine promises apply to you as an individual.
True assurance can and sometimes does give way to troubled assurance. There are various reasons why Christians may lose their feeling of assurance. Now, this is got nothing to do with actually losing your salvation. But only has to do with your personal assurance of your salvation.
There is a verse of Scripture that puzzles those who misunderstand the “Doctrines of Grace” held dear by Calvinists. The verse of Scripture is found in 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.” If the elect are effectively called by God, how can they make their call and election sure? Isn’t this akin to working out your own salvation with fear and trembling a la Philippians 2:12? That’s exactly the point, isn’t it? The true Christian wants to know that he truly is saved. Therefore it makes good sense that the true Christian makes his call and election sure by working out his own salvation with fear and trembling.
This is just another way of saying that we are to make sure that we truly are true Christians. Therefore if we truly believe we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone to the glory of God alone, we will make sure of our own salvation. It is this making sure of your salvation that brings assurance of grace and salvation. And, it needs to be said that the Christian will have to struggle with many difficulties to make sure. Therefore, no Christian gets to be an armchair Christian. It’s off with the jacket and sleeves rolled up! We need to be doers of God’s infallible Word, not hearers only.
Christianity is not a spectator sport. We can’t just sit on our comfy chair eating popcorn and cheering our side on like watching the Olympics at home. We have to dive into the pool and swim. We have to pole vault over the jump. We have to put the shot. We have to run the race. But as we do these things we will discover a paradox. We will discover that the very thing that brings us assurance also troubles our assurance. For we will find ourselves, sometimes, neglecting to preserve our assurance. We might forsake the gathering of the saints for a time for instance. We might neglect to pray and read and study the Bible for a spell. We might fall into some sin or other, and have to struggle to extricate ourselves from the sticky web of our transgression.
The juicy carrot of temptation might dangle before our eyes, and before we know it, we’re behaving like an ass. And as we chase after sin like a dog chasing its tail we may even grieve the Holy Spirit who has sealed us. And a grieved Holy Spirit definitely means a personal loss of assurance of grace and salvation. The hymn writer William Cowper expresses this well where he says, Return, O Holy Dove! return, / Sweet Messenger of rest! / I hate the sins that made Thee mourn, / And drove Thee from my breast. David in Psalm 51:11 puts it this way, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Loss of assurance is a terrible feeling. It’s a feeling of forsakenness. It’s a little reminder of Hell, I suppose. It’s as close to Hell as any Christian would wish to come.
Loss of assurance may even come from God withdrawing the light of His countenance from you. David in Psalm 13 describes the feeling of forsakenness the Christian may experience when he says, “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” Psalm 13:1-2. Also, the words of Psalm 77 express the same anguish of soul, “Will the LORD cast me off forever? And will He be favourable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” Psalm 77:7-9.
So, we see then that loss of assurance is a real experience for the Christian. But loss of assurance is not the same as loss of salvation. Just because a man feels that he is saved doesn’t necessarily mean that he is saved. Likewise, just because a Christian feels as if God has deserted him doesn’t mean that he is no longer saved. For take note that even though the Psalmist felt forsaken by God, he was crying out to God! “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? Will the LORD cast me off forever? And will He be favourable no more?”
In this we see that God was still very much alive to the one suffering loss of assurance of God’s grace and salvation. Jesus felt deserted by God while He was on the cross. He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a kingdom waiting for Him. God doesn’t remove His kingdom from the heirs of the kingdom, i.e., His elect.
He gives those troubled Christians this assurance in Isaiah 54:7-10, “‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says the LORD, your Redeemer. ‘For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has mercy on you.”
So, even our loss of assurance of grace and salvation is all part of God’s great plan. He cares about His covenant people. He cares about you and me. “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” Psalm 103:13-14.
So we see then that though we may at times neglect to preserve the assurance of our salvation, and though we might fall into some special sin that wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit, and though this might happen because of some sudden and strong temptation, and though God may even withdraw the light of His face from us, and allow us to walk in darkness for a time with no light, although all these things may befall the true believer and trouble his assurance, the true believer will never be deprived of his love for God, as we see illustrated by the Psalmist. Nor will he be completely destitute of the life of God within him. For John says, “Whoever is born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” 1 John 3:9.
Once you are born again by the grace of God you cannot become un-born again! And once you are born again you cannot ever completely lose your faith in God. You will continue to love Christ and other believers. You will always have sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, albeit diminished from time to time.
So, it may take a while to gain true assurance. And once you’ve gained true assurance it may become troubled assurance for a while. But even though you may lose true assurance for a while, God will keep you from utter despair. And if you are diligent to seek Him, the Spirit may in due time revive your true assurance.
Every Christian ought to be diligent to make their call and election sure. If you seek after the things of God as revealed in Scripture, your heart will more and more be enlarged in peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. You will more and more be filled with love and thankfulness to God.
You will more and more be strengthened in doing the duties of obedience cheerfully. And you will more and more produce the proper fruits of assurance. Therefore, true assurance of grace and salvation will not encourage Christians to live carelessly. Rather it will encourage true Christians to live Godly lives to the glory of God.