Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation
1 John 3:14-24
[S]ome men say, “If we continue in faith, and if we continue in holiness, we shall certainly be saved at last.” Do you not see at once that this is legality—that this is hanging our salvation upon our work—that this is making our eternal life to depend on something we do?
Nay, the doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works, lifted up; for he always thinks faith is a work of the creature and a condition of his acceptance. It is as false to say that man is saved by faith as a work, as that he is saved by the deeds of the law. We are saved by faith as the gift of God, and as the first token of his eternal favor to us; but it is not faith as our work that saves, otherwise we are saved by works, and not by grace at all. C. H. Spurgeon – from “Effects of Sound Doctrine,” a sermon delivered Sunday evening, April 22nd, 1860, at New Park Street Chapel.
A. Can I have real assurance?
1. If so, of what am I assured?
…such as truely believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good Conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of Grace; and may rejoyce in the hope of the glory of God which hope shall never make them ashamed. LCF, 18.1
2. On what is it based?
Such assurance of salvation and of eternal life springs from (1) an intelligent understanding of the nature of salvation (2 Pet. 1:2, 3, 5-6, 8; 3:18), (2) the recognition of the immutability of the gifts and calling of God (Rom. 11:29), (3) obedience to the commandments of God (1 John 2:3), (4) self-examination (2 Cor. 13:5), (5) and the inward witness of the Holy Spirit who “himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6). Reymond, Systematic Theology
3. How can I have it?
being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation in the right use of means attain thereunto: and therefore it is the duty of every one, to give all diligence to make their Calling and Election sure. LCF 18.3
The provision for attaining assurance is twofold: the Spirit of God and the means of grace. …ordinary means available to all believers: prayer, study of the Word, corporate worship, preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Table and Christian fellowship. Waldron
We may know that we have faith,
a. From the testimony of the Holy Ghost, and by the true and unfeigned desire which we have to embrace and receive the benefits which Christ offers unto us. He that believes, is conscious of the existence of his faith – as Paul says, “I know whom I have believed.” “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself.” (2 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 5:10)
b. We may know that we have faith, by the doubts and conflicts which we experience, if we are of the number of the faithful.
c. From the effect of faith, which is a sincere purpose, and desire to obey all the commands of God. Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
Wayne Grudem puts it a different way:
1. Do I have a present trust in Christ for salvation?
2. Is there evidence of a regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in my heart?
3. Do I see a long-term pattern of growth in my Christian life? Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
“This genuine assurance,” says Hodge (Outlines p. 479), “may be distinguished from that presumptuous confidence which is a delusion of Satan, chiefly by these marks. True assurance, 1st, begets unfeigned humility, 1 Cor. 15;10; Gal. 6:14; 2d, leads to ever increasing diligence in practical religion, Ps. 51:12, 13, 19; 3d, to candid self-examination and a desire to be searched and corrected by God, Ps. 139:23, 24; 4th, to constant aspirations after nearer conformity and more intimate communion with God, 1 John 3:2, 3.” Boyce, Abstract
B. What if I have doubts?
1. Is it OK?
“…an infallible [not deceiving] assurance, founded on a comparison of their hearts and lives with Scripture, and the teaching and light of the Holy Spirit, through and in the Word, is the privilege, and should be the aim of every true believer. Yet, this assurance, while both scriptural, reasonable and spiritual, and thus solid, may be more sensibly felt at sometimes, and may even be temporarily lost through sin.” R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology
Now, we say that while Faith may subsist without assurance of hope, every believer can and ought to attain in due time to the latter. And though it may be absent from a true Christian, yet no true Christian can be satisfied with its absence. If he feels the reality of heaven, he will wish to know whether it is to be his. If he truly believes there is a hell, he must earnestly long to be certified that he shall avoid it. He cannot be content to plod on, not knowing whether or not his feet are on the blood of the Redeemer, whom he loves, whether the viper, sin, which he hates, still enfolds his heart; whether he is to spend the approaching eternity bathing his weary soul in seas of heavenly rest, or buffeting the fiery billows of wrath. A willingness to be ignorant of these things is proof of indifference. The chief reason why so many live on without assurance is, that they have no true faith. Dabney
The Bible speaks of a weak faith. It abounds with consolations intended for the doubting and the desponding. God accepts those who can only say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Hodge, Systematic Theology
2. How do I deal with doubt?
a. Recognize what I have
i. some measure of grace or it wouldn’t matter to me
b. Recognize what I need
i. more grace to “show me [his] glory
ii. strengthen my faith and subsequent assurance
c. Work at it 2 Peter 1:10
Jonathan Edwards – letter to newly converted young lady, points 10 & 11 of his 17-point response to her request for guidance for growing in godliness and assurance:
10. If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul, in dark and dull frames of mind, it is proper to review your past experience; but do not consume too much time and strength in this way: rather apply yourself, with all your might, to an earnest pursuit after renewed experience, new light, and new lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face, will do more toward scattering clouds of darkness in one minute, than examining old experience, by the best marks that can be given, through a whole year.
11. When the exercise of grace is low, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails; do not desire to have fear cast out any other way, than by the reviving and prevailing of love in the heart: by this, fear will be effectually expelled, as darkness in a room vanishes away, when the pleasant beams of the sun are let into it.
C. What about my friend?
1. He says he’s a Christian, but…
Much of the problem that they have with people in their congregations who profess Christ but who live ungodly, uncommitted lives could be redressed if they would proclaim the lordship of Christ and the nature of true discipleship, and make clear that, while the saint of God will be preserved by the power of God, he will also persevere in a godly walk throughout his life unto the end. And where that godly walk in true piety is not forthcoming, no professing Christian has the right to assume that he is in fact a Christian, and no pastor has the right to assure him that he is simply a “carnal Christian.” Reymond, Systematic
2. How should I talk to him?
o On what is his confidence based?
o How well does he measure up to the standard? e.g. the marks of a Christian given in 1 John, the list of “affections that are truly spiritual and gracious” as given by Jonathan Edwards
Remember Paul addressed the Corinthians as believers (1 Cor. 1:2 [NKJV] To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,) and then challenged them to stop acting like the world: (1Cor 3:1-3 [NET]) So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people?
Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections
Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious, do arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural and divine [spiritual origin of affections]
The first objective ground of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest [appreciation of divine things in themselves]
Those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things [love for the holiness of divine things]
Gracious affections do arise from the mind’s being enlightened, richly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things [enlightened understanding]
Truly gracious affections are attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the judgment, of the reality and certainty of divine things [certainty of divine things]
Gracious affections are attended with evangelical humiliation [true humility]
Another thing, wherein gracious affections are distinguished from others, is, that they are attended with a change of nature [change of nature]
Truly gracious affections differ from those affections that are false and delusive, in that they tend to, and are attended with the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ [Christ-like spirit]
Gracious affections soften the heart, and are attended and followed with a Christian tenderness of spirit [tender spirit]
Another thing wherein those affections that are truly gracious and holy, differ from those that are false, is beautiful symmetry and proportion [conformity to Christ who has beautiful symmetry and proportion]
Another great and very distinguishing difference between gracious affections and others is, that gracious affections, the higher they are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased [desire to grow]
Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice [life of obedience]