Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Subjective Soteriology: Lesson 10 – Assurance of Grace and Salvation
by Bob Burridge ©1999, 2010, 2012
A Certain Assurance is Possible
Assurance as Perceived may be Improved
Westminster Confession of Faith XVIII
I. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish): yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring 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 rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.
II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.
III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, 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 ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.
Westminster Larger Catechism
Question 80: Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?
Answer: Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavor to walk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.
Question 81: Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?
Answer: Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.
A Certain Assurance is Possible
As presented in Scripture, a believer can know when he possesses salvation from his guilt and condemnation. It is not just a secret condition only known in the mind of God. Yet all created minds are finite and imperfect. This diminishes our ability to perceive the certainty that underlies our personal adoption into the family of God as redeemed children in the Covenant of Grace.
Some, who are not regenerated in Christ, may become persuaded that they are saved and blessed of God. This false assurance occurs in many who are religious. Jesus dealt with this in Matthew 7:21-23. He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ ”
The prophet Micah also spoke of the foolish heart which contrary to all criteria offered in God’s word, presumes safety from God’s judgment. Their assurance is but a foolish and tragic fiction. Micah 3:11-12, “Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, Her priests instruct for a price, And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the LORD saying, ‘Is not the LORD in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.’ Therefore, on account of you, Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest.”
All hope of salvation and blessing from God is the vain self-deceptions of fools if it’s not based upon the revealed promises of the Creator. There is no substance to the works or intentions of the mere creature. Proverbs 28:26 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool …”
True believers may attain to an assurance in this life which is both certain and comforting. It is more than just an assurance that Christ saves sinners. It extends to a personal confidence that the work of Christ is their own confidence and hope.
Some have debated whether or not this assurance is “of the essence of saving faith.” While it is true that the implanting of saving faith includes personal assurance of redemption in Christ, it is also true that this faculty of faith is imperfect in this life. Believers may not fully appreciate the confidence and comfort of which they are assured.
The Confession cites several ways in which this assurance comes to the believer.
The foundation of assurance is objectively based upon the promises of God in his Covenant of Grace. Since this is directly derived from God’s word it is a certainty. All those in whom by gracious regeneration God implants saving faith along with a true repentance, and those in whom he initiates the work of subjective sanctification, are most soundly assured that they will persevere all the way to glorification in Christ. (See lesson 9 on WCF XVII The Perseverance of the Saints).
Hebrews 6:17-19 “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil,”
The evidences of assurance are both inward testimonies within our redeemed soul, and outward manifestations in the believer’s life.
Inwardly the Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are adopted as children of God through the work of Christ for his people. This generates a sincere love for Christ and a compelling desire to live in a manner that honor’s God according to all the moral principles he has made known through his Prophets, and has impressed upon the human conscience.
Outwardly this inward state is evidenced by a life that in humility, credible repentance, and godly conversation strives to maintain itself according to the law of God.
John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
1 John 2:3 “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”
1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.”
Our Perception of our Assurance can be Improved
The confession speaks of ordinary as opposed to extraordinary means by which we may ourselves seek to improve our perception of the certain assurance which is ours in Christ. The means of grace strengthen our personal confidence in the promises of God. We ought to direct all those seeking such assurance to engage in the diligent study of the word of God, the persistent and expectant exercise of prayer, the faithful engagement in the elements of worship which include the sacraments, and the fellowship of other believers and shepherds of the church who both encourage and admonish us to help us improve our obedience to the Lord.
By looking to our fallible feelings alone we do not increase in our confidence. We ought rather to seek Christ and his promises which are the foundation of our hope, and which generate the evidences which we perceive in our own changed lives. The Holy Spirit ministering through the infallible word of God works in such who are truly regenerated. He repairs their souls from discouragements during lapses, and builds them up in awareness of the hope that is in them.
2 Peter 1:10 “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;”
[Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.]