Assurance of Salvation
Can I know For Certain That I Am Saved?

Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, 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 Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels, descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

-- Frances J. Crosby, 1873

Assurance of salvation.   

Hosts of professed Christians, who have sung the song Blessed Assurance or never will, have wrestled with the question; "Can I know for sure that I am saved?"  

Roman Catholicism, from the beginning of the middle ages to the present, teaches very clearly that no believer can ever have, or should seek after, assurance of salvation.   Pope Gregory I, at the beginning of the middle ages, taught outright that you could never know for sure that your sins were forgiven. End Note 1  Late in the middle ages, Thomas Aquinas modified that view somewhat, claiming that some extraordinary believers (such as the Apostle Paul or John) could receive a special revelation, or unique signs of grace in their lives, which could give such an assurance for these few. End Note 2  Without having any specifics as to what these signs or special revelation might look like, this reduced the idea of assurance to at least a theoretical possibility. 

During the Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church made clear its stance against Reformation teaching in regards to this subject.  The Council of Trent declared "... seeing that no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subjected to error, that he has obtained the grace of God."  End Note 3   Another declared doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, very directly wrote; "The principle heresy of Protestants is that saints may obtain to a certain assurance of their gracious and pardoned state before God."  End Note 4 

In the Protestant realm, those who are of the Wesleyan Holiness traditions are also taught that no full assurance of salvation is possible.  Indeed, the very fact that they hold that you could lose your salvation due to sinful acts or willful choice means that any semblance of assurance rests in the individual alone.

A Wesleyan Distinctive #6: Assurance of Present Salvation, not Future

In contrast to common evangelical teaching on assurance of salvation, often associated with teachings on "eternal security," Wesleyans believe that assurance of salvation is an assurance of present salvation and not final salvation. Christians can know they are presently saved, but because final salvation is contingent upon continued faith and cooperation with divine grace, there cannot be any confidence about final salvation.  End Note 5

The all-to-common Baptist version of assurance is a doctrine called "Once Saved, Always Saved."  Sometimes ascribed as being a "Calvinist belief" by non-Calvinists outside of the Baptist traditions, this doctrine is not, of itself, rooted in Calvinist thought.  In fact, hosts of non-Calvinist Baptists present this teaching as a cornerstone of their beliefs.   The classic implementation of this non-Calvinist teaching puts total focus on a one-time event, namely the act of conversion ("praying the prayer" or "walking the aisle").   Prominent Baptist pastor and author Charles Stanley, in a chapter entitled "For Those Who Stop Believing" says:

"The Bible clearly teaches that God's love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand (p. 74)." [Shortly after, Stanley also writes:] "You and I are not saved because we have an enduring faith. We are saved because at a moment in time we expressed faith in our enduring Lord (p. 80)."  End Note 6

Author David Hunt clarifies this view when he said "a person is secure because at some point in time he or she has believed the Gospel message."  End Note 7  One website, called "Jesus Saves" encourages such a one-time event, providing the "repeat after me" "Prayer of Salvation," and then provides a helpful section after it, entitled "How do I pray for Salvation?"   The opening words of this section are:

"The most important thing to remember about prayer is to be sincere."  End Note 8

Having sincerely prayed the prayer, a person is now eternally secure.  But if they really weren't sincere; they may not truly be a believer.   In reality, any assurance of salvation now rests in the individual being able to persuade themselves that their salvation event (or prayer) was sincere.  And for hosts of people caught in this shaky assurance, they find themselves "repeating after me" time and again, just in case the earlier prayer wasn't sincere enough.  End Note 9

For many people personal assurance rests in their works, merely another form of the sincerity version of assurance.  Here the person looks to their deeds as being the proof of their salvation - "If I can do enough it proves that I'm saved."   But, again, this presents an ongoing problem: "What constitutes enough good works?"   Assurance that rests in works provides many a low or doubting moment for professed assurance to turn into "What if I'm not saved?"

The true answer to the question of assurance rests in understanding Biblical salvation.  The Bible teaches that we are justified by faith and through faith.

Romans 3:28  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.  (NIV)

Romans 3:22a   This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  (NIV)

Take note that justification is never said to be on account of faith.  If faith is something that I can work up personally, then my salvation would be on account of my faith.  Rather, the Bible teaches that faith is not the foundation for justification.  It is God who justifies (this is the sure foundation) and gives faith as the recipient of His justification.  This excludes any possibility to boast, for my saving faith is a gift from God that rests solely in Him and in no way in me.

Ephesian 2:8-9  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.  (NIV)

Justification is a legal decree of righteousness.  How does understanding this impact my assurance?  All too often we look at justification as only a former act, rather than an ongoing and future act too.  Most believers will accept the statement that they were justified the moment they believed (past tense).  And yes, we were justified then, but so too at this very moment, and (perhaps most importantly) we will be justified on the day of God's final judgment.  In declaring believers justified, God has issued a statement in advance rendering the final judgment long before we reach that point in time and space.  Our past and present justification rests in this final decree being made known with certainty in advance.  If our justification was to cease at any point prior to the Day of Judgment, the Just Judge would be a liar - and God cannot lie. End Note 10

Simply put, we are saved by faith alone. End Note 11  So can we know that we have faith?  Can we know for sure that God has given us this saving faith?  The Bible teaches that the answer is yes.  The Apostle Paul even encouraged people to test themselves in regards to this.

2 Corinthians 13:5   Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless, of course, you fail the test?  (NIV )

Paul did not leave the Corinthian church hanging with no answer or way to test their faith, he - as always - was pointing to the test found throughout Scriptures.  Not only was it present in Paul's words, it appears throughout the other works of the Bible too.  For example, the apostle John wrote this regarding his first letter:

1 John 5:13   I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.   (NIV)

He then, within that letter, provides a succinct three-fold test: End Note 12

1.  A Doctrinal Test (Read 1 John 2:18-27; 4:1-6)

    In summary, John says that believers know the truth, are enabled by God to test the truth, and cling to the truth.   Key Verse:

    1 John 2:20  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.  (NIV)

    If we fashion another gospel, or worship another God than the one revealed, we have no assurance of salvation.

2.A Moral Test (Read 1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10)

    In summary, John says that believers are motivated by God's love to obey His words, seek to emulate Jesus, and no longer desire to sin.  Key Passage:

    1 John 2:3-4  We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  (NIV)

    While our assurance of salvation is rooted and established in the accomplished work of Christ, the evidence of Christ at work in us provides God given evidence that He is at in our lives.

3.A Social Test 

    In summary, John says our faith will show itself in love for other believers. End Note 13

    1 John 3:14   We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  (NIV)

    When God makes you a part of the family, he supernaturally gives you a growing love for this family, its wellbeing, and a desire to spend time with them.

The Apostle James makes the faith test into a contrast. While some have felt that James put too much emphasis on works, in fact his entire argument is framed around faith.  His question could be framed in this manner...

What kind of faith do you have?  Two options are then on display for consideration.

1.Dead Faith.  This is a faith without works, a faith contrasted with deeds (versus a faith accompanied by deeds), and a faith in faith (only itself, for it has no actions).   (Read James 2:14 - 18, 20, 26).  Key Verse:

James 2:26  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (NIV)

2.Living Faith.  This is a faith that has accompanying works and that is shown by what it does.  (Read James 2:18-23) Key Verse:

James 2:20   You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  (NIV)

The point of James' comparison was that Dead Faith is no faith at all and that the Living Faith that comes from God is the only saving faith.

The apostle Paul, in his usual succinct manner made almost the totality of John and James test to be summed up in this verse:

Galatians 5:6   For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  (NIV)

What Paul was proclaiming is that all the works in the world don't matter apart from having a God-given faith that empowers God-given works motivated by God-given love.  This faith that justifies is one that empowers and works through us in love.  Is this the faith that you have?  Paul elsewhere notes, in Romans Chapter 6, that such a faith cannot go on sinning.  If, by faith, we have died to sin and have been given a new life, literally freed from slavery to sin and made slaves to God, End Note 14 our ongoing desire should not be the old way of life.

Romans 6:1-2   What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  (NIV)

Indeed, our struggles with sin - to not sin - are evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. Paul, himself, expressed the struggle that is unique to believers. 

Romans 7:18-25   For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21 So I discover this principle: when I want to do good, evil is with me. 22 For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God's law. 23 But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.  (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

A little later, Paul continues:

Romans 8:13-16   For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  (NIV)

How does the Holy Spirit testify with our spirit that we are God's children?  The answer was in the words immediately preceding.  The Spirit of God that dwells within us drives us to call out to God, our Father.  When we sin, when we struggle to not sin, when we wrestle with fears of being led astray from God, the Holy Spirit moves us to call out to our gracious Heavenly Father. This inward struggle and desire is part of the assurance God gives that we are His.

The fastest way to falter in your assurance is to take your eyes off Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2-9   Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,  6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."  7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! (NIV)

Even here, the author of Hebrews is providing a further way to test your faith.  His words are not in isolation but to be taken with all the others we have already considered.  God disciplines and corrects his children.   And when that time or correction and hardship comes, even as Paul said earlier, we led by the Spirit not to abandon God but to fix our eyes on Him all the more and to call out "Abba, Father!"

By the Father's will we are in Christ and by the Father's unchanging will we will remain in Christ.  In one incredibly long sentence, End Note 15 Paul makes this clear by tying together the Father's choice of us, His redemption of us in Christ, His sealing of us by the Holy Spirit, and the culmination - the certain completion of what He began in us.

Ephesians 1:3-14   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.   (NASU)

The plan God put in place before the creation of the world, specifically in regards to your salvation, is one that is as unchangeable as God himself - all with a guaranteed outcome.

In verse 11, of Ephesians chapter one, three separate Greek words are used in regards to God's plan:

  • Prosthesis:  God's purpose, specifically His foreordained purpose.

  • Boule: God's counsel, specifically God's deliberate counsel.

  • Thelema: God's will, God's will in general.

Together these words show that the entirety of God's plan is part of His intention.  He is working and acting and making certain every detail of His predetermined plan, which includes His plan of salvation.  This all-knowing, all powerful, and intentional Deity can never be mistaken for the God of "open theism" that is being marketed in many modern churches. End Note 16

With our eyes fixed on Him, we have complete assurance - for this is a salvation resting in Him from beginning to end.  He began it and He assures us that He will complete it.  We find absolute assurance in His promises.

Hebrews 7:24-25  but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  (NIV)

1 Corinthians 1:8-9  He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.  (NIV)

Jude 24-25  To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy- 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  (NIV)

Standing on the Promises of God

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I'm standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love's strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit's sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List'ning every moment to the Spirit's call,
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

-- Russel Kelso Carter, 1886


End Notes

1)"You must not become secure about your sins, except when on the last day of your life you shall be able no longer to bewail those same sins."  (Pope Gregory I, 597 A.D.)

2)Thomas Aquinas lived 1225 - 1274 A.D.   He is held by the Roman Catholic Church to be a model teacher for those studying for the priesthood.  His best-known work are the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles.  As one the few declared "Doctors of the Church" he is considered the Church's greatest theologian and philosopher, often called "Doctor Angelicus," meaning "the Angelic Doctor."

3)The Council of Trent dates to 1545-1563.  This specific quote is from the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, sixth session.

4)Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit Priest, lived 1542-1621.  He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930 and proclaimed a Roman Catholic Doctor Ecclesiae in 1931.  This quote is from his work, De Justification 3.2.3)

5)The quote continues: "Wesleyans believe that people can experience progress in the way of salvation by cooperating with divine grace; likewise, people can regress in the way of salvation through refusing to cooperate with divine grace. Therefore, while people can know that they are presently Christians, if they do not continue to cooperate with divine grace, they may find themselves in a place where they no longer have faith and are no longer Christians."  (A brief Commentary on The Wesleyan Church's Articles of Religion: Part III, by Chris Bounds,

6)From Dr. Charles Stanley's Book "Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?"  Stanley is a Baptist mega-church pastor in Atlanta, Georgia and also president and founder of In Touch Ministries

7)The context of the quotation: "The traditional Calvinist doctrine teaches that a person is secure in salvation because he or she was predestined by God, whereas in the Free Grace or non-traditional Calvinist views, a person is secure because at some point in time he or she has believed the Gospel message." What Love is This, by Dave Hunt, page 481.


9)This is where many a pastor or evangelist can be heard asking the stereotypical questions: "How many of you just prayed this prayer for the first time?" or "How many of you just made a first time decision to follow Jesus?"  In fact, hosts of churches and ministries list stats on "first time decisions to follow Jesus," as if expecting (or having experienced) a plethora of subsequent come-forward decisions.  (Just Google "first time decision to follow Jesus" if you need specific examples out of the millions posted.)

10)God cannot lie: Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:17-18; 1 Samuel 15:29; Numbers 23:19 

11)Faith Alone is one of the five Latin slogans that came to characterize the Protestant reformation.  For the record, here are all five: Sola Fide, by faith alone; Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone; Solus Christus, through Christ alone; Sola Gratia, by grace alone; Soli Deo Gloria, Glory to God alone.

12)Richard D. Phillips points out these three tests in John, by title, in his chapter "Assured in Christ," pages 82-84, of the book "Assured by God", edited by Burk Parsons.  P&R Publishing, 2007.

13)It could be argued that John is using this as a subset, indicative of a greater whole.  In the least believers will love other believers, yet ultimately believers will love all potential believers, a group that includes everyone alive.  The ultimate Royal Law or Law of Love that all believers live by certainly broadens this aspect of love to far more than only fellow believers. 

Matthew 22:37-39   Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  (NIV)

Matthew 5:44-45  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  (NIV)

Luke 6:27-36   "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.   32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that.   34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (NIV)

14)Our being freed from slavery to sin and becoming slaves to God (or righteousness) is expressed in multiple ways by the Apostle Paul in Romans Chapter 6.  Key Verses: Romans 6:18, 20, 22.

15)In the original Greek, Ephesians 1:3-14 are all one very long sentence.  Not only do English translations break this into numerous sentences, some (including the NIV and ESV) actual make it into multiple paragraphs.  These artificial divisions may hinder the sense of unity it what all God has brought together to effect and guarantee our salvation.

16)This brief excerpt from Wikipedia's article on Open Theism does justice in trying to summarize a belief, in regards to God, that has infected both Evangelical and post-evangelical churches:

"Practically, open theism makes the case for a personal God who is open to influence through the prayers, decisions, and actions of people. Although many specific outcomes of the future are unknowable, God's foreknowledge of the future includes that which is determined as time progresses often in light of free decisions that have been made and what has been sociologically determined. So God knows everything that has been determined as well as what has not yet been determined but remains open. As such, God is able to anticipate the future, yet remains fluid to respond and react to prayer and decisions made either contrary or advantageous to God's plan or presuppositions."   (Wikipedia, Article "Open Theism", 7/15/2012)


(c) 2012 Brent J. MacDonald/LTM - based on a message first preached 7/15/2012.
Non-profit duplication is permitted as long as the source is cited.