-- 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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
A little later, Paul continues:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Standing on the Promises of God
-- Russel Kelso Carter, 1886
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."
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, http://cbounds.blogspot.com/2006/09/brief-commentary-on-wesleyan-churchs_12.html)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
(c) 2012 Brent J.
MacDonald/LTM - based on a message first preached 7/15/2012.