Dear Church Family,
Many Christians wrestle with assurance of their salvation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that every Christian at one point or another wrestles with assurance of their salvation. This is, of course, due to the remnants of our corrupt natures which we will not be free of until glory (until we die or Christ returns). One of the problems that results from having one’s assurance shaken, though, is that many Christians wrongly equate assurance with faith. That is to say, they believe that their salvation is based on their assurance, rather than upon their faith in Christ.
Faith and Assurance
The Westminster Confession of Faith helpfully reminds us that while it is possible to have an infallible assurance, it does not belong to the essence of faith (WCF 18:2). This idea that one may have faith in Christ, yet lack assurance (or have one’s assurance shaken) is made evident in the Scriptures. Consider the two different purpose statements for the writing of John’s Gospel and the first epistle of John. John writes that the purpose for the writing of his Gospel is “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). The purpose which he gives, though, for the writing of his first epistle is very different: “these things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
John’s Gospel was written for the purpose of bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ. John’s first epistle was written so that those who already have faith in Jesus Christ would gain assurance of their faith. Assurance of faith is one of the goals of the Christian, but assurance is not the same as faith – it’s something that we are to pursue and grow into.
Assurance, a gift from God to the believer
So, for those times when we struggle with assurance of salvation, how are we to seek true assurance of salvation. Well, first of all, we need to recognize that assurance is a benefit of believers which accompanies or flows from justification, adoption, and sanctification (WSC 36). And, the better we understand what it means to be justified by faith in Christ, adopted by our loving heavenly Father, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our us, the better we will be able to gain assurance of our salvation. This is one of the benefits and goals of our present adult Sunday school class. We have just finished learning about justification and adoption; this coming Sunday, we will study the sanctification of the believer.
Three Bases of Assurance
True assurance of grace and salvation is based on both objective truth and subjective experience. If that seems an odd way to put it, consider how the Westminster Confession of Faith explains how an infallible assurance of faith is founded upon three things:
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. (WCF 18:2)
In order to have a firm foundation for our assurance of salvation, we ought to look to three places. The first place we ought to look for assurance is objective: “the divine truth of the promises of salvation.” God’s Word is replete with His sure and true promises of salvation (e.g., John 3:16; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 6:17-18).
The second place we ought to look for assurance is both subjective and objective: “the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made.” The inward evidences of God’s grace (e.g., keeping His commandments, 1 John 2:3; a love for the brethren, 1 John 3:14) are inward evidences that are both subjective (we may see these evidences in our hearts) and objective (others will see the fruit of these inward evidences).
The third place we ought to look for assurance is subjective: “the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.” The Spirit of God testifies to us in our spirit (to our inward man) that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).
Too often, Christians look to only one place for their assurance. They look only to the promises of God in the Scriptures (a good place to start!), or they look only to their own good works and growth in holiness (a good thing to endeavor toward!), or they look only for a subjective feeling of the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts (a wonderful gift given to us in our adoption!). But, an infallible assurance – something which all those who have faith in Christ ought to strive for and may obtain – is based on all three.
Finally, we should note that true assurance of faith is freely given to the believer by God and does not require extraordinary revelation, but the right use of the ordinary means which God has given us (WCF 18:3). And those ordinary means are attending to the ministry of the word, participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and prayer (WCF 14:1).
For some helpful, further reading on the topic of assurance, I commend to you the following articles:
Personal Assurance That One is Among the Elect by Loraine Boettner
Thoughts on the Assurance of Faith by Augusts Toplady
Assurance and Humility by A.A. Hodge
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch