It’s a heartache to realize that so many Christians lack the assurance of their salvation. They lack the confidence that their sins are truly forgiven and that their place in heaven is eternally secured.
Many Christians are living each day between fears and hope, and hang, as it were, between doubts of their eternity in heaven or hell. Sometimes they hope that their state is good, at other times they fear that their state is bad… all the while hoping that all is well with their soul, and that all shall go well with them for ever; then, they might fear that they shall perish by the hand of a corruption, or by the prevalency of a temptation …. They are emotionally & spiritually tossed about like a ship in a storm.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The apostle Peter said, “Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (2 Peter 1:10). The prophet Isaiah said, “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).
Where God grants righteousness, He also adds Peace and Blessed Assurance
It’s true that someone can be saved and doubt it. One may go to heaven with doubt, once saved, but not knowing for sure one’s going, is certainly not the way to enjoy the trip.
Incorrect Assumptions About Salvation
All of us as Christians have times when doubt enters our thoughts & makes us question if we’re saved. (Satan just really enjoys trying to destroy our trust in the Lord’s promises.) For some, those times are but fleeting moments; for some, they last a long time; and for others, they seem be a constant doubt and fear. Before we delve into the reasons so many Christians lack assurance, there are two issues we should consider.
Some people have assurance who have no right to it. The old slave spiritual put it simply: “Everybody talkin’ about heaven ain’t going there.” Some feel all is well between them and God when it isn’t. They don’t understand the truth about salvation and their own spiritual condition.
Jesus 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 will enter. 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'” (Matthew 7:21-23). Many people are deceived about their salvation. That’s why the apostle Paul said, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
How did those people get their false assurance? By receiving false information about salvation. Much of our modern-day evangelism contributes to that through what I call “syllogistic assurance.”
Let’s consider John 1:12: “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
- The major premise: anyone who receives Jesus becomes God’s child.
- The minor premise: the person you just witnessed to received Christ.
- Conclusion: the person must now be a child of God.
That seems logical, but the problem is, you don’t know whether the minor premise is true, as to whether the person truly received Christ. Beware of trying to assure people of their salvation based on an untested profession. Assurance is the reward of tested and proven faith. It is the Holy Spirit who gives it, not a human being.
Some Christians lack assurance because they don’t know the exact time of their salvation. They can’t remember when they believed. Some can’t remember ever not believing. Because they can’t pinpoint the exact moment, they doubt whether the moment actually occurred. But if you didn’t know the date of your birth, you wouldn’t wonder if you were alive. Far too much has been made of isolating the moment by some little formula, whether it be praying a prayer, signing a card, raising your hand, or walking down an aisle.
Many Christians—especially those reared in a Christian environment—can’t identify the exact moment they were saved. I can’t. I don’t know when I passed from death to life, but I know I did. There were times as a little child when I prayed special prayers. I specifically remember praying with my father on the steps of a church in Indiana when he was holding a revival meeting. His sermon convicted me because I had done some things that week that weren’t right. I remember as a fourteen-year-old going forward at camp and throwing a pine cone in the fire, teary-eyed and wanting to make my life right with God. I was in a serious auto accident when I was a freshman in college, which vividly reinforced God’s claim on my life, but I can’t say for sure that was the time of my salvation.
I don’t look for a past event to make my salvation real to me. I look at the present pattern of my life. Some people have a false assurance because they can remember a past event, but their life doesn’t follow a righteous pattern. So don’t worry if you can’t tie in a specific time or event with the moment of your salvation. Focus on your lifestyle instead.
Another reason Christians lack assurance is they feel the pull of their unredeemed flesh and wonder if they have a new nature. As Christians dwelling in this fallen world, we are new creations incarcerated in unredeemed flesh. In fact we “groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for … the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23) at our Lord’s return, when it “will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21).
However, until our liberation comes, we will occasionally be drawn into the Romans 7 battle between flesh and spirit, doing what we don’t want to do and not doing what we want to do. If sin is overwhelming and overpowering you at any given point, you will lack assurance. You’ll wonder, Did I repent enough? Am I sorry enough for my sin? Do I have enough faith?
It’s easy to read Romans 7:14-25 in an imbalanced way. If you see only the parts that say, “Nothing good dwells in me” and “wretched man that I am,” you’ll become overly introspective. Focusing on the flesh will warp your perspective and lead you to overstate your spiritual condition. However, if you see only the parts that say, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” and “the willing [of doing good] is present in me” you’ll fail to deal with the reality of the flesh.
You need to keep a balance. Here’s a helpful suggestion:
Test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly say “Yes” to these questions, you have repented … And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.
Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Saviour whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His loving kindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more and more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness.
Do you see the impulses of the new nature in your life? If so, that’s indicative of salvation. If God’s will has become your highest joy, and submission to His lordship your greatest delight, you are indeed a child of God—no matter how strong the pull of sin.
Some Christians become spiritually unstable because they can’t see the hand of God in all their trials. They say things like, “How could God love me and let me go through this? How could He take my husband—or wife or child? How could He not hear my prayer and deliver me? Where is God when I need Him?” People who think like that not only sentence themselves to doubt but also miss what’s actually the strongest source of assurance: proven faith.
Romans 5 says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (vv. 1-5). We’re to rejoice in our trials because they produce hope and assurance.
“Consider it all joy,” says James, “when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4). Rather than causing you to doubt, the trials of life are to prove God’s love and power in your behalf.
Through all you must endure in life, remember this: “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints… [therefore] show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:10-12, emphasis added). Handle your difficulties by being diligent and patient. The reward is a full assurance of hope.
Trials are the crucible in which assurance is formed. Remember Paul’s great statement that nothing could separate him from the love of God? Note the context of his assurance: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered'” (Romans 8:35-36). Paul had experienced all that, yet he was certain of his relationship with God. What convinces you of your salvation? Hopefully it’s the Word of God and your tested faith.
One of the most important ways the Holy Spirit ministers to believers is by assuring them of their salvation. A believer who’s not living by the Spirit’s power forfeits that important ministry. Let’s look again at Romans 8: “You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!'” (v. 15). (“Abba” is the Aramaic equivalent of “Daddy.”) We have been adopted into God’s family and are on intimate terms with Him. How do we know that’s true? Because “the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (vv. 16-17).
In Rome it was very common to adopt, and each adoption had to be verified by seven witnesses. That was to ensure someone would be around to confirm the legitimate claim of the heir to his inheritance. Now if anyone questions your claim to your eternal inheritance, there is a witness who was present at the moment of your adoption: the Holy Spirit, whom Isaiah 11:2 describes as the sevenfold Spirit. He will step forward and bear witness that you are indeed an adopted child of God and have a lawful claim to an eternal inheritance.
How does the Holy Spirit bear witness that we are God’s children? In a number of ways. The first is by illuminating Scripture so we can understand it. First Corinthians 2 says, “It is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit” (vv. 9-10). As we study the Word of God about those promises, the Spirit makes them real to us.
The second way the Spirit bears witness is through salvation. First John 4:13-15 says, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us,because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” The Holy Spirit came and showed us the gospel—that Jesus is the Savior of the world and that by confessing Him as such, we come to know God.
Another way in which the Spirit bears witness is by drawing us into fellowship with God. Galatians 4 says, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (v. 6). The Spirit produces prayer, praise, and worship—a crying out to God as our Father.
Yet another way He bears witness is the fruit He produces in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The flesh certainly doesn’t produce those things. It knows lust, but not true love. It knows momentary happiness, but not settled joy. It knows a moment of calm, but not a deep inner peace. The fruit of the Spirit is evidence that you belong to God. So is the outworking of His mighty power in us through evangelism and other Christian ministries (cf. Acts 1:8).
The Spirit’s witness is not some little voice that says, “Yes, yes, you really are a Christian.” It’s so much more. The Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God for us, leads us to a greater faith and love for Christ, draws us into intimate fellowship with God through worship and prayer, produces in us the graces characteristic of a redeemed nature, and makes us effective in Christian service.
Thomas Brooks concludes the matter: “The Spirit is the great revealer of the Father’s secrets, he lies in the bosom of the Father, he knows every name that is written in the book of life; he is best acquainted with the inward workings of the heart of God towards poor sinners; he is the great comforter and the only sealer up of souls to the day of redemption. If you grieve by your willful sinning he that alone can gladden you, who then will make you glad?” (Heaven on Earth, p. 152, emphasis added). If you grieve or quench the Spirit by walking in the flesh, you short-circuit His ministries to you and will lack assurance as a result.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for lacking assurance is disobedience, because assurance is the reward for obedience. Hebrews 10:22 strongly points that out: “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” It’s been well said that high degrees of assurance cannot be enjoyed by those who persist in low levels of obedience. To live in sin is to live in doubt.
Listen to the testimony of Charles Spurgeon:
Whenever I feel that I have sinned and desire to overcome that sin for the future, the devil at the same time comes to me and whispers, “How can you be a pardoned person and accepted with God while you still sin in this way?” If I listen to this I drop into despondency, and if I continued in that state I should fall into despair, and should commit sin more frequently than before; but God’s grace comes in and says to my soul, “Thou hast sinned; but did not Christ come to save sinners? Thou art not saved because thou art righteous; for Christ died for the ungodly.” And my faith says, “Though I have sinned, I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and though I am guilty yet by grace I am saved and I am a child of God still.” And what then? Why the tears begin to flow and I say, “How could I ever sin against my God who has been so good to me? Now I will overcome that sin,” and I get strong to fight with sin through the conviction that I am God’s child.
Here’s a practical way to deal with sin: deal with a major sin in your life and the rest will follow. When the general is killed, the troops scatter. By the means of grace available to every believer, slay the sins you find most compelling and familiar—your pet sins—and the others will soon disappear. And when you fall into sin, quickly set out to conquer that sin and be aware that Satan will try to make you doubt your salvation. Fall back on the forgiving grace of God, and it will strengthen you for battle.
If you’re lacking assurance—if you’re plagued with doubts and have lost your joy, feel like you’ve become useless in Christian service, empty in worship, cold in praise, passionless in prayer, and vulnerable to false teachers—whatever the problem, know there is a cure: obeying God’s Word in the power of the Spirit.
Let’s take the first step toward doing something to help us think through what God’s Word teaches about assurance. The Greek word katacheo means “to echo back.” So echo back God’s truth as you slowly and thoughtfully read the following:
- Question: What is the essential duty a person has in this world?
- Answer: Consummating a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, which is to recognize His work on the cross and His resurrection from the dead as the satisfying atonement for sin, and to walk in accordance with that relationship.
- Answer: Don’t all members of the church have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? No, only those who are truly saved.
- Question: How can I be certain I have that saving relationship?
- Answer: The Lord will have done in your soul His own sovereign will—that of calling you to Himself through a work of conviction and humiliation so you will have discovered your sin and misery, and, being so seriously agitated and threatened by it, you long for the Savior.
- Question: How can I know if I’ve made sufficient discovery and admission of my sin?
- Answer: By taking salvation to your heart above any other pursuit in life. It will make Christ, your Redeemer, very precious to your soul. It will make you fear sin, repent, and seek to be saved on God’s terms.
- Question: What’s another way of discerning a saving relationship to Christ?
- Answer: A strong and serious affection that reaches toward Christ as He is progressively revealed to you in the gospel. Such love is the product of saving belief.
- Question: Are there other marks of a relationship with Christ?
- Answer: You are truly saved when you have been made a whole new person, graciously changed and renewed. That is best evidenced by a desire to shun sin and pattern your life in obedience toward God’s righteous demands.
- Question: What if I find sin prevailing over me?
- Answer: Although every sin deserves eternal vengeance, if you regularly confess your sins with unhypocritical repentance and shame before God—fleeing to Christ for forgiveness for all known and unknown iniquities—He will grant you mercy and pardon because you stand in grace, and your salvation is forever secure.
- Question: What if my sins are serious and repeated?
- Answer: Whatever they are, Jesus Christ has paid the price for them so that if you sincerely and earnestly have turned to Him in repentant faith, you will never enter into condemnation. Moreover, His gracious provision for those who believe includes power to overcome sin and live righteously.
- Question: Is faith alone the requirement for salvation?
- Answer: Yes, Absolutely, it is the only basis upon which God offers peace and pardon to mankind. However, faith—if it is genuine—will not be alone in the soul, but will always be accompanied by true repentance and an eager desire to conform to God’s will and way.
- Question: How can I be sure I’ve settled my eternal destiny with the Lord?
- Answer: Express with your mouth to God what the Holy Spirit through Scripture has led you to believe in your heart.
- Question: What are the results of a relationship with Christ?
- Answer: Union and communion with God here, and blessed fellowship and glory hereafter.
- Question: How can I come to full assurance that I have such a relationship?
- Answer: By affirming the promises of God as revealed in Scripture by the internal witness of the Spirit, and by manifesting real and righteous fruit born out of love for Christ and the desire to bring Him honor and glory. Live each day to please the Lord, pray to Him. He’s always there to listen!
Don’t continue to live with doubts about your eternal salvation. Rather, live with the blessed assurance God wants you to enjoy as His child.
Acts 2:38 – Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.