Once of the greatest aspects of true Biblical religion is that it puts forth the position that a believer can have a true and full assurance of his personal eternal salvation. We can know without a shadow of a doubt that we have been chosen by the Father, purchased by the Son and sealed with the Spirit. Blessed God three in One!
That this is the Biblical position on assurance can be seen from the example, command, and precept of the Holy Scripture.
We find many examples in Scripture of believers who possessed an absolute assurance of their eternal salvation. They knew that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth who were on their way to the celestial city of heaven.
Did not Mary express her assurance that God was her Savior in Luke (1:46-59)?
Didn’t Stephen face death with the absolute confidence that his spirit would ascend to heaven at death to be with Christ in (Acts 7:56-59)?
Is it not true that the Apostle Paul give us in his epistles many expressions of his assurance in (Romans 8:38, 39; Philippians 1:21-23; II Timothy 1:12; 4:7, 8)?
We not only find the above examples of assurance in Scripture, but we are also commanded and exhorted by the apostles to seek personal assurance.
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall (II Peter 1:10)
And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end (Hebrews 6:11)
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).
God in His mercy has also given us a passage of full mention on the doctrine of assurance so that we might learn this doctrine by way of precept as well as by way of example and command. Of course, I am referring to the epistle of 1st John.
The Apostle John tells us his reason in writing his letter in 5:13.
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.
Some have thought mistakenly that John’s statement in I john 5:13 only referred to the two verses immediately preceding it.
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the son of God hath not life.
But a close analysis of verse 13 reveals that this is John’s statement of purpose in writing the entire epistle. Thus the entire book was written in order to instruct Christians how to obtain a true and full assurance of their eternal salvation.
This understanding of 1st John 5:13 is further strengthened by the observation that throughout his epistle John is concerned to tell us by what standards we can judge ourselves and others to be true Christians. Thus we find him writing, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if…” (1st John 2:3, etc.)
John’s concern that believers would be assured on their salvation arose out of his desire that they could experience the fullness of joy and fellowship with God. Thus he states in 1st John 1:3, 4,
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.
Assurance is not just a theoretical issue in Christian doctrine but it is one of the most important issues of the Christian life. It is the main stream from which flows the spiritual dynamic of the Christian faith. Until a believer possesses true assurance, can he really worship God as his Father with all his heart while doubting his salvation at the same time? Can he apply all the commands and duties to himself if he doubts his sonship? Can he give himself to service in the world if he does not know if he is yet saved? Can he excel in any aspect of Christian living if he does not know if he is a Christian? Will not his witness to the non-Christian be robbed of its power and effectiveness because of his own inner insecurity of salvation?
When God the Holy Spirit gives the precious gift of assurance to a believer, the change in the believers life is so powerful and dynamic that it is often confused with conversion, a deeper life experience or a second work of grace. Why? Assurance causes holy joy to well up in the believers heart and to put boldness and power in his walk and witness.
Because of all of the benefits to be desired from true assurance, the Westminster Confession states,
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, in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance (XVIII, III).
Each one of you here tonight should ask yourself, “Am I sure of heaven? Do I know that my sins are forgiven? Have I been born of God? Upon What grounds do I base my assurance of my own personal salvation? Am I really saved or deceived?”
Despite the multitudes of professing Christians in our day who would quickly respond that they have assurance of salvation, a true Biblical understanding of assurance is actually a rare jewel! It is a pearl of great price which is not owned by many in our day. Indeed, in the light of the present times, we are warranted in saying that the 21st century church has, by in large, suffered itself to be decked with the cheap imitation jewelry of false teaching on assurance instead of adorning herself with the beautiful jewels of Biblical truth.
Let’s begin with a call of self-examination for God’s Word tells us in II Corinthians 13:5,
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? –unless indeed you are disqualified.
Also in 1st Corinthians 11:20,
For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
Self-examination is very neglected in these days and much denied and resisted. This has happened because self-examination is humbling to the fleshly nature of man. When we examine ourselves, we look into the mirror of God’s Law and see ourselves as we really are. This is a painful experience and many would rather go their way and forget their condition before God. James 1:22-25 states that only the true believer can abide in spiritual duty of self-examination.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
With an attitude of self-examination, let us turn to a study of 1st John in order to discover true Biblical assurance.
I. The Test of Assurance
Throughout his letter, we constantly find the Apostle John giving us ways to test the reality of validity of a profession of faith. The tests at first center on one’s personal profession of salvation and whether or not you can consider yourself a true believer. At other times John gives us tests by which we examine the professions of others to see if they are truly saved.
First John calls us to examine our FAITH. And John stresses that there are two distinct areas of faith which we must examine to determine if we are the children of God or the children of the devil.
First of all, John tells us to examine the CONTENT of our faith. Faith in this sense is used in its noun form as the object of faith, i.e. the doctrines which constitute our beliefs.
John tells us that we must believe in the essential biblical doctrines concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus if you are believing, then you have passed the first test. John emphasizes this in the following passages.
4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world
4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God
5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.
If a person denies the fundamental doctrines of the person and work of Christ, John says that their profession and assurance of salvation is to be rejected. Thus if you are denying what you should be believing, you have failed the first test.
2:22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.
2:23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
4:3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
Evidently, John would never have anything to do with universalism. For John’s doctrine does divide. It divides the children of God from the children of Satan. This division is good and must be urged all the more in a world which chooses to ignore doctrine and to seek unity in either service or experience over truth.
Second, John tells us to examine our COMMITMENT of our faith. This is faith used in its verb form, i.e. as the activity of believing. It is not enough to understand and give assent to orthodox doctrine but you must also put your personal trust and faith in Christ Jesus Himself as well as in the Biblical truths concerning His person and work.
It is also important to point out that the Apostle John always emphasizes the present tense character of true saving faith, i.e. faith is never viewed as a decision made in the past and now over with or completed.
Faith is an ever-present exercise of the soul in receiving all that Christ gives to spiritually hungry sinners and saints. Thus John says in 5:1,
5:1 Whoever believes (is believing) that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves (is loving) Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.
Throughout the Gospel of John, John emphasizes this present tense character of faith in such places as John 3:16.
3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes (is believing) in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The proper question is not, “Did you believe and receive Jesus Christ one time in the past?” John does not once refer to past decisions as having anything to do with true assurance.
The proper question is, “Are you believing in Christ right now? Are you trusting Him for salvation right now?”
What evidence is there in your life today- right now- that leads you to believe that you are truly saved?
The second general area to which John would direct our self-examination is the area of our LIFE.
John first calls upon us to examine the OUTWARD WALK of our life, i.e. to examine our lives to see if we are conforming ourselves to God’s Law.
John tells ust o stand before the mirror of the Law and to ask ourselves,
“Do I purposely attempt to keep God’s Law? Do I delight in God’s Law? Or, do I purposely disobey the Law and look upon it as grievous?”
Not only must we be believing what we should be believing but we must also be doing what we should be doing. Namely, seeking to conform out lives to the standard of the Law of Christ.
John is not demanding perfect obedience before assurance is attainable for none can say that they are without sin (1st John 1:8-10). He is talking about purposeful obedience, i.e. the intent of the heart, the general bent of the will and affections is toward God and His Law. In this sense he states that obedience to God’s Law is necessary for true assurance.
1st John 2:3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
2:5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
2:6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.
3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.
3:9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
3:10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
3:18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
3:19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
How many present day “converts” live a life of willful disobedience and rebellion against God’s Law? They want to live “under grace” and “not law” in order to feed their lusts. The Apostle John’s appreciation and presentation of the use of God’s Law in discovering the children of multitudes of profession Christians who abound on every hand. Oh, that God would raise up men who boldly proclaim the precious truths of 1st John.
John also tells us to examine our EMOTIONAL FOCUS of our life, i.e. to discover the objects of our desires and feelings.
As a wise theologian, the Apostle John does not deal with every emotion of the human heart but he deals with the two major emotions from which all other emotions flow: Love and Hate.
Love and hate are like the engine of a train. Where love goes, we see all the other virtues follow. If we love we will find all the elements of 1st Cor. 13 present on the train. In the same way, if we hate, all of the evil emotions follow where hate goes. If we hate then we find the works of flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Thus John deals with the focus of ones love and hate to determine if one is truly a child of God. If we love what God loves and hate what God hates, the we have passed this test. Thus John says that the true Christians love fellow believers and hate the world of sin.
2:10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
3:11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,
3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.
4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
4:12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.
4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
4:21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
But if we hate Christians and love the world, we reveal that we are not born of God.
2:9 He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.
2:11 But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
4:8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
II. The Spiritual Application of Assurance
Self-examination even along the lines of Biblical tests of assurance, will not automatically give anyone assurance for assurance is the personal sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. John points this out in his epistle,
1st John 3:24 Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
1st John 4:13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
But listen carefully, the Holy Spirit does not give assurance to those who fail to manifest the Biblical evidences of salvation. Instead, John combines the evidence of saving faith with the work of the Holy Spirit in I John 3:24.
The Spirit may give us assurance by making us realize that our life and faith meet the Biblical tests for it is “the Spirit who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16). Thus no amount of personal introspection or mental syllogism will automatically produce true assurance. The sovereign Spirit is the Lord of Assurance and He gives it to whomever he wishes.
Q-Is assurance part of saving faith? Can a person be a Christian and still lack assurance?
A-1st John was written to believers to call them to have assurance of their salvation, so yes.
Q-Can we possess assurance and then lose it? And may we regain it?
A-Assurance is not a “thing” which is given to the believer and then he has it for good. Assurance is that personal ministry of the Holy Spirit to the heart of a soul of a believer. When we grieve or quench the Holy Spirit by unconfessed sin in our life, the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit in assurance may be taken away from us along with the other fruit of the Spirit (Eph 4:30)