The Assurance of Salvation

The issue of the believer’s assurance has caused a great deal of controversy through the centuries. The Roman Catholic “church” has flatly denied that an infallible assurance it possible.
Gregory the Great, a seventh Century Pope wrote, “The greater our sins, the more we must do to make up for them …whether we have done enough to atone for them we cannot know until after death … We can never be sure of success … assurance of salvation, and the feeling of safety engendered by it is dangerous for anybody and would not be desirable even if possible.”

On the other extreme is the fundamentalist who suggests that we drive a stake in the back yard with the date of our decision on it so that if we ever have doubts, we can look at the stake and retrieve our assurance. If I have ever “prayed the prayer” then I must never doubt that I am a Christian because that would be calling God a liar.

The Word of God leaves no doubt that it is possible for us to be assured that we are right with God. If such an assurance were not possible, the biblical writers would not have exhorted us to be sure of our salvation. In his second epistle, the apostle Peter wrote, “be diligent to make sure for yourselves your calling and election.” The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews expressed his desire that each of his readers “show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end.”

There are many questions that surround the issue of the assurance of salvation. The following are some of them: 1. Are faith and assurance the same? 2. Is it possible to loose one’s assurance and still be a Christian? 3. Is assurance based on anything we do or is it based totally on what Christ has done for us? 4. Is it possible to have a false assurance?

The answer to these and other questions may well depend on what kind of assurance we are talking about. The New Testament Scriptures use the term “full assurance” three different times. Each time the term refers to a different type of assurance.

In Colossians 2:2, the apostle Paul sets as a goal for believers the attainment of the “full assurance of understanding.” By this term he seems to mean the full assurance that through the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination and through diligent study we have come to understand God’s special revelation of himself and his purposes for us. Clearly, such understanding does not come to us because we sleep with the Bible under our pillow at night. The only thing that will do is give us a stiff neck in the morning. Such an understanding will only come to us as we diligently study the Scriptures.

The other two occurrences of this phrase are in the Epistle to the Hebrews. One time the writer speaks of the full assurance of hope. The other time, he speaks of the full assurance of faith. Is there a difference between these two expressions or is the writer simply using different terms for the sake of variety? I would answer that these terms differ just as the words “faith” and “hope” differ in meaning. Perhaps, it will be helpful, first of all, to distinguish between faith and hope. Clearly, these terms are closely related but must be distinguished from one another.

They differ in these ways. Faith looks at and rests on God’s promise. Hope looks at and longs for the blessing (the object) God has promised. Often, faith looks at what God has done; hope longs for what God is going to do in the future. Faith accounts God to be faithful to do whatever he has promised whether it is positive or negative; the object of hope is always positive. For example, one would not properly speak about the hope of eternal punishment. Faith is accounting God faithful to do what he has promised; hope is the favorable and confident assurance that we will enjoy what God has promised though the object of that promise is as yet unseen.

Related to assurance, the difference is this–the “assurance of faith” relates to God’s faithfulness. The believer is assured that if his faith is genuine, he has been so cleansed from his sins by Christ’s blood that he may now approach God with a clear conscience. His acceptance in God’s presence has nothing to do with his performance or his obedience. It has only to do with Christ’s performance. He enjoys the full assurance that God has accepted him in the beloved. The “full assurance of faith” (Heb.10:19-22) is our settled confidence that if we are in Christ, his work and his work alone cleanses our consciences before God. It rests on God’s unchangeable promise and oath and cannot be lost if we are true believers. This depends on Christ’s sacrifice alone, and our obedience has nothing to do with it.

The “full assurance of hope” (Heb. 6:11) requires our diligence. It has nothing to do with whether God is faithful. That is a given. It is the assurance that we are truly united to Christ and will certainly enjoy the inheritance God has promised us. This assurance can be lost if we are walking in disobedience or neglecting the things of God. It does not question that all who are in Christ are made spotless in God’s presence by his work alone; it questions the reality of our attachment to Christ.

If we are habitually slothful in spiritual things or if we are continuously disobedient to Christ’s commandments, we have every reason to believe our assurance may be a false assurance. There are certain virtues that will invariably accompany true and saving faith. The writer to the Hebrews penned these words,

9But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. 10For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

It is important that we understand that the text doesn’t say “just do it.” It would be enough if it did, but it does more. There is nothing wrong with duty, but it is clearly a lower motive than gratitude for love and acceptance. The reality is that we are to be diligent in obedience and as a result will enjoy the full assurance of hope because we have been granted the full assurance of faith. This is what we read in Hebrews,

8Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
19Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22let 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. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works (Heb. 10: 18-24).

We strive to be faithful to the confession of our hope because He who promised is faithful.


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