Posts Tagged With: Assurance

Calvin on Assurance of Election

When it comes to us, as I said, it is necessary for us to take the certainty of our election from the gospel; because if we try to penetrate the eternal decree of God, this will be an abyss for us to engulf us.  But after God has testified to us and made us to know that we are of His elect, we should climb higher, out of fear that the effect might bury the cause.  For there is nothing more unreasonable, when the Scripture tells us that He has illuminated us according as He has chosen us, that this clarity would blur our eyes, to the point that we would refuse to think we are elect.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.24.3 (translated from the French edition)

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Being Sure of Your Salvation, Part 5: The Danger of False Assurance

Part 5:  The Danger of False Assurance

Walking_On_Thin_Ice_by_X_ampleTo conclude this series, I would like to address the phenomenon of false assurance.  This is the unsaved person who thinks that he or she is saved.  There is a subjective certainty about it which is not grounded in reality.  How could this be?  There are biblical methods of gaining an infallible certainty that one is saved forever.  There are also some truly saved Christians who at a given time may not have a full certainty (as far as they perceive) that they are saved forever, who need to use the God-given means to attain this certainty, particularly meditating on the finished work of Christ and living in faithful obedience.  On the other hand, there are those who think they are saved but in reality they are not.  These folks will be in for a rude awakening!  These are like those described in Matthew 7:22, 23:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 

There is a biblical way to gain a full assurance that God is your eternal Savior, and there are other deceitful ideas that come from the imagination or from false teaching.  The two most common categories of false assurance are as follows:

1. “I’m a good person, so I’ll go to heaven.”

Nothing comes more natural to sinful human beings than to justify themselves—to think they are better than others, and therefore, that God should accept them.  One person thinks that being a good neighbor or civic service will save him.  Another thinks that being a church-goer or donating to the needy will put him over the finish line.  A third does not drink, smoke, or hang out with people who do, but spends all his time at work and with the family.  All of these ideas fall short.  The God of Scripture is holier than we sinners can even imagine.  He is in the One whose eyes are too pure than to behold sin (Habakkuk 1:13.)  The standard by which every one of us will be judged is not our peers, neighbors, or other humans, but we will be judged by God’s perfect standard of holiness, and none of us will measure up.  And by this standard, there is none who does good, no, not one (Romans 3:12) and the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 8:21.)  Even the very thought that you are good enough to merit His eternal reward is sinful pride, a sin worthy of eternal suffering in hell forever.

The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.  Psalm 10:4

Only one who realizes his sinful misery knows that he needs the one Savior of the world.  The self-secure will find themselves to have built a house on sinking sand rather than on the rock of God’s mercy to sinners in Christ.  And there can be no doubt that God, being a just and holy Judge of all the earth, will do what is right by punishing forever every person who seeks to be saved by his own goodness.

2. “Prayed the prayer, got the date written in my Bible.”

This fallacy bases ones certainty of salvation on a past experience.  Maybe one person has walked down an aisle and prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”  Another has been baptized as an infant and confirmed in the church.  None of these experiences in the past are a foundation of certainty that you are eternally saved.  The means given in Holy Scripture for gaining assurance of salvation are a resting on the finished work of Christ the everlasting Savior and a continued life of faith and obedience to Him.  Without these two pillars of assurance: the objective and subjective grounds given in Scripture for Christians to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are eternally saved, no past experience means a thing.  For as the Lord says, he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.  (Matthew 13:13)  But there are tragically many people who are fooling themselves into thinking that they’ve got it made forever because they’ve gone through the right hoops, as if eternal happiness were a simple matter of box-checking.  But the biblical picture is much more wholistic.

 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.  Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:  1 Peter 1:10 

It is possible for Christians, in this life, to get a full certainty of eternal salvation by using those ordinary means that God has given.  By studying the Scriptures, we found out that the two foundational pillars of assurance of salvation are trusting in the finished saving work of Christ, and living a life of faith and obedience in thankfulness to Him.  What a great and precious comfort it is for sinful humans to know that they will be happy with God forever!  Although there are some true Christians who for various reasons lack full assurance, or may lose it from time to time, any true Christian using the God-given means can attain to a full assurance.  There is a danger of false assurance, so we must be all the more dilligent to make use of those means God has given to gain certainty about our eternal destiny with God.  None of His own can ever be lost.  To Him be all glory in the saints forever and ever.  Amen.

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“Being Sure of Your Salvation” is available free of charge today in Amazon Kindle e-book format

“Being Sure of Your Salvation”, my little booklet, is free today on Amazon in Kindle e-book format and for the next four Fridays.  To access it on Amazon, click here.

–Pastor Riley

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Being Sure of Your Salvation: part 4, Can a Truly Saved Christian Be Unsure?

By Pastor Riley Fraas
Is it possible for a truly reborn Christian to be unsure of his salvation?  In short, yes.  For although a true believer in Christ is truly saved by faith in Him, yet since the faith of the Christian can sometimes waver and experience serious doubting, the Christian in this case will wonder if he even really believes at all.  If the subjective evidence of salvation by a life in obedience to God is lacking or not evident, one begins to wonder about the root of faith.  Not that the Christian indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit will ever entirely cease believing; this lack of assurance of salvation may come for various reasons.

The new Christian who first begins to believe savingly on Christ will often require time and hearing of the word to become absolutely sure that not only is Jesus the one Savior of sinners, he is also my Savior.  In some cases, grievous sinning against the Lord can cause even a longtime Christian to doubt his salvation.  We see this in the case of David, who, because he had committed murder against Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba, seemed to fear that God would have taken his Spirit away from him.  He says, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” and “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” Psalm 51:11-12

While it impossible for a saved individual to ever be lost, yet it is very possible for a saved person to not be 100% sure he is saved.

David here describes this as having lost the joy of salvation.  The Christian who has backslidden and lost the subjective evidence of good fruit that accompanies salvation in his life, who does not experience the love, peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit anymore, has lost his assurance of salvation.  He knows that Jesus is the Savior, but is he my Savior?  And did I ever really believe at all?  Or was my faith just some emotional excitement that is here for a time and gone tomorrow like the seed that falls on stony ground in Jesus’ parable of the sower, which springs up quickly but then withers in the hot sun? (Mark 4:1-20)  These questions swirl in the mind of the Christian who has fallen to temptation.  In situations like this, it is a merciful providence of God that removes the seal of assurance from the individual; for by means of this newfound lack of assurance, the backslidden Christian is brought back to his knees, and back to Christ.

For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.  Psalm 31:22

The Christian who has lost his certainty of his salvation has nothing on which to lay his hopes but in Christ and his finished work: no good works, fruits, or past experiences can help in a time like this.  Only Christ can help.  In this way the Christian is made to rekindle, reignite, and reengage his love and faith in the only Savior of sinners, Jesus Christ, and in time he will once again regain that blessed assurance of eternal salvation by using the means God has given: the hearing and reading of the word, the sacraments, and prayer.  Taking away assurance for a time is one of the means that God uses to bring Christians back to their knees when they sin.  For though he has promised that true believers in Christ can never fall, (“him that is able to keep you from falling,” Jude 24) yet he may take away their assurance of their own personal salvation from time to time.

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Being Sure of Your Salvation: Part 3, The Subjective Evidence of Salvation

By Pastor Riley Fraas

In the last part of this series, I talked about Jesus Christ the Savior being the objective ground of assurance, that is, the believer’s foundational certainty of his or her eternal salvation.  The person who truly believes in Jesus Christ can never be lost because Jesus is his Savior, and Jesus is not a temporary, but an eternal Savior.  Jesus lives continually interceding for His own; and we can be confident that the Father always hears Him.  As a result, they can never be lost.  In this part I would like to talk about the subjective evidence of assurance, in other words, the evidence in the life of a believer that may be seen as proof that one is eternally saved from sin.

In Matthew 7:18, Jesus said,  “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”  Notice that Jesus is presenting the fruit of the tree as evidence of it being a good tree.  This is an analogy applying to Christians.  Those who believe in Christ, aka. Christians, who have been born anew and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who are truly connected savingly to Christ by faith, cannot help but produce certain fruits in their lives.  A true Christian cannot fail to live in a way that pleases God any more than a good tree can fail to produce good fruit.  If the tree doesn’t produce good fruit, it’s proof that the tree is corrupt.  In the same way a person who is not living for God shows evidence that he or she is not a true believer in Jesus Christ.  Because of this, bearing spiritual fruit is an important aspect of being sure that one is saved.  One is not saved because of the way one lives—any more than good fruit is what makes a tree good inside—but the way in which one lives for God is evidence that one can point to of a true relationship with the Savior.  So one important way to be sure of one’s salvation is to examine one’s life for the distinguishing characteristics and behaviors which accompany salvation.

This is what Peter is talking about when he writes, “give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” in 2 Peter 1:10.  The way to make sure that one has truly been called inwardly by the Holy Spirit, and that one is truly “elect” unto salvation as the apostle here terms it, is to give diligence to do “these things.”  But what are “these things”?  They have just been named in verses 5-8 of the same chapter:

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;  And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

 There are seven qualities or characteristics listed here which describe those who are truly saved forever:

Virtue – Termed “excellence” in some translations, this trait refers to fulfilling God’s purpose for your being.  When you are living a life in sync with God’s instructions and commandments in Holy Scripture, this is true manhood or womanhood, an evidence of salvation.

Knowledge – Knowing God by studying the Bible and hearing His word in church.  You can’t very well make a case that you have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, if you’re not diligently seeking to know Him better in the way that He’s given us to learn about Him, can you?  That would be like me saying that I love my wife by not getting to know her.  It’s ridiculous.

Temperance – A sober, self-controlled life, free from slavish service to the lusts of the flesh and the temptations of the world is a fruit or evidence of salvation.

Patience – Patient perseverance in faith is a sign of salvation.  Faith in Christ that is here today, gone tomorrow is not a sign of salvation.  Continuing in faith and obedience to Christ, is.

Godliness – Having a God-ward orientation, living for Him, reflecting His character.

Brotherly Kindness – Being kind, gentle, and gracious to other believers in Christ is a sign of one who really has been saved by His grace.  If you’re not gracious to other Christians, have you really experienced God’s grace?  If you know the kindness of Jesus to you, you will also be especially kind to those for whom He shed His blood.

Charity (or love) – One who personally has firsthand knowledge of the love of Christ will be loving to others, whether they are Christian or non-Christian.  If not, it’s evidence that one doesn’t know that love.

Peter lists these traits or characteristics not only as something to look for to tell if you are eternally saved or not, but as something to cultivate in your life to gain that certainty and assurance that you are truly saved.  He goes on to say,

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ
A label on a can of soup is not the source of ingredients.  The ingredients are put in before the label is ever glued on.  But, if you want to know what’s inside, you can look at the label.  In the same way, the lives of Christians offer the evidence or proof that they are eternally saved, in relationship with the Savior.  If you want to be certain of your salvation, therefore, it’s necessary to cultivate and reflect the kinds of characteristics and traits that come with salvation.  And we have the promise of God’s word, that if we do these things, we “shall never fall.”…Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  2 Peter 1:10, 11
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Being Sure of Your Salvation: part 2, The Principal Ground of Assurance

By Pastor Riley Fraas

Having established from Scripture the truth that Christians may be sure of their salvation, in this life, and without direct revelation from God, it now remains to be seen how this assurance is to be obtained.  The one who is really interested in knowing whether he is eternally saved will not be content with anything less but following God’s instructions for obtaining this blessed assurance.  The honest Christian has no interest in deceiving himself.  He doesn’t just want to soothe the conscience.  He wants to know the truth.  For him, ignorance is not bliss.  So he must follow the means that God has given to obtain full assurance of salvation.

The first, most principal ground, and root of the Christian’s absolute confidence in his or her own personal and eternal salvation is in the person and work of Jesus Christ Himself.  Though our sins are great, and our fears are many, yet Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God fully bore the wrath of God for sinners.  There is a way of salvation which God has given.  This way is in His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus has promised that,All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37)  This verse and others like it make clear that the only true way of seeking salvation is in Jesus Christ the Son of God.  He is the objective ground of true assurance.  The one who seeks salvation in good works, reputation, religious observance, or any other gods or savior is barking up the wrong tree!  Salvation is only to be had in the way that God has provided, and this way is His Son Jesus Christ.  Secondly, we find in this verse that there is full assurance of salvation for all those who come to Him, who are given to Jesus by the Father.  For all those who are trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation from their sins, who are believing in Him, resting all their hopes on Him and not in themselves, or any other person or thing, as He is revealed in Scripture, there is absolutely no reason for them to doubt their salvation.   Now, a couple of further comments need to be made on this point:

1.       Eternal salvation is fully assured for believers in Christ, because He is a full Savior. 

Christ as the Savior of sinners lives forever.  The one who is saved in Him, is saved forever.  It is absolutely certain that he will be in no wise cast out.  Salvation is eternally secure for the believer in Jesus Christ, not because of any worth, value, or strength of faith in the believer, or just because of some law or principle which dictates that he can never be lost, but because Jesus Christ Himself continues as Savior.  He is ruling and reigning in the hearts of His people, and he will not allow one of his sheep to go astray to the point of being finally lost.  Though the sheep, left to his own abilities and loyalty, is by nature able to wander very far from the sheep pen to the point of being irrecoverably lost, yet the Good Shepherd will not allow the sheep to get to that point.  (Luke 15:4)  Though the sheep strays, he will still be found and brought back to the fold, like the one sheep for which the shepherd left the ninety-nine in Jesus’ parable.  The believer’s confidence and assurance is therefore eternal.  And it is not based on anything but the personal character of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  The moment one places saving faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement for sin on the cross, that person is fully saved forever and nothing is ever going to be able to change that, because no one can thwart the will of the Savior who keeps him in His loving care.  The idea that a true believer, born again by Christ’s Spirit, and given to Him of the Father may then lose his salvation at a future time is an affront to Jesus as the Savior of all those who come to God through Him.

2.        This means coming to Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture.

The one who comes to the wrong Jesus, does not come to the Savior.  For though there is only one Jesus Christ, yet there are many who remake Jesus to suit their own imagination.  Some like the harmless baby Jesus in the mangers at Christmas time, who never seems to grow up.  Others like the social-activist Jesus, or the greasy-grace Jesus.  The Jesus of Scripture is the eternal Son of God, who became man to save hopeless sinners.  He is God.  He is holy.  He is righteous.  He is compassionate.  He is the Lord of glory.  He lifts the downcast and demands the impossible.  The one who comes to Jesus as a sidekick, a buddy, a good luck charm or a life-accessory is not coming to the true Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture.  Those who would be saved by Him must study the Scriptures to ensure that they are trusting in the true Savior, and hear Him speak to them about who He is in a church where His word is preached faithfully.

3.       This principal ground and root of assurance is something that the believer will have to return to again and again, especially when fears and doubts abound. 

Christians in this life are being made perfect, but they are not perfect.  Their life is a pattern of a progressive growth in grace, being made more and more in conformity to the image of Jesus Christ.  They often stumble, occasionally so horribly that it’s hard to tell the difference between them and an unbeliever based on their lives.  At these moments they won’t get any certainty of their salvation by looking at their own lives.  Self-examination in a time like this will only drive them to despair.  They may even question their own faith.  I do not say that they don’t have faith, but when they think about their own faith, they have big doubts.  At times like this, their only assurance can come from meditating on Christ’s finished work:  that he fully satisfied the guilt of sin for all those who come to God through Him, and that He lives on forever to intercede for them.  This is the unshakeable foundation of salvation.  By meditating on these truths, the believer beset by sin and doubt will be able to regain a full assurance of salvation, not by looking inwardly, but by looking to Christ.

It is possible to be absolutely certain that one is saved forever.  The main root and ground, the unshakeable solidity of this assurance is in the person and work of Jesus Christ the Savior of sinners.  All other supports and evidences for salvation are based on this.  If one is to really know whether one is saved, one will have to use the means that God has provided to obtain that assurance, and the principal foundation is Christ Himself.  He alone is the objective ground of assurance of salvation for the believer.  In following articles of this series we will explore the subjective evidences of eternal salvation in the life of the believer, and the danger of false assurance.

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Being Sure of Your Salvation, part 1

Being Sure of Your Salvation, part 1

 

By Pastor Riley Fraas

Is it possible to know whether you are saved?  I mean, really, for sure?  This is the first of a series on the topic of assurance of salvation, or, in other words, the certainty of the individual Christian believer that he or she is eternally saved.

This is no small question, and different groups, denominations, and authors have given very different answers to the question over the years.  What interests us is not first and foremost, what do people say about assurance, but what does the Bible say?  Certainly this is a topic that is addressed in Holy Scripture, so there is obviously something that God wants to teach us about this.  If we scooted by every single topic which has been disputed, we would have very little of the Bible left to learn from!  In 1 John 5:13, John writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “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, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”  The purpose of John’s letter is to make those Christians who would read it or who would hear it read aloud in the churches certain of their salvation in Christ.  Based on his purpose in this letter, we find that it is possible for one to be absolutely sure that one is saved forever.  And, indeed, the purpose of the whole Bible (including but not only John’s epistles) is to bring true believers the comfort and assurance of knowing that God is their God forever, that Jesus Christ will save them on the last day, and they will enjoy a blessed covenant relationship with Him, not just for a time, but everlastingly.  In terms of comfort and consolation in the Christian life, when it comes to having a full assurance of one’s own eternal salvation, that one belongs to Jesus Christ the everlasting Savior and will surely see Him one day, what could possibly be more important for the fullness of joy, faith, and hope of any Christian?

The 17th century Congregationalist puritan, Thomas Brooks, sums it up this way, “It is the very drift and design of the whole Scripture, to bring souls first to an acquaintance with Christ, and then to build them up to an acceptance of Christ, and then to build them up in a sweet assurance of their actual interest [meaning part or inheritance—RF] in Christ.”  (Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1654, reprint. 2008, p. 17.)  The Holy Bible is given to make those who are saved know for sure, without a doubt, that they are saved in Christ eternally.  We find the evidence for this in every part of Scripture where the Bible describes salvation as being rooted and grounded in Christ’s finished work:  in His life, death, resurrection, and intercession.  (Psalm 16:10, Romans 8:32-34, Titus 1:2, Ephesians 2:6)  The Apostle Paul writes to Titus in the opening of that epistle, “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour;” (Titus 1:1-3)  Notice that the apostle references the hope of eternal life, stating that it is based on the promise of God, and that this expectation or “hope” in God’s promise is communicated through preaching.  We see several things here.  First of all, we know that God’s promises never fail.  If our hope is in God’s promise, it is a full certainty.  God never changes.  Secondly we note that this promise, which is the basis of the hope of eternal life, is communicated by preaching, not by any extraordinary and special word of prophecy.  In other words, it is possible for Christians, even on this side of heaven, to know that they have eternal life in Jesus Christ:  to have full certainty of their eternal salvation, just by carefully considering what the Bible has to say about it, (without a direct word from Heaven.)  The one who has this full assurance enjoys an advance, a foretaste of heaven here on earth in his or her soul, and nothing that the world, the flesh, or the devil can do to him or her can dampen his or her joy in Jesus Christ.  He or she is “persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39)

In future articles of this series we will continue exploring the topic of assurance of salvation to learn what the Bible says about assurance of salvation.  In particular we will look at how this certain, full assurance or complete and secure confidence of eternal life is to be gotten according to Scripture, whether in this life there may be some Christians who are eternally saved but still have personal doubts about their own salvation, and the dangers and pitfalls that exist for those who seek assurance by methods other than that which the Bible teaches.  My hope is that this series will be an encouragement for many people, stirring up for them greater joy and love for Jesus Christ.


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