In the previous article, we discussed this question from the point of view of its meaning. Negatively, the question is not: have you done enough to make sure that you are saved? Have you done enough to assure yourself a place in heaven? Rather is the question to be understood: are you sure that God has saved you? This we discussed from the point of view of II Peter 1:10. This question has to do, therefore, with the personal assurance of our calling and election.
This is a very important question.
For, in the first place, it is necessary that we have this assurance. There is a two-fold necessity here.
It is necessary to have this assurance, first of all, because God demands it of us. “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10.) That is a command which the Lord lays upon us. It is our obligation before God to attain this assurance.
But, in the second place, the child of God must have this assurance because of an inner, spiritual necessity within the believer himself. The question of salvation is the all important question of his life. To have and possess salvation is to have everything. To lack it is to have nothing. He may have all else: riches, honor, position, and fame. But if he does not possess salvation, he really has nothing and is of all men most miserable. Such is the spiritual attitude of the child of God. There is within the heart and soul of the child of God an insatiable thirst for the assurance of personal salvation. He must attain the knowledge and assurance of his own salvation. He must know that he is numbered among God’s elect. And he will do anything and everything—cross the seven seas if necessary—to attain that assurance. He must know!
But quite often the child of God does not have the full and confident assurance of his salvation. For it is possible to be saved, to be one of God’s elect, to be called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God, and not have the full assurance of it. The child of God is not always on the mountaintops of faith when the personal assurance of salvation is strong. Quite often he finds himself in the spiritual valleys of doubt and despair, so that God seems far away and the matter of personal salvation is brought into question. The child of God has his spiritual ups and downs.
In fact there are some children of God who never seem to be able to get out of their spiritual valleys. They struggle with the assurance of their own salvation all their life. They never come to a time when they can say, “I am fully persuaded and confident that I am a child of God and that salvation is mine.” There are even those who claim that such a blessed assurance is not possible at all. Rather, doubt is the norm for the child of God. It is normal for the Christian to be in doubt about his own salvation. There may be a few elite within the church who have attained this assurance. But the norm is that the child of God never attains the personal assurance of salvation in this life.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the assurance of salvation is possible and, in fact, normal for the Christian.
How often in Scripture do we not find that the saints confess their personal assurance of salvation? The Psalms are filled with such confessions, too numerous to mention. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul inRomans 8:35, 37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Here Paul speaks not only for himself, but also on behalf of the church of Rome. He does not say “I” but “us.” Both Paul and the saints at Rome were assured of the saving love of God in Christ through which they were more than conquerors. Many more examples of this nature could be mentioned.
But, in the second place, it is inconceivable God would elect and save someone without also giving him the assurance of that fact. For what is the purpose of God’s saving work? It is that His elect may glorify His name in praise and thanksgiving for the blessings He has bestowed on them. But this certainly presupposes that His people first be conscious of and have the assurance of the fact that they are saved. How can one walk in gratitude to God for His blessings if he does not have the assurance of them? Therefore, it is not only possible, but also normal for, the child of God to have the assurance of salvation. If he lacks that assurance, it is abnormal. It is a sign that all is not well with him spiritually.
This leads us to consider how one attains the assurance of salvation.
We can say from a negative point of view, that we can not obtain the assurance of salvation by appealing to a past conversion. There are those who are able to point to a sudden conversion in their lives. Before they lived in sin and wickedness. But the grace of God suddenly brought them to conversion. They are able to recall the hour and the day with all its details. Their conversion was like that of the Apostle Paul or the thief on the cross. By appealing to such a past, sudden conversion, they hope to attain the assurance of salvation. But this will not bring assurance. How easy it is over the course of time for doubts to arise in one’s mind! Was this a true conversion or merely a figment of the imagination? Besides, let us not forget that the experience of sudden and vivid conversion is not everyone’s and certainly should not be set up as a standard for all. In some circles, if a man can not point to some such sudden conversion, he simply is not saved. But such sudden conversions are the exception, rather than the rule. Normally, in the sphere of the covenant, conversion is gradual, not sudden.
There are others who would obtain the assurance of salvation by introspection and searching for evidences of grace in their lives. The elective and saving grace of God bears spiritual fruits of righteousness within the life and consciousness of the child of God. He is sorry for his sins. He delights in the law of God, striving to be pleasing to the Most High. He loves the brethren and is not a friend of the world. Therefore, so the reasoning goes, if one but looks inward and can discover within himself such evidences of God’s grace, he can have the assurance that he is one of God’s own. But the trouble with this approach is that when he does this, for every evidence of grace that he finds that testifies that he is a child of God he will find a thousand evidences in his life that testify that he never was a child of God. For the child of God, as long as he is in this life, is still plagued with his sinful flesh so that even his best works are corrupted and tainted with sin. And one’s sin brings a very damning testimony to the one who will find the assurance of salvation by such self-introspection.
Finally, there are some who rely upon special revelations from God. The only way to obtain the assurance of salvation is that God somehow reveal it to them in a special way—whether through some mystical inner voice, or through some experience, or through some extraordinary event. But the problem is that God does not reveal Himself mystically through inner voices and feelings. His revelation can never be divorced from His objective Word.
How, then, do we obtain the blessed assurance of salvation?
In the first place, we must bear in mind that just as it is God Who must save us, so also is it God through His Spirit Who must give us the assurance of salvation. For according to Romans 8:16 it is the Spirit that. beareth witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God. Only when the Spirit brings that testimony do we have the assurance of our own salvation.
But this testimony comes only in connection with the objective Word. This is where so many go astray. They divorce the testimony of the Spirit from the Word and fall into mystical subjectivism. It is, however, only in connection with the Word, and especially the preaching of the Word, that the testimony of the Spirit comes to the child of God. The Word reveals the whole work of God’s salvation, starting from election, proceeding to the cross, passing on the call of God to salvation, and ending with the glorification of His people. When the child of God comes into contact with that Word he asks whether that is for him. Am I one of those elect? Did Christ die for me? Has God called me to salvation? Does this all apply to me? Then, in connection with that Word, the Spirit testifies to our spirit. That is, He applies that Word of God to us personally so that we have the assurance of our salvation.
However, all is not yet told. We may not divorce the testimony of the Spirit from the Word; but neither must we divorce it from our calling. Peter admonishes us to make our calling and election sure. By making our calling sure, we thereby also make our election sure which is the immovable basis for the assurance of salvation. But we make our calling sure only by walking in the way of that calling. That means a walk of sanctification. For thereunto are we called. The Spirit does not testify to our spirit, does not apply to us personally the Word of salvation, apart from our daily walk and life in the midst of this world. Only when we walk uprightly in the way of our calling, fighting against our sins, striving to do that which is good before God does the Spirit give us the assurance of our salvation.
This, of course, has far reaching implications.
It implies, first of all, that we must seek out and attend to the pure preaching of the Word. It stands to reason that the Spirit does not work His testimony of assurance in connection with the lie. To the degree, therefore, that the preaching has become adulterated with false doctrine, to that degree the people of God will lack the blessed assurance of their own salvation. If you desire to have a strong and flourishing assurance, which is also the demand of God, then it is imperative that you regularly attend the pure preaching of the Word.
But, in the second place, this all implies that we must strive to walk uprightly before God according to all the commandments of His Word. We must fight against all our sin. Daily we must put off the old man and put on the new man of righteousness. Only then will we have the strong personal assurance of our own salvation, so that we can proclaim with the Apostle Paul, “I am 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).