Let us understand the question correctly from the start.
The question is not this: have you done enough to make sure that you are saved? Have you done enough to assure yourself a place in heaven?
Such would be the understanding of this question by all those who, first of all, cling to a work-righteousness. Work-righteousness maintains that a man is saved by his own good works. To those who maintain this position, the question before us would be understood to mean: are you sure that you have done enough good to merit your own salvation? Likewise, those who have synergistic tendencies would have a similar understanding of this question. Synergism, in one form or another, is a very popular doctrine in the church world today. It teaches a cooperation between God and man in the matter of salvation. Both God and man have a contributing part. God in Christ has done His part. If man will possess and enjoy salvation, he must now do his part. The most popular form of synergism today is the idea that God offers salvation to all men. Now it is up to man, on his part, to accept this salvation.
If this were our understanding of the question, then we would have to busy ourselves, first of all, with ascertaining exactly what we must do to attain salvation—what our contributing part in the matter of salvation is. Then we would have to examine ourselves in that light to see whether we have done what is necessary to attain that salvation. And finally, we would exhort one another to get busy and to press on in whatever it is that we must do, lest we fall short and be cast into the eternal torments of hell.
But if that were our understanding of the question and our basic approach, we would be making a serious mistake. For the Scriptures emphasize that salvation is all of God. It is His free gift. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end and in no part is it a work of man. This is not to deny that man’s work is related to salvation. It is. But it is not a contributing factor in salvation. It is, rather, the fruit of salvation.
Thus the question—are you sure of your salvation? is rather to be understood: are you sure that God has saved you? That is the question before us.
We can best ask this question from the point of view of the admonition that the Apostle Peter sets forth in II Peter 1:10, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” The meaning here is not that we must do something to make sure that God will call and elect us—that we must do something to elicit the calling and election of God. Rather, the idea is that we must give diligence to obtain the assurance that God has called and elected us. For we read literally in the original, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure to yourselves.” The question, then—are you sure of your salvation?—is fundamentally the question: are you sure that God has called and elected you?
There are two questions here: are you sure of your calling, and are you sure of your election? The latter is the most basic and fundamental of the two. For election is the fount and source of all salvation. In the decree of election God eternally chose a people unto Himself in Christ, His Church, in distinction from others whom He reprobated. And according to this same decree of election, God also determined to save this chosen people through the person and work of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Reformed confessions emphasize throughout, this was not according to foreseen works but simply according to God’s sovereign good pleasure. He chose some and rejected others, He determined to save some and destroy others, not on the basis of what He foresaw they would do, but simply according to His eternal and sovereign good pleasure. Therefore, God’s election is the source and fount of all salvation.
Consequently the best approach to the question of the assurance of salvation is to ask: are you sure that God has elected you?
There are some who would deny that this is the proper approach. The objection is raised that, although the Scriptures mention it, election is a deep mystery. It belongs to the hidden and secret things of God and, therefore, is a very impractical doctrine. It is all right for theologians to speculate about election and to write treatises on it. But it ought not overly much to concern the child of God who sits in the pew. Let us leave the deep and hidden things to God. Our concern is only with preaching and believing the gospel of Christ crucified. In fact, because election is none of our concern, it would be very injurious to ask ourselves whether we are one of God’s elect. All we would do is become confused and raise all kinds of doubts in our minds about the matter of personal salvation.
But to this objection we say, in the first place, that if this be true, why does Scripture exhort us, as it does in II Peter 1:10, to make our election sure? If election were a mystery and a very impractical doctrine with which the child of God ought not to concern himself, why does this admonition come to us? Quite obviously the matter of election is our concern—a very important and practical concern. But in the second place, we can also add that when this objection is raised, it is usually raised by those who do not want the truth of election as set forth by the Word of God: Quite often you will find this objection on the lips of those who want nothing to do with a sovereign election, which implies necessarily a sovereign reprobation.
Therefore, we must not be afraid to approach the matter of the assurance of salvation by first asking: are you sure of your election? In fact, this is the best and preferable approach. For, in the first place, God always sovereignly executes His eternal counsel. Says Isaiah in 46:10, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” In His eternal counsel and good pleasure God has elected in Christ a people whom He determined to save. That counsel shall stand! He will do His good-pleasure! If I know, therefore, that I am one of God’s elect, then I also know most assuredly that God has sent His Son to die for me; that through that death He did not merely make salvation possible, but actually saved me, blotting out all my sins, on the basis of which I am a rightful heir to all the blessings of salvation.
Furthermore, if I know that I am elect, I also have the assurance that I will be saved to the very end; that I will never fall away from salvation. For God not only sovereignly executes His counsel, but He never repents from it. His counsel, including His purpose of election, is unchangeable. God never changes His mind. Of this Jeremiah testifies in 4:27, 28 when he says, “For this hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.”
This, therefore, is the most basic and fundamental question regarding the assurance of salvation: am I one of God’s elect? If we know that, then we know most assuredly that God has saved us in Christ, and that He will preserve us in that salvation to the very end. With the assurance of personal election we have a sure, immovable foundation for the assurance of salvation.
In close connection with this is the question: are you sure of your calling? Peter not only exhorts us to make our election sure but also our calling. In fact, he lists calling first, before election: “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” The calling mentioned by Peter is not, as is frequently the presentation today, a well-meant offer of salvation. That idea is completely foreign to Scripture, in the first place. Besides, if that were the calling here, the text would be relegated to the ridiculous and the absurd. For then we must strive and give diligence to attain the assurance that God has offered us salvation through the preaching of the gospel. Rather, calling, as it is mentioned by Peter, is the saving, efficacious call of God to His elect. It is, that work of the Holy Spirit in the heart and soul whereby, in connection with the preaching of the gospel, He consciously changes the elect sinner from death into life by His irresistible grace. By His grace He smashes his hard heart of enmity and pride. He quickens him spiritually so that he believes on Christ, flees to the cross, and turns away from and fights against his sins, walking in a new and holy life. That is the calling of which Peter speaks.
This question of the assurance of one’s calling is also very important in the matter of the personal assurance of salvation. This is easily seen if we understand, in the first place, that the saving call of God is rooted in His election. The call is the fruit of election so that all whom God has chosen to salvation He also calls to salvation. This is certainly implied by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:30 when he writes, “Moreover, whom he did predestinate, he also called.” But in the second place, we must keep in mind that, by itself, election is not a matter of our experience. No man is able to look into the book of life to see if his name is written on its pages. Election is an eternal decree of God. We are merely temporal. Therefore, it is only through our calling, which is God’s work in us in time and the fruit of His election, that we are able to experience our election. And, therefore, by making our calling sure, we are able also to make our election sure. Are you sure of your salvation?
Are you sure of your calling and also of your election?
In the next installment we will discuss, D.V., the possibility and the way of attaining this assuranc