From the lofty heights of theological contemplation to the deepest soul-wrenching cry of human distress, the truth of sovereign election casts an aura of heavenly bliss on every spiritual need. It is good for us to consider together how necessary the doctrine of election is for our personal assurance of salvation.
THE PROBLEM OF DOUBT
The opposite of assurance is doubt. These two experiences are the extremes in the polarity of Christian life. When we doubt, we question our assurance of salvation. When we have assurance, we are convinced that we are children of God and therefore partakers of all the benefits of Christ by faith, including everlasting life. These two opposites are to some extent present in the life of every child of God. The struggle of the inspired apostle applies to the doubt-assurance conflict as well: “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. . . . O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:19, 24). Hence our Reformed fathers express, “The Scripture moreover testifies that believers in this life have to struggle with various carnal doubts” (Canons of Dordt V Article 11).
By expressing it this way, we do not gloss over the sinfulness of doubting. Just because most Christians struggle with doubts to some degree, does not mean that it is not wrong to doubt. We differ strongly with those who view doubting as the quintessence of Christian piety, as if the more one doubts and tells others about it the more he is honest about his spiritual condition. Do we not sing with the Psalmist, “These doubts and fears that trouble me are born of my infinity“? They are out of unbelief, for when we doubt we do not trust God’s promises. Doubt is not a feeling; it is a rejection of God’s Word and therefore sinful and must be forsaken by the child of God. The assurance of our salvation is rooted in the promise of God which is given to us in the Bible and taken over by faith. “This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly in His Word for our comfort” (Canons V, 11).
THE BASIS FOR OUR ASSURANCE
By placing election and assurance together, we are forced to find the proper basis for assurance. Apart from election, we might be prone to try to find a human basis for it. The arch-foe of the Reformed faith, Arminianism, does this by extolling the free-will of man. The Arminian boasts that man, by the exercise of his free-will, accepts Christ and takes to himself the hope of salvation. The trouble with this view is that the same man, by the persuasion of his free-will, can also decide not to trust in Christ and therefore lose his personal salvation. Upon such a basis, assurance is no assurance at all. If we try to base our assurance upon man, his nature or his works, we have no stronger basis than the weakness of man. “By reason of these remains of indwelling sins and the temptations of sin and of the world, those who are converted could not persevere in a state of grace, if left to their own strength” (Canons V, 3). Hence, we must find another basis, and that is God! The only reason that we can be sure that we are not only saved, but will continue unto the perfection of salvation, is that God will not allow us to fall away. His election stands for all of time and unto eternity. Let’s consider four basic truths that set forth the relationship between election and personal assurance.
The first is this, the decree of election expresses God’s will to save His people for time and eternity. This will is always accomplished.
This is expressed beautifully in Romans 8:29, 30, “For whom. He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image’ of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” The elect are glorified! Similarly, we read in Ephesians 1:3-12, “Blessed be God. . . .according as He hath chosen us in Him (Christ). . . .having predestinated us -unto the adoption of children . . . .that in the dispensation of the fullness of time He might gather together in one all things in Christ.” Our confessions express the same thing. In the Canons I. 7 we read of the definition of election: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen, from the whole human race. . . . .a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ.” A little later they add, “The elect number. . . .God hath decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him and effectually to call and draw them to His communion. . . .finally, to glorify them. . . .” Election is God’s will to actually save His people in Christ for all eternity.
That will of God is sovereign in that He has the perfect right to choose whom He will and to exercise all His power to accomplish it. God was not under obligation to save anyone. Romans 9:21, 22 expresses this: “Hath not the potter power over the clay; of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had before prepared unto glory.” God’s will is His business. Even the supposed opponent of Romans 9 must admit, “Who hath resisted His will?” (Romans 9:19).
This says something of our assurance, for it is based upon God’s will to save His people in His decree of election, and that decree is surely accomplished.
The second truth we must consider is this, God’s will to save is motivated by His love, a love that never fails. A few Scripture passages that illustrate this truth areRomans 8:29, “For whom He did foreknow (meaning, love ahead of time), them He did predestinate.” AlsoEphesians 1:4, 5: “In love (properly taken from verse 4 and added to verse 5) having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ Himself according to the good pleasure ‘of His will.” This tells us that the moving power of God to choose the elect in Christ was nothing less than His love.
From that love of God, the Bible tells us, nothing will ever separate us. If God elected us in love, His love is so faithful and powerful that it will accomplish its intended purpose.
This sublime truth is sounded in Romans 8. Especially consider verses 33-39. In this section the inspired apostle deals with the two possible reasons why the elect might be separated from God’s love. The first is legal. Could it be that someone could bring a lawful charge against one of God’s elect that would disqualify him for heaven? He raises that point in verses 33, 34. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us.” The death and resurrection of Christ make up the legal basis for God’s right to save His people. The second possible reason for separation might be that someone, some power greater than God could still snatch God’s elect out of His divine arms. They might not have the right to do this, but does God have such power to prevent some illegal force from snatching us away? This is answered in verses 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.”
Once again this says something about our assurance. God’s election is based upon His love, which is so powerful that it accomplishes God’s sovereign intention. Hence, we say with our Reformed fathers, “My comfort is that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1).
The third truth that bears upon our assurance is this: I not only know that God elected His people in Christ and that He loves them in Christ and will surely save them, but, more personally, I know that I am one of those elect. The syllogism of faith expresses itself this way. All the elect are everlastingly saved (Major premise); I am one of God’s elect (Minor premise); I am surely saved everlastingly (Conclusion). The minor premise is crucial. Can we say that? We recall the great passage from II Peter 1:10: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” The obvious way to make sure our election is to make sure our calling. The child of God does not sit around and question his election. He is not fatalistic: if I am an elect I am saved, if not I can’t do anything about it. No, he takes seriously the teaching of Romans 8:16, “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” The gospel is addressed to us with a call to repent and believe. We have the sacred obligation to receive Christ by faith and thus to lay hold of eternal life. In this way, the Holy Spirit applies to our hearts the personal benefits of faith, one of which is our personal assurance of salvation (Canons I. 12).
The fourth truth is this: the degree of my assurance of salvation is proportionate to the degree of my faith. This is not to say that my assurance is dependent upon my growing in faith as if my act precedes God’s work. “God who is rich in mercy according to His unchangeable purpose of election does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people. . . .or permit them to be totally deserted and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.” Rather we mean that, “Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith” Canons V. 9. Also, “The Scripture moreover testifies, that believers in this life have to struggle with various carnal doubts, and that under grievous temptation they are not always sensible of this full assurance of faith and certainty of persevering” (Canons V. 11). The child of God recognizes that assurance comes in the way of struggle to overcome doubt. By the grace and love of God this struggle leads him to gaze upon the promises of God and to rely upon Him alone. The doctrine of eternal security does not make him spiritually careless, it makes him humbly obedient.
In conclusion, we ask you, are you sure of your salvation? Do you know that you are one of God’s elect and therefore saved no matter what the future holds?
In answer to this, do not look to yourself or your fellow man for that assurance. There is no sure foundation in human society. It rests only upon God’s sovereign good-pleasure, which you and I can know for ourselves, as we examine our own hearts before God’s Word.
What do you do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you confess your sins, turn from your own unworthiness and lean wholly upon the perfect work of Christ on the cross? Is your righteousness built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness? Do you delight to do the will of God?
Then you will say with me, “I am saved! I am one of God’s elect. God will save me in Jesus Christ for all eternity. I know this, for of Him, through Him, and unto Him be glory forever, Amen” (Romans 11:36).