That is the question. How can I be sure that I am andforever shall remain a living member of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ? From what source does this assurance come? This question has troubled not a few of God’s people over the years. From one point of view this question ought not have in the past and ought not now trouble the believer. The Bible, God’s holy and infallible Word, does answer the question clearly and beautifully. From another point of view, well might we be troubled by this question, for without the assurance of salvation and of the fact that we shall be preserved by God to everlasting life and glory we have nothing! Lacking the conviction that we shall be raised up from the dead in and by the power of Christ’s resurrection, the Scripture says, “. . .your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. . .we are of all men most miserable” (I Corinthians 15:17-19). It is crucial for our spiritual health and well-being that we know the answer to the question: “How can I be sure?”
Of the fact that Holy Scripture teaches the preservation and perseverance of the elect in Christ there can be no doubt. In His sermon on the Bread of Life Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. . . .No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. . . .Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (John 6:39, 44, 47). Plainly our Lord teaches that believers have everlasting life now, and they shall be raised up at the last day. In opposition to the Pharisees Jesus stressed the same truth with these words: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). Once again, there can be no mistake about the Lord’s meaning. The sheep given Him by His Father (eternal election of grace) for whom Jesus lays down His life and takes it again (limited atonement, John 10:15-18) cannot go lost. They shall never perish because no one is able to pluck them out of the hands of Jesus and His Father. This precious truth is beautifully emphasized in the Epistles as well. We are begotten again into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5). This is a very powerful statement. The inheritance, which is salvation in its final manifestation in the glory of the new heaven and earth, is reserved for God’s people. And the saints are kept (guarded, R.D.D.) by the power of Almighty God through faith. It is, therefore, abundantly evident from God’s Word that God preserves His elect in Christ to everlasting life and glory. By this preserving grace of God the saints persevere to the end. It is utterly impossible that even one of that multitude which no man can number should fail to attain the glory which God has prepared for His people.
But the question remains: “How can I be sure?” How is it possible for me to know that I am one of the sheep of Christ? By what means can I know that I shall be raised up at the last day? How can I be assured that God has begotten me again to that living hope by Christ’s resurrection? How can I be certain that the inheritance is reserved for me and that God will guard me by His almighty and sovereign power? That, indeed, is thequestion.
This assurance does not come “by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God” (Canons, V, 10). There are those who look for their assurance in some kind of religious experience. They believe that God will speak to them in some mysterious way and thus assure them of their salvation. Until they have this conversion-experience they have no assurance at all. They remain quite convinced that they are lost. They may hear the gospel preached Sunday after Sunday, but they “It’s not true for me.” They live in doubt and fear, even terror at the prospect of dying and meeting their Lord. Although Pentecostalism is in many respects very different, its doctrine of. “Holy Spirit Baptism” teaches that the Holy Spirit works independently of the Word of God. These and all such mystical notions concerning the source of our assurance are seriously wrong and extremely harmful.
How can I be sure? God Himself must tell us. Our assurance must come from God and never from anything in us. God must tell us that we are His children, elect in Christ, redeemed by His cross and resurrection. God must assure us that we are and forever shall remain living members of His church, The fathers of Dordt stated this truth beautifully when they wrote: “This assurance. . . springs from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort” (Canons V, 10). Those promises are really one promise, viz., the sworn oath of God that He will lead all of His elect in Christ to everlasting life and glory. Those promises are revealed from various points of view in Scripture. But they all are comprehended in the one, unspeakably rich promise of God, His oath that He will surely preserve His beloved in Christ. Out of the promise of God we have “strong consolation” (cf. Hebrews 6:13-20).
How can I be sure? Where do we find the promises of God? In God’s Word. God does not speak to us directly any more. We no longer have prophets and apostles who say to us, “Thus saith the Lord.” But we do have by His grace God’s Word preserved for us in the Holy Scriptures. These Holy Scriptures are the inspired, infallible Word of God. In them God reveals the riches of His promise to His elect in Christ Jesus. God tells us who are the heirs of the promise. God gives in the Scriptures His own divine guarantee that neither the inheritance nor the heirs shall perish (cf. I Peter 1:4, 5). Apart from the Word of God, therefore, we have no knowledge of the promise of God. Without the knowledge of the promise of God we have no assurance of our salvation.
The question remains: how can I know that God’s promise is for me? How can I be sure? For that we need faith. By faith we receive the promise of God personally. I must believe that God chose me in Christ. I must believe that Christ died for my sins and was raised again on account of my justification. I must be assured of the fact that Christ is coming again to receive me unto Himself in Father’s House of many mansions. This means the Holy Spirit must witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16, 17).
At this point many go astray. This faith, they claim, is man’s work. Man believes or exercises faith and God then gives him salvation and its assurance. Or it is taught that faith is the condition which we must fulfill in order to receive the promise of God. If that be the case (and it is not!) there can be no assurance for us. Our salvation then would in the last analysis depend on ourselves. This is contrary to all Scripture.
Faith, just as is true of all the blessings of salvation is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-10). Initially God gives us faith when He regenerates us (John 3; I Peter 1:3). This faith is brought to conscious expression by means of the preaching of the Word (Romans 10:13-17). By means of the preaching of the Word by one called of God through His church we hear the voice of Christ, believe on Him, call upon His name, and we are saved. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. In this way the Spirit of Christ witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God. The fruit of this grace of God is that we walk in those good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). When we walk in sin, when we are indifferent to the Word of God, we lose immediately the assurance of salvation. But when by the grace of the Holy Spirit we are sorry for our sins and earnestly fight against them we are assured in our hearts that we are and forever shall remain living members of God’s church.
All this has at least two very serious implications. First, we must receive the Word of God as it is. God’s Word, Holy Scripture, is inspired and, therefore, infallible, i.e., without error. While it was given through the instrumentality of “holy men of God” it is not the word of man (II Peter 1:20, 21). Nor is Scripture partly the word of men and partly the word of God. Scripture is not the record of the religious experiences of its various authors. From beginning to end it is God’s Word (II Timothy 3:16, 17). To deny this truth is to destroy the believer’s assurance. To the degree that one corrupts the Word of God with the false doctrines of men he loses his assurance. Still more, the divinely inspired Word of God must be faithfully preached! The Scriptures must be expounded and applied to the lives of God’s people in the world. Preachers must not proclaim their own or some other person’s opinion. God’s own Word must be preached! And, God’s people must faithfully attend the worship services of the church. In this way we hear Christ and are assured in our hearts that He died and arose again for us and will surely preserve us unto everlasting life and glory. In this way I can be sure. I am sure! Praise be to God for the Wonder which He has performed for us and in us through Jesus Christ our Lord.