Assurance of Salvation: Is it possible? Is it promised?
In his new book Assured, pastor and author Greg Gilbert addresses an issue that most, if not all, Christians have secretly wondered about—“Am I truly saved?” Gilbert rightly acknowledges that “one’s sense of assurance will ebb and flow through the circumstances and years of life.” The reason for that vacillation may be one of any number of reasons: our struggles with sin, wondering if we love Jesus enough (or does He still love me?); feeling we don’t “measure up” to other believers; theological conundrums; spiritual attacks; or even no identifiable reason at all. Yet I feel the author is spot on (and scripturally correct!) when he says, “I think the Bible teaches that assurance—to some degree or another—is the new birthright inheritance of every Christian and is even inherent to the nature of faith.” My focus of this article is to give an overview of the book and to the topic of assurance. In future articles, I plan to go deeper into the sources of our assurance in Christ. Multiple copies of the book will be in the church library by early in October.
Christianity is all about certainties: the Bible goes to significant lengths to show us there is a God who made the world; out of love He sent His Son into this world; His Son, Jesus, died on the cross as a ransom for many; and the resurrected Savior offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe in Him. Those certainties of a biblical worldview are what “sets Christianity apart from most other religions of the world. They have questions; Christianity has answers. They have enigmas; Christianity has truths.” Here are some verses that show us what we can know, what we can be certain about regarding our salvation in Christ:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become High Priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6: 17-20).
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13).
The book helpfully identifies and categorizes four main sources of assurance. The first two are the gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises of God (to promises, I would add the character of God—for truly the divine promises flow out of God’s character and being). Gilbert states that these are the “driving sources of assurance. In other words, they are the ultimate fountainheads from which our sense of certainty of salvation erupts, and the deeper we press into them with understanding and faith, the greater our sense of assurance will be.” The third source is the witness of the Spirit (whom believers receive at the moment of conversion as Ephesians 1 tells us). This he calls a “supernatural source of assurance, a gift from God by which the Holy Spirit gives birth directly in our souls to a deep and profound sense of comfort, security, and assurance.” The final source of assurance are the fruits of obedience—the good works which flow out of us because we are Christians (Galatians 2:20). These are classified as a “confirming source of assurance—that is, not one in which we put our faith but one that can nevertheless serve to confirm our sense that we really are children of God.”
This “architecture of faith and assurance” can be seen in the following passage:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone (Titus 3:3-8).
It’s all there, do you see it? We desperately needed a Savior—because of our sin we are lost and condemned. The kind and loving God sent His Son who did all the work that needed to be done through His death and resurrection to rescue us (the driving source of the good news of the gospel). As we come to the Lord on His terms—owning our sin and spiritual bankruptcy and embracing Christ by faith as our only hope of salvation—the Holy Spirit applies the work of spiritual rebirth (the promises of God and the supernatural work of the Spirit). Now as children of God, the Word and Spirit work in us to produce growth in godliness and character (the confirmation by the fruits of obedience).
Biblical certainties (yes, praise God!) yet still some occasional, nagging doubts. Gilbert helpfully adds, “It may surprise you to find out that doubt can even become, ironically, one of the means God uses to deepen your faith in and dependence on Jesus, to drive you back to the cross and to a desperate trust in Christ . . . I’m convinced that our kind and loving Lord intends for us to live this Christian life not in a perpetual sense of worry and fear but rather with joy and love and godly determination to run the race well—and ultimately with a delight-filled confidence that what waits for us at the end is His strong embrace.”