Certainty of Salvation | The Cultivation of Biblical Assurance
A couple years ago, a friend of mine was finishing some work on his home when he asked if I would give him a hand. Now, for me, working with tools is exhilarating. But on top of that, this friend of mine happens to be an experienced carpenter and handyman, and I'd never pass on an opportunity to learn from him—not mention I enjoy his company. Anyway, I drove over to his house that afternoon and we got started. And after a little while, as we made our way around the house, peeling back his old baseboard, our conversation gradually transitioned to faith.
“I don’t know," he said, "I guess sometimes I worry that, since God saved me, then He might decide to un-save me just as easily."
With crowbar in hand, I sat thinking about my friend's words. There was so much wrapped up in what he'd said that I wasn't sure where to begin. But one thing was clear; like many Christians, my friend was struggling with assurance.
How to Use
Our hope in Children and Families Ministries is to provide resources that support families as you follow God's call to teach, care for, and disciple your children. One of the ways we aim to do this is by offering material that equips you to address biblical topics with your family.
As parents, your childrens’ understanding of salvation is something you likely carefully attempt to foster and monitor. As children grow and develop, parents are continually trying to discern the nature and extent of their faith. Lord willing, your children will inevitably wonder how they too can have biblical assurance of salvation. We encourage you to digest this article a piece at a time, setting aside a couple of meals this month to discuss it with your family.
- Section 1 - The basics
- What is assurance?
- Why is it important?
- Section 2 - How do we have it?
- Pursuit in obedience
- The finished work of Christ
- Section 3 - Conclusion & security
- Gospel impact
- Family application
Section 1 - The Basics
What is assurance?
Assurance is a Christian’s confidence in his salvation, it’s what allows him to say, “I know Christ, and He knows me.” Naturally, the development of assurance is a source of great joy, encouragement, and perhaps most importantly for young people, Christian identity. Without assurance, the Christian is unable to say one way or the other if he is truly saved. This kind of uncertainty is frightening even if it is only momentary. Still, various Christian sects hold that the idea of assurance is impossible. In fact, some would even argue it is arrogant. The Bible, however, quiets such discouraging objections, instead showing us that not only can Christians have assurance, but that we should seek it.
Why is it important?
It’s helpful to think about assurance in the same way we do other things like love, faithfulness, and humility, all of which are fruits of sanctification (our growing in holiness). We do these things; we cultivate, practice, and develop these spiritual disciplines. But God grants them. Our progress is the result of God’s Spirit working in us, empowering us on to maturity and good works. So although we are commanded to practice and hone our spiritual disciplines, they are all gifts from God and assurance is no different.
The importance of assurance can be divided into three parts: command, fruit, and joy.
In his second letter, the Apostle Peter gives us the following mandate: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”1 According to Peter, we are to be diligent in pursuing assurance, chasing it down with urgency. This sentiment is similarly expressed in Hebrews 6:11 where the author exhorts God's people in earnest pursuit of assurance. Note that both verses show up amidst the contexts of virtuous living and the exercise of true faith. This means it is our biblical duty to be confirming our position at the Lord’s table—not earning it—through the sanctified life and the production of spiritual fruit.
Secondly, given the fact that Peter provides this mandate, it must therefore be possible to fulfill. It would make little sense for the apostle to encourage us in an effort of futility.
Assurance exists in varying degrees from one believer to another. Two believers equally saved may profess differing degrees of assurance, one having full assurance while the other has little or none. The reasons for such differences are numerous, but the important thing is that, just as with the development of all spiritual disciplines, a lack of assurance will impact the overall output of the Christian. Consider the martyrs—Polycarp, William Tyndale, Anne Askew, etc.—would their legacies be so reverently impressed upon Church history, their fruit so rich, if they had been timid regarding the precise nature of their salvation? Unlikely. Biblical assurance emboldens the Christian, blurring worldly distractions and setting our eyes on the upward call of God.2 On the other hand, a lack of assurance paralyzes the Christian, causing us to be blown about by every changing wind of doctrine. It doesn’t promote the confident exercise of faith, worship, and evangelism that assurance does. If our assurance is lacking, we cannot even be sure if the gospel promises are for us, the implications of which are obvious; our fruit rises and falls with assurance.
In Psalm 51:12, David sings to the Lord, “restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Something we might take for granted is the joy we have access to right now through our union with Christ. In Paul’s letters to the Philippians, he reveals that the secret to his steadfast joy and contentment is a fixation on the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ.”3 Scripture revisits this theme again and again: there is a joy and a peace that comes with knowing Christ.4 The cultivation of assurance is part of our laying hold of these gifts.
Section 2 - How do we have it?
The two greatest enemies of assurance are sin and ignorance. Sin can cause us to doubt the salvation we knew we had only moments before, especially serious sin or sin we thought we had overcome. Ignorance of God’s word can be equally devastating. God’s word and promises form a foundation on which we are to build our faith. Without this foundation we become vulnerable to harmful ideas that steal our assurances and kill our joy. Consequently, assurance is promoted by the outworking of our salvation in obedience and the regular study of God’s word.
Pursuit in obedience
Scripture often highlights the need for Christians to strive for obedience. Sometimes these passages include an instruction to examine ourselves to see if we are walking in godliness.5 Remarkable encouragement is obtained when we observe a once burdensome sin fall out of prominence in our lives, or in the exhibition of new and improved fruits of righteousness. Goodness motivated by a love for Christ is indicative of sanctification, and sanctification is proof of salvation. We should be encouraged by such signs, giving thanks at all times for the Spirit’s work in our hearts.
However, there is a caveat; we should not lose ourselves to the mirror. Though our performance can be a sign of our salvation (or not), it is ultimately neither consistent nor reliable. Those distinctions belong to another standard.
The finished work of Christ
Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “For every look at self—take ten looks at Christ.” I would add that those should be long looks at Christ. We must realize that if our assurance hangs solely on our performance, then it will shrink and expand as our battle with sin wars on. Sadly, it is usually on our sin that our longer looks tend linger. We end up dwelling on our sin, well beyond the point of conviction, to a point of unbiblical shame and self-condemnation, but this is not the way. Instead, we must know that He has done it—Jesus Christ, the man for us, has done it all. The ultimate and perfect source of assurance is the historical and theological reality of Christ’s finished work on the cross. Therefore, look to Him. Look to the blood on the tree, to the empty tomb, and to the scars in His body and know that nothing can take that away—nothing.
Church, be assured of these things: That Christ has done for you what you could never do for yourself, and that He is holding on to you, never to let go, until your last breath, or until He returns.
Section 3 - Security & Conclusion
I took the crowbar and wedged it behind a piece of trim, trying to pry another piece away from the wall. As I did, I said to my friend, “...impossible.”
Working behind the scenes of biblical assurance is the doctrine of eternal security. This doctrine teaches that those who are truly in Christ are in Him forever. Without it, assurance would be hopeless. For if it were within our ability to take back our hearts of stone, or to undo the new birth, we would. But security is God’s work, not ours, that’s why it’s so perfect. By the strength of His hand the Lord preserves us in saving faith until the very end. This is Jesus's promise: “I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”6 The eternal life Christ gives us is ours today, we are not waiting for it.7 Jesus’s promise of safe-keeping and eternal life should settle our doubts; there is not a single lamb who will be lost from the Shepherd's fold.
Security and assurance are intimately related, but while assurance is our duty to pursue in cooperation with the Spirit,8 security is established and preserved apart from us, in Christ. This is why security is certain whereas assurance requires effort; one is wholly of God, while the other depends on us. In salvation, Jesus Christ makes a no-returns purchase of His people, promising not to lose a single one. Whatever you do, always remember that, as assurance grows and fades, your security is never changed.
Much of Scripture can be understood in terms of what God has done/is doing, and what He instructs us to do. Although nothing happens outside of God’s power or beyond His control, there are still certain directives that the Bible gives for all people. Unfortunately, sin has made following these directives impossible. But there's hope; Christ’s work on the cross has provided a way. When we are united to Christ by faith, His Spirit empowers us to live for Him and to strive in true Christian obedience, and His gospel frees us from the shame and confusion of sin, giving us a clear and fixed reality on which to gaze—Himself.
Perhaps your children are presently contemplating faith in Jesus, perhaps they’re not, or perhaps they already have. Wherever your family is on this journey, assurance and security are important aspects of Christian discipleship. Consider discussing the following questions with your family after reflecting on the content of this article.
- Is it normal to struggle with assurance?
- If I have truly trusted in Jesus, am I secure in Him forever, no matter what?
- How can I have greater assurance?
- Yes, no Christian is perfect in anything, be it love, faithfulness, or the cultivation of assurance. // Mk. 9:24
- Yes, those who have become “new creatures” in Christ will persevere in Him until the end, according to His power. // 1 Cor. 1:8; 1 Thess. 5:23-34; Phil. 1:6
- By focusing on the reality of Christ's finished work on your behalf, as revealed in Scripture, and the participation with the Church in worship, the sacraments, and prayer. // Ro. 8:34; Heb. 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Cor. 11:23-24
This month, consider praying with your family about the pursuit of assurance.
Here is a simple prayer to get you started.
Your word promises that those who are united to Christ are united to Him forever. Remind us of this daily and preserve us in good works that we may be encouraged by your faithfulness and mercy.
We love you Lord,
12 Pt. 1:10
4Ro. 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." (Cross reference: 1 Pt. 1:8-9; Gal. 5:22; 14:17, Prv. 10:28)
52 Cor. 13:5, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (Cf: Jas. 1:23-25; Lam. 3:40)
6Jn. 10:28 (Cf: Ro. 8:31-39; Jn. 6:37)
71 Jn. 5:13
82 Pt. 2:10; (Cf: Heb. 6:11)