Assurance of Salvation
And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 1 John 3:19NKJ
Question 81 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?" It gives the answer, "Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair." Last week we saw that true believers in Christ may be infallibly assured of their salvation in this life. This week we look at how true believers might also lack that assurance or have it shaken.
It is good to know that we may be infallibly assured of our salvation. Last time we looked at several Scriptures where the Bible exhorts us to get assurance (1 John 5:13; 2 Pet. 1:10; Heb. 10:22). Knowing that one is saved, and that he will certainly go to heaven when he dies, is of immense importance to the Christian in his personal walk and sanctification. The criticism, which warns that once a person is assured of his salvation he will be sorely tempted to indulge in a life of unrestrained wickedness, knows nothing of the love of God and hatred of sin, which are of the nature of a converted heart. Assurance of salvation liberates the believer to serve and witness for God with boldness. When you are certain that your death will be your entrance into paradise and that the sufferings of this life will bring you crowns in glory, you are not afraid of fiery furnaces, lions, Goliaths, Sadducees, Pharisees, being blacklisted, fired, slandered, etc. Those who had assurance of salvation and grace were able to walk confidently by faith in the face of the most fearful and implacable enemies (Hebrews 11). They walked by faith and not by sight, and therefore through faith they "obtained a good testimony," (v. 39).
However, today's Catechism notices the truth that most of us who have received assurance of grace have also experienced: sometimes our assurance is shaken. A lack of assurance can come several ways. A newly converted Christian may truly be saved but not be sure of it, or even doubt it. The Catechism explains how this can be: assurance of salvation is not of the essence of saving faith. That is, I can truly be trusting in Jesus Christ for all of my righteousness and all of my forgiveness and yet at the same time I can doubt the truth of my faith. Similarly, I may be poorly instructed in the Word and wrongly taught that though I am now saved I can still lose my salvation in the future. Moreover, my doctrine and life may be sound so that I understand, affirm and even press on to possess assurance of grace and salvation, and yet there may come a time when, for various reasons, I begin to question it and suddenly my confident hope is gone. How does this happen?
The Catechism teaches that there can be several causes of assurance being lost or weakened. Manifold distempers refer to all manner of diseases of body or derangement of mind. Since we are creatures of body and soul, when our bodies are suffering our souls are often affected, and sometimes our faith is rattled and our assurance shaken. Likewise if we fall into serious or habitual sin or find ourselves strongly or constantly tempted it should shake our assurance for we must judge ourselves by our fruit. I am convinced that there are times when it is a better sign that a professed believer is struggling with assurance than if he would be smugly confident that he is certainly a child of God. When such a believer is toying with sin or is not truly convicted or repentant of sinful patterns in his life, it is a frightening sign of hardness and presumption for him to not at all question his salvation while he remains in such a state. Finally, "desertions" refer to when a believer's heart grows cold for the things of God and he leaves off going to corporate worship, participating in the ministries of the church, reading his Bible and praying. Such coldness toward God should cause a believer to question if he is truly converted. The hope is that the questioning process will awaken and enliven a truly converted heart, so that like the prodigal son he runs back to His heavenly Father with tears and joy. Always remember that if you truly are a child of God, He will keep you to the end. Therefore, if you see your assurance weak or shaken today, examine your heart to find where you may be straying, growing cold, ill, or poorly instructed in the Word, and return to your heavenly Father through the means He has given, for there is no other way to be assured in Jesus!