This article was first printed and distributed in booklet format in 1995 and is available on request through the Contact page.
THAT YOU MAY KNOW
A Study of the Doctrine of Assurance
One day Jesus sent seventy-two of his followers on a Missions trip. They returned in a very high state of excitement. The mission had been successful beyond their wildest dreams and had even included some spectacular cases of exorcism. Jesus rejoiced with them over the defeat of Satan but then gave them this caution:
Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven (Luke 10:20).
Do you rejoice that your name is written in Heaven? You see, nothing can compare with that. To know for sure that your name is written in the “Lamb’s Book of Life,” that you are saved for all eternity, that you will be with Jesus in Heaven when you die, should rejoice your heart more than any other thing.
In other words; Are you sure that you are saved? I mean, REALLY sure, one hundred per cent certain?
Now some people ask, “But can anyone be so sure?” Some think that such certainty is at best presumption and at worst arrogance. Sadly, when you hear some testimonies it does rather come across that way. Nevertheless I believe you can be sure. The Bible says so. The Apostle John writes:
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 5:13).
The Gospel provides not only salvation but also the assurance of it. God really does want his blood-bought, twice-born children to rejoice that their names are written in Heaven. Jesus was not speaking to his disciples of a joy that no Christian may have.
However, we must test ourselves because there can be FALSE assurance. There are believers and make-believers. The Apostle Paul urges his readers to: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves“ (2 Corinthians 13:5).
A Solemn Warning
The Bible is very clear there will be many in Hell who were quite convinced all the way to the grave that they were saved and going to Heaven. They refused to consider any other possibility.
When I was a student in London I once took an Underground train heading out into the suburbs. My destination was the last stop at the western end of the Piccadilly Line. Assured and comfortable I immersed myself in my book oblivious of the fact that I had boarded the wrong train and was traveling eastward in the very opposite direction to the one intended. I believe I occasionally glanced up as intermediate stations went by but, since I never seriously entertained the thought that I could be mistaken, and since I didn’t know what confirming signs to look for anyway, I rode blissfully on. Though my mistake cost me dearly in wasted time, at least I could go back on the next train.
Once the terminus is reached on the journey of life, however, there can be no going back. If we “wake up” in the wrong place it will be too late to do anything about it. Now is the time to do some checking. Do you know what signs to look for to be reassured of your eternal salvation?
You know, we have been very diligent for decades to give everyone who professes faith – however shallow the profession – immediate and full assurance of salvation. We have told them they must never doubt it, ever again. Is it possible that we have gone too far and filled our churches, not with believers, but with make-believers?
In one of the most solemn passages in the entire Bible Jesus gave this warning:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt 7:21-23)
Is it not time, therefore, to redress the balance and let the Scriptural challenge be heard again, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”
Better, on so vital a matter, to be unsure but saved, than to be unsaved but “sure”. Best of all, to be both saved and sure.
My purpose, therefore, in this booklet is twofold. I want to encourage those who are truly saved to have joyful assurance of their place in Heaven. I also want to challenge every reader to examine his profession and “be all the more eager to make [his] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).
God has provided three witnesses through which we might know if we are truly saved. First: the witness of the Witness (the Holy Spirit); second: the witness of the Works (the way we live); and third: the witness of the Word (the promises of God). One of the most difficult tasks of the Bible-teacher, it seems to me, is how to explain the relationship between these three. The last has priority but the others flow from it. Let me try.
1. THE WITNESS OF THE WITNESS
Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart (1 John 5:10).
Who gives him that testimony? The Holy Spirit does. When a sinner believes in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live in that saved-sinner’s heart. The Apostle Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:15,16).
Do you have this testimony in your heart? Does the Holy Spirit testify with your own spirit deep within you that you are indeed a child of God? Do you have the witness of the Witness?
On May 24, 1738, an Anglican clergyman by the name of John Wesley attended a meeting in Aldersgate Street, London. He had already been to church for he had worshipped at Evensong in St. Paul’s Cathedral. But this evening meeting was more informal and was attended largely by Moravians. Someone was reading Luther’s Preface to his commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans when Rev. Wesley rose to his feet and interrupted the reader to give a personal testimony.
This is how Wesley himself describes it in his Journal:
About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away MY sins, even MINE, and saved ME from the law of sin and death.
We know, of course, that John Wesley became the founder of the Methodist Church and one of the great preachers and leaders of Christian history. The experience described above has always been known as Wesley’s conversion; and so it may have been. However, I suspect he may have been actually converted before this for he had for some time professed his faith in Christ, and Christ alone, as his Savior. This heart-warming experience was when he received the testimony within his soul. It was the witness of the Witness – a direct work of the Holy Spirit.
Is it possible to be saved and NOT have this witness? I think so. We are not saved because we feel saved, but because we have turned from our sin and self-reliance and put our trust wholly in Jesus Christ (as we shall consider later). Nevertheless, we should have the inward witness.
Now you may say, I have trusted Christ but I do not have this witness. Perhaps you do have it – at least in a measure – but have not recognized it.
Consider these questions:
Is your heart warmed when you hear the Gospel preached?
Mine is. I was saved at the Billy Graham Crusade in Harringey Arena in London, England, in 1954.
Since then whenever I hear the Gospel powerfully and persuasively preached I want to be saved all over again.
The greatest preacher I ever heard was Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones of Westminster Chapel, London. What a wonderful day it was when he preached in the church which was my first pastorate. As I listened to him so eloquently and persuasively preach the Cross I literally wept for joy. How could the unsaved “resist” any longer? Under my preaching some had been unmoved, but surely now they must come to Christ. No, they did not. Rather they hardened their hearts. Not even the greatest preacher in Britain could change them. Only God could do that. It takes more of God’s almighty power to open a hard heart than to make a universe. But that night I gave my heart to Christ ten times over! When you have the witness of the Holy Spirit to the truth of the Gospel, and your own saving interest in it, that is what you do, isn’t it?
Even when the preaching is anything but powerful but is, nevertheless, faithful, it is enough to set me afire. Some years ago, my wife and I visited a small church in the English countryside. Everything was very solemn and formal.
The pastor was expounding Ephesians 2. First, he explained how, by nature, we were all bound by three strong chains. Without God’s sovereign and gracious intervention, he said, there would have been no hope for us. Then he came to verse 4, “But God….” He told us how God in his great love and mercy had broken those chains, set us free, drawn us to Christ, and (at tremendous cost) saved us for all eternity.
Throughout his discourse my heart, like Wesley’s got warmer and warmer until it was red hot. Eventually I could contain myself no more and called out, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”
The preacher looked startled. People looked around to see who was this disturber of the peace. Even my wife edged away along the pew as if to say to all those who stared and glared, “Don’t look at me. He’s not with me.”
I promised never to do it again.
What caused my outburst? Why, the wonder of the glorious Gospel of grace and the even greater wonder that God would “save a wretch like me.” It was the witness of the Witness.
Is your heart warmed when you hear the Gospel sung?
When we lived in South Florida we attended a very large church with a congregation of over two thousand. Sometimes, as we came to the close of a great congregational hymn, a beautiful solo soprano voice from the choir would begin to sing, usually an old Gospel hymn. I was soon reaching for my handkerchief as the tears streamed down my cheeks.
Was it just the music? No. It was the words and the music. The truth of the Gospel and my own appropriation of it.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Harry is obviously a very emotional man with a soft heart and an over-size reservoir of tears.” Maybe. But, I say again, how can I be reminded of the love of Christ, and his shed blood, and of God’s mercy shown to me – me of all people, sinner that I am – and not FEEL wonder, joy and gratitude. Surely it is impossible.
This alone, by the way, is a good enough reason to make sure you find a good church where the Word is faithfully preached and the praises of Jesus sung. God has ordained that when we are exposed to this our hearts are stirred by the Holy Spirit as he witnesses with our spirits and assures us that we are truly children of God.
Is your heart warmed when you meet another Christian believer?
Maybe you have known the joy of discovering a fellow believer in your place of work or among your neighbors. It seems to bring especial joy to meet fellow believers when you are away from home, or away from your home church. Once I visited Japan to minister the Word to missionaries. That was, of course, a privilege and a joy. But my greatest delight was to preach to a gathering of Japanese believers, to share the Lord’s Supper with them, and then a fellowship meal. I have traveled a good deal in many countries and always have had the same experience. When I meet a saved brother or sister in a foreign land my heart is warmed and I know – I just KNOW – we are both in the Family of God.
Is your heart warmed when someone you know and love comes to Christ?
I can imagine you saying, “Harry, my heart is aflame even when someone I don’t know comes to Christ!” Of course, so is mine. Why should you rejoice like that unless it is because you know that, like you, they have passed from death to life, they are now your brother or sister in the Family of God, and when they die they will go to Heaven. You rejoice with the angels in Heaven and the Spirit of God within your heart.
Is your heart HURT when you hear Christ’s name used in blasphemy?
The Apostle Peter writes concerning Jesus, “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious” (1 Peter 2:7).
He most certainly is and, therefore, when someone uses the Saviour’s name as a curse we feel pain. This goes beyond the discomfort we may experience when we hear other obscenities and curses. It’s just that “Jesus is the sweetest name I know.” I have never yet met a true believer, who loves Jesus, who does not feel inward pain when he hears the name “Jesus” used in this profane way. Could that also be the witness of the Witness? (Please note that I use “he” and “his” throughout in a gender inclusive way.)
The Holy Spirit, then, is the gift of God to work many things in your heart and life. One of them is to give you assurance. Nevertheless, we do not rest our assurance entirely or even primarily upon this witness because feelings can be deceitful. For example: in the Parable of the Sower some receive the Word with joy but, like the seed on rocky soil which springs up quickly but does not last, their joy is short lived (Matt 13:1-24).
Feelings, then, need to be tested before they can be trusted, so we must go on to our second witness:
2. THE WITNESS OF THE WORKS
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, `I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar (1 John 2:3).
What could be a plainer statement than that? The true believer wants to live right and please God. That does not mean he always consistently does so. The old nature is not dead. The Scripture speaks of a warfare between the old and the new – a tug-of-war we might call it. He contends against the world, the flesh and the devil. Sometimes the Christian will fail but he is ashamed when he does so and lets his Lord down. He has become sin-sensitive because deep down inside he wants to have the smile of his Heavenly Father.
Furthermore, the believer begins to bring forth the fruits of faith, which are good works. And when he wants assurance of his salvation he can see those, inadequate though they may be, and be encouraged. He knows he is not what he ought to be, nor what he wants to be; but neither is he what he used to be. He has the witness of the works.
Now some people, laudably wanting to safeguard the precious Gospel of salvation by faith alone, say that works must not come into this question of assurance at all. They say that if you point a person to works for assurance you will do the very opposite of reassuring him, because his works are never good enough. In fact, the more holy he is, the less satisfied with works he will be. He is very conscious of his sins and failures, and plays down the good things. You must point him to something, Someone, outside of himself.
There is truth in this, as we shall see. That is why we shall not rest our assurance entirely or even primarily upon the witness of the works either. Why bring it in then? Answer; because the Scripture does so again and again. We do not safeguard one Scriptural truth by denying another. Consider how the following declare that works are a witness to the authenticity of our faith.
The Lord Jesus Christ says so
In John’s Gospel chapter 15 our Savior taught that those who are truly joined to him are like the branches of a vine. They have his life flowing through them, the evidence of which is that they bear fruit. Not all bear the same degree of fruit. Some bear “more fruit” and some “much fruit” but all bear some. If there is no fruit they are false, they are like sticks merely stuck on, and are destroyed (John 15:1-8). It is not the fruit which joins the branch to the vine. The fruit is the evidence of its organic union.
So is obedience. As we have seen, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:21-23), Christ compares the false professor with the true. The true one is “only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus also said, “If you love me you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
The Apostle Paul says so
It is very true that Paul stresses that we are not saved by our good works. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). He then goes on in the very next verse, however, to teach, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (v10).
Paul is the great exponent of justification through faith. But justification does not stand alone. It is part of God’s work in the believer from his election in eternity past to his inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ in the endless ages to come. And included in this great work is the changed life which brings forth the good works “…which God prepared in advance for us to do.” If there are none, I mean NONE, does it not call into question whether we are “God’s workmanship” after all? I think it does.
The Apostle James says so
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do (James 2:14-18).
What comment is necessary? It is irrefutable. Works are the evidence of faith. No works, no faith. Little wonder the Reformers said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
The Apostle John says so.
We have already quoted John at the head of this section. John also writes, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born (lit. ‘has been begotten‘ – perfect tense) of God” (1 John 5:1). This is the new life to which the Lord Jesus referred in his conversation with Nicodemus when he told him, “You must be born again.”
But it is new life for a new life! The whole of life. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead he said to her, “Little girl, I say to you arise.” He took her by the hand and she arose. She had new life.
Then what? Well she certainly did not sink back comatose – as some professing Christians appear to do. Jesus said, “Give her something to eat.” Of course. She will have all the marks of life. She will eat, and run, and play, and talk. If she does none of these things it calls into question whether she has really received life. Eating, running, playing and talking are not what gave her life: Jesus did that, sovereignly and miraculously. The eating, running, playing and talking are the signs of it.
So it is with you and I, my fellow believer. Do you want to be sure you have received new life? That you are not still dead in your sins? Well, are there the signs of life? No signs. No life.
What are these signs?
What are these good works which are the evidence of a true faith?
In attempting an answer in the small compass of a booklet I have many difficulties. In a general sense we may say that anything we are, or do, which arises from our faith is a work of faith. Anything we are, or do, which is solely because of the new life we have received from Christ is an evidence of that life. There could, therefore, be an almost endless list of examples. Some are general but some are very personal (such as, in my case, a call to the preaching ministry).
A further difficulty is that some of the good works which should be present in the life of the Christian are often found in the life of the non-Christian also (such as; honesty, sexual morality, kindness to the poor and the needy). Because of severe limitations of space, I must, therefore, focus upon those things which we might expect to find only in the life of a true believer in Jesus Christ. Since we are exhorted to test ourselves, let us try to do so.
The Lord has put two things together; the inward faith and the outward confession of it. When the convicted crowd on the Day of Pentecost asked Peter, “What shall we do?” His reply was, “Repent and be baptized.” Repentance was the inward turning from sin to Christ. Baptism was the unashamed public statement of that change.
Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”
The New Testament knows nothing of the secret and silent disciple. There are secret inquirers and secret admirers (such as Nicodemus) but they are not yet disciples. They must believe and “come out.” Jesus called people to public commitment.
This does not mean that everyone who is baptized is truly saved. Nor does it mean that everyone who declares, “I am a born again believer,” truly is one. There is such a thing as a false confession. Nevertheless, the true believer is prepared (in the right way and at the appropriate time) to stand up and confess his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. He does not do this once only in baptism or confirmation, but for the rest of his life.
Have you, do you, openly confess your faith? Or are you rather ashamed of Jesus?
All leopards have spots, but not all spotted animals are leopards (some are owls!). Similarly, all true believers will worship God and his Son, the Lord Jesus, but we know that not all who attend church, sing praises and listen to sermons are therefore true believers. For the one it is a work of faith, for the other it might be merely a habit, a superstition, to please a loved one, or for some other reason.
Now sometimes as the believer worships his Lord his heart is uplifted with joy. It can be as if he were in the very portals of Heaven. But what about when that man’s heart feels cold? What about when that woman’s heart is breaking? What about those times when the weariness of the week or the worries of life tempt that couple to stay home? Is their worship not a work of faith at such times? Of course, it is. At times of coldness, or pain, or distraction, those songs sung with true faith in God may be even more evidences of faith than at easier times.
Like Paul and Silas who, imprisoned in the stocks of the Philippian jail, their backs a mass of wounds and blood, their bodies racked with pain, their emotions tortured by the injustice they had received, yet “sang praises to God at midnight.” Like Job, a righteous man who lost almost everything – possessions, family, health – who nevertheless “fell to the ground in worship.” It is the true believer who offers praise to his Heavenly Father in the darkness as well as the light; through times of sorrow as well as joy.
c) Spiritual Appetite
We have already referred to heart-warming joy which comes to the believer to hear again the glorious Gospel. The Bible is food for the soul. “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).
When Jairus’ daughter came alive she needed to eat. A healthy child wants to eat. So does a child of God. Do you love God’s Word? How’s your appetite? Nothing blesses, strengthens and revives my spirit more than to sit under the careful, faithful and powerful exposition of God’s Word. Conversely nothing disappoints me more than to leave church unfed or to hear the sacred pulpit trivialized or demeaned.
The true believer loves sound doctrine. Like Wesley listening to Luther’s preface to Romans, his heart is warmed by it. Here is another test from John’s epistle:
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God… Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 4:15 and 5:1).
There are those who claim to belong to Jesus but who deny his divinity, his virgin birth, a good deal of his teaching, his miracles, his atoning death and his bodily resurrection. How can such “Christians” be indwelt by the Spirit of Truth? Are they not make-believers? John, the apostle of love, says they are “antichrist” and “liars” (1 John 2:22). The true believer has put his trust in the real Jesus not a fictional one.
There are those who say prayers and those who pray. Saul of Tarsus was not only a devoutly religious man, he was the most zealous and promising young rabbi on the Jewish horizon. He said his prayers several times daily. He never missed. But when, on the road to Damascus, he was gloriously saved it was said of him “…behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11). May I ask you, do you pray? If you are anything like me you find it hard sometimes. Why do we pray? It is not, is it, because we hear an audible voice replying and conversing? If that happened we would not need faith. It is not, is it, because we no sooner ask for something but it drops down from Heaven in an instant? I suggest it is because we take God seriously and believe his promise that he will listen and respond. It is because our Savior commanded us to pray, and we love Jesus and want to keep his commands. It is because we believe God works in answer to prayer.
Why should you and I give our hard-earned money to the work of the Lord? Some of us have little enough as it is.
God’s Word tells the believer to give gratefully, carefully, proportionately, prayerfully, sacrificially, and cheerfully. God’s Word also tells the believer to give from faith, believing that to give back to God is the wisest investment he will ever make.
Bring your whole tithe into the storehouse…Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the flood gates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room for it (Malachi 3:10).
He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; whoever sows generously will also reap generously (II Corinthians 9:6).
Does your giving please God? Does your giving demonstrate that you believe God’s promises concerning tithing? Or does your giving seem to suggest that you don’t really believe him after all? Does it suggest you still trust more in gold than in God?
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers (1 John 3:14).
To love, is the first commandment of the New Covenant, said our Lord; and if we do not have love, said Paul, our profession of faith is worthless. Christian love is volitional not emotional, and to be evidence of a new life in Christ it will be that kind of love which only he produces. It begins with love for God and for his Son, the Lord Jesus. It extends to a special love for all our fellow believers, as John stresses.
We have spoken of this love under a previous heading but may I ask you: Do you prefer to be with Christians or non-Christians? Yes, I know that some of our fellow believers are not very loveable or even likeable. I confess to some sympathy with whoever wrote the lines: “To reign above with the saints we love – that will be glory. But to work below with the saints we know, well, that’s a different story!”
Nevertheless if, speaking generally, you feel more at home in the company of unbelievers than believers should it not cause you to seriously question your profession of salvation? Maybe you have never really been born again into God’s Family after all. If you find this “test” disagreeable, what else can 1 John 3:14 mean? We cannot set our own test papers!
I must add that Christian love extends outward to our neighbors and even to our enemies. If we do not forgive how can we have been forgiven, for our Lord taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Someone said to me; it is disturbing how unforgiving forgiven people can be. Indeed, it is because Jesus’ solemn word is; “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6:15). I am not saying it, Jesus said it.
Evangelism is telling a lost sinner the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is the greatest expression of love for that sinner that we can make. It is a work of faith whether one is telling a member of one’s family, a neighbor, or a colleague at work. It is a work of faith whether one is proclaiming the Gospel from a pulpit, in the open air, in a home, or any other place. It is a work of faith when a missionary sets forth, either across the street, or across the world, to tell others of Jesus. It is a work of faith to support such efforts by prayer, giving, encouraging, and by any other means. We do not all do it in the same way. It is often difficult. Some of us are, by nature, very shy; most of us are fearful of rejection and/or ridicule. Yet if we belong to Christ we care about lost sinners and, in one way or another, we seek to fulfill the last great commission of our Lord.
Those then are just seven “works” to which we might look to see if our life bears witness to our profession to be true followers of Jesus Christ, citizens of Heaven, saved by the grace of God. In short, whether we are believers or make-believers.
We come now finally to the most important witness of all:
3. THE WITNESS OF THE WORD
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
During my many years as a preacher and pastor I have often had occasion to help someone in trouble on this question of assurance. They have wanted to know, “Can I be sure I am saved?” They may say they don’t feel sure and have doubts whether they will be in Heaven.
First, I inquire if this person understands the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and if they have put their trust in him. I have found that I should never assume that – however well I know them or however long they have been a church member. It has sometimes surprised me to discover that a professing Christian, who has been in an Evangelical church for years (maybe all their life), is nevertheless trusting in something other than Jesus Christ and him alone.
Such misplaced “saviours” include;
- baptism (infant or adult),
- church membership,
- denominational affiliation,
- childhood up-bringing,
- theistic beliefs (“I’ve always believed in God”),
- response to an invitation or altar call,
- a repeated “sinner’s prayer”,
- the assurances of a counselor, and/or
- an array of good works and religious practices.
In such cases I point out, using Scriptures such as; Ephesians 2:8, and Titus 3:5-7, that not one of these things, or even all of them together, has ever saved a single soul. Sins are not atoned for by anything we do or are, however commendable, but only by the blood of Jesus. Were that not so the Lord Jesus need never have come and died on the Cross.
Nor would it have been necessary for our friend John Wesley to be converted. Before his true heart-conversion John Wesley’s life was a model of self-giving and piety – and he was an ordained clergyman. He even went as a missionary to Georgia. But having met the Moravians whilst crossing the Atlantic, heard their testimony, and observed their faith in action, he knew he was not saved.
“I went,” he later wrote, “to convert the heathen, but who shall convert me?”
Wesley was a good man but not yet a saved one. He was not saved until he turned from trying to save himself to rely entirely upon Jesus Christ.
But let us suppose the person with the difficulty satisfies me that they have indeed trusted Christ. The problem then is not their salvation but their assurance of it. In trying to help such a person I do not focus either upon the inward witness of the Holy Spirit (which presumably they do not have) nor even the outward witness of their life-style (which may give mixed signals). I will probably bring these in as confirming evidence but they are not my focus. As I have written, both of these are very important witnesses but I do not believe either of them are the very bedrock upon which assurance of salvation rests. That bedrock is the Word of God.
The Rock upon which our salvation stands is JESUS CHRIST
The Rock upon which our assurance stands is the PROMISE OF GOD.
The others follow from it but must not replace it. Let me try to explain.
…Not inward feelings.
Of course, the Holy Spirit cannot deceive. The problem is we can be deceived, and we can deceive ourselves. I wish it were not so but it is. Those who belong to the cults frequently will testify to an inward certainty which they are utterly sure (at least to themselves) has its source in the Spirit of God. Theirs, they declare, is the only true church and the only sure way of salvation. God has told them. But they contradict each other and Scripture exposes their errors. They deceive themselves.
So, do those tiresome Christians who always invest their subjective opinions, impressions and interpretations with Divine authorship; as if they have an exclusive hot-line to Heaven. They, too, frequently contradict one another – as well as trying one’s patience.
What is more, Satan is the great deceiver. The Bible says he is a murderer, a liar, and can disguise himself as “an angel of light.” Is it not probable therefore that he will come to the make-believer and whisper sweet words of assurance to lull him into false security until it is too late? That is why I said; feelings must be tested before they can be trusted.
Wesley’s heart-warming experience did not stand by itself. It was based upon an apprehension of the Truth of the Gospel.
Our second witness is not the bedrock either, the witness of the Works. Why can we not rest our assurance entirely or even primarily upon good works?
Answer 1: We can be deceived even here. The false disciples of Matt 7:21-23, to which we have referred several times, and which our Lord Jesus will condemn, actually plead their good works as evidence of their salvation. “Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles.‘” Any of us may be in danger of complimenting ourselves upon the commands we keep and the things we do in Christ’s Name, whilst conveniently overlooking the commands we disobey or ignoring the fact that we have never truly known him.
Answer 2: Another reason why good works will not do as the ultimate bedrock of our assurance is the very converse of what I have just been saying. The other side of the coin, if you will.
Namely: some true Christians, looking to their works for assurance of their salvation, are plunged into doubt and uncertainty because their works (they are convinced) are so inadequate. Far from taking satisfaction in their worship these believers grieve its coldness. Their prayer life, they feel, falls far short of what it should be and even their giving is inadequate. They read of the sacrifices of others and are ashamed of how little they have given and done for their Savior.
Some read John’s Epistle to receive assurance of salvation and are faced with such a searching standard that it does the very opposite! They need somewhere else to look than themselves if they are not to despair.
Then again, we must mention the enemy, Satan, who wages war against the believer. He is called “the Accuser” and will seek to pile upon the Christian false guilt, turning his eyes away from Jesus to himself, and seeking to persuade him that his sins and inadequacies only prove he is lost after all.
In short, if works are relied upon as the ultimate bedrock of assurance, there is the danger of giving false assurance to those who are not saved (because they produce some of them) and robbing those who truly are saved, of their rightful joy (because they produce none of them perfectly).
Answer 3: If we base our assurance entirely upon our works, or even primarily upon them, it may not be long before we are basing our salvation upon our works also, again turning our gaze from Christ.
How, then, is a saved sinner to be assured?
First and foremost, by believing the promise of God. That is the witness of the Word. I repeat, we are saved by trusting God’s Son and assured by trusting his Word. When I have the privilege to help believers on the question of assurance I turn them to the Gospel promises and ask them if they think God speaks the truth or not?
Maybe you are a reader who has lacked assurance of salvation. May I address you directly?
Our text, I John 5:13, says assurance is for those who “believe in (literally “into“) the Name of the Son of God.”
When the Scripture speaks of believing into the Name, it means “believing in the Person.” We use it somewhat similarly when we say someone has a “good name.” We mean he is a good person and has a good character. To believe in the name of Jesus, then, means to believe he is the Son of God, utterly unique, that he came from Heaven to die on the Cross for our sins and rose triumphant, conquering sin and death, to reign for evermore. It means more than just believing these things academically or as facts. It means turning to him in trust and surrender. Have you done that? Yes, you have? Well if you believe in God’s Son, won’t you believe in God’s Promise “that you may know that you have eternal life?”
John 3:16 declares “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Martin Luther said he was so relieved that this great verse did not say, “…if Martin Luther believes in him…” because he would always wonder if it referred to another Martin Luther and not himself. It says “WHOEVER“.
In John 6:40 Jesus says, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Acts 16:33 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
Do you believe in Jesus? If you answer, “Yes, with all my heart.” Then I can tell you that God has accepted you, for Christ’s sake, has saved you and will one day bring you Home to Heaven. He cannot go back on a promise – ever. His Word is his bond. Won’t you believe God? If you are not sure if you have trusted Christ, then make sure! Trust him NOW.
Let me put it this way. Suppose you asked me for another of my booklets and I promised to send it to you, free of charge, would you believe me? I certainly hope if you know me that you would indeed believe me. You would say, “Well I know Harry; he wouldn’t deceive me or make me a promise he has no intention of keeping. He said he would send it, so he will send it.”
Of course, I could forget my promise. Or I could have made too many promises and run out of booklets. Or, it could be just possible that I don’t care for you that much after all and I am too busy to send it.
Now here is my point; why would you believe me, a mere man, with all the possibilities of human frailty outlined above, and yet you doubt God?
God has said that WHOEVER trusts in his Son, will receive the free gift of salvation, purchased by Jesus on Calvary, and enter the glory of Heaven when they die. They can never – NEVER – be lost. God can never forget his promise; he can never exhaust his supply of grace; you never have to pay for your salvation because Jesus already paid for it, and God loves you as much as if you were the only sinner for whom Christ died. He is never too busy to hear your prayer of repentance and trust. He loves you more than your parents, or children, or husband, or wife, or sweetheart, could ever love you. Yet do you doubt him? It would hurt me if you doubted my word. How hurtful it must be for your Lord when you doubt his Word to you.
Friend, DOUBT NO MORE!!
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word.
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
To you who to Jesus for refuge hath fled.
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, NO NEVER forsake!”
What about the works? They will follow. I am utterly convinced that without new life you could not, nor would not, have made your earnest and heartfelt surrender to Jesus Christ. The fruit of that new life will develop along the lines I have indicated. You have been saved by grace alone and you will be kept by grace alone. But God’s grace is not something merely theoretical. It is dynamic and energizing. It works in the sinner to save, sanctify and (ultimately) glorify him.
In this life, you will never be satisfied (I hope!). We can always bear more fruit, do even greater works, have more appetite, be more like Christ. We are “his workmanship.” Don’t condemn a work when it’s only half finished! Only in Heaven is the perfection we long for finally ours.
What of the witness of the Holy Spirit in the heart. When you consider your experience in the light of those indications I listed earlier do you not find you already enjoy that in a measure? Perhaps you hadn’t recognized it before. Again, there is always more. Psalmist and Apostle speak of longing to know more of God. More and yet more.
We are, like our spiritual father Abraham, restless for the Promised Land. Only in Heaven shall we for ever – as Peter puts it – “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
Our very longings, are themselves indications that we have eternal life and are citizens of Heaven.
“And this is what he promised us even eternal life” (1 John 2:25)
First printed in 1995