In the general signification of the doctrine, assurance is a confidence that right relations exist between one's self and God. In this respect it is not to be confused with the doctrine of eternal security. The latter is a fact due to God's faithfulness whether realized by the believer or not, while the former is that which one believes to be true respecting himself at a given time. Assurance may rest upon personal righteousness, which assurance was in the past age a recognition of one's own righteous character; but in the present age it is a recognition of that righteousness of God which is imputed to all who believe. Isaiah declares, "And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever" (Isa. 32:17). Thus also the Apostle writes of the confidence which is engendered by understanding (Col. 2:2), and they who understand God's provisions and who have entered intelligently into them have just this. Likewise in Hebrews 6:11 there is reference to "the full assurance of hope," and in 10:22 to "full assurance of faith." Although it may be concluded that assurance is altogether experimental, resting as it does on a true faith, a true hope, a true understanding, and an imputed righteousness, such feeling may lead one to say without any presumption, "I know that I am saved," or, as the Apostle testified of himself: "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). So far as the Scripture cited above is concerned, assurance rests not only on the Word of God but as well upon Christian experience. These two grounds of confidence—that of experience and that based on the Word of Truth—should be considered specifically.
1. Based on Charistian Experience. The inward witness of the Holy Spirit is a definite Christian experience. The Apostle Paul states: "The Spirit itself [R.V., himself] beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:16), and the Apostle John declares, "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son" (1 John 5:9-10). In Hebrews 10:2 it is asserted that those "once purged" should have had no more conscience of sins. That is to say, the removal of all condemnation (cf. Rom. 8:1) should create a corresponding experience. In 1 John 3:10 a real experimental distinction between the "children of God" and the "children of the devil" is manifested. The difference is exhibited in the matter of lawless sinning. The context, which begins with verse 4, has altogether to do with lawless sinning, that is, sinning with no consciousness of its seriousness. The Christian lives with a grieved or an ungrieved Holy Spirit inside, and he cannot sin without an inner distress (cf. Ps. 32:3-5). 1 John 3:9-10—"Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother"—does not teach that Christians do not sin (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10); it rather teaches that the believer being indwelt by the Spirit of God cannot sin lawlessly. It is also to be observed that the presence of this living Christ in the heart through the advent of the Spirit should cause a suitable experience, if the believer's relations to God are spiritual rather than carnal. Again, the Apostle writes in respect to the indwelling Christ: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5). It is inconceivable that Christ should dwell in the heart without some corresponding experience. Therefore the Apostle directs that self-examination be undertaken on the one issue of the indwelling Christ. Certain results from that indwelling are normal.
a. the fatherhood of god a reality. It is one thing to know about the triune God and quite another thing to know God. Knowledge of God as Father is achieved in the human heart by the work of the Son, Christ Jesus. He said, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:27-28). The rest which is thus promised to the soul is that which results when God is known as Father. This knowledge is secured to all who believe in Christ as Savior.
b. a reality in prayer. Doubtless unsaved persons attempt to pray, though without the ground of access to God which Christ is; but the individual who comes really to know God finds a new experience in prayer. It is incredible that He who lived by prayer when here on the earth should not impel the one in whom He lives to the exercise of the potentialities of prayer.
c. the word of god desired. Similarly, if Christ indwells, there must be a new interest created in the heart for the Word of God on the part of the one who is saved. The new spiritual life which came by the second birth, like physical life, must be fed and thus the Word of God becomes the "sincere milk" to some and "strong meat" to others; so all who are saved do have a normal desire for the Truth of God. If there is no appetite for spiritual food, there is some serious reason.
d. a new passion for the salation of men. If Christ who died that lost men might be saved has come to live in a human heart, there must be of necessity and normally a new passion for lost souls created in that heart. Divine love, it will be remembered, is the first-named section of the manifold fruit of the Spirit.
e. a new sense of kinship. And, finally, to be born of God is to enter the family and household of God. It is because of the truth that saved ones are actually sons of God that Christ is pleased to call them brethren (Rom. 8:29). This relationship is so genuine that there must be, of necessity, a corresponding sense of kinship arising in the heart. The Apostle John, therefore, presents this searching test of reality: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1 John 3:14).
In all the lines of evidence relative to personal salvation to be based on Christian experience one qualifying feature must be considered, namely, that it is possible to be saved and at the same time to be living a carnal life, and when in the carnal state no believer's experience can be normal. The evidence cited above, then, since it is drawn from Christian experience, applies only to those who are adjusted to the mind and will of God. The conclusion to be reached in this aspect of the present theme is not that carnal believers are unsaved, but rather that Christian experience, depending as it does upon that which is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, will not be normal when the Spirit's work in the heart is hindered by carnality. Thus for a very great proportion of believers the evidence of assurance based on Christian experience is without validity because of carnality.
2. Based on the Word of God. Since that which God covenants and promises cannot fail, evidence respecting one's salvation which is based upon the Word of God proves absolute. In 1 John 5:13 it is written: "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." Thus has God revealed it is the divine purpose that everyone who believes to the saving of his soul may know that he is saved, not in this instance through uncertain Christian experience but on the ground of that which is written in Scripture. Though the truth stated in the above passage no doubt applies to all the promises of God unto those who are saved, the Apostle evidently is referring to that which he has just stated (vs. 12), namely, "He that hath the Son hath life." It becomes, then, a matter of self-knowledge whether one has had a recognized transaction with the Son of God regarding one's salvation. When such a transaction occurred may not be known, but the saved one must recognize that he depends only on Christ as his Savior. He may say with the Apostle (2 Tim. 1:12), "I know whom I have believed." The Lord has said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). To those who have thus come to Christ for His salvation there can be no other conclusion, if Christ's word is honored, than that they have been received and saved. The Word of God thus becomes a title deed to eternal life, and it should be treated as an article of surety, for God cannot fail in any word He has spoken.
a. doubting one's own committal. Multitudes are in no way certain that they ever have had a personal transaction with Christ regarding their own salvation. Obviously the cure for any uncertainty about one's acceptance of Christ is to receive Christ now, reckoning that no self-merit or religious works are of value but that Christ alone can save.
b. doubting the faithfulness of god. Others who lack assurance of their own salvation do so because they, though having come to Christ in faith, are not sure that He has kept His word and received them. This state of mind is usually caused by looking for a change in one's feelings rather than looking alone to the faithfulness of Christ. Feelings and experiences have their place, but, as before stated, the crowning evidence of personal salvation—which is unchanged by all these—is the truthfulness of God. What He has said He will do, and it is not pious or commendable to distrust personal salvation after having definitely cast one's self upon Christ.
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