Having established a basic biblical understanding of salvation, we are now ready to wrestle with a few specific questions.
Perhaps the most asked and most personal question is, “How can I know that I am saved?” This is the issue of assurance.
Whether you ask this question for yourself or are asked it by another person, we must resist the temptation of rushing toward comfort and affirmation of the individual (or ourselves).
The goal cannot be comfort or affirmation or even assurance (for assurance’s sake). The goal must be truth. We must engage in the difficult heart work of seeking truth and searching thoughtfully so as to answer biblically. Only then can we best care for the soul who is asking the question. If our goal becomes simply comforting an individual, we will rush ahead grabbing anything and everything we can only to make him or her merely feel better.
But that won’t make them better.
If are to bring true comfort and lasting encouragment, we must guard against these temptations (rushing toward assurance, risking truth for the sake of comfort), and navigate our way to authentic assurance by using these four reference points:
1. Assurance of salvation must not be grounded in ritual.
We must reduce the temptation ground assurance in a past religious ritual. Now, this may be a good place to start. If someone is asking “How can I know I am saved?’, and they have not yet confessed Christ in repentant faith, then we want to make the gospel clear and offer them an opportunity to repent and believe.
In this way, going back to or looking for a salvation experience can be helpful, BUT to simply return to an experience and declare the matter settled is to reduce salvation to a religious formula or even a superstitious practice. While there is value in remembering a time where God met us and moved us, a time where we responded to His Word and encountered Him in a significant way, seeking assurance can begin here but it cannot end here.
2. Assurance of salvation must not be rooted in works.
If we (or someone we are talking with) has had a meaningful encounter with God and expressed a faith-response to the gospel, we must then ask, “Where is this doubt coming from?” Is there depression or fear or insecurity waging war against our soul? Or perhaps it’s an issue of sin that is causing doubts.
We must be careful here. While the evidence of our lives serves as a valuable indicator of what is in our hearts, at the same time, we do not want to communicate in any way that salvation is of works. It cannot be earned, maintained, or improved upon by our works. We do not want to say “you said this, did this, and completed that, so you are saved.” Neither do we want to say, “You cannot be saved and have done this, that, or the other.”
I trust this warning becomes clearer as we consider where assurance should rest (as opposed to where it cannot).
3. Assurance of salvation must be anchored to God’s faithfulness.
We have said that salvation is the work of God, therefore, we must find our assurance in His work and not our own. There are at least three anchor points to which we can attach our assurance.
Anchor point #1 – The unfailing promise of the Father. Our Heavenly Father is a good Father who delights is giving good gifts. He is generous, but, more than that, He is faithful. When we doubt because of our sinful mistakes we are questioning His faithfulness. We are saved, and will remain saved, not because we are worthy or capable. Our salvation is secure because God is faithful to His promises. When we are struggling, when we feel weak, we cannot hope in our ability to “get it right next time.” Our assurance is in the fact the “He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.” (Phil 1:6) He is greater than our weakness; He is in this for the long haul and will not abandon us but will continue to shape us after His image.
Anchor point #2 – The saving work of Christ. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross purchased our salvation. On the cross He said, “It is finished.” We do not need to add self-loathing to Christ’s blood or sit in a spiritual “time-out” before the cross applies to us again. If we sin, we have an advocate before the Father, and if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. No waiting period! No additional fees. Christ paid our debt IN FULL, so repent, believe, confess, and walk with Him again.
Anchor point #3 – The abiding fruit of the Spirit. When we see the evidence of His work in our lives, it is encouraging and affirming. Holiness and obedience are not our works offered in repayment for His gift of salvation. Who seeks to repay anyone for a gift?! No, obedience and holiness display His continuing work of salvation. While there is a partnership with His Spirit as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” but it is ultimately Christ “who is at work both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Here is where works come in, but they must be seen as fruit of His continued work in our lives not as our works so as to maintain His good favor.
4. Assurance of salvation should be affirmed among God’s people.
Finally, all this must be processed in the context of relationship and community. What I am offering is not a 3-point check list by which you can score your salvation. Checklists can be worked out privately, one-on-none, individually, on your own. Faith, however, is a contact sport: life-on-life, in community, alongside brothers and sisters in the faith. Every anchor point of biblical assurance must be reinforced by the strength of community. Applying them to our own lives by our own wisdom under our own strength is like hanging shelves on finishing nails and sheetrock. It might look good for a season, but it won’t hold anything of substance and is destined to fall.
I pray that we would walk in the community of the local church(es) he has placed us, strengthening one another in the faith with the truth. We should come together regularly in worship, but also around dinner tables and in living rooms, reminding one another of all that God has promised (anchor 1). We need to remind one another of the sufficiency of Christ (anchor 2) so that we can pursue Him with freedom. And then we can affirm and encourage one another by what we see God doing in our lives (anchor 3) – for our encouragement, for His glory, and for a witness to our neighbors.
Assurance is about far more than “Will I go to Heaven?” It’s about what has God done? What is God doing? Where is He calling me? and how can I get there? These are much more meaningful questions, and they have much more incredible, life-giving, soul-enlarging answers.