Conviction is a drug of choice. We all want to possess absolute knowledge–to be like God–to be our own god. That is the mind-altering addiction we all suffer under since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden.
Within Christianity, it has even gained the status of a central doctrine: one of those teachings that believers are expected to accept and promote. “You can know with certainty that you are saved”, so says the preacher.
The assurance of salvation is that historic tenant of the church, that most often takes the biblical teaching of “knowing” and transforms it into an attractive alternative to faith. Assurance of Faith, as often taught, doesn’t need faith.
For sure, the Bible does teach about assurance in our faith, but the explanations typically given have altered what God offers into a formula that denies the need for God. Are you willing to take a closer look at your foundation to see if your belief in salvation remains biblically grounded or has become yet another tradition of religious men?
Jesus spoke about this common human tendency toward wanting self-assessed conviction for salvation–an alternative to faith that allows us to tell God that he is required to save us. To those who know that they know they will be saved for eternity, God says “away from me”.
“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.” (Mt 7:21)
The Lord then says that “many” will try to justify why his rejection of their assurance of salvation should be reconsidered. Apparently they swallowed the doctrine that they were guaranteed to make it into heaven and that all the evidence of success in their ministry was proof that God’s Spirit was active in them. They were “certain” of being saved, but per the Lord, they were certainly deceived.
John the Baptist says something similar to the people of God who thought God had to save them. Many Jews believed that they were guaranteed salvation because God promised the patriarch that his children would be saved, and as documented children of Abraham, they were certain and assured of their promised destiny.
“And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Mt 3:9)
To arrogant Christians, Paul writes against making assumptions of eternal assurance contrary to the evidence, when he said:
“I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21)
Instead, he instructs believers to test themselves, to:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5)
Even those to whom God has directly said he would save them, he warns against such encouragement turning into a doctrine of eternal guarantee, when he stated:
“If I tell a righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.” (Eze 33:13)
The Lord confirms this warning of self-assessed assurance, after the Church had decades of growth and had begun forming doctrinal teachings, when he repeatedly said several churches were “doing well” as believers:
“Yet I hold this against you” (Rev 2 & 3)
Those who repent, would be forgiven, but he specifically tells those believers who refuse to repent, that he would take away their future hope in being with him, that the Lord himself would fight against them, that they and their children would die, that they would not be present when he returns, and that they were about to be vomited out of God’s mouth.
God promises two forms of assurance in Scripture. The one often taught, uses biblical passages, but twists it into a faithless assurance–one that we can measure ourselves, and that we can claim to possess without loss, and one that replaces any need for the fear of God or of trust in his mercy. We own this type of assurance. We can present it to God and make him accept us into eternity. We can rest assured that we are good to go.
This first type of assurance is the one that is possessed by believers who
“perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” (2 Thes 2:10-12)
Non-believers don’t need a delusion added upon them, because the Bible teaches that they remain under the wrath of God. It is those who have somehow escaped such error, but then instead of submitting to the truth (in this case, the truth about eternal assurances), God gives them an alternative belief. They are absolutely convinced of their happy destiny, just like those who said “Lord, Lord”, but were identified as those who did what was wicked.
Many preachers will point to John’s use of the phrase “this is how you know you have eternal life” as meaning that a person can self-measure their lack of habitual sin, their physical acts of love, and their acceptance of the major church doctrines on the identity of Jesus, as proof of personal salvation. Notice, no faith needed. That is not what John was teaching. His use of the term “to know” is set in contrast to the Gnostic error that had entered the church, on how a believer can know what is right. This use of knowing is meant to emphasize the idea of “recognizing truth”, or identifying what is true, or understanding and seeing the differences between godly teaching and mis-teaching. He is not using the phrase to teach on certainty or absolute conviction. He wants Christians to find comfort in finding supporting evidence to their belief, to look for godly backup to their claim of faith, not to point to things we can see and conclude that we are guaranteed to be saved no matter what else.
Such apparent guarantees are called a “license for immorality”–an official assurance that a person can be certain in their salvation, even in spite of potential sin and without any further need for faith. That is a lie! That is not the assurance presented in Scripture.
The other biblical form of assurance remains dependent upon faith. The Bible declares that true assurance is “in Christ”, and not something we can measure or claim without continued faith in his personal call. There is only one person in all of heaven or earth that knows with certainty who will be saved.
I will say this again: There is only ONE person in all of heaven or earth that knows with certainty who will be saved. That one is not you. It is not your minister. It is not the burning conviction in your heart. It is not the evidence of good deeds or pious living or Church doctrine. In the context of biblical teaching on the resurrection to eternal salvation, we are warned against believing those ministers who twist the truth in church:
“Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,'” (2 Tim 2:19)
You have a choice. You can base your assurance for your life-hereafter on what you think you can measure about yourself, or on what grand doctrine has been historically taught to you; or, you can humbly base your assurance on faith in Jesus’ love for you and his promises to bring you to his heavenly kingdom.
The first is certain in what we think we will get. The second is certain only in knowing who Jesus is.
As Peter declared when he lacked certainty about what Jesus meant by “eat my flesh”:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68-69)
And, as Martha declared when she lacked certainty about what Jesus meant by, he who believes will live, and die, and never die:
“I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (Jn 11:27)
A believer’s assurance in God’s internal dwelling, assurance in transformation in spite of our weaknesses, assurance in knowing the unknowable, assurance in his sovereign control even when experiencing trials and abuse, and assurance in our promised inheritance for eternity as a saved child of the King, all rests on faith in Jesus.
Such faith is more than knowledgeable belief in the Lord, it is a trusting in him that fills all the gaps in what we don’t know, can’t see, are incapable of fully grasping, and simply do not yet have a hold of, without actually giving us any of those answers. This type of genuine faith is often seen as weak and uncertain. It is ridiculed as useless, brainless, and ignorant. It doesn’t provide convincing proof to satisfy the criticisms of others. It says we believe, with partial evidence, but admit that we don’t have all that we would like to have figured out or understood. The constant pressure, even for believers, is to try and replace faith with fact–something that others might respect. But, without living actively with this type of faith, it is impossible to please God.
We are encouraged to measure for fruit, for character, for evidence of a transformed life that is continually moving away from sin and toward the likeness of Christ, but such measuring is NEVER intended to replace faith. It only helps encourage. It gives a brief encouragement that we are likely on track. It helps us to grow in knowing him, but not in claiming guarantees outside of a very dependent and humble faith.
Those who know, and those who think they know but are deceived, all desire the same end–a resting in our hope that everything will work out well for us. The former admit they can be deceived and stay humble before the Lord, asking for him to search their hearts and remove any wickedness. The latter celebrate their expected destiny, rejecting any possibility of error, and tell everyone around them that they should enjoy the same certain conviction they have.
If you want godly assurance, then fix your eyes on the Lord and not on your claimed guarantees. Trust in his love and promises, while striving to obey him in every detail. Accept the humble cross that looks and feels like failure to everyone else, trusting that Jesus has it all figured out. Repent of errors in behavior and thought, as well as errors of incorrect beliefs. Don’t be like the arrogant who go around trumpeting their assurances. Let your assurance remain safe in the Lord and stay close to him.
There is only one reference to faith in John’s epistle. His teaching on knowing assurance remains fully upon a faith in what we cannot fully see or know:
“This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 Jn 5:4-5)