Calvary Road Baptist Church

October 19, 2014 - 319 West Olive Avenue, Monrovia, California 91016 (626) 357-2711

“SALVATION VS ASSURANCE OF SALVATION”

 

I bring a message from God’s Word that is titled “Salvation vs Assurance Of Salvation,” in an effort to bring some light to a subject on which surprisingly little light seems to be shed in the last several centuries.

Some very few contemporary preachers do much real gospel preaching at all these days, imagining that a couple of sentences about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ tacked on the end of an exposition of some Bible passage passes for gospel preaching. It does not. I remember this serious matter being powerfully illustrated to me years ago when I was asked to quickly name my favorite living gospel preacher. Each time I named someone, the fellow pointed out that he was not a gospel preacher but a conference speaker, or a stewardship speaker, or a motivational speaker. Most would be hard pressed in our circles to bring quickly to mind a notable gospel preacher, even among the ranks of the so-called evangelists.

What few real gospel preachers are left in the English-speaking world seem (from my few and unscientific observations) to give very little attention to the matter of assurance of salvation, somehow supposing it to be a matter of minor importance to those who respond to the gospel message. It is not. You don’t think the Savior’s words in John 14.27 show the importance of assurance, with Him giving assurance in the form of peace to His apostles?

 

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

 

Who would deny that among the decisionists, who have persuaded themselves that manipulating those subjects displaying varying levels of willingness to bow their heads, close their eyes, and repeat words given to them passes for salvation, the matter of assurance is treated in an entirely perfunctory manner?[1] It is assumed that the soul winner’s authorized responsibility after leading his subject in prayer is to then provide so-called assurance of salvation to that same person, this being typically accomplished by invoking a tragically misunderstood First John 5.13. It is not. It is the Spirit of God’s responsibility to provide assurance of salvation to the newly born again child of God.[2]

Thus, we observe wide variation among those who embrace the Bible as true. On one hand, there are those who do preach the gospel but pay little attention to the important matter of assurance of salvation, somehow supposing that one can be a faithful gospel preacher like the Apostle Paul (“woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”)[3] without at the same time faithfully imparting the breadth of God’s truth, Acts 20.26-27:

 

26    Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

27    For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

 

Though I decry attempts to give individuals assurance of salvation after have engaged in responsive praying with their eyes closed and their heads bowed, how can it be denied that the gospel preacher and Bible teacher should thoroughly instruct those he ministers to so they will be brought to a Biblical understanding of scriptural assurance of salvation? Alas, I do not know of this being done. Scriptural assurance is most certainly not being imparted to someone who is hurriedly taken as a hopeful convert to First John 5.13:

 

“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.”

 

How can anyone know with a spiritual confidence that is not reliant upon the flesh that he has eternal life (which is what assurance really is) and believe on the name of the Son of God (second half of the verse), when no attention whatsoever has paid to the message of the first half of the verse (“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God”), which foundation for comprehension is laid over the first four and one-half chapters of the letter? The sad result of this misuse of scripture is usually a lost fellow whose supposed assurance of salvation (which is actually a carnal confidence born of ignorance) is rooted in an incident that took place in his past, at which time (he comforts himself) he accepted Jesus as his savior. That there is no evidence of spiritual life in the intervening years is of no consequence, because this counterfeit and completely unscriptural confidence that he thinks is assurance pays no attention to recent evidence in his life (or a complete absence of evidence) of a regenerate life, but effectively uses blinders to focus attention only on an event that took place long ago, that may or may not have been a real salvation event.

In the relatively brief time available to us this evening, let me point out some demonstrable features of both salvation and assurance of salvation that are found in God’s Word, some of which are the reasons why the Westminster Assembly (authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith), the authors of the Second London Baptist Confession, and a whole host of others proclaimed their conviction that salvation (using such terms as election, justification, and sanctification) and assurance of salvation are very important matters, indeed.[4]

Three hooks on which to hang our thoughts:

 

First, THE HOOK THAT WE NORMALLY REFER TO AS SALVATION

 

In our English Bible, the word salvation is found in 43 verses, with the word saved found in 57 verses. What is typically overlooked by many who read God’s Word is how expansive the words salvation and saved really are, actually encompassing everything from the justification that takes place when the sinner comes to believe in Jesus Christ, throughout the course of the Christian’s life, and culminating in the deliverance of that redeemed soul to heaven and his resurrection. Quite contrary to what the Bible thrust of the words entails with salvation and saved is what someone is usually referring to in our day when he talks about being saved. The Philippian jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16.30. Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” However, be careful not to read into these two verses the idea that the jailer and Paul and Silas were referring only to the forgiveness of sins, or only justification. There is no necessary basis for such a limitation of understanding.

The New Testament understanding of salvation usually includes justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification occurs at the moment a sinner comes to faith in Jesus Christ, Romans 5.1:

 

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

It is instantaneous and spiritual, and does not involve works of righteousness of any kind or the performance of any physical acts or duties, Titus 3.5. Justification is defined as “a legal, or forensic, term, and is used in Scripture to denote the acceptance of anyone as righteous in the sight of God.[5] Sanctification is the gradual process over the course of the believer’s lifetime whereby he grows in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sanctification is an arduous and trying process that involves great personal effort as God provides grace, as Second Peter 1.5-8 makes very clear. “From the Hebrew and Greek, ‘to be set apart’ from common use, ‘to be made holy.’ The nature of sanctification is twofold in that Christians have been made holy through Christ and are called to continue to grow into and strive for holiness by cooperating with the indwelling Holy Spirit until they enjoy complete conformity to Christ.”[6] Glorification has to do with the believer’s resurrection. It occurs at the time of the Rapture, meaning it will take place after the believer has died if he dies prior to the Rapture. “The last stage in the process of salvation, namely, the resurrection of the body at the second coming of Jesus Christ and the entrance into the eternal kingdom of God. In glorification believers attain complete conformity to the image and likeness of the glorified Christ and are freed from both physical and spiritual defect. Glorification ensures that believers will never again experience bodily decay, death or illness, and will never again struggle with sin.”[7] All of these combine to be what the Bible normally speaks of in the New Testament as salvation.

Circle back with me again in your thinking to this matter of justification. You have five physical senses with which you interact with your environment, including your physical body. Faith has nothing to do with those senses, except as those senses are used to gather the information that is useful to the Holy Spirit to provide the factual basis for Him imparting faith.[8] Faith itself is a purely spiritual faculty that is given to you by the Spirit of God when you hear God’s Word preached, Romans 10.17. You know that already. Justification takes place the moment a sinner’s faith is fixed upon Jesus Christ. Please keep in mind that justification is not the result of what Jesus Christ does to you, but is the result of what Jesus Christ does for you. In other words, there is nothing about either faith or justification that you feel with your senses.[9] As with Abraham, so also with everyone else who is justified, he believed and God counted it to him for righteousness, Genesis 15.6. The question is did Abraham feel anything when God counted it to him for righteousness? No.[10] Did God even tell Abraham that he had been reckoned righteous by God? Not that I have ever discovered the Bible to suggest.

Thus, the justification of a sinner is an imperceptible event. That is, it cannot be sensed by means of any of the five physical senses. And since no sinner has ever before been justified by faith, no sinner can speak with anything like certainty that he has or has not come to faith in Christ. He may think he has. He may think he has not. However, with respect to justification, no sinner can accurately conclude from information he has gathered. To be sure, one knows for certain from his confidence in God’s Word that he is justified through faith in Christ. However, what actual proof is possessed by any individual that it really is faith he has and that it is really faith in Christ? We know from Matthew 7.22-23,

 

22    Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23    And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

 

and also from the parable of the sower, Matthew 13.20-21,

 

20    But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

21    Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

 

that sometimes a very sincere person can be sincerely wrong about his own salvation.

What do these things then mean? They mean that if you came under the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (which you most certainly can feel), and you responded to the gospel by trusting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (employing your faculty of will), there is no basis for you coming to the conclusion a few hours later that you did not really trust Christ. However, there are some (note that I say some, not all) who come to Christ and the instantaneous indwelling by the Holy Spirit of God (Romans 8.9) results in some individuals such notable relief, such palpable joy, such obvious exuberance, that they are immediately convinced of their relationship with Christ. So much publicity has been given to those who have such experiences that many people have been confused into thinking such this is how one is supposed to respond to salvation. Wrong. This is how one responds to assurance of salvation, which is something else altogether.

 

Next, THE HOOK THAT WE NORMALLY REFER TO AS ASSURANCE OF SALVATION

 

There is a difference between objective and subjective. There is a difference between a fact and a feeling. There is a difference between the light turning red and you seeing that the light turned red. Whatever assurance of salvation happens to be, it is urgent that you recognize and understand that assurance of salvation is not the same thing as salvation. To be justified is a fact. To not be justified is also a fact. To feel like you are saved, or to feel like you are not saved, are feelings, not facts. Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness by God in Genesis 15.6, but how Abraham felt about his justification is information not given to us in the Bible. On March 24, 2014, Gwenyth Paltrow and her husband Chris issued a press release in which they indicated they had decided to “consciously uncouple.” Though normal people acknowledge that only in Hollywood’s entertainment industry do people actually think like this, the obvious fact is, they are married. However, they have apparently decided to stop living their lives according to the fact of their marriage and to begin living according to their feelings, and to “consciously uncouple.” Such disconnects are becoming more common. We all agree that it is wonderful when facts and feelings coincide and agree. However, there are times, in good marriages and in other kinds of relationships, when the facts of the relationship and one’s feelings about that relationship, do not align. What should you do if the fact and the feeling do not align? You should live according to the fact, of course, since to live according to your feelings is to court disaster.

With reference to assurance of salvation, be mindful that assurance of salvation very much has to do with your feelings. Assurance is supposed to be about your feelings, literally about the conclusions you have reached about your spiritual condition that govern your emotional state. Consider some few examples that carry throughout the New Testament:

 

Romans 8.14:  “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

 

Predicated on a scriptural concept of assurance, if the Spirit of God leads you, you become convinced over time by His leadership that you are, indeed, God’s child. However, this is not conclusion anyone can arrive at over the space of a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks. You will become convinced (assured, actually) of your relationship with God if, over time, you are led by the Holy Spirit.[11]

 

Romans 8.16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”

 

Predicated on a scriptural assurance of salvation, if there exists evidence produced by both the Holy Spirit of God and your own spirit that you are God’s child, you will become convinced and comforted by the agreement that exists between your spirit and the Holy Spirit. That is assurance, and once more it should be observed that this does not necessarily arise quickly in the Christian’s awareness. This phenomenon cannot occur unless someone is justified.

 

Galatians 5.22-23: 22   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23    Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

 

Predicated on a scriptural assurance of salvation, the personality characteristics found in this list are evidence of the indwelling Spirit of God influencing the personality of the child of God. However, by characterizing these personality traits as fruit, the Apostle Paul has implicitly established that assurance from these traits is sometimes quite slow in coming, because fruit does not appear overnight.

 

First John 2.3: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”

 

Does this verse suggest that every time a Christian commits a sin he should feel like he is lost? Of course not. First John 1.8 and 10 acknowledge that every believer sins:

 

8      If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

 

10    If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

 

John is in First John 2.3 pointing out that as the believer considers the general course and direction of his life, obedience to Christ, increasing compliance to His will over time, gives one confidence that he is, indeed, someone who actually knows Jesus Christ, and not someone who only knows about Him.

There are other passages; however this sampling of verses is sufficient to draw some important conclusions about the New Testament concept of assurance of salvation: Assurance of salvation is never shown to be a stubborn conclusion about one’s relationship with Christ that ignores all recent evidence of actually being lost. If you trusted Christ ten years ago, yet there is no intervening church attendance, commitment to worship and serve Christ, fruit of the Spirit or personal holiness in the intervening years . . . you did not trust Christ ten years ago, and you are entertaining a false hope. Assurance of salvation is not given by the Spirit of God to provide stubborn confidence of one’s Christianity while grieving and quenching the Spirit. As well, if you were convinced yesterday that you trusted Christ but you feel like an unspiritual bum today, that does not mean you were not justified. It only shows that one day is not long enough to either show you are lost or to come to an assurance you are saved. I could say the same thing after a week, and in some cases even a month. Allow me to summarize: While justification is a fact, assurance is all about feelings. However, these feelings are properly based upon evidence of God’s work in your life over a considerable period of time. Assurance should also be understood to operate in the here and now, with God presently giving you assurance for His present blessings in your life as you live for Him, love Him, and serve Him. The notion that one can have scriptural assurance of salvation (or should have such assurance) while committing serious sin (though he may in fact be a Christian) is a foreign concept in the New Testament.[12]

 

Finally, THE HOOK THAT WE NORMALLY REFER TO AS FALSE HOPES

 

If assurance of salvation is the too frequently neglected topic of our day, then false hopes is the almost completely ignored topic of our day. If am currently reading a well-written theology book, authored by a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, addressing the subject of salvation. I am about 75% of the way through the book, with the well-trained and widely read author giving very little evidence that he has thought much about assurance of salvation, and seemingly unaware that false hopes is even possible from his treatment of the issues of salvation and eternal security. The issue of false hopes, confidence that one has a relationship with God that is based upon false premises, is found in both Old and New Testaments.[13] It is shown in the lives of individuals, it is referred to by the Savior, and it is explicitly taught in parables, as already mentioned. Therefore, even if it is an issue that is almost completely ignored by contemporary Christianity, it nevertheless is an important matter that needs to be addressed. This is not to deny that some converts are graciously granted by God strong and lasting assurance of salvation almost immediately upon trusting Christ. However, there is no standard immediate reaction by a new convert upon trusting Christ as his Savior.

False hopes can only exist in the long term amongst professing Christians whose understanding of assurance of salvation is poor. Hypothetical case: Boy comes to faith in Christ at the age of thirteen, or so he thinks. He heard a frightening sermon on Hell and was coaxed into a profession of faith that enabled him to use Jesus Christ as a fire escape from Hell, while giving no thought whatsoever to his sins. From age eighteen to thirty-five his life is defined in the main by his drinking, his fornication, doing drugs occasionally, almost never attending church, almost never reading God’s Word, never ever witnessing, and exhibiting no evidence of God in his life. Then he marries, decides he wants to do right, is sincerely interested in being a good husband, a good dad, and a good Christian, so he rededicates his life, joins a church, and lives happily ever after. Really? This scenario can only occur if this fellow thinks it is possible for a genuinely saved person, who really trusted Christ and was really born again, to live twenty of his thirty-five years without any consideration of God or the Lordship of Jesus Christ. How can he embrace such a notion of the Christian faith and salvation? He was supposedly given assurance by someone when he was thirteen, and was allowed to believe (along with most other professing Christians) that there is no necessary connection between faith in Christ and how you live your life. He has a counterfeit assurance that completely overlooks his intervening decades of godlessness, while fixating on an event that took place when he was a teen that he and others have concluded was the occasion when he was saved. Sadly, that is the type of fellow the Lord Jesus Christ was talking about in His parable of the sower, in Matthew 13.18-23, who responded to the gospel without being truly saved, as evidenced by the fact that he bore no fruit. As well, consider once more Matthew 7.22-23:

 

22    Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23    And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

 

False hopes are real, there really are people who think they are Christians but who are not saved. Such a danger should alarm us when we consider the condition of beloved friends and relatives who claim to be Christians but evidence no genuine spirituality. There is a connection between the reality of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ and the way he lives his life. Jesus Christ said, in His Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7.16 and 20,

 

16    Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

 

20    Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

 

In decisionist ministries, there is often a proliferation of professions of faith without many of those responding actually coming to faith in Christ. Tragically, so many are kept in church only by music and entertainment. It is because of the low level of commitment in the church, as well as the presence of so many unconverted people, that renders it difficult to discern how few people are really being saved, even when the enticement of entertainment eventually loses its grip and they stop coming to church. In churches that are not devoted to decisionism as an evangelistic philosophy, far fewer professions of faith are typically made. As well, there is far less obvious excitement generated. However, that because there is no effort to manipulate people by means of drummed up excitement and a circus atmosphere. These things considered, even when attention is properly paid to the possibility of false professions and the existence of false hopes, it is possible for even those who are truly converted to rush far too quickly to wrong conclusion if they think evidence in their life of a real conversion does not show itself quickly enough. Of course, this speaks to the understandable ignorance of a hopeful convert, and underlines the place of mature spiritual guidance for the hopeful convert and the spiritually immature.

It is, therefore, important for congregations and pastors to understand the difference between salvation and assurance of salvation, with salvation being a fact and assurance of salvation appropriately being a feeling. As well, congregations and pastors should be wary of the counterfeit assurance that is so often given to both believer and unbeliever alike, which in both cases causes spiritual harm by taking away the marvelous indicator God has provided for us to know our spiritual well-being, spiritual assurance of salvation. It should be noted that counterfeit assurance of salvation can be given to both believers and unbelievers alike, and once firmly established in the mind is difficult to correct because it is so deceitful and based upon a widely held misunderstanding of scripture. Scriptural assurance, on the other hand, is wonderfully useful because it is impossible for an unsaved person to have scriptural assurance, just as it is impossible for a Christian to have scriptural assurance of salvation while consciously rebelling against God and knowingly sinning. Why so? Scriptural assurance of salvation is given only by the Holy Spirit to those justified and indwelt by the Spirit of God, and then only when they are not grieving or quenching Him by known sin.

I recognize that this message is a preliminary treatment of important matters. However, it is my prayer that it is helpful to each of you. May God bless our efforts to rightly divide the Word of truth, to better understand justification and assurance of salvation, and to help by our prayers and conversation to prevent hopeful converts from making erroneous and possibly damaging assessments about their own spiritual condition by premature conclusions, when the best course of action for them would be to patiently wait on the Lord by reading the Word of God, cultivating their prayer life, faithfully sitting under the preaching of God’s Word, and taking their first steps of service and ministry under their pastor’s oversight.



[1] Decisionism is the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved.

 

Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit which draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration, and changes the sinner’s standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.

[2] Romans 8.15

[3] 1 Corinthians 9.16

[4] Joel R. Beeke, The Quest For Full Assurance, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1999), pages 111-164 and Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition Of The 1689 Baptist Confession Of Faith, (Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, Third Edition, 1999), pages 224-231.

[5] James Buchanan (1804-1870), The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture, (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2006), page 226.

[6] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 105.

[7] Ibid, page 55.

[8] 2 Corinthians 4.13

[9] This is not to deny that a physical and emotional reaction oftentimes results when a spiritual truth or event is apprehended and appreciated. However, such is not the same thing as feeling one’s justification.

[10] This is not to deny that he felt a sense of relief in response to the LORD’s declaration to him, Genesis 15.4-5. However, such is not the same thing as feeling one’s justification.

[11] Precisely what being led of the Spirit entails is another matter altogether.

[12] Amazingly, many these days read 1 Corinthians 6.9-11 yet are blind to what Paul is obviously stating.

[13] Balaam, Micah and his priest (Judges 18), the prophets opposed to Jeremiah, Judas Iscariot, Simon Magus (Acts 8.9-24), and the Corinthian fornicator to name a few (1 Corinthians 5.5).


Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org