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. – ESV 1 John 5:13
As God’s people, we can be grateful that those who truly are believers can never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus! NOTHING—absolutely NOTHING can separate you from His love for you!! (Romans 8:31-39; John 10:28-30). As believers, we can truly be joyful and confident in God’s love for us in Christ and so gain assurance of our salvation.
The Bible teaches us that assurance is a fruit of our faith in Jesus Christ, but assurance does not necessarily belong to the essence of faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11; 10:22). This means that one can possess true and saving faith, but not also possess assurance of one’s salvation. One can be a true believer in Christ with the slightest and smallest faith because she is taking hold of a great Christ, even if she is not fully assured! Salvation is about the greatness of Christ and His saving power, and willingness to save the repentant, not about how much faith we have (“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”)!
But assurance ought to be sought. The Bible teaches: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). “…Be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure…” (2 Pet. 1:10). We can rejoice that assurance of salvation is a fruit of our faith in Jesus, and it grows out of our growing faith as we grow in our understanding of the love of God for us in Christ. Assurance of salvation in Christ comes out of faith growing up and maturing in our walk with God (Eph. 4:11-16). Our Scripture from 1 John 5:13 tells us that the Apostle John wrote His first epistle to the churches so that they would have assurance of God’s love for them in Christ: “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.”
We can know that we know CHRIST, that is, we can have the assurance John tells us about in four important ways (1) Loving Obedience to Jesus: “We know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 Jo. 2:3). (2) Love to Other Christians: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love other Christians” (1 Jo. 3:14). (3) Fruit of the Spirit: “By [loving in deed/action and in truth] we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him” (1 Jo. 3:18). (4) Witness of the Spirit of God: “By this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 Jo. 3:19, 24). This is how we gain assurance in our faith as believers. Do we possess to some degree these four things? This is an important question for us to ponder.
We must acknowledge that there are many hypocrites and unregenerate persons in the visible church who presume that they are in an estate of salvation although they show no evidence that they have had any work of grace in their hearts. There are those who claim Christ as Savior, but deny Him as Lord in their sinful disobedience and blatant unrepentance. Therefore, because we know that our hearts can deceive us, and that there are truly hypocrites, and that we can easily play the hypocrite, we must seek to examine ourselves as Scripture teaches us (2 Cor. 13:5; cf. Matt. 7:14-24).
You should never want your pastors or elders, nor anyone else to ever grant you assurance in the faith if you are not living by faith presently. To give assurance to one who is not living like a Christian may be to condemn one to hell. It is like the character Vain-Hope in Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ that walked the way with Christian and Hopeful, but who had never truly believed Christ and His Gospel, and ended up being cast into the outer darkness. As Bunyan taught there is even a door to hell at the gates of heaven! If you’re living unrepentantly right now in a sin, it may be that you’re a Christian who has fallen into a trap and you need immediate help through repentance (1 Cor. 10:12-13), but you may also be coming to realize you have never been converted. Seek God prayerfully for help on this.
If, or when you’re in this kind of struggle, you need to hear all of the Gospel promises for believers in Christ, but you do not need anyone to assure you first; God may be convicting you in your conscience to inform you of grieving the Spirit and calling you to repentance (John 16:8-11). You may truly be a Christian, but just have weak faith, and you need to be assured of God’s love. Don’t focus on yourself and your failures, but on Jesus Christ and His promises laid out in Scripture. Remember that all of our works, though weak and tainted with sin, are acceptable to God through faith in Jesus (Rom. 12:1; Phil. 4:18; 1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Westminster Confession, 16.6-7).
Let us all put aside the sins that so easily beset us and run the race with endurance fixing our eyes on Jesus alone to gain our blessed assurance and confidence in our faith (Heb. 12:1-2; cf. 4:14-16). This blessedness of assurance was described by one of our Reformed forefathers in this way:
“Assurance is glory in the bud, it is the suburbs of paradise, it is a cluster of the land of promise, it is a spark of God, it is the joy and crown of a Christian” (Thomas Brooks, Works, Vol. 2, 333).
Seek Christ Jesus through HIs Word to find assurance through the Spirit’s help. Remember it is the Spirit of God who not only regenerates us and unites us with Christ in our new birth, it is the Spirit of God who empowers us to live for Christ and become like Christ, resisting our sins, the flesh and the devil, and growing up into our salvation in Jesus. It is the Spirit of God who witnesses with our Spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:15-26). If children, then we are heirs, and we should live as in the very suburbs of heaven, rejoicing in Christ no matter what difficulty, trial or tribulation, knowing that it will only strengthen our endurance, hope and assurance (Romans 5:1-5).
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of love, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood” (F. Crosby, ‘Blessed Assurance’, 1873)
For further study with the family, see Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 18: Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.
In Christ’s love,