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 are truly believers will 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. One can be a true believer in Christ with the slightest and smallest faith because they are taking hold of a great Christ! 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”)!
Assurance of salvation is a fruit of our faith in Jesus, and it grows out of our faith. Assurance of salvation in Christ comes out of faith growing up and maturing in our walk with God (notice the goal of biblical teaching and preaching is to grow up in Ephesians 4:11-16 so that a Christian will not be tossed around). We should remember that all obedience in the Christian life is in no way meritorious, but it is a concrete manifestation of the faith that we claim to have in Christ (2 Pet. 1:3-11). As both Paul and James teach, we are saved by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone; we are saved by God through faith alone, but it is a faith that works (Eph. 2:8-10; James 2:18ff).
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 HIM, that is, we can have assurance John tells us 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 Our Brothers: “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.
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. 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. To give assurance to one who is not living like a Christian may be to condemn one to hell. 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, but you may also be coming to realize you have never been converted. Seek God for help on this. 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).
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). For further study with the family, see Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 18: Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.
In Christ’s love,
Pastors Biggs and Halley