Every Sunday morning I’m blessed to be able to gather with the elders of the congregation to pray for the upcoming service, but we also spend this time visiting and sharing what the Lord has shown us through the week. Not too long ago, we engaged in a wonderful conversation about sharing the Christian faith and encouraging those who struggle with their assurance of salvation. If I’m ever late to the start of a worship service, this is why.
This question of assurance has been running through my mind lately, so I thought that for today’s post, I’d share with you one of my favorite chapters from the Westminster Confession, and then give a brief summary, all to encourage those who read this 1) to put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, and 2) to rest in His sufficient grace as the source of assurance and peace.
Chapter XVIII—Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation
1. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (Job 8:13–14, Micah 3:11, Deut. 29:19, John 8:41) (which hope of theirs shall perish): (Matt. 7:22–23) yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, (1 John 2:3, 1 John 3:14,18–19,21,24, 1 John 5:13) and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. (Rom. 5:2,5)
2. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; (Heb. 6:11, 19) but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, (Heb. 6:17–18) the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, (2 Pet. 1:4–5, 10–11, 1 John 2:3. 1 John 3:14, 2 Cor. 1:12) the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, (Rom. 8:15–16) which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. (Eph. 1:13–14, Eph. 4:30, 2 Cor. 1:21–22)
3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: (1 John 5:13, Isa. 50:10, Mark 9:24, Ps. 88, Ps. 77:1–12) yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. (1 Cor. 2:12, 1 John 4:13, Heb. 6:11–12, Eph. 3:17) And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, (2 Pet. 1:10) that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, (Rom. 5:1–2, 5, Rom. 14:17, Rom. 15:13, Eph. 1:3–4, Ps. 4:6–7, Ps. 119:32) the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness. (1 John 2:1–2, Rom. 6:1–2, Tit. 2:11–12, 14, 2 Cor. 7:1, Rom. 8:1, 12, 1 John 3:2–3, Ps. 130:4, 1 John 1:6–7)
4. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: (Song 5:2, 3, 6, Ps. 51:8, 12, 14, Eph. 4:30, 31, Ps. 77:1–10, Matt. 26:69–72, Ps. 31:22, Ps. 88, Isa. 50:10) yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; (1 John 3:9, Luke 22:32, Job 13:15, Ps. 73:15, Ps. 51:8, 12, Isa. 50:10) and be the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair. (Micah 7:7–9, Jer. 32:40, Isa. 54:7–10, Ps. 22:1, Ps. 88)
The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.
While there is a false assurance with which those who are lost may deceive themselves (I’m ok, you’re ok), there is a genuine assurance of salvation that belongs to those who believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, and walk in good conscience before Him.
This assurance is not based on wishful thinking, but is rooted in the promises of God in Scripture and the inward witness and working of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian’s assurance is not an essential element of faith, some may wait a lifetime for it, others may go through great trials to gain assurance. Still, this assurance is given to the believer, not through ecstatic experiences, but through the proper use of the ordinary means of grace (the ministry of Word and sacrament, and prayer). It is the responsibility, then, of every believer to makes use of these means of grace to make his calling and election sure.
Finally, and this is one of the most helpful paragraphs of the confession, our sense of assurance may at times be shaken for a variety of reasons. We may grow negligent in our use of the ordinary means of grace, or we may fall into some particular sin or overwhelmed by temptation. Other times God may make himself seem distant from us to teach us to long for Him.
Through all of this, the Christian is “utterly destitute,” but the “seed of God,” the promise of the Gospel, the truth that He will not lose one that He has redeemed, this hope remains and is the foundation and fullness of our assurance.
Christian, remember today that your salvation does not depend upon the strength of your faith in Christ or your awareness of the assurance of salvation. Rest in the fact that your salvation is by faith in the One who is strong to save, the One whose promises are sure. Know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He has paid the price to atone for your sins, and that He is faithful to complete the work He has begun in you. Trust the promises of His Word, know you are forgiven, and be at peace!