The Christian’s Assurance

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 XVIIIOf 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.


A Summary:

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!

SDG

What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

I had the privilege to serve as the timer for the regional High School One-Act competition yesterday, and was treated to an excellent one-act adaptation of Macbeth, told as a cautionary tale to children. It was delightful, entertaining, and best of all – brief.

Those who are familiar with the Shakespeare know the story: in a quest for power, prompted by the deceptive witches, egged on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the crown for himself. The rest of the play shows how their guilt is their undoing, as Macbeth and his wife descend into madness and cover their guilt will more murder and treachery.

Notably, Lady Macbeth, plagued by her guilty conscience, begins sleepwalking, rubbing her hands as if washing them, certain that the blood of Duncan was on her hands for all to see. No amount of water would cleanse her of her guilt, but still she cries:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?–Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him…
What, will these hands ne’er be clean?–No more o’
that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with
this starting…
Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!
(Macbeth Act 5, Scene 1)

While we’re familiar with the scene, and have probably quoted it when trying to get the spaghetti stain out of the white shirt, there really is a greater spiritual truth at play here.

In the account of the crucifixion of Jesus in Matthew 27, Pilate brings Jesus before the people, finding no guilt in Him worthy of death. He wants nothing to do with Jesus, but the masses demand his death, willing even to trade Jesus for the murderous Barabbas.

In a chilling scene, Pilate washes his hands of the whole affair, while the people respond, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Consumed with a lust for death, the people call down a curse upon themselves.

And the curse is fulfilled. All who reject Jesus as the Son of God who died for their sins bear the guilt of his death. His blood is on the hands of all who do not believe as a sign of their guilt on the day of judgment.

When preaching in the Temple on Pentecost, and later in Solomon’s Portico, Peter comes back to this curse that was upon the people: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men…” (Acts 2:23), and “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life…” (Acts 3:14). There’s no indication that the same people who were in the Temple crying for Jesus’ death at the Passover were the same people in the Temple at Pentecost, or Solomon’s Portico later. But Peter is saying that all who do not repent and believe in Jesus have his blood-guilt upon their hands.

Indeed, John writes, “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:18-19).

We’re like Lady Macbeth; though not there to do the evil deed, our hands are covered with blood. No amount of washing will remove the stain. No perfume will hide the scent of death. So how can we be clean?

Interestingly, we come clean only through the blood of Jesus. 1 John says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7–9). Like the blood of the Passover Lamb, we are covered in the blood of Christ to spare us from God’s judgment and wrath (Ex 12:23). Like the priest of the Old Testament, we are anointed, set apart, as God’s holy people by the blood of the lamb (Ex 29:21).

One way or another, we will have blood upon us. Either we will have the blood of Christ on our hands in the guilt of our faithless rejection of Him as our Lord and Savior, or we will be washed in the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

If only the Bard could have directed Lady Macbeth to the Word of God. Perhaps she could have sung a new verse:

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
O precious is the flow 
that makes me white as snow; 
no other fount I know; 
nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

SDG