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

5 Illustrations of the Destructive Influence of False Teachers

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;  wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
Jude 12–13 (ESV)

Up to this point, Jude has been describing, in vivid, Biblical analogies, the nature of the false teachers who have crept into the church. They are unfaithful (v. 5), they reject authority (v. 6), they promote immorality (v. 7), they are blasphemous (v. 8), and they are greedy for acceptance and personal gain (v. 11).  This is all part of what Jude means when he says that they pervert the grace of God into sensuality and reject our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (v. 4).

If that were not enough, Jude now, in verses 12 and 13, goes on to give 5 Illustrations  of the Destructive Influences of of False Teachers, showing as a warning what will come to those who follow their teaching.

  • They are hidden reefs – I’ve been in a boat that has hit a rock which was just under the surface of a very shallow lake, nearly breaking off the propeller entirely, and ruining a great day on the water. This is the destruction that Jude has in mind that the false teachers bring about. When the Church comes together for their “love feasts,” likely a reference to the celebration of Communion, or works of charity (the Greek here is simply “agapais,” which is rooted in the word for love, “agape”), these false teachers are blemishes, scandalous obstacles that trip up, or break down, their unity in service.
  • They are shepherds who feed themselves – The role of the shepherd was to lead the flock to green pasture where, under the safe watch of the shepherd, they could eat and rest in peace. Imagine then, a shepherd who leads the flock into danger in order to satisfy his own appetite, or who takes the food from the flock for himself. This is not to say that shepherds don’t need to eat. But when the shepherd looks only to his own needs, fleecing the flock for his own benefit, then the sheep go hungry and are left to fend for themselves.
  • They are waterless clouds/fruitless trees – Here Jude combines two very familiar images. We’ve all had those times where we’ve gone weeks, perhaps months without rain, and are thrilled when we see the storm clouds form on the horizon, only to be greatly disappointed when not a drop of rain falls. Likewise, when going to the orchard in the fall, seeing trees full of leaves, but empty of fruit. In these false teachers, there are outward signs of life, but they do not bear the fruit of righteousness in the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). The teachers/pastors of the church are meant to feed the sheep (see the previous illustration), but their lives and their teachings fail to bear the fruit that would be a blessing to God’s people.
  • They are wild waves – Instead of bearing fruit, these false teachers are like “wild waves of the see, casting up the foam of their own shame.” I’ve seen this at the ocean, and even at the waterfalls in Sioux Falls, the waves pushing the trash and pollutants on to the shore, revealing what would have otherwise remained hidden under the water. Rather than the gently flowing streams that bring life and refreshment, these are turbulent and tormented waters, always tossing about, troubled by every issue and cause of the day. 
  • They are wandering stars – Before the days of GPS and even printed maps and compasses, the travelers depended on the stars for their navigation. Stars are fixed points in the night sky, allowing us to set our bearings and find our way. These false teachers, Jude says, are like wandering stars; they are unreliable, always shifting, always moving, and they will ultimately lead you astray.

It is important to note that Jude never mentions names in his letter, he doesn’t come right out and identify the false teachers, the groups they represented, or their specific heresy. This is one of the reasons the application of this letter is timeless. As I read this passage and write about it today, I have no one particular person or movement in mind. Rather, this passage is yet another reminder that every believer, every Church, needs to be careful about those to whom they listen. 

Do our teachers, our pastors, and those who influence our thinking (politicians, athletes, artists, etc.) faithfully proclaim Christ as Lord and Master? 

Do they cause scandals and controversies that harm the witness of the Church? 

Are they chiefly concerned with feeding and shepherding God’s people with the true Manna from heaven, Jesus Christ? 

Do they bear the fruit of righteousness in their own lives, or are they like the troubled, wild waves of the sea? 

Are they consistent in their teaching, leading us to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, or are they like wandering stars that lead us astray?

May God continue to grant us grace, that we may be led by shepherds who are led by Christ, and contending for the faith once delivered to all the saints.

SDG