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!


The One In Which I Wade Into Political Waters

At the beginning of the 117th Congress, U.S. Rep. (and reverend) Emmanuel Cleaver (D. MO), offered a “prayer” of invocation. The news cycle gave a lot of attention to this prayer, because he ended it by famously saying, “Amen, and a-woman.” You’ve no doubt seen many remarks on this, which is nothing more than empty pandering to the social concern du jour. The English word “amen” is a carryover from the Hebrew which means “certainly,” or “let it be so.” There is no gender tied to the “men” of amen, so uttering this is nothing short of silly. My guess is that this was a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the business of the day in Congress. Later that day, the House proposed rules changes for general neutral terms; “chairman” will become “chair”; terms for familial relationships such as “mother, father, daughter, son, sister and brother” will be replaced with terms such as “parent, child and sibling.”

While I do not wish to engage in any kind of personal attack on Representative Cleaver, I do think it is fair to examine his prayer for what it is. 

For one thing, if you are praying in a public setting, and your are trying to make a point to the people hearing the prayer, and being cute in the prayer, you’ve stopped praying to God, and you’ve started talking to the people. As a pastor, I regularly pray with and for others, expressing the needs of the people before God. But the purpose of prayer is to entreat before our Sovereign God the needs and cares of our hearts, and to seek from Him the provision of our daily bread – not score political points or say something that will make the headlines. Cleaver had to know that his pun would be all that the people would hear, and he chose to include it in his prayer anyway. Every session of Congress opens with prayer, very seldom does it make the news cycle. This was an attention getter – and the prayer got what it sought – attention. 

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began by saying, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:5-6).

To be perfectly honest, however, I gave up on the “prayer” long before he said, “a-woman.” I couldn’t get past how he addressed the mediator of his prayer. Rep. Cleaver is a ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, so he’s certainly been trained in Biblical studies and theology. How then can he end his prayer, asking all that he did in the “name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and God known by many names by many different faiths”?

I understand the difficulty of praying in an ecumenical, inter-faith, setting. You cannot assume, when praying in a large setting, that all who are praying share your faith. But if you’ve been asked to pray, you haven’t been asked to lay aside your faith for the sake of others. This mealy-mouthed, pan-theistic address at the conclusion of his prayer should never have been uttered from the mouth of a follower of Christ.

I know as a Methodist Cleaver doesn’t subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, but the Confession does instruct us in our prayers. “Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue” (WCF XXI 3). In John 14:13-14 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” A Christian prays in the name of Christ, for in Him is our only hope of being heard.

  • When he says “monotheistic god” one must assume Cleaver is speaking of the God of the Bible, but also including the religions of the Jews and Muslims. The point has been made numerous times so I’ll say this succinctly, Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, the eternal 2nd person of the Trinity, who took on flesh and died for our trespasses, and was raised on the 3rd day for our justification. If you deny the Son, you deny the Father as well (1 John 2:23).
  • “Brahma” is the Hindu god of creation, their chief among a pantheon of gods.
  • And the “god known by many names by many different faiths…” is a catch-all for any that he couldn’t name.

This bothers me more than some silly “a-woman” phrase at the end of this pious posturing before the people.  Essentially, Cleaver, an ordained minister of the sacraments of Jesus Christ, standing in the great tradition of John and Charles Wesley, offers a prayer for the Congress to any god who will listen, while careful not to mention the only God who hears. Three days after the prayer, thousands stormed Capital Hill and several broke into the chambers and office of Congress, disrupting the democratic process of certifying the presidential election. These thugs, criminals, and hooligans were acting like godless hordes, and they should be held responsible. But when those who are called to pray for the people cannot shine a clear light for the people to see, how can the people help but stumble in the darkness.

Lord have mercy. Let us pray.