God intends for His people to enjoy the peace, assurance, and joy of their salvation. The ministry of the Spirit (cf. Rom 8:15-17) and promises of the gospel were provided so that believers can know beyond any doubt that they are fully and forever “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Assurance of salvation is “the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ” (John MacArthur). Yet, many Christians wrestle with nagging doubts about their eternal standing with God.
In this brief article, I would like to define what assurance is, provide a few reasons why Christians might lack assurance, and provide counsel for those who are struggling with worries about their salvation.
Assurance of Salvation
Before defining what assurance is, it is important to point out that there are many who are not Christians who nevertheless feel secured about their standing with God. Commenting on Matthew 7:21-23, Tim Challies notes, “When the final judgment comes, there will be many who will be shocked to learn that they are not true believers. They will go to the grave confident that they are saved, but come to the judgment and find that they are to be cast out of Jesus’ presence. This ought to be sobering for all who consider themselves Christians.” This false sense of confidence stems from unbiblical ideas about how a person becomes a Christian.
Biblically, assurance of salvation is the inward sense of peace that comes as believers dig their roots deeply in the rich soil of gospel promises and blessings. In other words, the more believers learn, grasp, and then appropriate the truths of the gospel, the more peace they will experience regarding their standing with God. The opposite, of course, is true as well.
Before moving on, it is important to note that assurance of salvation is NOT the same thing as eternal security. The doctrine of eternal security teaches us that God eternally justifies, saves, and keeps those who are His children (ex. John 3:16; 5:24; 10:28; Rom 8:38-39; Jude 1:24; I John 5:13, etc.). This truth is an objective, factual, unchanging reality. Assurance, however, is internal, subjective, and therefore susceptible to change.
Reasons Why Christians Struggle with Assurance
Can a true believer struggle with troublesome feelings of doubt about their salvation? Absolutely! Depression, failure to mortify sin, stagnation due to the neglect of spiritual disciplines, and unhealthy comparisons with other believers are all factors that can contribute to a lack of assurance. 2 Peter 1:8-11 states that believers who are not growing in grace (see 2 Peter 1:5-7) may become so “nearsighted” or blinded by sin, apathy, and neglect that they forget that they have been cleansed from their former sins and given new life in Christ. In fact, the text seems to indicate that believers should anticipate struggles with assurance when they are not progressing in the faith.
Ultimately, a lack of faith in the character of God, the saving power of the gospel, and the promises of the Scripture is the root cause behind all assurance struggles.
Counsel for Those Struggling with Assurance
Ignore the warning. As we’ve already noted, God intended assurance to be a normal part of our Christian experience. An absence or diminished sense of assurance is warning signal that something isn’t right. I cannot urge you enough to take time to seek the Lord and prayerfully discern the reason(s) why you are wrestling with doubts. As you do so, invite the counsel of other mature, gospel-rooted believers who will frankly minister truth to your soul and point you to Christ.
Remember the time. Too many people soothe their consciences regarding a lack of assurance by recalling the “time, place, and date” when they professed faith in Christ. This practice of looking back to an experience as the basis for our acceptance with God is a grave mistake and one that has contributed to the pseudo “assurance” of many who are not truly converted. Saving faith is not a past tense verb. It is always in the present, continually looking to / trusting in the living Christ (ok, so it’s actually a present progressive verb, but I’ll refrain from more nerdy grammar instruction).
Just do more. Some seek to overcome assurance struggles through disciplined Christian activism. They think that if they just read the Bible and pray more, their doubts will vanish away. Of course, Scripture reading and prayer are powerful and necessary means of grace that the Lord uses to minister assurance to our hearts. But assurance doesn’t come when a person looks to their efforts as a way of securing peace or God’s approval. Only a maturing faith in the gospel can open the door for struggling Christians to experience the deep joys of inward assurance.
John Bunyon, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, recounts the time when agonizing doubts about his salvation were finally overcome: “One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, ‘He lacks my righteousness,’ for that was in front of Him. I also saw that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons [doubts about his standing with God]… now I went home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.”
Friend, if you’re struggling with assurance, look to Christ! Meditate afresh on the life-giving truths of the gospel. Look to Him, whose sinless life and sin-bearing death fully satisfied God’s wrath against your sin, as your substitute, your righteousness, your hope, your life! The only way to make our calling and election sure is to look in faith to Christ. As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon noted:
“Remember, sinner – it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee – it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee – it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument – it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of thy faith; and if thou doest that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down… Is it not prayer, it is not faith, it is not our doings, it is not our feelings upon which we must rest, but upon Christ, and on Christ alone. We are apt to think that we are not in a right state, that we do not feel enough, instead of remembering that our business is not with self, but Christ. Let me beseech thee, look only to Christ; keep thine eye simply on Him; let His death, His agonies, His groans, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou walkest in the morning look to Him; when thou liest down at night look to Him.”
A Few Recommendations
Pastor and well-known Reformed blogger Tim Challies has written some excellent articles on the nature of assurance that I would highly recommend for those who would like to read more on this vital issue. Click here for a link to the first of a three-part series on assurance.
R.C. Sproul has also written an excellent article on insecurity and the assurance of salvation. My two favorite quote from the article:
- “Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Assurance is the cement of that foundation. Without it, the foundation crumbles.”
- “To have sound assurance we must understand that our salvation rests upon the merit of Christ alone, which is appropriated to us when we embrace Him by genuine faith. If we understand that, the remaining question is, ‘Do I have the genuine faith necessary for salvation?’”
One of the best resources available to help believers understand and appropriate gospel promises during seasons of darkness is the small but meaty book, “A Gospel Primer” by Milton Vincent. Click here to purchase a copy: http://amzn.to/2gYv30P
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame [state of mind],
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
~ Edward Mote, “The Solid Rock”
Article by: Micah Colbert