One of the sweetest doctrines of God’s Word is the doctrine of assurance.
It is the divine truth that a man or a woman who has truly repented and trusted Jesus alone for their salvation belongs to Him and possesses eternal life. Such assurance is critical to living a healthy, fruit-bearing Christian life.
Will Metzger, in his great work entitled, “Tell the Truth” teaches that the doctrine of assurance is built on three pillars: first, trust in the promises of God; secondly, evidence of fruit in our lives, and thirdly, the inner witness of the Spirit to our human spirit that we belong to him. In this blog, we will examine each of these briefly.
Please note that the question we are seeking to answer in this blog is not “How do I become a Christian?” but “How can I know I am a Christian?” A person can be a true Christian, having become so through repentance and faith, yet lack assurance. This is due to several different reasons such as an undue focus on a particular sin and unbelief. We are not answering the first question here but the second. If I am a genuine Christian, how can I know it for sure?
Before looking at these three pillars though, let’s first be clear on the fact God desires for his people to have assurance they are saved. God gets no glory in our living in a state in which we have continual doubts we belong to him. Imagine how an earthly father would feel if his son woke up each morning, wondering whom his father was. Nothing would pain a father’s heart more than to know that despite his lavishing love on his child, the child remains insecure, doubting whom he belongs to. I can only imagine how God the Father feels when, despite manifesting his love in the perfect work of his Son on their behalf, they remain doubtful of his love.
That being said, we must also point out that there is also something known as false assurance. It is the result of giving people false hope by trying to convince them rationally instead of challenging them through an examination of their lives in light of the three pillars. We’ve all seen it; a person who responds to an altar call is then led to pray a prayer and told immediately afterward that, because he or she prayed this prayer, they belong to the Father. And when they fail to exhibit the fruit of a changed life they are then classified as a ‘carnal’ Christian. The truth is, many of those who are thus classified have never truly been regenerated.
The first pillar that serves as a foundation for assurance is having a clear hold on the promises of God (II Peter 1:4). Faith must take sufficient hold on what God has promised in order to survive. This is where a person needs to be properly informed of those promises so he or she can properly believe them. Are we aware of “his precious and very great promises” by which we are saved? (II Peter 1:4). That is the place we must always start. There would be no salvation if God had not first promised to send His Son who died in our place and rose from the dead to give us new life.
The second pillar by which we can gain true assurance that we belong to God Metzger mentions is clear evidence of fruit in our lives. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words, “by their fruits you shall know them.” In the parable of the vine in John 15, Jesus made it clear that every branch that abides in the vine will produce fruit (John 15:1-6). We, therefore, should not be hesitant and scrupulous to examine ourselves for evidence of this fruit in our lives.
One of the mistakes we make today is to continually encourage people to evaluate themselves on the basis of the first pillar while completely ignoring the need for the second pillar. It is mostly due, I think, to the fact that we are afraid that by stressing our need to examine ourselves for the presence of fruit, we are falling back into a ‘salvation-by-works’ mentality. But we need not think so. The fact is, if we are solidly built on the first pillar (faith in the promises of God), it will always lead to the second. In other words, fruit is the evidence we believe the promises, rather than the cause.
The letter of First John bears this out. It seems John wrote it so that those who believe might have assurance they have eternal life (I John 5:13). In the letter, John makes a series of statements in which he makes it clear how one can determine they are in Christ. For example, it is as we learn to love the brothers and sisters as Christ loves us that we can have the assurance that we know Him (I John 3:11-24). And before that, he speaks of the need for righteous living as evidence that we belong to Him (3:4-6). Throughout this letter, he warns that it is not enough to stress our confession; we must actually be willing to judge our lives by our possession of these realities.
This is not ‘salvation by works,’ but ‘salvation by faith’ alone, which is evident by a transformed life. In our pastoral ministry today, why are we afraid to encourage people to examine their lives for evidence of fruit? Is it not that we fear that by so doing we are encouraging those we shepherd to slip back under the law? Demanding from people who claim to believe evidence that they have been transformed by that faith is biblical, as the entire letter of First John makes clear.
Finally, the third pillar is the inner witness of the Spirit (Romans 8:16). A person who has truly been converted has been given the gift of the Spirit who has come to reside in him. And the first thing that the Spirit does when he takes up his abode in us is He gives us the inward reality that we are his children. This is the experiential part of the equation. The Spirit makes us know in the deepest part of our being that we belong to him. He produces that “Abba’ from within; the incredible reality that we can call God our Father.
Do you have assurance you belong to him? What are you basing it on? Are you building it simply on the basis of a past confession or a present reality? The answer to the question this blog asks (“Can we know for sure?”) is a glorious ‘Yes’!