Author: Ron Graham


Foundations of Assurance
—Can we be certain of salvation?

This lesson explores some of the issues concerning our assurance of being saved. Can we be certain, and which of the following will make us so?

1 Perception

Our feelings are no guide. People judge whether they are saved by whether or not they feel saved. However feelings are not always a safe guide —they change like the weather. Our moods may deceive us. Some folk even view their feelings as God speaking to them, and their own innermost thoughts as divine revelation. However the Bible warns us, "Lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). and the Lord clearly says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our assurance therefore comes from hearing what the scriptures say.

2 Promise

God’s word gives assurance. Peter made the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit rely on the promise of God (Acts 2:338-39). Paul speaks of "the hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago" (Titus 1:12).

God has shown that his promises don't fail. For example, read Joshua 1:1-9 about the promised land. God made this promise to the patriarchs like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua. Solomon said the promise came true (1Kings 8:56).

Jesus promises his followers a better land, a place he has gone to prepare (John 14:1-3). Our assurance of heaven is not problematic, because it is based upon the promise of God himself —and not one word of his promise will fail. God’s track record of promise keeping is a sign to us that we are saved. We need no other sign.

3 Proviso

God gives us reasonable conditions to fulfill. Many argue that if God’s promises had provisos, the promises would not be absolute and certain. However that's not the Bible’s view. John for example speaks of our assurance in this way: "Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (1John 2:3). The "if" shows that a condition exists. If we don’t keep his commandments, then we don’t "know that we know him", we don’t have any assurance.

This "if" or condition is often associated in scripture with the promise of God. Another example is Colossians 1:21-23 teaching that reconciliation is conditional upon continuing in the faith, and failing to keep this condition moves you away from the assurance of hope.

God’s warranty is not weakened by its provisos. If you bought a new TV, the warranty would probably indicate that if you were to throw the TV set over a cliff, you would void the warranty. This condition does not weaken the guarantee. It just tells you that the promise imposes certain responsibilities on you. In the same way, God makes promises that require some responsibility of you.

4 Performance

God expects no more than our best. Since there are conditions we have to meet, then clearly a lack of performance results in a lack of assurance. That's why Peter says, "Try hard to make your calling and election sure" (2Peter 1:10). If assurance has nothing to do with performance, how could trying hard make make salvation sure?

We know that we don't earn salvation. It is a free gift (Romans 3:24, Romans 6:23). This does not mean, however, that the gift is free of all obligation and that performance is irrelevant. God gives us the gift that we don't deserve, and we do our very best to give him what he does deserve. "Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, well-pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). This settles the issue of performance. God deserves, and requires, no less a service than this. Only to those who perform this sacrifice, will God apply the sacrifice of his Son and give the gift of eternal life.

5 Perfection

Christ brings us up to God’s standard. Whilst God appreciates that we do our best, he knows (and we know) that because we have sinned, we cannot measure up to his standard. God’s standard is nothing less than perfection.

John tells us that in God "there is no darkness at all". He is 100% light and 100% right. Now John points out that if we want fellowship with God, we must "walk in the light as he is in the light". Yet John also tells us that if we say we are perfect —that we have no sin— we are liars (1John 1:5-10). So we cannot justify ourselves. We cannot make ourselves out to be right before God. This is a serious issue, however there is a way to resolve it.

We can become perfect before God, because "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin." So whilst we cannot justify ourselves, Jesus can justify us by the sacrifice of his blood (Romans 1:9-11). We ourselves are imperfect, but the perfection of Christ is attributed to us, and so God accepts us as perfect in Christ.

6 Perseverance

Christ helps us maintain the standard. James says, "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).

There are some who believe that it is impossible for a sanctified person to fall away —a doctrine sometimes referred to as "the Impossibility of Apostasy". The Hebrew writer however speaks of a hypothetical person who has "counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified as a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:28-29). This person has clearly been sanctified, yet has fallen from grace because "there remains no more a sacrifice for sins" in his case (Hebrews 10:26-27).

This is a fitting warning upon which to end our lesson. Let us make sure that our assurance is properly founded according to the five Ps we have discussed in this lesson.