Ferguson: Assurance Depends On Sola Gratia, Sola Fide

If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

Sinclair Ferguson,What Is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?”

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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16 comments

  1. This quote, and the linked full article says it all. Christ is our assurance, and our reason to love and obey God. We love Him because He first loved us. By His perfect, imputed righteousness we stand as righteous as He is before the Father. And with His own blood He paid the penalty owed for our sin. He makes us sons, by adoption, with Himself and therefore co-heirs with himself! If that does not make us zealous to do good works, we must be cold stones, and not Christians.

    • And how many good works are enough? When have we done enough to feel that we’re not cold stones? What if we do a lot of good works but secretly cherish sin in our hearts? Did King David’s good works make up for his heinous sin?

  2. Jeff, we can never, ever do enough good works! Our good works are nothing but filthy rags, in terms of our acceptance with God. We are right with God only because Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot live and died the death we cannot die and it is on that basis we have confidence that we are right with God. If we then love God, who has given us this great salvation, there ought to be a response of striving to show our love and gratitude, if we have been made alive in Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even Paul laments, in Romans 7, that he struggles against sin. We will never be perfect until we are raised in glory at the resurrection, but if we have no desire to please and obey God, our profession of faith is questionable. Only Christ’s perfect righteousness is enough. When we trust in Him as our Saviour, God credits his perfect righteousness to us, then we absolutely have enough good works. But if His great sacrifice does not move us to obey His command, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” then we must be cold stones rather than Christians!

  3. Our so-called ‘heretical’ assurance is also grounded on the solid rock of Christ’s heavenly intercession: ‘Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.’ (Rom. 8:34). The results of His intercession for His own are guaranteed. Sorry, Cardinal Bellarmine, but that, is assurance!

  4. The reason that His prayers for us are heard, is that Jesus, our High Priest offered Himself on the alter of the cross, as the perfect sacrifice, to suffer the curse of God’s wrath on our behalf. As Paul puts it, “I am determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I Cor. 2:2 Our trust in Christ, and His finished work on the cross on our behalf, is the single reason for our confidence that we are right and accepted by God.

  5. Having been watching all of this from the sidelines, I’m sorry to say it still seems to me there is a clear category confusion which is muddling the discourse. I don’t think anyone is saying our final salvation is contingent upon our works in the category of grounds. For the grounds of our justification and thus assurance, we look to Christ alone, His imputed active/passive righteousness Sola Gratia/Sola Fide, and find in Him all that is necessary to be judged perfect on that Day.

    In addition, we are admonished in 10,000 ways to do the works of a Christian in order to persevere. Heb. 3:14 really crystallizes all of this: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

    This is to say, we know we have come to share in Christ in the first place, if and only if our lives/perseverance are commensurate with our profession. How else can we read Heb. 3:14 and related verses? This “requirement” of the Christian life, not being a part of the grounds of our acceptance before God, is so strongly associated with our final state on judgment day, that the Bible can rightly say we “must” do the works of perseverance and righteousness (Rev. 19:7-9), such that one will be tossed from the wedding feast if he arrives without the requisite garment of good works (Matt. 22:12).

    Look up the passages I referenced before you reply. I do think I have spoken according to our confessions and fathers in the faith, and more importantly according to Scripture.

    • Adam,

      Scripture does not teach that we “maintain” our justification through good works or perseverance nor does it teach that we “continue” our justification through them. We do good works and persevere because that is what believers do, by grace alone, through faith alone.

      It is essential in this discussion to distinguish between is, with, and through.

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/10/salvation-sola-gratia-sola-fide-on-distinguishing-is-with-and-through/

          • Well, I certainly tried to make as clear as possible the grounds of justification, a one-time completed declaration which cannot be lost or changed.

            The language of Heb. 3:14 simply cannot be more clear: we “must” persevere if we are Christians, Rev. 19:7-8 we “must” be clothed in righteous deeds in order to be welcomed at the wedding feast (Matt. 22:12) – these things are not in tension, but rather harmony.

            • That “must” is a moral obligation. A good tree “must” produce fruit if it is a good tree. A good tree will and shall produce good fruit but the fruit does not make the tree nor does fruit make faith. Christ is the object of faith and faith alone is the instrument of salvation.

              We are not under of covenant of works either nor in the future at the judgment.

  6. I’ll certainly try to answer some of the honest question of the moment from Adam as well, specifically what happened to his use of Hebrews 3:14.

    First of all, you altered the text. The text doesn’t say “we know that …” but “we have become that!]”

    Here is what you said: “we know we have come to share in Christ in the first place”! Look at the change of the conclusion!

    Here is what the verse says: “we have become partakers…” The conclusion is that we have become something then, not that we know something now. In the Greek, “μέτοχοι γὰρ τοῦ Χριστοῦ γεγόναμεν” — emphatic-sounding: sharers we have become!

    This is the classic looking at a text to answer our private question (what can I know now), when the writer is encouraging us using the greatness of the future prospect.

    The next thing you did was introduce a converse into the statement. 3:14 is about a conclusion that follows if something else is true. You tried to turn it into an “if and only if.” Here are your words: “if and only if our lives/perseverance are commensurate with our profession.”

    “We will see some stars, if we’re up at 2am” does not imply “we will not see some stars, if we’re not up till 4am.” Your “if and only if,” since you used that term, is the addition to the text of its converse. Somtimes this is called denying the antecedent, but since you used the term “if and only if” yourself, you can compare that term with the text.

    Not to mention the “lives/perseverance are commensurate with our profession,” the condign works idea from the via moderna. “lives/perseverance are commensurate with our profession” is a far cry from holding fast the beginning of our assurance.

    Hope this helps!

  7. Adam, it seems to me you have two stage justification system also. You are making works necessary to maintain salvation, so we are ultimately saved by maintaining our faith. Reformed theology teaches that the saints persevere not because of their efforts to keep their faith, but because they are elect and regenerated by the Holy Spirit who is sanctifying them, gradually conforming them in Christ’s image. The evidence of this that they persevere and grow in the faith, and do good works. This is because they are already saved and accepted by God, not to be finally accepted by Him. We are His workmanship, so the white linen of the bride’s wedding garment is the righteous works that God graciously grants in His sanctification, according to His plan in saving them. These works are the fruit of God’s electing purpose, not something we do to ensure final acceptance by God. Salvation is by grace, through faith, not by our efforts to maintain salvation.

    • Angela, it seems impossible to me that one could come to that conclusion after reading what I wrote, but here we are. The replies to my comment seem to confirm my suspicion that this entire discourse is a lot of talking past one another while getting tripped up on semantics. I appreciate your zeal for the gospel, and will bow out at this time.

  8. Adam, you are certainly right, this discussion is about semantics, about what it means to be saved so that we stand righteous before God. Is it on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to us through faith, or is it through faith in initial justification followed by faith and works as evidence for a final justification. Reformed theology does not deny that works are a necessary part of the Spirit’s work in conforming us to the image of Christ. In fact that is what justifies our claim, or witnesses to the world that we are Christians, but as far as our right standing before God is concerned, our best efforts could never amount to anything but filthy rags. God is perfectly righteous and holy, only perfect righteousness can provide a claim to stand before Him on the last day, and we have that only by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. All other ground is sinking sand, as Luther would say.

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