During the darkest moments of our lives—when it feels we’re taking more delight in sin instead of Christ—where should we turn for the assurance of our salvation? All believers struggle with this at times. Even John Calvin said he could not “imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.”
Peter pleaded “I believe; help my unbelief!” How can we know we’re truly a believer and not a self-deluded hypocrite? Some say “just look to your baptism” others “look to your fruit.”
The problem with “just look to your baptism” is we all know of people who have been baptized and later renounced the faith. Adolph Hitler was baptized! Would one offer him assurance of his salvation?
The problem with “look to your fruit” is that we’re more likely to struggle with our assurance when we’ve been cold to the things of God. During the bleakest moments of our lives, it can seem we have no legitimate fruit to point to. We also observe in our daily life that even unbelievers can excel in outward virtue.
To find true assurance of salvation, we must know upon what our salvation depends. As Reformed Christians we know the bedrock of our justification is faith alone in Christ’s finished work. But what is true faith? Read more»
Anthony Charles | “Assurance of Salvation in Reformed Theology” | December 4, 2021
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Read the whole article. Go to church. Wrestle with your faith. Rinse. Repeat.
Shouldn’t Christians review this whole discussion over and over? Isn’t it a lifetime of struggling?
We always come to assurance as if it’s a one-time deal and if we could just Arrive, it would be all better somehow. Is it not better (not saying it’s not harder) to wrangle with the tension of “already-not-yet” and live in time?
Wonderful article! A real breath of fresh air. Thank you for the link.
I must ask about something that has niggled me for years. The author seems to skip over WCF 18.2’s use of things other than focusing divine truth for assurance such as “the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, AND the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God” I note too the Bavinck quote “All the Reformed have warned against any attempt to gain knowledge of one’s election apart from faith” appears to undermine these clauses in the confession. I’m aware there is some debate in the literature over the meaning of the last clause in WCF quoted above but both do take the individual to their own experience more than to christ on the cross. Could you comment on this tension or am I reading the divines wrong?
These are complementary truths.
1. The first ground of our assurance is the gospel promise. It must be objective.
2. The Reformed orthodox also confess that there is a place for recognizing the work of the Spirit in us. The problem comes when people turn first to the subjective or worse, ask bad questions, e.g., “Am I elect?” We need to teach 18.1 and 2. Those who truly believe in the Lord, who love love him sincerely, who, seek to walk in good conscience, may be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace. Our certainty is not a conjecture/speculation. It’s grounded on the divine promise. It is confirmed also by the inward evidences of the work of the Spirit. The Spirit does testify in to and in the heart of the believer etc.
The article focuses on the objective because there are so many out there who are under legal preaching who lack any assurance at all. They are robbed of their assurance by turning first of all to the subjective, to fruit, to the evidences. Heidelberg 86 spends one clause out of all the 129 Questions & Answers, many of which address assurance (incl. question 1) on the practical syllogism: believers produce fruit, I produce fruit, ergo I am a believer. That’s about right.
Those whom God has blessed with what WCF 18.3 calls an “infallible assurance,” who are in good, gospel-preaching churches, have the luxury of looking inward for evidence but many Christians—dare I suggest most?—are not in what we might call “gospel-rich” environments because the minister spends so much time hammering them in an attempt to get them to be or become obedient.
Thanks Dr. Clark. Your comments help clear up some questions for me.