I was talking to a Presbyterian gentleman—a fellow admirer of Gordon Clark and John Robbins—about how Calvinists understood the nature of faith. When I asked his opinion as to whether they thought that assurance was of the essence of saving faith, he said they clearly did. “After all, when Jesus promised, ‘I go and prepare a place for you’ (John 14:3)—how can you believe that, and also not be sure that He prepared a place for you? You can’t!” he said. “You either believe you have a place, or you don’t, and if you don’t, then you don’t believe Him.”
If your response to that promise is to say, “Maybe He did, maybe He didn’t,” then you do not believe what Jesus promised.
Jesus and the apostles made certain salvation promises to you that you either believe or not. For example, the apostles preached:
Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).
You cannot believe the promise that “everyone who believes is justified” without also believing that you are justified! If you think, “I believe, but I’m not sure that I’m justified,” then you don’t believe it. On the contrary, you doubt that promise.
John the Baptist said of Jesus:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
If you’re not sure that your sin has been taken away, then you don’t believe this promise. If you believe it, then you can’t help but believe that your sin has been taken away by the Lamb of God.
Consider what Jesus promised Martha:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26a).
If you believe that promise, will you die or not? If you’re not sure of the answer, then you don’t believe.
And to give one last example,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
Can you believe that promise and still worry that you’re headed for death and judgment? Of course not. If you did, you’d be rejecting Jesus’ promise, not believing it.
Denying that assurance is of the essence of saving faith is a form of irrationalism. Worse than that, it encourages people to keep on doubting Jesus, as if that were a normal part of faith. Instead of being encouraged in their doubt, people should be confronted with their unbelief and challenged to believe what Jesus promised. For many people, that will help them return to a faith that they lost. But for many others, it will mean believing in Jesus for the first time—and by believing, they will have passed from death to life in that moment.