I received via email this excellent question about assurance:
I so appreciate your ministry and your desire to clearly present the gospel, and I’m hoping you can share some thoughts on something that has started to trouble me.
I have believed in Jesus to save me, but lately, my assurance has been faltering. And yes, I understood that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. But here’s the thing…In my heart, I believed in Jesus, but the question is do I also need to tell God that I believed in Jesus to save me in order to be saved?
I know John 3:16 says “believeth” not “believeth and prayeth” or “believeth and notifies God.” I also know that God already knows I believed in Jesus whether I tell Him or not. And I know Romans says, “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness”. I am also familiar with John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” I also know that the “sinner’s prayer” is a relatively modern development in the history of Christianity.
Still it troubles me that maybe I need not just to believe but also to verbalize the fact that I believed to God. After all, didn’t Jesus ask the woman at the well “Believest thou this?” to elicit a verbal response? [Editor’s note: Jesus asked Martha that question in John 11:26b.] Didn’t the thief on the cross verbally express his faith and call on Jesus to be saved when he said, “Remember me”? And in Acts 10 when the Holy Ghost falls on people to whom Peter is preaching, we know that they believed, but how do we know that they didn’t also pray to God and tell Him that they believed even while Peter preached?
Obviously, I tend to overthink things, but this matter has really started to trouble me and is robbing me of my peace concerning my eternal destiny. I guess the bottom line is this: is salvation received by believing, or is salvation received by believing and then telling God that you believe? I still think it is the former, but I am having trouble shaking this nagging doubt.
Thank you for any thoughts you may be able to offer on this matter.
First, readers may not know what the questioner means by “assurance is of the essence of saving faith.” That is the view that a person is not born again until he is convinced that he has everlasting life because he believes in Jesus Christ for it. It doesn’t mean that assurance necessarily continues. Assurance can be lost. But if a person has never been convinced of the promise of everlasting life, then he has not yet been born again.
People who reject the view that assurance is of the essence of saving faith typically do so because they know many godly Calvinists and Arminians who are not sure of their eternal destiny. They figure that a person need not be convinced of the faith-alone position. They think that as long as someone believes that Jesus is God and that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again, then they are born again even if they believe in works salvation and even if they have never believed in the grace message.
I agree with my correspondent. You can’t be born again by works, commitment, surrender, baptism, walking an aisle, praying a prayer, signing a card, raising your hand, or anything other than simple faith in Christ.
Second, must we tell God we believe in Jesus in order to be born again? Does John 11:26b suggest that? No and no.
Of course, God commands us to publicly profess our faith in Christ via baptism and regular church attendance. He also commands us to share our faith with others as we have opportunity. But professing our faith to others, or to God, is not a condition of everlasting life.
In John 11:26b, the Lord Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Her confession in verse 27 that she believes what He had just said does not change the condition that Jesus stated and repeated in John 11:25-26a. Twice He said, “he who believes in Me.” That is the sole condition for bodily resurrection into His kingdom (v 25b) and for everlasting life (v 26a). Well, verse 26a does give a second condition: “He who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” A person must believe in Christ while he is living in order to be born again. If someone came to believe the promise of life after he died (which I imagine nearly everyone will over time), it will be too late because there is no post mortem regeneration.
But Jesus did not say, “He who lives, believes in Me, and tells My Father that he believes in Me, shall never die.”
The reason the Lord Jesus asked Martha that was not so that she could be born again by telling Him that she did. He knew that she already believed in Him. He asked this for two reasons. First, by her stating her faith in Him, she was gaining spiritual encouragement in her time of grief. Second, the Lord knew that His statement to Martha and her answer to His question would become a key part of Scripture.
The key to unfaltering assurance is to keep looking to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). He promised that whoever believes in Him has everlasting life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27). Look to Him and His promise, and you retain assurance. Look to yourself, even in a small matter like thinking you must tell God that you believe in His Son in order to have eternal life, and your assurance falters because you are now looking in part to yourself.
The Gospel of John is a great place to find assurance or to restore faltering assurance. Prayerfully read one chapter per day, asking God to give you unfaltering assurance through the words of the Lord Jesus. In twenty-one days or less, your assurance should be restored.