Dr. John Niemelä called today and asked me if I had a list of quotes from Evangelicals who deny absolute assurance. Well, I didn’t have the list, but I did have many such quotes. So, I’ve pulled them together for this blog.
Robert Peterson: Protestants do not claim the ‘absolute’ certainty that Rome rejects. The reformers acknowledged that believers can waver in faith. Nevertheless, confidence of salvation is possible, even normal, for God’s people (“Christian Assurance: Its Possibility and Foundations,” Presbyterion 18 :11).
There are people in this world who are not saved, but who are convinced that they are. The presence of such people causes genuine Christians to doubt their salvation. After all, we wonder, suppose I am in that category? Suppose I am mistaken about my salvation and am really going to hell? How can I know that I am a real Christian?
R. C. Sproul: A while back I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness… “R.C., what if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?” Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified.
…Then I remembered John 6:68. Jesus had been giving out hard teaching, and many of His former followers had left Him. When He asked Peter if he was also going to leave, Peter said, “Where else can I go? Only You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, Peter was also uncomfortable, but he realized that being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option! (TableTalk, Nov 6, 1989, p. 20. See here for more of the quote).
Kenneth Gentry: Assurance is subjective, rooted in the heart of the believer. If we say assurance is essential to saving faith, then we are ultimately saying no man is saved in Christ until he has come to believe that Christ has saved him forever. This would not involve faith in Christ for salvation, but faith in faith. R.L. Dabney rightfully notes that this requires a revelation beyond the Scriptures because the Bible does not specifically speak to the individual in question. Nowhere in the Bible do we learn, for instance, that Ken Gentry is among the elect (emphasis added) (Dispensationalism in Transition, September 1993).
Walter Chantry. Few today seem to understand the Bible’s doctrine of assurance. Few seem to appreciate the doubts of professing Christians who question whether they have been born again. They have no doubt that God will keep His promises; but they wonder whether they have properly fulfilled the conditions for being heirs to those promises. There is no question that God will give eternal life to all who repent and believe. But they are discerning enough to know that walking an aisle and muttering a verbal prayer does not constitute faith. The [Westminster] Catechism’s doctrine has raised valid questions concerning their personal experience of grace which cannot be brushed aside. They are asking a legitimate question, “Have we believed and repented?” “Are we the recipients of God’s grace?” (Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970], pp. 75-76.)
James Sawyer. Certainty falls into several categories. (1) Mathematical certainty: In the abstract theoretical and ideal world, we can know things with absolute certainty. There are no contingencies to qualify a reality, thus, there can be certain knowledge in the truest sense. (2) Empirical certainty: This is demonstrated by the scientific method in the real world, as opposed to the ideal world of mathematics. (3) Legal certainty: This involves proof by evidence, given by witnesses. It, however, admits the possibility of error depending on the truthfulness and credibility of the witnesses. (4) Moral certainty: This is the realm of psychological certainty. It is obvious that nearly all human knowledge outside of the realm of mathematics fails the test of absolute certainty. Likewise, salvation is not something which can be analyzed in the test tube; thus, it does not fall in the realm of scientific certainty. Salvation falls in the realm of contingent reality, the variety of which cannot be tested. Thus, it is impossible from a psychological perspective to achieve the mathematical level of certainty for which Wilkin seeks (see here, though Dr. Sawyer’s article is no longer at aol.com).
John Piper. So, in the end, assurance that we belong to God, we are his child, we are in the promises, we are among the elect is a gift of God. It is a miracle. But as with other miracles in the Christian life, we don’t lie around on our sofa waiting for a bolt of lightning called assurance…There are seasons of doubt, reasons [sic] for doubt, seasons for doubt in the Christian life…This is war. But God does not want his children to fight and fail in the war. He means for us to enjoy the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit and the assurance of our salvation (September 16, 2016 interview entitled, “Can I Be Sure I’m Saved If Persevering Is the Proof?” See here for the audio and transcript).
I have no axe to grind with these men. Most people in Evangelism today agree with them that it is impossible to be sure we have everlasting life. The reason, as is evident in several of the quotes above, is that people mistakenly think that persevering in faith and good works is required to gain what they call final salvation. The logic of their position is clear:
Major premise: Only those who persevere in faith and good works will gain final salvation.
Minor premise: I cannot be sure I will persevere.
Conclusion: I cannot be sure I will gain final salvation.
The solution is to reject the major premise. John 3:16 says nothing about the need to persevere. Nor does John 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25-27; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Rom 4:4-5; Gal 2:16; or Rev 22:17. The only condition of everlasting life is faith in Christ. The moment one believes in Christ, he gains everlasting life, which can never be lost. Another way of saying that is once saved, always saved or salvation is final at the very moment we believe in Jesus for everlasting life.
I’m glad I’m sure. I’m sure you are glad as well if you too are sure. If you are not, then please ask God to give you certainty as you read John’s Gospel. The Lord will give you certainty of your salvation if you diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6).