Article by Calvinist Jon Bloom, staff writer for and co-founder of desiringGod.org.
See here for the article entitled, “How God Gives Assurance” (9/4/15).
Bloom opens his article with these words: “Am I truly a Christian? Few questions cause more fearful trembling in believers…”
Here is his view: “Like most things in the Christian life, assurance is something that is cultivated and grows deeper and stronger over time. It is a gift that God gives to us, according to Newton, gradually through frequent testing.”
Bloom’s Three Main Points about Assurance
1.Assurance grows through spiritual conflict.
His point is that assurance is like a dimmer switch. When a person is born again, it is like a 100-watt bulb that only gives out ten watts of light due to the dimmer switch being set on low. As spiritual conflict occurs, our assurance grows if we handle the conflict properly. If not, it stays the same or even diminishes.
2.Why assurance grows this way.
He quotes Newton for the answer: “We cannot be safely trusted with assurance till we have that knowledge of the evil and deceitfulness of our hearts, which can be acquired only by painful, repeated experience.” His point seems to be—he does not explain Newton’s answer—that fear of hell pushes us to look more to the cross and more to “Christ’s promises to us.” In other words, his point is that if we were certain of our salvation, we would not draw near to Christ. We need uncertainty to draw us closer to Christ and to turn up our dimmer switch.
Of course, if this is true, then a person can never be certain of his eternal destiny because if he were, then he would have nothing drawing him near to Christ.
3.Through many dangers, toils, and snares.
His conclusion is interesting:
Our assurance of salvation does not come from a confidence in some subjectively measured inner witness, nor how warm our affections for God are at any given moment. Rather, our assurance comes from a growing confidence in Christ’s saving work that purchased the fulfillment of all his great promises to us (2 Peter 1:4) and his power to keep them.
Greater assurance comes through stronger faith. And faith only grows stronger through the vigorous exercise of testing.
Bloom contradicts what many Calvinists believe about the subjective inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Yet he accepts the idea that our subjective works are essential to having the dimmer switch set on high.
High, by the way, is never 100 watts. The most a Calvinist can hope for is “full assurance,” an expression Bloom uses. Full assurance is something like ninety watts.
One must have ongoing doubts about his eternal destiny in order to continue being drawn to Christ.
Evaluation of Bloom’s View of Assurance
On the one hand, he is to be commended for telling his readers not to look inward for some subjective inner witness. That is not what Rom 8:16 teaches. See here for a 6-minute YouTube video I recorded about Bloom’s blog.
On the other hand, he is to be critiqued for suggesting that lack of certainty is a good thing, that assurance of everlasting life can grow over time, and that only if we respond well to testing can we have a high level of hope that possibly we do have everlasting life. He wrongly says–favorably citing Newton–that “assurance [comes] from experience.”
A major problem with Bloom’s article is that it has very little Scripture and never cites the Gospel of John. Instead, Bloom cites Jas 1:2-3; Rom 5:3-4; Heb 12:7-8; Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 1:9; and 2 Pet 1:4 (in that order). All of those are discipleship verses. None deals with how an unbeliever can gain assurance of everlasting life (or how a believer who lost his assurance can regain it).
If you want to have assurance, that is, if you wish to be certain that you have everlasting life and that you will never perish, consult the Gospel of John. The Lord Jesus made the issue crystal clear.