By Shawn Lazar
The Greatest Certainty
I was recently referencing John Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics (St Louis, MO: Concordia, 1955), when I came across some excellent quotes on assurance being part of faith, and not something extra in addition to it.
“Since saving faith is the believer’s trust in the perfect righteousness which Christ has secured for all men by His vicarious satisfaction and which therefore exists even before a person believes, it is clear that a believer is in full possession of divine pardon, life, and salvation from the very moment in which he puts his trust in Christ; for in that very moment all the merits of Christ’s suffering and death are imputed to him (Acts 16:31). For this reason the believer is also certain of his salvation; for saving faith is in its very nature the truest and greatest certainty” (p. 329).
What is Mueller arguing here? His basic point is this. In contrast to religions that teach that salvation is only given at a future date, Biblical religion teaches that salvation is given at the moment of faith in Jesus. When you believe in Jesus for salvation, it is given to you in that moment. In fact, that is what you are believing in Jesus for—for salvation imputed at the moment of faith, not given at some future date. Hence, saving faith is certainty that you are saved, because that is the promise that is being believed. If we were believing in Jesus for a future salvation, we could not be sure that we are saved now, because that is not what is believed.
Saving faith is the greatest certainty, because it is faith in the greatest gift the world has ever known: eternal salvation through Christ.
Assurance, Justification, and Sanctification
Mueller goes on to clearly point out a major reason why people lack assurance of salvation—they think salvation depends, in some way, upon works:
“If papists and Romanizing Protestants deny that the believer may be sure of his salvation, it is because they teach that salvation, in part at least, depends on the believer’s good works, in other words, because they intermingle justification and sanctification” (p. 330).
How perceptive of Mueller to recognize that pastors and theologians who confuse justification with sanctification, generally lack assurance, because assurance of salvation is tied to belief in the former, not the latter.
If salvation depends on a life of good works, a conscientious person will always recognize even their best works are not pure, and realize that he cannot be sure he will continue to do good works in the future. Hence, he will lack assurance of salvation.