I use Logos Bible software (from Faithlife) almost every day. It is very helpful as a super concordance (in English, Greek, and Hebrew) and also a repository of many commentaries.
I receive the Faithlife bimonthly publication, Bible Study Magazine. The January/February 2022 issue had an article whose title jumped out at me: “Three Uses of the Bible for Assurance of Salvation” (pp. 18-19). There isn’t much written on assurance of salvation. I appreciate people tackling this subject.
The author, Zach Hollifield, a director of young adult ministry at a large church in Mesa, Arizona, sounds like he is a four- or five-point Calvinist. But there are some Calvinists (e.g., Engelsma, Kendall, Bell, Eaton) who believe that assurance is of the essence of saving faith and that assurance is found solely in the Bible and not in our feelings or works. Hollifield’s title makes it sound like he might be one of those Calvinists. But I wondered why Hollifield spoke of “Three Uses of the Bible” to gain assurance of everlasting life.
It turns out that his three uses are fine. He speaks of reading the Bible personally, hearing the Bible taught in church or a Bible study or just by a friend in conversation, and God the Holy Spirit taking that Scripture that we read or hear taught and impressing it upon us.
All of that is excellent.
But the article from beginning to end speaks of an ongoing lifelong quest for assurance.
Hollifield starts by saying that a year after he thought he had become a Christian, he fell into “a familiar sin that had ruled me prior to conversion” and as a result “God’s presence vanished. I was left wondering if I had lost my salvation—if I had been saved in the first place.”
It was “two agonizing years” before he regained assurance. Of course, he does not mean certainty when he speaks of assurance. He means a confident feeling that he is likely going to persevere, a condition of proving you are really saved, in his view.
He says, “I lacked assurance; I fought for it.” He speaks of “the Christian fighting for assurance of salvation.” “In the Bible God has given us countless weapons to fight for assurance.” “Part of the struggle of assurance is feeling like nothing is happening because positive spiritual feelings are absent.”
Assurance, in his view, is not certainty, and it is not something we can gain and keep the rest of our lives. In Hollifield’s view, assurance is something we must fight for every day. We must struggle for it. There will be times when we have what he calls “positive spiritual feelings.” But often those feelings will be missing, and that is where the Bible comes in.
You might think that the author would mention verses like John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:16; Rev 22:17. No. None of those verses are mentioned. In fact, he does not mention a verse from the Gospel of John at all.
He thinks that assurance is found in verses like Phil 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”i and Jude 24, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.”ii
He also says, “The whole book of 1 John itself was written so that saints might be confident that their faith is genuine.” That is the tests of life understanding of 1 John. There are nine, ten, or eleven tests of whether we are truly born again. Do we obey God? Do we love the brethren? Do we hate sin? Do we show in our behavior that we are righteous? Do we love God’s Word? And so on. Of course, all of those tests are subjective and not objective. John 3:16 is objective. 1 John 3:16 is subjective.
The only other assurance verses the author cites are some verses in Psalm 119 that speak of God’s Word as being our delight, our hope, our comfort, and our peace.
Don’t get me wrong. His view is not a minority view in Evangelicalism today. His view is the prevailing view.
But I do not think that it should be.
Are you sure that you have everlasting life that can never be lost? You are if you believe John 3:16 or John 11:25-26 is true. You aren’t if you think you must look at your feelings and your works in order to fight for it.
A person is not born again until he believes the promise of irrevocable salvation (John 3:16; 11:25-27; 1 Tim 1:16). Hopefully the author of this article believed the promise of everlasting life before he lost assurance. But if he wants to be sure, he needs to look to Christ alone, not to his own feelings or his own works.
What a privilege we have of knowing for sure that we are eternally secure. If you have not thanked God for that assurance recently, why not do not so right now? We certainly should be thanking God often for our certain salvation.
And why not follow Hollifield’s advice and share the truth of God’s Word about assurance with people you know who, like him, are in a lifelong struggle for assurance. The Holy Spirit can use you to bring the promise of life to thirsty souls.
i That verse is talking about working out our successful deliverance from persecution in this life. It is not at all about how we are saved from eternal condemnation. See this article on Phil 2:12, which in the last paragraph gives links to two other articles on it.
ii Jude 24 means what it says. God is able to keep us from stumbling and is able to present us before Christ faultless at His Judgment Seat. It is not saying that we must persevere in order to stay saved or prove we are saved or in order to gain final salvation. Salvation is final the moment we believe in Jesus for it. See this article on Jude 24.