This is an excerpt from Bob’s upcoming book on Assurance entitled Secure and Sure.
In our postmodern culture people who claim to be certain about anything are viewed with no small amount of skepticism. The only certainty today, it seems, is that you can’t be certain! All but the most unreasonable, however, will acknowledge that at least some things in life are objectively certain.
For example, who doubts that two plus two equals four? That is objectively verifiable. So is citizenship. Just check your birth certificate or passport. Need to prove your voting status is active? Pull out your voter registration card. And if you want security clearance at work, just wear the photo ID badge you were issued when you were employed. None of these things are subjective or uncertain.
But what about the area of divine revelation? Can we be certain of things that God has recorded in His Word? In terms of assurance of salvation, can we be specifically certain that we have everlasting life? And if we can, then what is the source of that certainty?
People sometimes look to subjective factors in a misguided effort to determine their status in God’s forever family. Many look to their works, but are haunted by the knowledge that the motives behind the good things they do are not always pure. Some look to their love for other Christians and their commitment to Christ, but they find no certainty since their love and commitment are imperfect. Others focus on how much they love God and hate sin only to find that their love for God is less than absolute and their hatred of sin wanes at times.
The only consistent thing that such introspection produces is doubt. It has no place in helping us know if we are citizens of heaven. The purpose of self-examination is to reveal to us the progress we are making in our walks with Christ (2 Cor 13:5). Our citizenship is unrelated to our performance.
Certainty Comes from God’s Word
To be certain, you need an objective standard. And there is one—the black and white promises of God to all who simply believe in Jesus. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Do you believe in Jesus? If your answer is yes, then Jesus claims in this verse that you have everlasting life, right?
Now if you respond, “Well, I believe in Jesus, but I’m not sure whether or not I have everlasting life,” then you clearly don’t believe what Jesus said in John 6:47. For there Jesus promises that all who believe in Him have everlasting life. If it is true, then it applies to everyone who believes in Jesus, even you.
There are scores of passages like this. For extensive evidence that the Word of God is the source of the truth about our eternal security, consider the following texts:
John 3:16. This may be the most famous verse in the Bible. Yet while it directly speaks to assurance, most don’t apply it in that way. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (italics added). Those who believe in Jesus have eternal life and will never perish. That’s the promise. If we believe the promise, we know we won’t perish and we have everlasting life. It’s that simple.
John 3:18. “He who believes in Him is not condemned.” The one who believes in Jesus is in a state of non-condemnation. That is, he is a person who is justified, declared righteous before God. There is no such thing as a condemned believer. There never will be.
John 3:36. John the Baptist testified of Jesus, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life.” Did you note the verb tense? It’s present tense. The believer has everlasting life. And since the life is everlasting, it can never cease. Works and feelings play no role in this—just faith.
Acts 15:7-11. The early church called a special council in Jerusalem to make an official decree on what Gentiles had to do to have eternal life. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, had been saying that all they had to do was believe in Jesus and they would be eternally secure. At the Jerusalem Council, as it has come to be called, Peter affirmed Paul’s gospel, reminding the crowd that God sent him to the Gentile Cornelius and his family so “that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe…purifying their hearts by faith…But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” The only condition is to believe the gospel. Hearts are purified by faith alone. Jews and Gentiles are saved in the same way, by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Peter is not expressing an opinion here. He is expressing fact. Peter is certain. And all who believe Peter’s words are certain that they have everlasting life as well.
Acts 16:31. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” is Paul’s answer to the Philippian jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” The one who believes this is sure that he is saved because God’s Word is true and dependable.
Romans 4:5. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Justification, being declared righteous once and for all by God, occurs the moment one believes in Jesus. Works play absolutely no role in this. Did you notice those whom Paul says God justifies? The ungodly! We are all ungodly. Only by faith in Jesus can we be legally righteous in the sight of God. And all who believe this know that they are indeed justified, for that is what God promises. He promises certainty, not some possibility that is contingent on our future performance.
Galatians 3:6-7. “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” Paul cites Gen 15:6 concerning the justification of Abraham to validate his point that “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16). It is a fact that all who are “of faith,” and only those people, are the spiritual descendants of the one whom Paul describes as “believing Abraham” (Gal 3:9).
Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” In this famous passage Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of the fact that they are regenerated. Paul uses a perfect tense to make his point: you have been saved. That tense conveys a past event which continues forward. The Ephesian believers had been regenerated in the past (“[He] made us alive together with Christ,” verse 5) and they will remain in that state forever. All believers are sealed eternally (Eph 1:13). There is no room for doubt here. Anyone who believes what Paul is saying knows that he has been made alive with Christ and that that life is everlasting.
James 1:18. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” The half brother of Jesus reminds his readers, Jewish believers, that they were “brought forth” or born again “by the word of truth.” Clearly James is referring to their faith in the truth of the gospel (compare Jas 1:3, “your faith”). This new birth is not dependent on some future action. It is an accomplished fact that occurred at the moment of faith in the word of truth.
1 Peter 1:22-23. “…Love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” Having called the readers to love one another with a pure heart, Peter explains why they are able to do that: because they have been born again. And the new birth, says Peter, comes from an incorruptible seed, the ever living word of God. Peter concludes with a citation from Isaiah 40, “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pet 1:24-25).
Fix Your Eyes upon Jesus
For some of you who are reading my words today, the idea that you can have an assurance that is certain is difficult for you to grasp for you have been steeped in the belief that this is impossible and that we must look to our works and our feelings to have some measure of confidence. But you can change your thinking. God’s Word is clear on this. If you are willing to let go of your tradition, you can be sure.
Certainty comes from God’s Word. Stand on His promises to the believer. Then you will be sure and you will also be grateful to God and highly motivated to live for Him.