By Bob Wilkin
Several years ago, I received an email from a friend. He gave me a link to an article entitled “When Assurance of Salvation Is Fleeting.”2 It was a Feb 15, 2017, blog by Jason Helopoulos at The Gospel Coalition.
The first two headings of the blog give you a good idea of the author’s view: 1) “Faith may include assurance” and 2) “Faith doesn’t equal assurance.” Helopoulos says:
A child of God may and should possess a true sense of inner peace and confidence regarding personal salvation.
Though the gift of assurance regularly accompanies faith, many Christians find it elusive or even non-existent in their own experience.
The Westminster Confession helpfully addresses the underlying error when it states, “infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be a partaker of it” (WCF 18:3). The Westminster divines rightly understood that one may possess saving faith, yet not possess the assurance that often accompanies that faith.
According to Helopoulos, assurance is found in introspection (seeing “evidences of Christ’s grace in our lives”), yet “many Christians suffer from overzealous introspection.” So, while we are to examine our lives, we need to avoid doing so too much. His solution is to make sure that it is not true that “our gaze is always within.” We are also to look outside ourselves. He suggests we do so when we take the Lord’s Supper and when we pray.
As I read this article, I experienced sadness for the many people who believe as Helopoulos does and who are regularly plagued with doubts about their eternal destiny.
The author correctly points out the dangers of introspection. Yet he says that we are commanded in Scripture to examine ourselves to see if we are born again. So, he is torn. While I appreciate his
irenic spirit and his cautions about too much introspection, his advice is not satisfying.
If I don’t know for sure that I have everlasting life, why am I partaking of the Lord’s Supper? Isn’t the Supper only for those who have been born again? Taking the Supper to try to discover if I’m born again is backwards.
Besides, from a Calvinist viewpoint one cannot be sure when he takes the bread and the wine that Jesus actually died for him. In the Calvinist way of thinking, Jesus only died for the elect. And since the Calvinist can’t be sure he is elect, he can’t be sure that Christ died for him.
Helopoulos rightly calls the ones who lack assurance to pray. But he does not ask them to pray that God would show them from His Word that all who believe in Jesus have everlasting life. Instead, he suggests prayer, because in prayer they can sense the presence of God.
But isn’t sensing the presence of God in prayer subjective? Isn’t it in some sense looking for a feeling to convince you that you have been born again?
The author does have one paragraph on the role of God’s Word in assurance. But even there the point is not that we find the promise of life to the believer. In fact, he doesn’t quote even one verse that might give a person assurance. Instead, Helopoulos suggests that as we read God’s Word, “the promises of Christ comfort our souls, the beauty of Christ stirs our affections, and the commands of Christ move our spirits.” Once again, feelings are being sought. The Word of God can spark feelings within us that give us some measure of assurance. But are feelings reliable? Don’t feelings come and go like the tides?
The Lord Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). There are scores of such verses in John’s Gospel and in the Bible. Assurance is really as simple as taking God at His word. But since many Calvinists make a point of rejecting assurance as being of the essence of saving faith, as Helopoulos does, the result is that assurance is elusive.
Let’s point others to the wonderful promise of everlasting life to all who simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Believing that promise results in assurance that is not fleeting. The only way such assurance can be lost is by ceasing to believe the promise. Our feelings and emotions have nothing to do with it. Introspection has nothing to do with it. We just take Jesus at His word.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX, with his wife of 46 years, Sharon. He is an avid race walker and marathon walker.
1 This article is a revision of a blog that first appeared on Feb 22, 2017, at the GES website.
2 See https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2017/02/15/when-assurance-of-salvation-is-fleeting/.