This article is a condensed form of a message given by Dr. Wilkin at the March 1997 GES Conference “Assurance: The Foundation of a Successful Christian Life.” The complete message, including a question and answer session, is available on either audio ($4) or video ($10) tape. Orders can be placed by returning the resource sheet in this issue.
I. Biblical Assurance Is the Most
Valuable Possession Anyone Can Have
Some material possessions are important: having enough food to eat, clothes to keep you warm, a roof over your head. Even more important are spiritual possessions like knowing that your parents and your spouse love and accept you.
The most important possession anyone can have, however, is the certain knowledge that God loves and accepts you forever. Knowing that you have and will forever have eternal life is tremendously important.
There are two ways to look at assurance: biblically and popularly. As is most often the case, the way most people present assurance, the popular way, is not the way the Bible presents assurance.
II. Biblical Assurance Is Certainty
Concerning Your Eternal Destiny
Biblically speaking assurance of salvation is the certain knowledge that you are eternally saved and eternally secure.
When asked by Jesus if she believed that the person who believed in Him would never die (spiritually), Martha answered, “Yes, Lord, I believe…” (John 11:27). She was sure that she had eternal life and would never lose it.
John wrote in verses 9-13 of First John “that [his readers] might know that [they] have eternal life.” They weren’t to be in doubt on this important subject. They were to know, to be sure, just as John was sure.
Jesus told seventy of his disciples to rejoice because their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20). He told the apostles that they were going to drink the fruit of the vine and to rule with Him in the kingdom. The seventy and the apostles were absolutely sure.
Also sure were those to whom the apostles shared the Gospel. Cornelius and his household knew that they had received the Spirit (Acts 10:44-48) as did the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16:30ff.). Since the apostles knew that they were saved, they were able to impart that same sure knowledge to all who believed their testimony, which was nothing less than the testimony of God.
Thus biblical assurance of salvation is the sure knowledge that you have and will forever retain eternal life.
III. Popular Assurance Is Uncertainty
Concerning Your Eternal Destiny
A very popular view within Christendom is that you can’t be certain you have and will forever have eternal life.
Some believe that you can’t be sure that you have eternal life today, and that even if you do happen to have it, you can lose it tomorrow. Others believe you can’t lose eternal life, but that if someday in the future you fall away, you will prove that you were never saved in the first place. These people essentially undercut the doctrine of eternal security by making it a nebulous doctrine: you can’t be sure if eternal security is true of you since you can’t be sure you are elect until you die.
In a 1993 article Dr. Ken Gentry said the following about assurance of salvation:
Assurance is subjective, rooted in the heart of the believer…If we say assurance is essential to true faith, then we are ultimately saying: ‘No man is saved in Christ until he has come to believe that Christ has saved him forever.’ This would involve not faith in Christ for salvation, but rather faith in faith! R.L. Dabney rightfully notes that this requires a revelation beyond the Scriptures, because the Bible does not speak specifically to the individual in question. Nowhere in the Bible do we learn, for instance, that Ken Gentry is among the elect… (“Dispensationalism in Transition” Sept 93, emphasis added).
Dr. Richard Belcher, author of The Laymen’s Guide to the Lordship Controversy, appeared a few years ago on a Dallas radio talk show. I called in and asked him some questions about assurance. The following is a transcript of my questions and his answers:
BW. Is it possible for any Christian to have 100% certainty that they are saved and that they can’t lose it if the quality of my lifestyle has something to do with my assurance? In other words, can I be absolutely sure that I’m saved?
RB. Well, the question is, can anyone have an absolute 150% definite positive—you know [assurance].
BW. Right, that’s my question.
RB. Well, my question is, can even the one who is walking with the Lord and knows the Lord and is submitted to the Lord and is full of God’s Spirit [have such absolute certainty]?—He will have an assurance, but that is not to say that there will never be any questions of doubt. But the Spirit of God overcomes the questions of doubt and grants assurance. See, what you’re doing is putting assurance in the category of percentages and I don’t like to do that.
BW. Are you 100%, completely sure that you are going to heaven?
RB. I have an assurance that I am saved. But I am still in this body and I am human and in the passing of time there can be some questions in one’s mind—but the Spirit of God witnesses to my Spirit that I’m saved.
BW. Is it possible that you are not saved?
RB. Well, there are various means whereby I look at my life to see if I give evidence of salvation-not only the witness of the Holy Spirit but there are other means whereby I look to see if [I am saved] like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13, “Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith.” And I seek to do that. As well as the witness and testimony of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. R.C. Sproul candidly admitted that he wasn’t sure he was saved in a TableTalk article a few years back (Nov 6, 1989, p. 20). He began:
A while back I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness that we have from time to time, and suddenly the question hit me: “R.C., what if you are not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?” Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified.
A few sentences later he confirmed his doubts,
I thought, “Maybe it’s really true. Maybe I’m not saved after all.”
His conclusion to the report of the episode reveals his understanding that assurance of salvation is something less than certainty:
I could not be sure about my own heart and motivation. Then I remembered John 6:68. Jesus had been giving out hard teaching, and many of His former followers had left Him. When He asked Peter if he was also going to leave, Peter said, “Where else can I go? Only you have the words of eternal life.” In other words, Peter was also uncomfortable,1 but he realized that being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option.2
Is “being uncomfortable with Jesus,” as Dr. Sproul and many leaders in Christendom today suggest, really “better than any other option”?
IV. Assurance of Salvation Has a Potentially
Powerful Impact on One’s Service for Christ
Assurance of salvation is important because many good things happen when you are sure you have eternal life and, oppositely, many bad things happen when you aren’t. Assurance of salvation, or lack thereof, has a potentially powerful impact on our service for Christ.
A. Good things which attend assurance:
If you are sure you are secure forever, then you are (1) relieved to know you won’t go to hell, (2) sure God loves you, (3) more likely to be grateful to God, (4) more likely to be desirous of pleasing Him, (5) able to share the Gospel clearly, (6) better able to understand and teach God’s Word, and (7) more likely to lay up eternal treasure.
B. Bad things which attend doubt:
If you aren’t sure you are secure forever, then you are (1) afraid that you’re going to hell, (2) afraid that God doesn’t love you, (3) unable to share the Gospel clearly, (4) unable to understand and to teach much of the Word (since many passages, either directly or indirectly, deal with or depend upon assurance of salvation), and (5) hindered in your ability to lay up eternal rewards.
V. Assurance Is the Foundation for the Christian Life
Biblical assurance is the certain knowledge you have and will always have eternal life. Anything less is not assurance; it is doubt.
Assurance is important because it has a potentially powerful impact on our service. It doesn’t take a seminary degree to be sure you’re saved. In fact, getting a seminary degree has unfortunately resulted in many losing the sure knowledge that they were saved! All you need to be sure you are saved is faith in Christ as the Guarantor of eternal life to all who believe in Him. Like Martha, you can know that you can trust His guarantee that the one who believes in Him will never die spiritually (John 11:25-27). In fact, you do know that, if you, too, are taking God at His word.
1Dr. Sproul seems to be suggesting that Peter’s remark indicates that he was unsure that he had eternal life. Such a conclusion is unwarranted. Peter likely meant that it makes no sense to leave Jesus since He was instructing them about eternal life. The fact that a person knows that he is eternally secure doesn’t mean that he no longer needs or wants to learn about life eternal. Our hearts should be set on that life, not this one (Matt 6:19-21; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 9:24-27; 2 Cor 5:9-10; 1 Tim 6:18-19).