Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security. By Sam Storms. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2015. 203 pp. Paper, $15.99.
Storms is the senior pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, OK and holds a PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is also the president-elect of the Evangelical Theological Society. As one interested in Free Grace issues, the title of this book immediately caught my eye.
In the book, Storms says that he is writing the book to challenge what Arminians and “antinomians” say about the assurance of salvation. In reality, the book does not really address the “antinomian” view in any detail (however, he does say that sin in the life of the believer does not really involve the loss of rewards), but heavily interacts with the Arminian one. Storms comes from a Reformed perspective on this subject which says that eternal life cannot be lost, but if somebody is truly born again he will “persevere in faith unto life’s end, even though that perseverance may be a bit bumpy and inconsistent” (p. 15). Storms says that the true believer will never utterly abandon Christ. He wants the Arminian to understand that he cannot lose his salvation (p. 17).
The book is definitely irenic in tone. Storms is not argumentative. By all indications, he holds out the possibility that Arminian (and antinomian) adherents can be truly saved, even if their views on assurance are wrong. In others words, his position on the gospel and assurance is a matter of Christian growth. He primarily wants Arminian believers to experience the joy of assurance of salvation (p. 17).
Philosophically, Storms is a strong believer in eternal security. He says that the Gospel of John in places like 6:37-44 and 10:27-30 teaches it. He uses many verses to try to make his case. Romans is a book that proclaims the assurance of salvation. Paul does that in Rom 5:6-11; 8:1, 28-39 (pp. 59-85). Storms adds, however, that verses such as these also teach that God will never allow the true believer to leave or forsake Him either.
In a large section (pp. 133-73), Storms deals with texts that the Arminian claims teach that a believer can lose his salvation. He deals with them and concludes that there are other options for each one. We cannot be dogmatic on certain options, but since the Scriptures clearly teach in other places that one cannot lose his salvation, these passages cannot be teaching that we can.
It is interesting that in James 5, Storms takes the position that the death of the sinning person there refers to sin in the life of a true believer. A Christian can commit sin to the point of physical death but does not lose salvation.
In this vein, he says that God may discipline believers physically to prevent the loss of salvation. God did that in the case of the believers at Corinth in regards to the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11) and the husband and wife in Acts 5. God will not allow a true Christian to apostatize or to fall into patterns of sin incompatible with being a child of God. In those instances He will take their lives before these things happen (pp. 95-97).
As expected, coming from a strong Reformed position, Storms says that if a person does live a life of consistent sin he should in no way feel he is eternally saved. Turning from sin is a requirement for salvation. Along with this repentance is the requirement for feeling sorry for your sins. He seems to indicate that an antinomian, one who has assurance but does not have conviction of sin, may have committed the unpardonable sin since his heart has become hardened over time to his sin (p. 30).
Storms maintains that we should never give assurance to anybody who lives in unrepentant sin (p. 25). Matt 7:15-20 shows that a true Christian will reveal it by the fruit of their actions (p. 30).
For Storms, the parables of the four soils and the vine and the branches show that there are false and temporary faiths that do not save. In them, we see that true faith involves repentance, brokenness over sin, humility, perseverance, good works, and a gradually transformed life. In addition, such a faith is sincere, involves a love for Christ, and a passion to follow Him. True believers will also abide in Christ’s word, bearing fruit until the end. While a Christian can have doubts and struggle with sin, they will never abandon their confidence in Christ. (pp. 41-49).
There are those who claim to be believers but are not according to Storms. The people in John 2:23-25, the false teachers of 1 John 2:19, and Simon in Acts 8 are examples.
There are other indications of a true faith according to Storms. The believer is one who prays without ceasing, is embedded in the Christian community, worships Jesus in all of life, and lives with a sense of mission with Him every day. If there is an absence of these things we cannot be sure of our salvation (p. 57ff).
In a great example of doublespeak in a book where Storms wants to give the readers the joy of assurance, he says that doubt and uncertainty can be a good thing. If we are certain of our salvation (a reference to the antinomian?) it can lead to arrogance and pride. However, we cannot let that doubt “cripple” us (p. 71). He later says that based upon 2 Cor 13:5 we should examine ourselves to see if we are saved. We do that by asking ourselves if we are submitting to the teachings of the Bible and if we have sorrow over our sins or are indifferent and rationalize them. These things show us if we are saved or not. However, we should not be morbidly obsessive in examining ourselves. On the other side, we shouldn’t be indifferent towards such self-examining either (pp. 116-17).
In a continuation of such doublespeak, Storms says that full assurance is possible, but it involves a degree of certainty. Our assurance will depend upon the depth of our understanding the things of God. Full assurance can grow (pp. 72-73). To this reviewer, these statements are self-contradictory.
Storms also appeals to many other verses to say that if you don’t persevere in good works and faith, you were never saved in the first place. These include Paul’s discussion of the olive tree in Romans 11, 2 Tim 2:11-13, and the warning passages in Hebrews. First John teaches that when a true Christian sins they will have conviction, grief, misery, and brokenness, which will lead to repentance. The person who commits the sin unto death in 1 John 5:16-17 describes a person who only claims to be a Christian, although Storms says this is a perplexing text and is open to other interpretations (p. 187).
At the conclusion of the book Storms says we must persevere in faith to enter heaven. God will preserve us in our faith even when we doubt and wander, and we will never completely fall away. If we or somebody else wanders away we must admit that we don’t know if they are going to heaven or not. If they come back, they were saved, if they don’t, they weren’t. Then he says we should have “unbelievable joy and comfort” in these facts (p. 190-91). It is hard for this reviewer to see how this is the case. Since a professed believer can wander away in the future, none of us can know if we will return if we do. Thus, we can never have assurance.
It is a good thing that Storms recognizes that the Bible teaches the eternal security of the believer. In addition, at times he uses the analogy of faith to interpret some passages that seem to teach the loss of salvation and concludes that they cannot be teaching that. However, what an irony that he wants to give assurance of salvation to his readers on one hand and with the other hand takes it away. His theology will give nobody assurance of salvation. Nobody can know if they will keep the long list of requirements that Storms says we need in order to know if they are truly saved. Nobody can know if they will do it until the end of their lives. In a further twist of irony, he wants to change the minds of the Arminian readers and winds up in the exact same place they find themselves. Without a life lived in obedience to Christ, however that is defined, a person winds up in hell. Since Storms wants to give assurance of salvation, and this book does not do that, I cannot recommend the book.
Ken W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society