Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Assurance of Salvation
October 4, 1998
by Rev. Carl Haak
Do you possess the assurance of salvation? Does that assurance grow to be a firm foundation for your entire life? If you do not have the assurance of personal salvation in Jesus Christ, why not? Is it because you, as a child of God, are slothful? Have you fallen into an inconsistent, sinful walk of life? Can you testify today to your own heart's satisfaction of the safety of your souls now and forever in Jesus Christ? Are you assured of pardon? Are you assured that you are one of His? Do you ask yourself these questions?
Assurance of personal salvation and belonging to Jesus Christ is not a fancy, it is not a feeling, and it is not the result of one's temperament. But it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Assurance is the voice of a living faith in the believer testifying of personal pardon, confidence, of hope of eternal life, and the persuasion that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
Understand, the assurance of salvation is not the same as perfection. You may, and you will, be vexed and troubled by your sin. You shall be dissatisfied by your weaknesses which cause you, at times, even to question. But are you yet assured in your heart of gracious salvation? Yes, you can be, as a child of God. And you should be.
Many call this presumption. And there are many presumptuous people who call themselves Christians, who are filled with a false assurance, a counterfeit, a fake. There are some who say that true humility before God means that we can never be sure, we can never be confident, we can never say, with the apostle, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (II Tim. 1:12). But that idea (that true humility means we can never be confident of our salvation) is not the teaching of Scripture. It is a false humility. The Scriptures are plain! "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me" (Ps. 23:4). "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, (then the apostle goes on to mention many more things), shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38, 39). "And we know that we are of God" (I John 5:19), we know that, says John. Do you possess real, God-given, gracious assurance?
Without this assurance of personal salvation, every duty becomes a burden. Every aspect of the Christian life lacks vibrancy. We become laxadasical, apathetic, self-complacent, and presumptuous. Assurance of salvation is not a luxury. It is a necessity for peace and strength in the Christian life. This is assurance that may come to a Reformed believer.
What do I mean by a Reformed believer? The Reformed faith is the teaching in the holy Scriptures of the sovereignty of God; that salvation is of God, purchased in Christ for His children, and powerfully bestowed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Now there are other systems of theology (of Christian teaching), which teach that salvation is attained by one's works, or by the works of others (dead saints to whom you are to pray), or the works of penance as outlined by a church. Or, they say, salvation is attained by human will-God has done everything that He can do and now it is up to you and you must choose to be saved. It depends upon something you yourself must furnish God, not upon something that God has graciously furnished to you, something you did not have.
Both these systems of theology, both these systems of teaching, cannot provide assurance to those who embrace them. Therefore we decry it. We are filled with grief that such teaching would ever exist. For, if salvation is dependent upon the work of the sinner, there can be no assurance of salvation. The nagging question is always going to be: Did I do enough work?
If the salvation of the sinner flows forth from his own will, which God supposedly would never interfere with because God wants him to make the decision, if it is all based on something he did, from fickle, sinful self, there can never be assurance. For none of the sinner's works, nor his will, is stable, steady. His will is dead and it is deceived in sin, says the Bible. Then he could never be sure that sometime he will not change his mind and no longer be in Jesus Christ.
No, salvation, says the apostle in Romans 9, is not of him that works, nor of him that wills, but of God who showeth mercy. Therefore the teaching of the Reformed faith that salvation is all of God's grace worked powerfully in the heart of the sinner, that is the truth. And that truth provides assurance, the experience of assurance.
The Bible often speaks of assurance. One such text to which I would direct your attention is found in Hebrews 6:11 where we read, "And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end." That verse is really the very heart of the exhortation that the apostle is bringing in this book of Hebrews. In chapter 5:11 the apostle deviates from his main theme of Christ's priesthood after the order of Melchisedec. He has been showing that Christ is the true and the eternal priest. But he deviates to call the Hebrews (and ourselves) to diligence, to embrace the promises of God fully. The Hebrew converts to whom the apostle wrote were discouraged by persecution. They had come to the moment that they were counting the cost of their confession of Jesus Christ. The rosy and first glow of being a Christian was gone. They had experienced strong opposition. There were many appeals that they should return to their former life. And many had become lackluster and made no progress in their Christian life.
The apostle says, "You must go on from the first principles of the Christian faith. You must advance from the rudimentary truths of the Christian faith toward a fuller and richer understanding." And in verses 4-8 of chapter 6, the writer warns of the apostates. Apostates are those who appear to be Christians, who have come under all the benefits of the truth of God, but depart and are in reality thorns and briars in the field of God. In verses 9 and 10 the apostle lets these Hebrew Christians know that he is persuaded better things of them. He did not think of them as apostates. Rather, he says, his purpose in giving the warning about falling away was to provoke them to diligence so that they would persevere in their faith and love. Then he commends them in verse 10 that they have been faithful in labors of love to minister to the needs of the saints. And he says that the same diligence that they have shown in that aspect of hospitality, they must also show in their own personal faith. They must not be slothful. They must not become inconsistent and sinful in their Christian walk. But they must show diligence in order that they might have full assurance, because it is only in full assurance that the faith of Christ will flower in them and make them fruitful to the praise of God. And we desire, says the apostle, that everyone of them do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.
The apostle there is expressing a very intense desire. "We desire!" And that word means "crave," or "long"-a vehement desire. Very frequently, in the New Testament Scriptures, this very word is used in a bad sense to refer to lust, evil craving, insatiable desires. Here it is used in the good sense. And it is used that way in the New Testament: Philippians 1:23, "I have a desire to depart," says Paul. I have a vehement craving, a longing desire to be with the Lord, yet I know that it is better that I abide on this earth for the good of the church.
So the apostle says, out of a perfect knowledge of the Christian life and truth, that God has worked in him a great desire for us. What is that great desire? That great desire that he has is that we would give evidence of the same diligence onto a full assurance of hope. He wants, he craves, that we be diligent.
What is that hope? The Christian hope is the confident expectation of the good things that God has promised, along with a love and a desire to have them. Christian hope is the daughter of Christian faith. By faith, Hebrews 11:1, we embrace the promises of God as true, and true for me. Those promises right now of pardon and of glory-by faith we embrace those things. Hope is born out of faith. Believing those things as real and certain and priceless and good, we hope for them. If our faith begets no hope, it is not genuine faith. We do not simply believe in Christ and glory and all the rest and say, "Well, that's all true. All that is true." And then say, "Well, that's it." No. Believing all those things are true, we hope for them, we long for them, we crave them. The more faith believes, the more hope longs. The more active your faith in all good works, the more strong will be the hope in your soul. If you believe the promises of God, by the grace of God; if you believe in the full enjoyment of glory with Christ; if you believe that you have been delivered from your sins and forgiven, then that flame of hope will kindle in your soul and you will desire and reach out more and more for these things.
Now that hope is confident. It is confident that God is going to complete all the things that He has promised and all the things that we believe. The things that we hope for are not yet fully ours. Romans 8:4, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" That is, you are hoping for something, and when it is realized and you have it, then you no longer hope for it in the future. You no longer expect it, you have it. So all those things of final salvation and the completion of those things are not yet fully realized.
But Christian hope for those things is not uncertain. It is not, "I hope so. I'm not sure. I'd like to believe. Maybe." Oh, no. Our hope is sure. It is not uncertain, it is real, it is true. All that we hope for exists. God has promised it to us. Hope, therefore, is the confident longing, the intense desire of faith to have those things.
And it is that hope which supports our soul under the troubles and difficulties of this present life. Difficulties that come to us especially because of our confession and profession of Christ. The Hebrew Christians had all kinds of strain and all kinds of conflict with family members. They were former Jews. And their unconverted relatives and family would put the squeeze on them. Therefore, they needed hope, the confidence, the full assurance of hope to support their souls under those difficulties. We do as well. Under the strain of the sorrows of our present life and all that opposes our faith, it is hope that supports the soul. It is hope that is the anchor of our soul, which keeps us from being drawn out by the tides of this world or being crashed into the rocks of despair. It is hope which, the apostle says, is the helmet of salvation. It protects us. It beats off. It keeps us from being wounded with the sharp swords and crushing stones of doubt and unbelief.
Our hope outweighs the present sufferings. Our hope is that all of our sufferings and trials are sent to make that salvation more alive in us. You may have a lifelong burden. You may experience heart-wrenching grief. You may go through a bout of depression and hopelessness. What keeps us from sinking into the mire of despondence, of giving up and despairing? It is hope-the sure hope of the Christian faith. The apostle says: I crave that you have the full assurance of hope.
We read in Isaiah 35:3, 4: "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you." We must have the full assurance of hope.
The idea of full assurance is, literally, to bring to a full measure. It could be translated "persuaded." And it means that hope and assurance do have degrees in the believer. It is not always the same in us or in all other believers. The question, you understand, is not if hope exists in every believer. It does. But it is a question of degree. The full assurance is what we must have. It is like a cup. There is water in it, but we must constantly endeavor that that cup be full. The Christian life is not like Fort Knox-all the gold bars stacked up and polished and sitting there. Oh, no! We burn up spiritual energies. We come under storms, droughts, trials, periods of testing. We must constantly be replenished. We possess that old man of sin. The devil and sin do not stop assaulting us because we have been brought to Christ. They do not give up. So we experience doubts and fears. Read the Psalms. Yes, God's work is there. He has given to us that hope and assurance. But it is our calling to be diligent that we might have the full assurance of hope.
What the apostle craves is an assured hope. Not, "I like to think so." But the confidence of faith. A weak hope will not support you under troubles. Without full assurance you will not be able to carry on your confession to the glory of God in times of trials. If you lose hope, you will fail in the duties of your profession. The apostle speaks of that to the Hebrew Christians in chapter 12. He says, "Your hands have fallen down, and your knees are feeble, they are shaking, because you have not been diligent that you might have full assurance of hope." It is the full assurance that we must possessa hope built upon the unmistakable promises of God, on the reality of those promises embraced by faith. This alone can support us through trial and difficulty. It will give us peace and comfort to bear poverty or loss, death, sorrow, fears (gripping fears), to find perfect contentment.
It is through hope that we praise God. It is through hope that we lay ourselves down in peace and sleep, knowing that the Lord will keep us in safety.
May the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, make you diligent, studying the Scriptures, that you might have the full assurance of hope unto the end.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word so rich. We pray that Thy Spirit may anoint our hearts in bringing to us the Scriptures and opening our understanding that we may stand unashamedly in the hope that Thou hast given. In Jesus' name we pray,
Rev. Carl Haak graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in June of 1979 and was ordained into the ministry in September, 1979 as pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, MI. In 1986 he accepted the call to serve as pastor of the Lynden Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. In 1994 he began serving Bethel Protestant Reformed Church of Roselle, Illinois. In 2004 he accepted the call to the Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church; Hudsonville, MI. He also serves as the radio pastor of the Reformed Witness Hour.