Assurance is good news! So how has it become bad news to so many? I have had numerous email and phone conversations with people needing assurance, and in many of these cases, believers have been hindered in some way by the wrong thinking of those who previously sought to help them. It’s bad news when one’s focus has become fixed on a “fallible assurance.”
Faith comes by the specific word of God (Rom. 10:17), and the key to faith is the object of faith (Jesus based on God’s word) and not the subject (specifically, you). We noted in part two that an incorrect focus typically centers on an individual’s performance (How could I be saved and be so defeated?) or the prayer offered when one was saved (Did I say it right?).
Correcting such a skew is no more complicated than adopting a correct focus. Look at what God says. Look at the record. When you have Jesus you have eternal life. The Bible says so! But if on the matter of assurance you switch focus from the object to the subject of faith, from Jesus to personal performance or prayer articulation, then faith is nullified, grace is missed, and the gospel is no longer good news. There is grave danger in switching the focus from Jesus to you.
With a focus switched to you, to your prayer or your performance, you can only lose assurance because any focus adopted in the name of “evidences” of salvation is based on that which is not sure. The oft referenced evidences of 1 John are proofs of one abiding in Christ, but such evidences are not automatic. Abiding, the picturesque term for dependence, is realized through steps of faith. In fact, the word abide occurs over twenty times in 1 John 2-4. The evidences of abiding are the fruit of the Spirit when a believer walks by faith.
While every child of God ought to live right and has ample provision in Christ to do so, right living is not automatic; it’s by faith—and no one perfectly walks by faith. One might focus on right living for assurance of salvation, but at best, this can only offer fallible assurance. It is exactly when one faces a failure to walk by faith that a believer will also be assailed for want of solid assurance. Right living, then, can only provide intermittent assurance for a believer during periods of walking by faith and accessing grace to live right. Infallible assurance, however, comes from the infallible Word. Every other attempt at assurance is fallible. Perhaps “evidences” can be helpful in a secondary way, but only if the primary focus is on God’s sure Word.
To insist on assurance by works is to nullify the grace of God. After emphasizing justification by grace through faith (Gal.2:16) and sanctification by grace through faith (Gal. 2:20), Paul says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Gal. 2:21). Since both justification and sanctification are by grace through faith, why do people make assurance by the works of the law? This wrong focus confuses either justification or sanctification or both. It takes the good news out of the gospel—and this is a grave error.
John Van Gelderen