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Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

In a world filled with sin, the flesh, and the Devil, assurance of salvation is the soft feather bed on which the Christian rests. Assurance proves to be one of the greatest benefits of the Christian faith and the rightful inheritance of the child of God. In its enjoyment is found peace, hope, and joy unsurpassed in this fallen world.

Faith May Include Assurance

The Scriptures clearly articulate a child of God may and should possess a true sense of inner peace and confidence regarding personal salvation. Faith is trusting in Christ as Savior, so the seeds of assurance inherently lie within faith itself. Though the gift of assurance regularly accompanies saving faith, many Christians find it elusive or even non-existent in their own experience. As John Calvin said, “We cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. . . . Believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.18). Every Christian knows this experience. Yet this lack of assurance leads some Christians to assume they are counted among the lost. Such an error devastates—breeding inner turmoil and even despair.

Faith Doesn’t Equal Assurance

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. In fact, the Westminster Assembly chose to address saving faith and assurance in separate chapters of the Confession (WCF 14 and 18, respectively), because it recognized that the doctrines were not so inextricably linked that if one possessed saving faith they must also enjoy assurance. The Scriptures and Christian experience bear witness to this stark reality.

“I believe; help my unbelief,” said the father of the demon possessed child (Mark 9:24). Few men have uttered more honest words, and few honest words have benefited more men. Here is the cry of a man with faith, who also recognizes his faith remains weak, stumbling, and frail. Faith is present, but remains mixed with doubt. Yet, Christ clearly recognizes this father’s faith. An ounce of saving faith is a faith that saves. Our Lord boldly proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

Where Our Assurance Lies

Dear Christian, it is not the degree, quality, nor abundance of our faith that saves. Rather, it is the object of our faith that saves. Faith does not look to itself. It looks to another. And in Christ, the object of our faith, salvation lies (John 14:5). Therefore, it is also in Christ that our assurance lies. This father understood the necessary thing. As Calvin stated, “He who, struggling with his own weakness, presses toward faith in his moments of anxiety is already in large part victorious” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.18).

In those moments when assurance escapes us, let us look to Christ in faith. Assurance is nurtured as we grow in our understanding of grace, especially in our union with Christ as it relates to our justification and adoption. How do we grow in this grace? The Westminster Confession proves helpful once again. It proclaims that one may “without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure . . . ” (WCF 18:3). The Confession rightly points us to Christ by the very means he has given to his people for their growth, including growth in assurance (i.e. The Word, sacraments, and prayer).

Pastoral Issue

Before we turn our attention to these means of grace, I want to note a pastoral issue that often emerges in this realm. Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I have found many struggle with assurance because they direct their eyes within rather than without. Make no mistake, introspection serves its purpose in the Christian life. We are to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). This is necessary and good. Yet, I find many Christians suffer from overzealous introspection. Like a Medieval inquisitor, we lay our souls upon the rack and inflict torture with constant accusatory questions: Do I bear enough of the fruit of the Spirit? Is my faith solid enough? Have I confessed and repented sufficiently? Have I tricked myself into thinking I am a believer? And all the while, we forget to look to our Savior in faith. The Great Shepherd’s promise, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), seems too foreign to too many of His sheep.

Dear struggling Christian, if our gaze is always within, assurance will remain fleeting. No doubt, we need to examine our lives and test the fruit, but true assurance, lasting assurance, secure assurance comes from looking to Christ and our union with him. We want to see evidence of Christ’s grace in our lives, but we realize these evidences not by seeking after them, but by gaining a greater grasp on Christ. How do we gain this greater grasp of the King of Glory? How do we look to him more? God has granted his means of grace to the struggling Christian for this very purpose.

God’s Means of Encouraging Assurance

Into this dark world God sent the light of his Word. This Word, which is living and active (Heb. 4:12), works in the hearts and minds of his people. We hear the true gracious voice of our heavenly Father. As we sit under the preached Word, read it in our prayer closets, meditate upon it on our beds (Psalm 63:6), and talk of it on the way (Deut. 6:7) the Spirit attends to the Word and it does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). The truth of Christ occupies our minds, the promises of Christ comfort our souls, the beauty of Christ stirs our affections, and the commands of Christ move our spirits. As we attend to this means of grace, he encourages and affirms assurance within us. Too often the voice of our adversary sounds loud in our ears, “You are no child of God. Would God allow a wretched sinner like you into his family?” Our flesh joins in as a ready accomplice and the struggle can be great. However, such indictments cannot stand in the light of God’s Word. His Word pierces such darkness and resounds louder than any accusations adversaries can hurl at the sons of God.

The Lord not only gifted us his written Word, but also his visible Word. The Lord, as an act of magnanimous grace, condescends to give us something we can see, touch, and taste. As corporeal beings, he knows we naturally gravitate towards the visible. So in the sacraments he blesses his children with outward signs that confirm to our senses what the ear has heard and the eye has read. Dear struggling Christian, partake of the Lord’s Table and be reminded that not only did Christ die for sinners, but Christ died for you. Not only did Christ shed his blood for sinners, but he shed it for you. Not only can sinners be united to Christ, but he is united to you. As real as the cup you hold, so as real is Christ’s love for you. As surely as you taste the bread and wine, so as surely should you taste Christ’s peace. As the bread and cup sustain your body physically, so Christ’s grace promises to sustain you spiritually. All the promises of Christ are not only true, but are truly yours. Baptism serves the Christian in the same way. As the water flowed over your head, so as surely are you washed in the blood of the Lamb. As you entered the waters of baptism, so as surely are you united with Christ in his life, death, and resurrection (Rom. 6). The sacraments not only signify this truth to the struggling Christian, but seals it upon their soul.

Finally, the Lord blesses his people with the gift of prayer. What a relief this means of grace provides for the limping Christian. He grants to us the privilege and solace of crying out to him; a cry granted only to his children. And as we plead with him, it does not fall on deaf ears (Psalm 18:6). It ascends into the very throne room of God. We speak into his ear and may do so with boldness (Heb. 4:16). James says, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Let the Christian struggling with assurance cry out with the Psalmist, “How long O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1). A child of God’s desperate cries to her heavenly Father never fall on deaf ears. He loves to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11). Let us cry out with the father of the tormented child, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Don’t you know dear sinner that the same Jesus who recognized the faith of the father is the same Jesus who sits enthroned above, hears our prayers, and says to the Father, “these are mine, the price has been paid, the Law has been fulfilled, the blood has been shed, my righteousness belongs to them? Mercy has been purchased. Forgiveness is theirs.” If you have even the least little bit of faith in Christ, all the blessings of salvation belong to you—including assurance. You may, as the Westminster Confession says, wait “long” for it and it may only come through many struggles, but it is yours. Seek after it. And if we would hope to enjoy this grace more and more, let us seek Christ by the means he gifted more and more. As children of God, assurance is our rightful inheritance.

This article first appeared in Table Talk.


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10 thoughts on “When Assurance of Salvation Is Fleeting”

  1. Phil says:

    I love it. The Lord’s timing is perfect as I have found myself in this very funk off and on over the past 6 mos and very much so lately. Even though I know better, even though I immerse myself in His Word and pray unceasingly and even though I have been given much spiritually I can still fall into self-doubt. It truly is from our Accuser. Thank you for this article and grace be with you.

  2. neville briggs says:

    Is our assurance, a ” soft feather bed ” Jesus declared that we are to build on the rock and not on the sand, nothing about feather beds,
    It would seem always difficult to have assurance if we are to build on the sinking sand of the thoughts of John Calvin. Or the shifting sand of man-made creeds and confessions, which urge a works based struggle .
    How would we know if we have prayed enough prayer, listened attentively enough to enough sermons or conscientiously observed the required “sacraments” in the right order.

    I think the salient point that Mr Helopoulos mentions is that our faith is in Jesus.

    But isn’t it more than just that, it is ; Jesus the risen Lord.

    The resurrection of Jesus is an event that has happened; and the bible tells us that it is the guarantee,the down payment of our redemption. Our assurance does not need to waver because the Lord has done it, it has taken place. The writer to the Hebrews says that Christ is now a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek by the power of an endless life. The apostle Paul pointed out that the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith, Paul said if there is no resurrection our faith is in vain.
    So if the resurrection has happened , we can have full assurance and our faith is founded on the rock.
    Do we really need complicated creedal definitions for assurance.
    Surely it is enough to say…. “Christ is risen”, and ….with full assurance,”He is risen indeed”.

    “‘ Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who has promised is faithful ” Heb 10:23

  3. Eric F says:

    Grace is the power of God to change a person.
    What you have believed to be “a means of grace” is actually a description of fleshly effort. It is a method (a means) by which a man can add the grace of God to himself.
    So then you would be saying “if only you will read and study the bible, take sacraments, and pray then you will see change in your life.”
    What is this message? For God so loved the world that he offered some methods for them to receive the life of Christ?
    You may say no that is not the message you are saved by faith and then grow by these methods…. but in Galations 3 Paul says having begun by the spirit (hearing with faith) are you now being perfected by the flesh?” So he says you continue the same way you started.
    So is grace a gift or is it applied through effort?

    And… faith and assurance are actually synonymous. Hebrews 11:1 now faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval….
    In other words Abraham gained God’s approval because he believed Him, so we can be sure we have God’s approval if we are believing in Him.

    This scripture means, if you are having faith then you also have assurance. If you do not have assurance but are having faith what good is your faith?

    John 3:16 suggests that the very simplest thing God has asked for is for us to believe in His son. Therefore, this is not too hard for us, because God is giving what is needed to fulfill this very basic thing. (the world can’t do it and is not doing it therefore to believe in Christ is from God)

    In summary, believe in Christ. If you are counting on Him to save you in this very simple way, then you will be assured and live an assured life. If you are not assured yet, then go back and ask whether you have attached something additional to believing Christ or if you have yet believed. The believers should not continue to be saying “I believe, but am not assured that God will save me.” If God does not teach us quickly then we will live in a contradiction and be double minded. We need to be clear about this with God.

  4. Jeff Rickel says:

    Thank you for the comment. There are certain things we should see happening to our lives resulting from our relationship with Jesus and our faith in the cross and the resurrection. But to push an inordinate focus on Jesus and love for Him to the top of the list, is a fascinating concept I hadn’t thought of before. That you are focusing on Him all the time as both an active and passive act. Thank you for this article and this great insight.

  5. Hugh McCann says:

    OUTSIDE OURSELVES.

    Heidelberg Catechism –
    Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
    Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, (b) but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; (c) who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, (d) and delivered me from all the power of the devil; (e) and so preserves me (f) that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; (g) yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, (h) and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, (i) and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. (j)

    Question 21. What is true faith?
    Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, (a) but also an assured confidence, (b) which the Holy Ghost (c) works by the gospel in my heart; (d) that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, (e) are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits. (f)

    Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?
    Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; (a) so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, (b) and am still inclined to all evil; (c) notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, (d) but only of mere grace, (e) grants and imputes to me, (f) the perfect satisfaction, (g) righteousness and holiness of Christ; (h) even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; (i) inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart. (j)

  6. I agree with Neville it is all about Christ and what he did for all of mankind on the cross. When I am ministering to someone who is struggling with assurance of salvation I include information about what God the Holy Spirit does in their life. For example:
    He helps us experience our adoption as children of God. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirits that we are children of God. (Rom 8:16)
    Scripture tells us in 2 Cor 13:14 we can have communion (fellowship) with the Holy Spirit helping us to build our relationship with Christ
    2 Cor 1:21-22 & Eph 1:13-14 also tells us we are anointed in God, who also sealed us by the Holy Spirit of promise and has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a deposit”. This deposit is a promise of eternal life with God.
    Once people grasp these biblical truths their concerns over assurance tend to evaporate. NO need to wory about what the The Westminster Confession states focus on Gods word and Christ.

  7. Bill says:

    Assurance is of the essence of saving faith. God make save those that do not have assurance but believe the historical events, however for the reformers Luther and Calvin, trust was one of the three elements of saving faith (knowledge, assent, and trust). Those that do not have assurance is because they are trusting in their own works, they reject the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross and believe that somehow they must contribute something themselves. Looking at one’s own life and trying to determine whether we are part of the elect or not is sinful, because there is nothing good that dwells in me Romans 7:18, we should not look for good things in us. We should not look at our faith either for insurance, all of Christ’s disciples are in heaven and were chastised for having little faith Matthew 14:31 “you of little faith, why did you doubt ? I have zero faith in my faith, my faith fails me all the time, like Peter I cannot walk on water, so my faith can give me no assurance of salvation. But Christ can, I do not trust my faith to save me, but I do trust Christ’s perfect work on the cross where more than sufficient payment for the sins of all humanity was made and God has accepted this payment. This is the only payment God accepts, I cannot give anything to God except my sin, and God gives me in return the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I have zero confidence in faith, but I have 100 percent confidence in the wonderful exchange that took place in Calvary where my sins were laid on Him and his righteousness credited to my account. Same thing baptism, I believe that my baptism was perfect because it is God’s work and my sins were taken away and I was cleansed in my baptism. And when I receive the Lord’s Supper I receive his body given for me and his blood that was shed for me. My confidence is in the means of grace, not in my own faith, what I must believe in God’s grace in his word and sacrament and not in my own faith which fails all the time (I have yet to walk on water even once, I have little faith and cannot do it).

  8. Bill says:

    My advice to those that lack assurance is, God commands you to believe with certainty that Christ has satisfied on behalf of all sinners and we must believe that God is propitious towards us and has forgiven the inequity of us all in Calvary. This is a command, but there is also a promise attached that God justifies the ungodly (sinners) never by the works of the law but through faith, by believing that Christ’s sacrifice was perfect and sufficient to atone for all the sins of mankind from Adam to the last man that will ever and that Christ’s active obedience was perfect and satisfied all the demands of the law so that now the wall of hostility (the law) that existed between God and man has been taken away. The work of Christ has reconciled us to God, we do not need to do anything (no good works) to reconcile ourselves to God, simply believe that this reconciliation has already been accomplished by Christ. Colossians 4:13-15

  9. Bill says:

    Those that do not have assurance have their identity in their works, what they do, their own efforts, whether there is enough evidence of salvation in their own character. Those that have assurance have their identity in Christ, they know they are partakers of the divine nature, not that they have a divine nature, but that Christ’s divine nature has been imputed to them.2 Peter 1:4

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