By: J. Hampton Keathley, III , Th.M. Assurance Versus Security Security When we trust in Jesus Christ, our eternal security in Christ becomes a spiritual reality whether we understand it or believe it. Our belief in our security in Christ does not make it true or false. If we have trusted in the person and work of Christ for our personal salvation, our security is a fact. Assurance Assurance is the confident realization of that security. It is the realization of what we have in Christ such as eternal life, forgiveness of sin, and being the object of God’s personal care as his children. Assurance has to do with our comprehension of the facts and provisions of salvation through faith in Christ. This is a crucial doctrine because, properly understood, it will touch believers’ lives in several areas. Not only does it give assurance of salvation, but with that also comes a greater assurance of God’s provision in all areas of life. Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? When people do not have assurance, we should always begin by sharing the gospel to be sure they have truly trusted in Christ. Once this is confirmed, then move on to the matters of assurance. Reasons Why People Lack Assurance (1) People often lack assurance because they cannot remember or point to a specific time when they received Christ. Some doubt or wonder if they were ever really saved. There is a specific point in time when salvation occurs—the point when regeneration takes place. The issue for people is to know if they now really trust in the person and work of Christ. (2) People often lack assurance because they question the procedure they went through when they accepted Christ. Many evangelists and preachers emphasize the need for some form of public confession of faith like going forward at the end of a service or raising your hand. If people receive Christ privately, they may wonder if they should have made a public confession or prayed a different prayer. (3) People often lack assurance because of struggles they have with certain sins. They wonder if a true believer would have these kinds of problems. The real problem is ignorance of man’s sinful nature, the spiritual warfare we are in, God’s means of deliverance, and the need to grow and mature in Christ. (4) The primary reason behind a lack of assurance is doctrinal misunderstanding and the consequent lack of faith in the finished work of Christ. This means a failure to understand the Word and its teaching regarding mankind, his sin and inability to work for or maintain his salvation, God’s perfect holiness, and the finished nature and sufficiency of the work of Christ. (5) Finally, people often lack assurance because they have erroneously been taught that they should look to themselves and their works as the primary proof of their salvation. This is a major issue today. Robert Lightner writes: Those who think the sinner must make Christ Lord of his life, or at least promise to do so, before he can be saved make assurance rest on the evidence of a surrendered walk. MacArthur cites this as the only way a believer can be assured of his or her salvation. ‘Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in one’s life, not from clinging to the memory of some experience.’7 Foundations for Assurance The Word of God The Word of God is God’s witness to the believer (1 John 5:11-13). The Greek text includes the article with the word “life.” Salvation in Christ is not just the gift of life, but of “the life,” the one which comes only through faith in God’s unique Son. The clear declaration of Scripture is that the one who believes in Christ’s person and work on the cross as God’s provision for his sins has: (1) Eternal life. John 3:36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. 1 John 5:11-13 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. (2) Forgiveness of all sin. Acts 10:43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. Colossians 2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, (3) Freedom from condemnation. John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (4) Justification (declared righteous by God). Romans 5:1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 4:1-6 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: Romans 4:25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (5) Salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (6) A child of God by faith. John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, Romans 8:14-17 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. John Calvin emphatically warned against looking to ourselves, that is, to our works or the fruit of the Spirit, for certainty of our salvation. He taught that we should look to Christ as the objective basis for assurance. To look to ourselves produces doubt and detracts from the saving work of Christ. He rejected the exhortation to self-examination as a dangerous dogma.8 Contrary to MacArthur’s comment quoted above, this is not a matter of clinging to some experience, but the sure witness of the Word of God. Earl Radmacher writes: Many wise pastors have insisted that the basis for knowing that I am a Christian is not what I do but what God’s Word says about what Christ has done and continues to do for those who have believed (John 1:12; 1 John 5:13). I know I belong to Christ because I have believed in Jesus Christ as my only Savior and Redeemer from eternal destruction. It’s not the evidences of my life that are my basis for knowing that. It’s the Word of God. God said it. That settles it. I am fearful of those today, who because of a genuine, valid concern about the lack of growth and the lack of evident Christian lifestyle, are willing to try to prop up the Gospel by adding to it.9 The Work of Christ Properly understanding the work of Christ (Christ’s substitutionary death, dying in our place and bearing our sins on the cross) is tremendously important to assurance. This too, of course, is based on the statements of Scripture, but the emphasis is on understanding the sufficiency, finished nature, and accomplishments of the death of Christ. There are two prominent aspects here: (1) Salvation is not by our works or merit (cf. Rom. 4:1-7 above). Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Titus 3:5-7 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (2) Salvation is solely by Christ’s person and work as a gift of God. 1 John 5:5-12 And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. 7 And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth. 8 For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. 11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Philippians 3:8-9 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, The Witness of the Holy Spirit (1) The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth. John 14:17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. John 15:26 When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, John 16:8-13 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 1 John 4:6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (2) The Holy Spirit is called an anointing. Both of these descriptions portray the Holy Spirit’s ministry of teaching believers God’s Word. 1 John 2:20, 27 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know … 27 And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. (3) The Holy Spirit opens the Word to our hearts. Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (4) The Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ and gives us understanding. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. Ephesians 3:15-19 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. (5) The Holy Spirit assures our hearts through the Word that we are children of God. The witness concerning life in the Son through believing in the Son as promised in 1 John 5:11 is really the message to which the Holy Spirit bears witness in the Word. Romans 8:15-16 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 1 John 5:7-11 And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth. 8 For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. 11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Principles for Assurance Principle 1: We need to draw our assurance from faith in the facts of Scripture and not from our feelings. Our faith and thus our assurance must stand on the sure promises of the Bible rather than on our feelings. The biblical order is: FACTS ——>FAITH ——>FEELINGS. Feelings are the responders of the soul or heart. They are to follow and respond to our understanding of Scripture, but they are never a safe guide to what we should believe or of the state of our salvation. This leads to the next point. Principle 2: We need to draw our assurance from faith in the facts of Scripture and not from our works. Works or the biblical changes that occur in our lives as a result of the grace of God can confirm the reality of our life with God. We must be ever so careful, however, in making such subjective ground the basis of our assurance, for when a believer is out of fellowship he or she can have the appearance of an unbeliever especially if the condition lasts for any length of time. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? If we depend on works or obedient living to prove our salvation then we are faced with the following dilemma: If we are living obediently now (the supposed proof of salvation), the possibility exists that could change in the future. If later on we cease to live obediently, then that would prove (based on the above premise) that we are not now true Christians in spite of our obedient lifestyle. So present obedience can never really prove our Christianity and thus, we could never have assurance. Post-generation performance is not a trustworthy basis for assurance of salvation. Scripture clearly warns against basing assurance or true relationship with God on performance. Note Matthew 7:13-23, for an example. The false prophets typically come in sheep’s clothing. Catch that—they look good! They do all the right things. They appear to be ‘model Christians,’ pillars of the church. (Fruit here refers not to the behavior of these people but to their teaching—see Matt. 12:31-37.) But they’ve never trusted Christ; they have no vital relationship with Him (v 23). Instead, at the bottom line, they are trusting in themselves (v 22). Their performance looks good. In fact it leads them to conclude that they are right with God. And yet they are deceived. They learn too late that assurance of salvation cannot properly be based on performance.10 Proper Christian living should never be the fundamental grounds for assurance of salvation. Rather, assurance of salvation which should rest in the merit and sufficiency of the Savior and the believer’s new life in Christ, must be the fundamental basis for proper Christian living. Colossians 3:1-4 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. As John shows in 1 John 1:6-7, Christlike behavior is an evidence of genuine fellowship and that a person is truly walking with the Lord in the light. 1 John 1:6-7 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. However, proper Christian living is not necessarily an evidence of genuine relationship because when believers are out of fellowship for any length of time they will manifest the works of the flesh and may look very much like an unbeliever. As mentioned earlier, the apostle Paul speaks of this when he described carnal Christians as “mere men” in 1 Corinthians 3:3-4. 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? To walk like a mere man is to walk like those who do not know the Savior. The apostle was not questioning or denying the fact of their salvation. He affirmed his conviction of their salvation, but they were walking according to the flesh rather than according to the Spirit of God. This made them behave so they looked like natural men, like men who were without the saving power of Christ, when in reality they were in Christ with the Spirit indwelling them. 1 Corinthians 1:2-9 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. Sometimes a passage like 2 Corinthians 13:5 is used to support the necessity of examining our works to prove our salvation. This is unfortunate because this is mere proof-texting and misses the context and the actual meaning and purpose of this passage in the argument of Paul in 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 13:5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? MacArthur is an illustration of this. He writes: “Doubts about one’s salvation are not wrong so long as they are not nursed and allowed to become an obsession. Scripture encourages self-examination. Doubts must be confronted and dealt with honestly and biblically.” Then, after quoting 2 Corinthians 13:5 he concludes, “That admonition is largely ignored—and often explained away—in the contemporary church.”11 But is this the correct interpretation of this passage? Is Paul calling these believers to examine themselves for the purpose of assurance of salvation? The context says no! The following are some reasons for this position: (1) Again, as in 1 Corinthians, Paul affirmed his conviction they were saved. He does not question their salvation for a moment as is clear from the passages mentioned above. (2) Even if Paul were telling them to examine themselves for assurance, he does not tell them to examine their works for assurance. In light of the plain teaching of Scripture, if anything needed to be examined, it would be the object of their faith. Had they truly trusted in Christ rather than in some system of works? (3) He does tell them to examine themselves, but he had another purpose in mind according to the context of verses 3-7. Some were questioning the validity of the ministry of the apostle because of the influence of certain false teachers. Compare 2 Corinthians 11:1-12:21 where the apostle defends his ministry against their accusations. They were demanding proof in verse 3 that Christ was speaking through Paul. In verse 5 Paul shows them that the proof they were looking for was in themselves because he had been their father in the faith. 1 Corinthians 4:15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. The sure way to prove Paul’s ministry was to examine their own faith since their belief in the genuineness of their faith carried with it the proof of the genuineness of Paul’s ministry as a spokesman for Christ. Did they know the Savior? Yes. How did they come to know the Savior? Through Paul’s ministry. He did not believe they were counterfeit and knew they were unlikely to come to a different conclusion about their faith which only proved he too passed the test. This is the point of 2 Corinthians 13:6, “But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.” Remember that the basis God gives us for assurance of salvation is His record or witness to us as clearly declared in 1 John 5:11-13: 11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. The Bema (Judgment Seat of Christ) Does the fact that we are confident of our salvation because of the finished work of Christ mean we can be indifferent about our lifestyle? Does assurance of salvation promote promiscuous Christian living and faulty stewardship? No, not if one understands the whole counsel of the Word. Every believer as a child of God is a steward to whom God has entrusted stewardships of time, talents (spiritual gifts included), God’s truth, and treasures. A steward is someone who manages the property or equipment of another. What does this mean? The apostle Paul teaches us “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” God holds us responsible for what we do with our stewardship, and a day will come when we will be held accountable for what we have done with the life God has given us. This is the point of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15: 12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire. Note the contrast here. The believer is in heaven because of what Jesus did, but accountable reward-wise for what he did with the life and gifts God gave him. Again, listen to Radmacher’s comments on this: As I write these words, I stand in God’s sight faultless and perfect because God Almighty sees me through Jesus Christ. There is no compromise to that. No one who knows Jesus Christ will ever appear at the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20. Believers shall appear, however, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema) and will be judged by their works (2 Cor. 5:10). It is significant to note that both the unregenerate and the regenerate will be judged by their works. The unregenerate will be judged by their works at the Great White Throne Judgment and the results of that judgment will be degrees of eternal punishment in hell. The regenerate will be judged by their works at the Bema and the result of that judgment will be either be reward or the lack of it.12 In lesson 7 we will cover the Judgment Seat of Christ in detail, but for now, it is sufficient for us to realize that while we are secure in the Savior as far as heaven is concerned, we have a wonderful stewardship for which we are each responsible. Our need is to be disciplined through God’s grace unto godliness which has a promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.