Assurance and Sanctification
“Brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (v. 10).- 2 Peter 1:3–11
Reformed theology teaches that Christians can know that they are truly saved and that they will persevere until the end and die in faith. Other systems, however, do not agree on this. Roman Catholicism, for example, teaches that assurance is impossible for most ordinary believers, that only the saints—those marked by exceptional holiness—can be assured of salvation before death. Arminianism might grant a kind of present assurance—we know if we are saved right now—but since it teaches that true believers in Christ can finally fall away from salvation, there is no assurance that someone who is a Christian today will persevere in faith.
Often when people deny the possibility of the full assurance of salvation, they do so out of a fear that being assured of salvation will impede our sanctification. They think that once someone knows he is saved, he will think he has no duty to obey the Lord. If we know that we will certainly get to heaven, it is argued, then it does not matter what we do with the rest of our lives because God is going to receive us into heaven no matter what.
Scripture does not share this worry. Just consider today’s passage. Peter exhorts us to add a number of different virtues to our faith—godliness, love, and so on (2 Peter 1:3–9). But the idea is not primarily that we seek these virtues in order to gain assurance, although there is a place for evaluating our assurance by looking for spiritual fruit. Verse 10 tells us to confirm our calling and our election so that we will practice the virtues listed and thus never fail, that is, fall away from grace. If we practice the virtues Peter lists, we can be assured of our entrance into heaven (v. 11), but confirming our calling and election enables us to be all the more diligent in seeking to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. There is a kind of reciprocal relationship between assurance and fruit. Knowing that we are saved encourages us to pursue spiritual virtues, and our practice of spiritual virtues strengthens our assurance. Paul says something similar in Romans 5–8. Knowing that we have peace with God precedes our growth in holiness by the Spirit, but as we grow we become aware of how short we fall, which then brings us back to Christ, who assures us that there is no condemnation for us in Him.
True Christians seek assurance not so they can grow complacent in serving God. Instead, they do so in order to grow in holiness.
If we know we are in Christ and dead to sin, then we will want to live in a manner that conforms to Christ (Rom. 6). The right search for assurance inevitably leads us to practice holiness. If we do not seek to grow in our sanctification, then we have not gained true assurance.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 2:9–12
1 John 5:13, 18