False Assurance

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ ” (vv. 22–23).

- Matthew 7:21–23

As we consider our study of how we can gain assurance of our salvation, we must note that one of the complicating factors in pursuing assurance is that it is possible to have false assurance. Some people think that they are believers when in fact they are outside of the faith. Jesus refers to such people in today’s passage when He talks about individuals who will come to Him on the last day believing that they have been His servants only for Him to say that He never knew them (Matt. 7:21–23).

Those who have a false assurance of salvation fall into the category of those who are not saved but do not know it. Some unbelievers, in fact, are not saved and do know it. It may be easier in some ways to preach the gospel to this group because they need no convincing of the fact that they are outside Christ. Those who falsely believe themselves to be saved must first be convinced that they are not saved and need to believe the gospel.

Why might someone have a false assurance of salvation? Because they have a bad theology of salvation. For example, people who are universalists, believing that everyone who has ever lived will go to heaven, will falsely believe themselves to be saved. If every human being will be saved and I am a human being, then certainly I will be saved. Universalists essentially hold to the idea of justification by death. All we have to do to be reconciled to God is to die; salvation is automatically conferred after we breathe our last breath.

Another bad theology of salvation is the idea that we meet God’s standard for salvation by our good works. Many people believe they are going to heaven because they have done good to others, not realizing that God demands perfection and that we all fall short of this standard and can be saved only by grace (Matt. 5:48; Rom. 3:23). We do not deny that unbelievers do good in some sense. Many non-Christians love their children, are good neighbors, give money to charity, and so on. These are all what we might call civic goods, goods that help other people. Civic goods are certainly important and, in one sense, praiseworthy. However, they do not live up to God’s standard of perfection. If we seek to be justified by keeping the law, we must never fail in keeping the law (Rom. 2:13). One sin is enough to condemn us forever, and no amount of civic goods can make up for where we fall short. Only the good works of Christ, imputed to us through faith alone, will save us.

Coram Deo

There is a place for evaluating our good works, but we must never think that God saves us because we do good. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8–10). If we think that we will get into heaven because we have done good things, we have made a grave error. May we always know that we have a right to heaven only through what Christ has done on our behalf.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 18:5
Ecclesiastes 7:20
Galatians 3:10–14
Titus 3:4–7

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.