Regeneration, the Holy Spirit, and Assurance

“You were dead in the trespasses and sins … carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (vv. 1–5).

- Ephesians 2:1–7

In our study of the assurance of our salvation, we have alluded to the importance of rightly understanding doctrine for gaining true certainty that we are saved. Looking at our lives for spiritual fruit and good works plays a part in our assurance (2 Peter 1:3–11), but finding good deeds is insufficient to give us true assurance because nonbelievers also do good things. Doing good in itself will not give us true assurance, but true assurance is strengthened when doing good accompanies faith in the biblical Christ alone. Only the biblical Christ can save us (John 14:6), so true assurance comes only if we believe in the Jesus revealed in the Bible, not the Jesus of Islam, Mormonism, or any other religion or philosophy.

And yet, many of us still have difficulty finding true assurance of salvation even when we have good works that evidence our faith alongside belief in the biblical Christ. Thus, we must go further and consider two more doctrinal points and their bearing on our experience and true assurance. We are speaking of the doctrines of human depravity and regeneration.

Many people seriously misunderstand human depravity. The Apostle Paul describes our condition apart from grace as one of deadness; that is, unless God sovereignly intervenes and changes our hearts, we are enslaved to sin and incapable of responding in faith to the gospel. All people, apart from Christ, are born into this world with “no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:9–20). We do not want God to reign over us and cannot work up within us the desire to love and serve the Lord. We are dead to the things of God. The only way out of this is for God to resurrect us spiritually. He must make us willing to believe. And this is not something we ask Him to do; He does it of His own accord, and only then are we able to see the kingdom of God, let alone believe and enter it (John 3:3). Regeneration precedes faith—spiritual resurrection happens before we trust in Christ (Eph. 2:1–7).

Since we cannot love and trust God apart from His intervention, any genuine love for the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is evidence that our hearts have been changed and we have been given love for the Creator. And since nothing can separate us from God’s love, if God loved us enough to change our hearts so that we love and trust Him, we cannot finally fall away from grace. If we are saved today, we are saved forever (Rom. 8:38–39).

Coram Deo

True assurance of salvation comes from a combination of objective and subjective factors. Objectively, we must have the right biblical doctrines of Christ, human sin, and regeneration in order to know if the subjective affection we feel for Christ is genuine and Spirit-given. We study doctrine not merely to fill our heads with knowledge but so that we can discern the state of our hearts.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 18:1
Romans 5:5

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