The question of assurance is one of the biggest questions for many Christians. I dealt with that with an older saint this past Sunday evening. After the sermon, we spent some time together talking. We had a wonderful conversation really struggling with that question.
This question that many Christians ask was a question I asked for many years of my life, and I couldn’t find a good resource on it. I couldn’t find something helpful that dealt with the theology of assurance. So, I put together a little book with some friends, to which Dr. Sproul wrote the forward, called Assured by God, trying to help Christians with this answer. Of course, many have written on it. Dr. Joel Beeke has done a great deal of work on it academically.
It’s a significant question, and it’s not as simple as we sometimes want to make it, because we have to deal not only with lacking assurance but also with false assurance. We could say that both are problems, but I would actually suggest that false assurance of salvation is, in some ways, a bigger problem. There are people who think they’re Christians but actually aren’t. They go through a lot of the motions but they are not truly resting in Jesus Christ and His work for them.
That’s the warning we hear from Jesus in Matthew 7 in the Sermon on the Mount, “There will be many who come to Me in that day,” to whom Jesus will declare, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21–23). They were focused on what they were doing for Christ rather than on what Christ did for them.
That’s really the center point of our assurance: Are we looking to Christ? If we’re looking to our own works we will always be disappointed. If we’re looking to our own hearts we will always be sad and fall into despair.
But if we’re looking to the cross, if we’re looking to what Christ did for us, we can have assurance. We look to the objective reality that He didn’t just come to make salvation possible or offer salvation; He came to actually accomplish salvation. It’s a redemption that has been accomplished and applied, as John Murray said. Christ actually saved people in His atonement, and that atonement was a substitutionary atonement for sin. God imputed Christ’s righteousness to all who put their faith in Him, and He imputes our sin to Christ on the cross. That sin has been paid for fully and finally on the cross.
So the question is: Do you believe Christ? And if you believe Christ, then you can know that you have eternal life. Right now you can know you have eternal life. There has been a great deal of confusion in many churches and denominations where they want to add something on top of that.
Of course, the reality is that if we have real faith in Christ, that real faith will bear real fruit. If there is no fruit and fruit never comes, then we can say there’s never been real faith. But if there’s real faith, there’s going to be real repentance and real fruit in our lives.
Often, we feel like we’re lacking fruit or we’re not demonstrating the fruit as we might like. In one sense, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s every day of our lives. We’re never manifesting all the fruit that we would like to be manifesting. But the question is: Are you living a life of repentance and faith, trusting Christ and Christ alone? Because it’s all by the grace of God alone and faith alone.
Too often the question that Christians ask is this: “How do I know if my faith is strong enough?” That’s where many Christians are really wrestling with this. They’re not asking, “Is it real?” because if you say, “Do you believe in Jesus?” they’ll say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus.” You’ll ask, “Do you love Christ?” and they’ll say, “Yes, I love Christ.” You ask, “Do you love the Lord?” and they say, “Yes, I love the Lord.” You ask, “Do you repent of your sins?” and they say, “Yes, I do, but I don’t feel that my faith is strong enough.”
As I said to this dear saint on Sunday evening, along the lines of what many throughout history have said, whether we have a weak faith or a strong faith, we get the same strong Christ. Ultimately it’s not our faith that saves us; it’s Christ who saves us. Faith is that instrument or means of salvation.
So, we need to be reminded that at times our faith will feel weak to us, and sometimes it might feel strong, but the strength is in what Christ has done, not the strength of our faith.