How can I be assured that I am among the chosen?
HAMILTON: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
SPROUL: Now the problem is complicated because we have four kinds of people: people who aren’t saved and know that they aren’t saved, people who aren’t saved and don’t know that they aren’t saved, people who are saved and know that they are saved, and people who are unsaved who know that they are saved.
That’s where the problem comes in, because you have all kinds of people who have an assurance of salvation illegitimately. Because they don’t understand what salvation requires. Maybe somebody taught them if you raise your hand in an evangelistic meeting, or if you walk down the aisle, or if you speak the sinner’s prayer, or if you do this method or that method, that guarantees that you’re saved.
But the New Testament, and Jesus specifically, warns us about a false assurance: that there are many who will come on the last day and say, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do this and didn’t we do that?” and so on, and He will say those horrible words, “Depart from me. I never knew you, you workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:23).
So there is such a thing as a false assurance. That’s why we need to know what salvation really is and what it really requires. And then the question is: “In my own subjective evaluation, do I meet the requirements?” They are what we’ve just heard: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Then you can say, “Well, do I really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? How can I sin the way I sin when I know that’s not consistent with true faith in Christ?” It is good news to know that we don’t have to be perfect in order to be saved, but we do have to understand who it is that saves us and how it is that we are saved.
In very practical ways, I’ve talked to people who struggle with this question. I ask them, “Do you love the biblical Jesus perfectly?” (I’ve only heard two people in my life who have answered that question in the affirmative to me, who would say that yes, they love Him perfectly. But as for this perfectionist problem, that’s another story.) The vast majority of professing Christians will answer that question, “No.” They know, “I don’t love Jesus perfectly.” I know I don’t love Jesus perfectly.
Then I’ll say to them, “Well, do you love Him as much as you ought to love Him?” Well if they answer the first question “No,” they’ve got to answer the second question “No,” because I ought to love Him perfectly. And so if I say, “I don’t love Him perfectly,” then I know I don’t love Him as much as I ought to love Him. So now the spiral seems to tend to be more and more pessimistic.
Then I ask this question: “Do you love Him at all? Do you know in your heart whether you have any genuine affection for the biblical Jesus?” And there is where your theology comes home to roost.
If I can say, “Yes, I know that I don’t love Him the way I should love Him, that I don’t love Him perfectly. But I know in whom I have believed; I know that I have some real affection for Christ in my heart and in my soul,” then if my theology is sound, then I ask the question, “How could that possibly be?” Because I know an unregenerate person has no affection for Jesus and can’t possibly have any affection for Jesus. So if I have any affection for Jesus, that tells me I’m regenerate. And if I’m regenerate, I have true faith. And if I have true faith, I’m numbered among the elect and can have full assurance.
That’s why Peter says that we should make our election and calling sure (2 Pet. 1:10). It’s a very practical issue, because if we don’t have the assurance of salvation that we should have and can have, we’re tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). We’re unstable or inconsistent. We’re duck soup for the temptations of the enemy who comes our way.
That’s why I look at the difference between Judas and Peter. Jesus says in the Upper Room to Judas, “What you have to do, do quickly. Go do it” (John 13:27). And then when He talks about Peter, Jesus says, “You’re going to deny me.” “Oh no, no, not a chance,” says Peter. But Jesus responds, “Simon, Simon, Satan would have you and sift you like wheat. You’re simple, duck soup for Satan. But I have prayed for you, so that when you turn—not if you turn, but when you turn—strengthen the brethren” (Luke 22:31-34).
Oh! The personal gratification that that gives to my soul is immeasurable. And that’s why we have to understand the work of Jesus, that He not only is King, but He is our great High Priest who intercedes for us every hour of every day. And when the Lord Jesus Christ prays for His weak disciples, there’s no question of whether or not they’re going to turn.
We’re capable of serious and radical falls from grace, but never total and final fall, because we are being preserved by our Savior. And that’s where my assurance comes in.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of Ian Hamilton’s and R.C. Sproul’s answers given at our 2016 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.