REEVES: The first thing to do is answer this question: Do you have faith in Jesus Christ? Those who have faith in Christ are given many assurances in Scripture. So, the first thing to ask is whether you have faith in Jesus Christ. Those who have faith in Jesus Christ may be assured.
The second stage—and this needs to be kept in order—is to answer this: Is your life beginning to exhibit the fruit of a heart that has been turned and led by the Holy Spirit? Are you beginning to see evidence of the Spirit at work in you? By the Spirit, you’re calling Jesus “Lord,” and by the Spirit, you are beginning to be transformed into Christ-likeness. Those two must not be flipped around.
You don’t look for your assurance primarily by looking at yourself. You get your assurance from looking to Christ. But there is an additional level of assurance that stops us from thinking, “I can have a bare faith in Christ by merely signing a bit of paper to officially say that I have trusted in Christ,” when there isn’t actually any active leaning upon Him. The second level protects us from that to make sure the faith we have in Christ is real and evidence of a transformed heart.
NICHOLS: The Reformers talked about the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. You see this in 1 John 5:13: “These things have been written that you would know that you have eternal life.” There is a certainty involved, but then when the Westminster Confession talks about assurance, it speaks of assurance waxing and waning.
Assurance seems to be tied to one’s living of the Christian life. If one is neglecting the fellowship of the saints, neglecting times of prayer, neglecting time in God’s Word, one may begin to feel his assurance waxing and waning. That is the provocative work of the Holy Spirit to encourage one to get back into the fellowship of the saints and times of prayer and reading of the Word.
If you’re struggling with assurance, make 1 John a study. Read through 1 John and see that the emphasis is not doubt; the emphasis is “that you may know” as you grow in the Christian life in that sense of assurance.
REEDER: This may be a way of repeating what both of you have said. I would take someone struggling with assurance to John 6:47. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, he who believes in Me has eternal life.”
“Truly, truly” is “amēn, amēn.” I say, “Isn’t it wonderful that you have to listen to me preach and figure out, ‘Can I say amen?’” When Jesus preaches, He puts the “amen” at the front because you know that’s “so be it” forever. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has eternal life.” I would say to the person struggling: “Do you believe that? If you do, there is your assurance. Jesus can’t lie. All of the truths are yes and amen in Him.”
What you’re really asking me is not, “Does Jesus save you?” You’re really asking me, “Do I have saving faith?” The devil believes and he is not saved. That’s what you’re really asking me, and I’m not going to put you down for asking that. Saving faith is not the act of a moment; saving faith is the acquisition of a lifestyle. Faith and repentance are not momentary acts; they are a walking relationship—a living, robust, vital relationship with Christ.
Let’s look at the evidences of saving faith. The first one is examining yourself. When you don’t have saving faith, you never examine yourself, but when you do have saving faith, you do examine yourself. You ask, “Do I believe?” Secondly, when you believe, do you believe in Christ? Here is what Paul said about his saving faith in Christ when he was about to die: “I suffer these things and I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
Saving faith is personal. Six times in that text, Paul uses the word “I.” Saving faith is rational, “I know.” Saving faith is emotional, “I am convinced.” Saving faith is volitional, “I put my trust in Him.” Saving faith has only one object, and it’s not faith; it’s Christ. Paul does not say, “I know what I believed, or when I believed, or that I believe,” but “I know whom I have believed, and He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.”