Is the assurance of our salvation found in our faith or in our works?

Stephen Nichols & 2 others
2 Min Read

GODFREY: Assurance of salvation is found in our Christ. Did you want me to expand?

THOMAS: That is a perfect answer, and it was the same answer given by the Marrow Men. Faith is not belief in faith itself. It is not faith in me, in what I feel to be faith, or in whatever assurance I have within myself. Faith must always be in Christ. My assurance is not dependent on my works. Unless those works are issuing from my relationship with Jesus, they are not going to help me at all. So, every day, and in every way, we must run to Jesus and make sure that our relationship with Him is what it should be.

NICHOLS: This is a crucial question because it impacts the Christian life. When talking about assurance, we should turn to John’s first letter. John wants us to know that we are children of God. He does not want us doubting and wondering about our salvation. How can you make progress if you are constantly in despair? So, I recommend reading 1 John.

The Westminster Confession of Faith has an interesting way of talking about assurance. First of all, we are in Christ, and that’s the basis of our assurance. The Confession also speaks of our existential sense of assurance, using the expression that our assurance “waxes and wanes.” In this sense, assurance is related to keeping in step with the Holy Spirit and doing Christian duties, such as attending church. When we are negligent in the mortification of sin, our assurance will wane, and rightfully so. This waning is a sort of prod to continue mortifying sin, and then our assurance will wax. Our identity is in Christ, and our assurance is solid and firm, but our awareness and sensibility of that can wax and wane. I think the Westminster Divines were very helpful here.

GODFREY: If you want to read another John who is helpful, it would be John Calvin.

NICHOLS: I thought you were going to say, “If you want to read a real confession of faith, go to the Three Forms of Unity.”

GODFREY: No, I would never say anything that rude. If you want to read a great definition of faith, however, read question and answer twenty-one or question one of the Heidelberg Catechism.

I think Calvin was very sensitive to the fact that if we look at our faith, it’s so easy to see all the weaknesses in it. If we start looking at our works, it’s easy to see all the sins that attach to them. With the question of assurance, Calvin said that we must always look first to the promises of Christ. If you really embrace and rejoice in the promises of Christ, only then do you dare look and see if you have a little faith and a few good works. They should be there and support your assurance of salvation. However, the primary assurance needs to be in Christ and His promises, which I think is helpful. Certainly, if you’re falling desperately into sin, you’re not looking to the promises of Christ, and your assurance will wane.

THOMAS: This issue, of course, is examined in detail by another John: John Bunyan in his wonderful allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, which you must read to enter the Pearly Gates.

NICHOLS: Could you recommend a good teaching series on Pilgrim’s Progress?

THOMAS: Yes, but it is by somebody not called “John.”

LARSON: Ligonier has The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Guided Tour with Dr. Thomas available for you.

This is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey’s, Derek Thomas’, and Stephen Nichols’ answers given during our Blessed in Christ: Detroit 2021 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.