In life, we want assurance. We buy life insurance to guarantee our loved ones are cared for in the event of our sudden death. We buy health insurance to guarantee assistance in paying for expensive health care. And we all want assurance we will spend eternity in heaven so we can live our lives free of doubt, despair and discouragement.
Many Christians struggle with the assurance of their salvation. Many Christians live the way the Puritan Thomas Brooks wrote in 1864 in his treatise Heaven and Earth,
“Assurance is the believer’s ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions. … However most Christians live between fears and hopes, and hang, as it were, between heaven and hell. Sometimes they hope that their state is good, at other times they fear that their state is bad: now they hope that all is well, and that it shall go well with them for ever; then they fear that they shall perish by the hand of such a corruption, or by the prevalence of such or such a temptation. … They are like a ship in a storm, tossed here and there.” (pg. 11)
Assurance is a precious commodity that is not worth trading for anything else. And the lack of assurance can be paralyzing and demoralizing.
I John 5:13 (and the rest of the book) shows every reader he can be convinced of his eternity – “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
This Epistle is primarily for Christians. And here’s the simple truth: assurance is meant for the Christian. Assurance is a knowledge gained by experience and reflection, which is a common thread in this Epistle (I John 2:3, 29; 3:1, 6; 4:2). If you know Christ, you are not meant to live without assurance.
But if you are a Christian who struggles with assurance, it could be for any one of the following reasons. Maybe you misunderstand the difference between justification and sanctification. We quickly forget the act of justification is something Christ accomplished on the cross. His perfect sacrifice atoned for sin. Your sins are paid for! They are forgiven. Justification is a perfect work. On the other hand, the process of sanctification – the process of being made like a holy Christ – is an imperfect and incomplete work. That doesn’t happen at once. As long as we remain imperfect, sanctification is not over. But that does not change us being justified. Some people who struggle with assurance look at their imperfect and incomplete work of sanctification and then forget their act of being justified.
Maybe the reason you struggle with assurance is simply biblical ignorance of the teaching of this doctrine. This is where I John has been so helpful. John’s purpose has been to educate the clueless. Some people don’t understand a sovereign God’s role in drawing us to Himself and then how he produces assurance in us as we grow in Him.
Maybe the reason you struggle with assurance is because your hear strong or imbalanced preached. Don’t get me wrong: strong preaching is a healthy dynamic for the local church. Too many churches have too many shallow, shabby, jellyfish preachers. But when you preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), you come to understand just how high God’s standard is for all of us. And when you see how high the standard is and how often you miss the standard, you can easily doubt your salvation.
Maybe the reason you struggle with assurance is because you compare yourself to other believers: “How come I don’t pray like Him? Why don’t I quote Scripture as naturally as her? Why don’t I possess the level of love and compassion of him? Why does parenting come much easier for that father or mother? How was she able to discern right from wrong in that situation quicker than me? Why couldn’t I answer that question from Scripture as timely as that person?” People who do this can struggle with assurance because they fail to remember everyone matures and grows at different rates.
There is a remedy that can help enforce what the Bible has to say about a Christian’s assurance of salvation: study the person and work of Christ. Don’t be afraid of terms like expiation, redemption, propitiation, advocacy, justification, sanctification, etc. These terms explain in a more thorough way the marvelous work of Christ on the cross and they show us the permanency and thoroughness of salvation achieved for us. And they will help remove doubt when you see their awesomeness.
Robert Murray McCheyne, a Scottish minister in the 1800’s, said,
“Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely.”
Make a commitment in 2018 to study Christology. Read books like Christ’s Glorious Achievement by Charles Spurgeon or The Incomparable Christ by John R.W. Stott or The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper or Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Christ by D.A. Carson or Who Is Jesus by Greg Gilbert.
Study the One who saved you (John 6:37; 10:17-29) and seals you (Ephesians 1;13-14).
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