In church we boldly sing Blessed Assurance, but privately many believers struggle with assurance of their salvation.
Can Christians really have this assurance? And if so, how do we find it?
The answer is actually two-fold.
Scripture lays down the path to assurance along parallel but separate tracks. Like guardrails, both are necessary to keep us from the ditch on one side or the other.
First, we must rest in the promises of the gospel. Embrace the truth of John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life,” and John 6:35, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” In John 10:27-28, our Lord promises, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
We find great hope and confidence as we rest in promises like these.
The Apostle Paul himself clung to this truth in 2 Tim. 1:12: “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
Assurance comes from resting in the promises of God.
But the promises of scriptures are just one track.
Alongside them, we must examine the evidence of our lives.
It is a commandment for all Christians – we are required to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). Some may argue that introducing evidence of a changed life as assurance of salvation produces legalism. But when Scripture presents tests of whether or not one is in Christ, it always comes back to examining the reality of a changed life.
And what is the evidence of this change?
First, it’s a life characterized by obedience to the Word of God.
Does what you believe about Jesus line up with scripture? Do you love other Christians? Are you dealing with any patterns of sin in your life? Is your life characterized by – not in perfection, but in direction – submission to the Word of God?
Second, a changed life is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.
In Gal. 5:22-23, Paul assures us that when the Spirit is truly present, these qualities will be evident. Do love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control characterize your life? Would the people close to you describe you this way? Again, not to perfection – no one is patient all the time – but is there a pattern of these qualities growing in you?
Can the people around you see increasing evidence of these in your life? Scripture never suggests that the fruit of Spirit can be convincingly faked by an unbeliever.
Resting solely in the promises of the gospel can lead to a superficial, or even misplaced assurance. There will be those who will stand at the judgment and claim Christ, only to hear, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you do lawlessness.”
On the other hand, if all we do is examine the evidence of our life and behavior, the result will be an unhealthy form of legalism. It can even lead to thinking that God accepts us on the basis of our personal holiness. Then our joy, gratitude, and eventually our assurance will disappear.
So, we need this balance: Trust entirely in Christ for justification, and have a sincere and universal love of holiness – a genuine and overarching desire to be, in every part of our character, more and more like Jesus Christ.