Biblical Doctrine of Assurance

I John 5:13

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2010

Tonight, I want to try to answer the question, Can People Really Be Sure of Their Salvation? I want to look at the topic of assurance of salvation. It is a little different from the topic we looked at last week. Eternal security and assurance of salvation are not the same thing. Now it is one thing to have eternal life. It’s another thing to know that you have eternal life.

It is one thing to be saved. It’s another thing to know for sure that you are saved. There is a difference between a fact and knowledge of a fact. I may have won the lottery and not know it yet because I didn’t watch the news. Just because I don’t know it yet doesn’t change the fact. This is an extremely important topic. There are many Christians who have absolutely no assurance of salvation. They hope to be saved. They are trying to be saved. They are doing their best to be saved but do not have any certainty of salvation.

Believe it or not, this is also a very controversial topic. Not everyone believes in assurance of salvation. Entire denominations deny that we can have any assurance of salvation. If you are an Arminian, you can’t really have any assurance of salvation. Arminians teach that you can lose your salvation. The Roman Catholic Church does NOT believe in the doctrine of assurance. They would call it pride and arrogance to claim to know right now that you are going to Heaven. They would say that that is impossible. No one can know possibly that.

There are two extremes when it comes to assurance of salvation. One the one side are the Roman Catholics who say that assurance of salvation is impossible. No one can know this. On the other side of the coin are people who have a false assurance of salvation. We saw in the last two weeks from Matthew 7 that many people think they are going to heaven who will not be there.

In fact, we know from polls that most people think that they are going to heaven. A 2005 ABC News Poll said that 85% of Americans believe they will go to heaven. Why do you think that is? Most people in the world believe that salvation is by works and most people believe that they are basically good and God is going to let them into heaven. Most people have no concept of their own sinfulness before God or that they stand condemned before an infinitely holy God.

Jesus said the exact opposite in Matthew 7:13-14. Jesus said that few people will get into heaven. The word “few” does not mean a small number of people. In Revelation, there is an innumerable group of people in heaven, hundreds of thousands of people (cf. Revelation 9:9ff.) but apparently a lot more people will be in hell. The vast majority of people will be in hell. Hell is like a highway. It is a broad road and a lot of people are on that path. Few are on the narrow road leading to life. These are Jesus’ words, not mine.

Jesus speaks of two roads, two gates. How many religions are in the world today? According to researchers, there are about ten thousand religions in the world.  I had to look this up. There are ten thousand religions in the world but only two ways or two roads, according to Jesus. What are they?

There is the easy road and the hard road. There are also two gates. What are they? There is the narrow gate and the wide or broad gate. There are also two destinies. What are they? Life will be the eternal destiny of some. Destruction will be the eternal destiny of most. I guess Jesus wasn’t a Universalist. He didn’t say that there was one destiny, heaven, and everyone is going there. Jesus says that here are two groups of travelers on two different paths going to two completely different destinies.

What do you think the broad way is called the easy road? It has few rules. It is the permissive road. You can do whatever you want on that road. Sin is tolerated and accepted. You can decide for yourself what is right or wrong on this road. This road is nonjudgmental. It is the popular road. It is very diverse and inclusive. It is the road based on human reason (Proverbs 14:12). Why is the narrow gate called hard? It is hard to ride on because this road may entail suffering and persecution. It is more unpopular. People on this road are called “narrow minded”. This road is narrow. It is politically incorrect. It is more exclusive and restrictive. It has more rules. There are some moral absolutes on this road.

The real question is not where the majority of people are headed when they die it is? Where are we going when you die? Do we know where you are going for sure when you die? Are you certain? How do you know? Can we even know this or is it just arrogance. That question is answered in I John 5:13 which says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” He did NOT say, “I write these things so that you may HOPE TO HAVE or HOPE THAT YOU WILL HAVE eternal life”. John said that we can know that we have eternal life. It is NOT pride or arrogance to say that we know that we have eternal life. The Bible says that this is something that we can know that we have.

What is the difference between I John 5:13 and John 20:31? The Gospel of John was written for unbelievers. It was written so that people may HAVE ETERNAL LIFE. I John was written for believers. It was written so that believers will KNOW THEY HAVE eternal life.

The million dollar question is, HOW can we know that we are saved? How can we know that we have eternal life? There are three ways we can know that we have eternal life.

An Objective Assurance

The first proof is the biblical proof (cf. I John 5:9-13). It is based on the character of God. When God says something, it is true. When he makes a promise, he keeps it. Last week we read John 3:16 (“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”). Last week we talked about what it means to believe. We saw that faith is not just intellectual. Believing in Christ is more than just believing certain things ABOUT him. The demons do that. Saving faith involves truth. You have to ask him and trust him to save you from your sins. If you believe and trust Christ for salvation you can KNOW that you have eternal life.

Some say but I don’t know when I first got saved. You may not know how old you were. Do you have to know when you got saved to be born again? It doesn’t matter when you first believed. It’s not necessary to know when you first became saved. The only thing that matters is if you believe right NOW. That is all that matters. You don’t have to know your birth day to know that you are alive. You just have to believe now.

Who is this promise of assurance addressed to? “I write these things to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God”. What tense is the word “BELIEVE”? It is present tense in Greek and in English. It’s not past tense. A lot of people have an assurance of salvation based on something they did thirty years ago. “Thirty years ago, I walked to the front of the church and received Christ as Savior. I don’t go to church now or live for the Lord. I don’t even believe half the things in the Bible but I am sure that I will be in heaven”. John has no words of assurance for this individual. You have to believe right now.

The first proof of assurance is OBJECTIVE. The Bible says so. God says it and we believe it. If anyone who genuinely believed in Christ from his heart were to perish and not have eternal life, then God would be a liar. The Bible says that God CANNOT lie (Titus 1:2). The Bible says that it is IMPOSSIBLE because it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). Assurance of salvation is not presumption if you believe but faith. It is simply taking God at his Word. This is not based on our feelings but on the promise of God.

Notice also that John does NOT say, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you WILL HAVE eternal life when you die”. He says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you HAVE eternal life”. The verb “have” is in the present tense. It is something that you can have now and it is something that you can know that you have now .

An Inward Assurance

And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us (3:24).

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit (4:13)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16)

The first proof of salvation was the book says so. The second proof of salvation is the Holy Spirit says so. This is an INWARD proof. If you are saved, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He lives in you. If you are genuinely saved, the Holy Spirit will tell you that you are saved. He will testify with you spirit that you are a child of God. We will hear the voice of the Spirit. It will not be an audible voice but if we are saved, we will hear that voice. The question is, Are we listening to that voice? Of course, this also creates a problem. We hear all kinds of voices in our head. This proof is more subjective than objective. How do we know that what we are hearing is the Holy Spirit and not some bad pizza? This voice says the same thing as Scripture and it is confirmed by our life.

An Outward Assurance

This proof is not objective or inward, it is outward. If you are genuinely saved, you have the Holy Spirit on the inside and you are different on the outside. We saw last week that you become a new creation, almost like a different person. Some changes will take place overnight. Some changes in your life may take a few years. The point is that after salvation there will be a long pattern of growth in your life. We obey God’s commands, which assumes that we even know what they are (cf I John 2:3, 5; 4:24; 5:2). We love other Christians (2:9-11; 3:14-15, 17-19; 4:7-8, 12, 20) and we live a righteous life (1:6; 2:15-17, 29; 3:6-9)

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