On this episode of Theology Gals Coleen and Ashley discuss assurance. Can we have assurance and what is is the basis of our assurance?
Join us next week when we have a very special guest to talk about Covenant Theology.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [Hebrews 11:1]
1.Can a Christian have assurance?
We can and should have assurance
One of the problems is in our attempt at assurance we look to ourselves for it, instead of Christ. One thing which came out of the reformation was law/gospel distinctions, understanding the difference between justification and sanctification. There’s a tendency for people to look to the law for their assurance instead of the gospel. While our growth in obedience may strengthen our assurance, it is not the ground of it.
“The Gospel is for Christians too.” Rod Rosenbladt
Dr. R Scott Clark
“The fruit of faith strengthens our assurance but it is not the basis of it. The sole basis/ground of assurance is Christ’s righteousness for us and his unshakable promises to us.
“To refuse to have assurance on the ground that one is not sufficiently sanctified is a form of unbelief. Stop it. Repent of it. Of course you are not sanctified enough! You’re a wretch. Jesus didn’t obey and die for nice, sanctified people. He obeyed and died for you and me.
“Will your assurance always be perfect and equally strong? No. The Westminster Confession ch 14 deals with that question brilliantly. Our assurance ebbs and flows. We learn more and more to stop looking at ourselves — just as we learn to stop looking at garbage heaps — and we learn more and more to look at Christ and his promises.”
Can I Have Assurance by R Scott Clark
Westminster Confession 14 & 18
2. Assurance is based ultimately on God’s promises and not our own experience or performance:
Romans 4:1-3 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
Galations 2:16 Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Philippians 3:9 And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
3.God gives us Evidences of Salvation which can strengthen our assurance
Romans 5:1&2 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
One way we know we’re Christians is because of our faith in Christ.
What is true faith?
“True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”
John Calvin, Inst., 3.2.7.
“Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
We are saved by grace through faith
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The Lord is working in our lives to grow in obedience.
Q: What is sanctification?
A: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and of the truth.
Ephesians 4:23-24 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Romans 6:4, 6, 14 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. . . knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. . . For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
Romans 8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
We will continue to struggle with sin. As Luther emphasized Simul Justus et Peccator, simultaneously justified and Sinner.
“And so with this formula (Simul Justus et peccator) Luther was saying, in our justification we are one and the same time righteous or just, and sinners. Now if he would say that we are at the same time and in the same relationship just and sinners that would be a contradiction in terms. But that’s not what he was saying. He was saying from one perspective, in one sense, we are just. In another sense, from a different perspective, we are sinners; and how he defines that is simple. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.”
Remember as R Scott Clark said in the quote above “The fruit of faith strengthens our assurance but it is not the basis of it.”
- The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is working in us that we may have assurance.
Romans 8:15-17 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Our assurance is outside of us in the finished work of Christ, outside of ourselves. Our assurance is in the work of Christ.
Objections to assurance
“My faith isn’t strong enough”
None of us have strong enough faith, we’re wretched sinners, which is why Christ died. If you look to the law for assurance, you won’t find it, the law condemns, our assurance is in the gospel. Our righteousness is by faith.
Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH
Galatians 3:10-11 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, n“Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.
“I still sin and don’t obey enough.”
Romans 8:1-4 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.1 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you2 free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,3 he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Our justification is not based on our good works, it is not based on our faithfulness, it’s based on Christ alone and His Faithfulness.
A Biblical understanding of Justification and sanctification is vital to our assurance.
“When Luther rebelled against the medieval doctrine of justification and salvation by sanctification he re-defined justification as God’s unconditional declaration of justification (righteousness) on the ground of Christ’s condign merit imputed to believers and that received through faith alone (sola fide). Faith in justification and salvation was redefined as the sole instrument through which Christians receive God’s grace and Christ’s righteousness. This is why the sola of sola fide was so important.”
The Logic of Fruit as Evidence by R Scott Clark
Romans 8:31-39 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.10 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
John Calvin on assurance
“Therefore, laying aside all mention of the law, and all idea of works, we must in the matter of justification have recourse to the mercy of God only; turning away our regard from ourselves, we must look only to Christ. For the question is, not how we may be righteous, but how, though unworthy and unrighteous, we may be regarded as righteous. If consciences would obtain any assurance of this, they must give no place to the law.” From Calvin’s Institutes 3 xix
“We need the assurance that he accepts us as his children and supports us so compassionately that he approves of what we do, though it is worthless, because of the fatherly love he bears us. If we do not have this assurance, the thought of serving God will make us grind our teeth. If, however, we are persuaded that God looks upon us favourably; if, though we are weak and can do nothing worthy of his approval, he accepts us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, then we will surely be filled with courage. We will be like a ship’s sail that has been stretched and filled by the breeze! Thus, our hearts will run to obey him, like a ship driven along by its sail, when we know that God delights in us and accepts our works, not wanting us to be compelled into servitude. He is happy for us to be his children, and that we desire to obey him. Knowing this, we can serve our God with all the more zeal. With his grace as our foundation, we are so filled with his joy that we can offer the sacrifice of praise. Likewise, having sought him in prayer, we can know that he will answer us and, in return, we can thank him for the priceless gifts that he communicates to us every day.”
—Calvin’s Sermon on Galatians 5:1–3, 1557–58
Martin Luther struggled with his assurance, which is partly what led to the events of the reformation. It was understanding the gospel which gave him assurance. One of my favorite quotes from Luther is:
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
Luther before understanding the gospel tried to find assurance in other things. It was finally understanding that our justification is by grace alone through faith alone that he understood our assurance rests upon Christ’s works.
“He who prays for remission of sins and hears the absolution of Christ should be certain that truly, just as the Word declares, his sins are forgiven; and he should be assured that this is in no sense man’s work but God’s work. Whatever, therefore, is done in the church must rest on certainty.”
Regarding God’s law and our obedience
- Since then we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why should we do good works?
Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and also that He be glorified through us; then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof; and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.
Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
Romans 6:1&2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Romans 6:13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness
This is a great article by R Scott Clark on Why Christians do good works
It’s important to understand why we do good works. This article by R Scott Clark is helpful.
Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace by Scott Keith
“Our sin is what causes us to believe that the solution to every problem, or any problem, is to throw just a little more law at it. What we fail to realize is how natural the law is to us. Gustav Wingren said this well when he claimed, “The gospel always breaks into a world that has already got law, and for which law is not news, not a novelty. It is the gospel that goes against the norm. It is the gospel that is a novelty.” It is the gospel that is not only “news,” as Wingren says, but good news. As Martin Luther so eloquently phrased the Paradox of the gospel and his great Galatians commentary, “The gospel supplies the world with the salvation of Jesus Christ, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Just for that the world of course the gospel.”
Philippians 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Lord’s Day 1
What is your only comfort
in life and death?
That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
Other things mentioned on this episode:
DA Carson video on assurance
Martin Luther movie clip
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