1 John 5:13
I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (CSB).
In our series on the struggles of the believer, we are currently viewing the struggle of the believer regarding assurance of salvation. One of the great problems that anyone faces who dares to think about death and the afterlife is “How can I know that I will enjoy eternal life?” This points to the struggle of faith with a lack of assurance. What should you do if you are not sure that you are saved? First, we considered that we need to examine ourselves to see if we are really followers of Jesus Christ. If by the Holy Spirit we can claim to have put our faith in the Lord Jesus, we can still struggle. This leads us to the next reality.
Realize that true believers may struggle about their assurance. Here are three evidences that true believers do struggle about assurance or confident anticipation (hope) of eternal life.
- The spiritual experiences of believers that are recorded in the Scriptures (Psalms 42-43; Ps 88; Isaiah 50:10). Notice how Peter spoke to this issue. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in y our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins (2 Peter 1:5-9 NIV). If a believer (they have faith because you cannot add to it unless you have it) fails to develop positive qualities of godliness, they will struggle with assurance! Sadly, for most believers in the west, their only concept of sin is doing what God prohibits (like telling lies, sexual immorality, or theft). They fail to see that the lack of godliness is also offensive to God. For this reason, in any spiritual struggle, if they consider sin, they only examine their life about breaking prohibitions. It is a defective, partially blind concept of what the Lord requires.
- The exhortations to believers to draw near to God with a full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-39). The long passage just mentioned should make our point obvious. Why would the Spirit guide the Biblical writers to encourage God’s people to have full assurance, if every believer has assurance? It would be unnecessary.
- The existence of teaching in the New Testament Scriptures about how you may know that you have eternal life (1 John). If we assurance was identical with saving faith, you would only be told to believe. But the Holy Spirit provides us with evidences about the reality of our faith in the Lord.
Why do some believers have severe struggles with assurance of salvation? I have selected four causes that contribute to this struggle.
- Some suck in error with their first spiritual breath because of a faulty evangelistic presentation or follow-up. Thank God that we are not saved by a clear, pristine theology but by Jesus Christ! Yet too many new Christians are taught errors such as the possibility of falling from grace that torment them for the rest of their lives. There have been many that God has saved though they heard seemingly less than adequate or correct presentations of the gospel. But the Holy Spirit made sure of one thing — they truly repented and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus finds his sheep in some strange places. Remember they were lost! Then he leads them on in his truth.
- Some are never taught the difference between faith and assurance. You might see some who want to get saved every week, because they have had a struggle regarding their assurance. Thus you hear some preachers talk about “first time decisions”. Another problem is the false teaching that if you doubt, you are not saved. When I was a young minister, I saw a pastor do great damage to his flock by this error.
- Some live their spiritual lives in an atmosphere of legalism or guilt manipulation. Beware of those who attempt to make you feel guilty in order to get you to serve God. Faith always works by love (Galatians 5:6).
- Some have cracks in some of the “Biblical bases of assurance”. Next time, we will look at this in more detail.
Perhaps this is not your struggle, at least now. Even so, we all need to know what the Bible says about faith and assurance. Someday, we might have this struggle. Or perhaps there is a friend of yours that is struggling about this now. An excellent part of the Bible to read about this is the First Letter of John. Invest a week in reading it every day.
Grace and peace, David