Derek Thomas: The Westminster Confession of Faith insists that Christians may be “certainly assured that they are in the state of grace” (18:1) and goes on to assert that this “infallible assurance of faith” is “founded upon” three considerations: “the divine truth of the promises of salvation” “the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made” “the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are children of God” (18:2). The possibility of “certain” and “infallible” assurance is set against the backdrop of medieval and post-Reformation Roman Catholic views that paralyzed the church with an “assurance” that was at best “conjectural” (wishful thinking), based as it was on rigorous participation in a sacramental treadmill. Few epitomized the contrast more starkly than Cardinal Bellarmine (1542–1621), the personal theologian to Pope Clement VIII and ablest leader of the Counter-Reformation, who called the Protestant doctrine of assurance “the greatest of all heresies.” What, after all, could
What Is Your Only Comfort?
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger: Of all the Reformation-era catechisms, perhaps none is as well-loved as the Heidelberg Catechism. In the opening question and answer, the personal and distinctive tone of the catechism becomes evident. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” This is not a theoretical question—”What would be necessary if God were to comfort sinners?” Rather, this is a very practical question—”How do I have comfort as long as I live and then when I die?” The key word in the opening question is comfort (German, trost). The word refers to our assurance and confidence in the finished work of Christ. This comfort extends to all of life and even to the hour of death. As one of the authors of the catechism (Zacharius Ursinus) puts it in his commentary on the catechism, this comfort entails “the assurance of the free remission of sin, and of reconciliation with God by and on account of Christ, and a
Justification and Assurance According to John Calvin
Tom Schreiner: Justification by Faith Alone Calvin, like Luther, stresses that justification is by faith alone. A right relationship to God can’t be gained by works since all people sin, thus the only pathway to salvation is faith. Calvin is careful to say, however, that faith shouldn’t be construed as a work, as if faith itself justifies us, for if such were the case, then faith would be a good work that makes us right with God. Instead, faith is the instrument or vessel that joins us to Christ, and ultimately believers are justified by Christ as the crucified and risen one. Faith itself, strictly speaking, doesn’t justify. Rather, faith justifies as an instrument, receiving Christ for righteousness and life. Indeed, faith is not something that originates with human beings. Yes, human beings believe the gospel and are saved, and so in that sense faith is exercised by human beings. At the same time, however, faith ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit
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The Relationship between Warnings and Assurance
Andrew Wilson: Paul is a puzzle. He often warned his converts that if they didn’t persevere, or behaved in certain ways, they’d miss out on final salvation. He also assured his converts that, because of the faithfulness of God and his gift of the Spirit, they’d be preserved to the end without falling. As I say: a puzzle. Some people like the assurances (because they’re comforting), but don’t like the warnings (because they frighten believers). Some people like the warnings (because they take sin seriously), but don’t like the assurances (because they make people complacent). Some people don’t like either of them, because taken together they make it sound like John Calvin was right, and we can’t have that. Some people think Paul got himself in a hopeless tangle on the subject, and we should politely ignore him. WARNINGS AND ASSURANCE COMBINED Then there are those—we happy few—who try to have our cake and eat it too. The warnings are real:
What Is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?
What Is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies,” according to Roman Catholic doctrine? Sinclair Ferguson: Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement. How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords? Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace
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Complete Assurance for Incomplete People
John Piper: By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14) Two things here are mightily encouraging for us in our imperfect condition as saved sinners. First, notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” He has done it. And he has done it for all time. The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever. Does this mean that Christians don’t sin? Don’t get sick? Don’t make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes? There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It’s the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” The ongoing continuous action of the Greek present
An Interview with Sam Storms on What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security
00:00 – How did you come up with your new book’s title, Kept for Jesus? 00:32 – How do terms like “eternal security,” “perseverance,” and “assurance” relate to one another? 02:53 – What do different theological positions teach about eternal security? 05:13 – How would you respond to the claim that the Arminian perspective seems most consistent with our experience of seeing people fall away from the faith? 09:04 – Is assurance of salvation normative for the Christian life? 12:15 – Who do you envision using this book? Learn more, download an excerpt, or download a free bonus chapter, “A Primer on Perseverance.” “I have wrestled with the issue of assurance of salvation not just as a pastor counseling timid souls but as a sinner trusting in God. What a great help isKept for Jesus, then! Handling the relevant biblical texts with clarity and precision, Sam Storms has crafted real ministry with this book, working by the Spirit to
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Belief: why present posture matters more than a past memory
J.D.Greear: Here is how many Christians think of “getting saved:” You realize you’re a sinner and you need Jesus to save you. So you approach Him and ask. Of course He says, “Yes,” writes your name in the Lamb’s book of life, and gives you a “certificate” of salvation. If you begin to doubt whether or not you are really “saved,” you go back and replay the moment of your conversion. Wrong image, I believe. Here’s the problem with it: What if you begin to ask, as I did, “Did I really feel sorry enough for my sin? Did my life change enough after I asked Him into my heart? Did I understand enough about Jesus, or my sin, or grace, when I prayed?” Uh-oh. Better ask again. Back you to go to Jesus, asking Him again to save you, and you feel better for a while. You can do this as much as you want until you meet Jesus in heaven, at
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What is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?
Sinclair Ferguson: Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement. How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords? Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be
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Don’t Feel Your Way into Your Belief; Believe Your Way into Your Feelings
J.D. Greear: If you were honest, you’d probably admit there are moments when you do not feel “Christian” at all. Moments in which you care more about what’s coming on TV that night than you do the spread of the kingdom of God in the world. Moments in which you have fallen to that same old temptation for the thousandth time. Moments when God feels distant, almost like a stranger. Seasons in which your emotions for Him are lukewarm, if not downright cold. When you don’t jump out of bed in the morning hungry for His Word. When your mind wanders all over the place during prayer—that is, when you can bring yourself to pray. Moments when you’re not even sure you believe all this stuff. Does that sound familiar to you? Times like that are familiar to me. Not all the time, not even most of the time, but certainly more often than I’d care to admit. What do
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2 Ways to Know You Are Saved
J.D. Greear: I get the question from Christians a lot: “How can I know for sure that I’m saved?” So often, in fact, that I wrote a book addressing it: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart (which you can pre-order here). I struggled with the question a lot myself until someone pointed me to passage from 1 John that helped open my eyes. In 1 John 5:13–18, John identifies 2 ways that we can be sure of our salvation. 1. We have placed our hopes for heaven entirely on Jesus. (1 John 5:13) “I write these things to you,” John says, “who believe in the name of the Son of God.” It’s so simple that we’re liable to miss it, but assurance comes from believing in Jesus. This is the gospel: when we trust in his name, we cease striving to earn heaven by drawing upon our own moral bank account; instead, we withdraw on his righteous account in our place. The gospel, by its very nature,
The Basis of Our Assurance
By Michael McKinley: The old saying is that good preaching should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. The gospel message should so both things — challenge proud sinners to repent and assure the repentant sinner of God’s grace. It’s my hope that Am I Really a Christian? will both challenge nominal Christians and help encourage those who are genuinely God’s children. In some previous posts, I’ve argued for taking seriously Paul’s command to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. But it’s also important to think about how we can have confidence that we are genuine believers. In fact, the Bible encourages us to pursue assurance. The apostle John even wrote his first letter “to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13). But how can weak, sinful, wavering people like us be confident that we genuinely belong to Christ? Well, for starters, the only foundation
Confidence or Condemnation?
I love this from Kevin DeYoung. Much of my teaching in Rwanda recently centred on these same thoughts. Whenever counselling Christians looking for assurance of salvation, I take them to 1 John. This brief epistle is full of help for determining whether we are in the faith or not. In particular, there are three signs in 1 John given to us so we can answer the question “Do I have confidence or condemnation?” The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13). John doesn’t want people to be doubting. God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life. And this is the first sign, that you believe in Jesus. You believe he is the Christ or the Messiah (2:22). You believe he is the Son of God (5:10). And you believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2). So if you get your theology wrong
Why the Doctrine of Election is Precious to Me
This is very helpful from Juan Sanchez, at the Gospel Coalition Blog: For some the doctrine of election (God’s free and sovereign decision to choose a people for salvation from the foundation of the world-Ephesians 1:3-6) is an abominable thought that produces great fear and concern. However, I propose that a clear understanding of this doctrine should instead produce hope and assurance. Allow me to share some of the reasons why the doctrine of election is so precious to me. The doctrine of election is precious to me because it is biblical. In a display of the Father’s love for the Son, He gives a specific people to the Son (John 6:37). This truth is evident in the testimony of the book of Revelation when it declares that the only ones entering the eternal heaven are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27). John further testifies in Revelation 13:8, that these names were written in this book
Only and always for Christ’s sake
“There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. . . . This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ doesn’t cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His ‘blood and righteousness’ alone that we can rest.” – B. B. Warfield, quoted by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson in Counsel from the Cross(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2009), 19. (HT: Of First Importance)
Your Father Knows What You Need
Time for one last post before I leave. I love this from John Piper. I needed this today! Jesus wants his followers to be free from worry. In Matthew 6:25-34 he gives at least seven arguments designed to take away our anxiety. One of them lists food and drink and clothing, and then says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:32). Do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (vv. 31-32). Jesus must mean that God’s knowing is accompanied by his desiring to meet our need. He is emphasizing we have a Father. And this Father is better than an earthly father. I have five children. I love to meet their needs. But my knowing falls short of God’s in at least three ways. Right now I
Power Only in the Cross
“One moment’s believing, close contact with the cross will do more to break the heart for sin, deepen the conviction of its exceeding sinfulness, and disenthrall the soul from all its bondage and its fears, bringing it into a sense of pardon and acceptance and assured hope, than a lifetime of the most rigid legal duties that ever riveted their iron chain upon the soul.” —Octavius Winslow, The Foot of the Cross (HT: Of First Importance)