Chapter 18: Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation
In many ways this chapter is dependent upon the previous chapter about the Perseverance of the Saints and we concluded in the previous chapter that the doctrine is indeed biblical. If eternal security is biblical for those who are regenerate and have true faith, may we conclude that God is willing that they have assurance of salvation and have confidence that they will be with God forever? The answer of this chapter is “yes.” The most texts for the doctrine of perseverance at the same time are texts about the assurance that we are called to have in Scripture, therefore, I will reference the exegesis of the relevant texts, if necessary, in the previous chapter.
§1 Although temporary believers, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves
- Although temporary believers, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God and state of salvation, which hope of theirs shall perish; 1 yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. 2
- Job 8:13, 14; Jer. 17:9; Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 18:10-14; John 8:41; Eph. 5:6-7; Gal. 6:3, 7-9
- Rom. 5:2, 5; 8:16; 1 John 2:3; 3:14, 18-19, 24; 5:13; 2 Peter 1:10
The Confession starts first with a word of warning, namely, a warning about false believers. These false believers are said to be “temporary believers” and are “unregenerate men.” They do have assurance, but a vain and false assurance. The temporary believers are the seeds that fell on the rock in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:13). They fell away from their profession because they had no true faith in them which is by nature lasting (1John 2:19). Their faith was merely feel good and not borne out sincere love for God and hatred for sin (repentance). Nowhere does Holy Scripture call such a faith true faith, because it is not. True faith perseveres and justifies forever. We may compare these temporary believers to the people who used to go to church, heard the preaching of the Gospel in a manner which sounded good to them, they were called to come forward and repeat a prayer after the preacher. They did not know much about the faith, they had not been presented a clear and biblical Gospel and after repeating a prayer they were told that they were saved. Such people are told to “accept” Jesus into their hearts and pray (or better, repeat after the preacher) the Sinner's Prayer to be saved. They have no root, they have not been confronted with their sin, righteousness, and judgment. For all that we know they may have heard a false and vile prosperity message and told that God will make them happy, healthy and successful. These people profess to be believers for a while. They may even have assurance in them that they will go to heaven, but their assurance consists in, as the Confession says, "false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God and state of salvation”. They look back to a card they signed, to a date and time, to the fact they repeated the Sinner's Prayer and etc., which true conversion and assurance does not consist in. They have been deceived and they deceive themselves with this false assurance. But, as the parable says, after testing, when these promises which were made to them about what God will do, do not come to pass, they reject their previous profession of the Christian faith. When trials come, they fall away and go back to the world. It does not mean that they truly believed because they had no root. But it does mean that they made some kind of profession at a particular time. Their assurance and hope are false because it is carnal and not based on the true Gospel and Christ's work. See here for more on temporary believers.
Assurance In The State of Grace
In contrast to the temporary believers, it is said of the elect that they may have “certainly assured that they are in the state of grace”, but what is this certainty based on? This certainty is first of all based on their faith and love for the Lord. The Apostle John writes “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1John 5:13). Those who now believe in the Lord Jesus may now know that they now have eternal life (see here about the present possession of eternal life and perseverance). This assurance comes to us by faith. It is not wishful thinking, but rather we reflect on the object of our faith and what He has done for our sake. The faith of the elect is said to be true and therefore everlasting, unlike the temporary believers’. The elect do not merely believe in the Lord Jesus, but they “love him in sincerity”. He is their hope and delight. They hate sin and desire to walk in a manner worthy of His name and calling. They know they do not yet love Him as He deserves to be loved and they war against sin, but one thing they also know is that they are loved more than they can ever imagine by their Redeemer and friend. True love moves to action. The Lord told His disciples that true love shows itself in obedience saying, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). You cannot rightly love God and not desire to keep His commandments. Desiring to keep His commandments is part of the very nature of the New Covenant wherein the law of God is written on our hearts and we are moved by His Spirit to obedience (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:25-27; Heb. 13:20-21). Our obedience is an evidence that we truly know Him and thus have eternal life. The same Apostle writes:
1John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
Notice what is not said. It is not said that we come to know Him by keeping His commandments and thereby turning salvation into works. But rather the text says that the manner we truly come to know, that we have salvation (see John 17:3), is if we keep His commandments. The desire and willingness to obey God from the heart and with joy, not merely because of duty, is a sure evidence that the person is a child of God, for no child of the devil, however deep their hypocrisy, does the will of God with all joy and diligence, for they are not able (Rom. 8:7-8).
To find assurance we look at our faith to see if God is working in us His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). True obedience comes as a result of God's grace working in us, and not human effort. When we see the fruit of our faith, we are thankful that God is pleased to thereby grant us assurance of faith and security in Him. We seek all the more to be obedient in all areas of life. We look at our faith knowing that we're sinners saved by amazing grace and never losing the cross of Christ from sight, which is the sole basis of our salvation and assurance.
The Apostle Paul writes:
Rom. 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.
1. The Apostle first of all concludes from the previous discussion that justification by faith brings peace between man and God. Before this justification we were enemies, but now we are friends. This peace has come to us solely through Christ and no other Mediator. It is through His death that we were saved and it is through Him that we go to the Father with Whom, through Jesus, we have peace. To have peace means to be at rest and not afraid. The peace we have is the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, [which] will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). This peace, which we have by justification through faith alone, is able to guard us completely and this peace is found in Christ alone. We have this peace from the moment of justification and we may know that we have this peace and live knowing that we have this peace with God through our Savior.
2. Through Jesus and His sacrifice we have by faith access “into this grace in which we stand”. This speaks of the “state of grace”, as the Confession says, into which, we as believers find ourselves in. We have been saved by grace and translated from a state of wrath and condemnation to a state of grace and peace. This state of grace we are standing in is because of Christ and through faith, not because of our works and performance.
3. Lastly, based on all these things we “hope of the glory of God.” Here the Apostle is speaking about the future and looking forward to the day that He will meet and see the glory of God. This hope is not wishful thinking, but rather this “hope does not put us to shame because G...