Friday, January 11, 2019

Assurance of Faith: Its Importance, Hindrances and How to Increase it

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor 13) Here and elsewhere the Lord urges us to test ourselves to make sure that our faith is real and sincere. The stakes are too high to make a mistake about this as the consequences are eternal. It breaks my heart to say this, but millions will die thinking they are saved but will wake up to their unspeakable horror in hell.

We must find a middle ground between being too shallowly self-assured on the one hand, and engaging in morbid introspection on the other—what the Puritans called having ‘an ingrown eyeball.’ Periodic self-examination is not only healthy, but it is commanded in scripture. However, I wonder how many professing Christians take the time to reexamine their faith to make sure it is genuine? On the other hand, there are many sincere believers who are tormented with lack of assurance, but it is rarely discussed in much detail these days.

Many sincere believers will die with a lack of salvation and this is sad. Having assurance of salvation is not necessary to be saved as some believe; but assurance is necessary to enjoy ones salvation and be most productive. By the way, John Calvin did not teach that assurance was of the essence of saving faith as some have asserted for centuries. There has been an extended dispute that he differed from the Westminster Confession on this matter but he didn’t. He defines faith, but then spends the rest of the chapter saying that nobody has this kind of faith! In fact, they are dealing with 2 different issues: Calvin was defining saving faith, and chapter 18 of WCF is about assurance of salvation. I only mention this because academics debate this and say: see they cannot even agree on this central issue. I am amazed at how many godly men I admire who misunderstand Calvin at this vital point. Whether assurance is of the essence of saving faith or is simply to be strongly preferred is of immense practical import.

Nor does assurance lead to presumption as others believe because all of our hope and confidence is based in Christ and the gospel as we shall see. How can those clinging to Christ be either proud or lax in their obedience? It is unthinkable.

What is the assurance of faith? It is the belief that I believe; faith that I have faith. It is a robust, deep and joyful conviction that I truly am united to Christ by faith. It has rightly been said that a deep sense of assurance leads to a sense of heaven on earth, amidst our frailties and attacks. It is the joy unspeakable of which the NT speaks. Do you enjoy this assurance or is it intermittent or even lacking then I pray you attain this precious pearl.

Some folks know all the cognitive facts of the gospel, and have truly rested in Him, but cant seem to get assurance that they have faith in their hearts. And this torments them.

Just as we should avoid the marriage guru who says that “if you only follow the 5-steps that my wife and I follow then you can have a wonderful marriage”, so too, we need to not be an ‘assurance guru’ because there is no cookie-cutter approach that equally works for everyone. We are individuals.

The gospel comes to every person the same way but it finds different hurdles or obstacles in every person. I think that we underestimate how deep people are psychologically and how that factors in their quest for assurance of salvation. Some have been so psychologically abused that they hardly have the emotional framework to fathom that God really loves them and that they really love Him. These issues have to be factored in and sometimes need counseling to process the pain. Otherwise, there will remain some blockage which will prevent the full flow of salvations joy. Some of you have experienced horrendous pain and that needs to be addressed as well.

It is an individual quest. John Doe’s assurance is fine for him but it won’t help me—I need assurance for me. And the same is true for YOU.

Have you ever heard of ‘referred pain’ in medicine? It is where one feels pain in one area of the body but the source of the pain is elsewhere. The complicated network of muscles and nerves cause the pain to ‘show up’ far from its true origin. Similarly, I have found that problems with assurance rarely have to do assurance itself but with something else. That is, the problem with assurance is ‘referred pain’—symptoms of an ailment whose origin lies elsewhere, and a good physician of the soul will enable them to isolate the true source. In the meantime, the problems with assurance are very real and terribly painful.

Let us briefly look at a few hindrances to assurance of salvation and how to deepen it; they are connected.

1. Let me first mention those who have false assurance and how that can be unmasked. Many think that if they made a ‘decision’ early in life but then live and believe any way they want for 50 years, will not inherit salvation, as only those who pursue after holiness and persevere to the end will be saved. Likewise, a lack of the Fruit of the Spirit is an indicator that one’s profession is empty. We are not talking about perfection but there must be some reality of the Spirit moving and changing a persons life for them to be truly saved. As Luther said: we are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. Only a lively trust in Christ is saving faith. Easy believism leads to easy assurancism, which is deadly.

2. The first hindrance to a robust salvation is setting the bar too high. Some think that unless they have some extraordinary revelation from God, some constantly intense feeling—then they cannot be saved. Surely a saved person will ‘feel like it.’ I am not downplaying the significance of feelings but our feelings can ebb and flow with our blood sugar or amount of sleep we get. One area that is often overlooked is ‘orthopathos’—right feelings that should flow from our reading of God’s Word and our love for Him. But the foundation for our salvation are God’s promises and not our feelings. True salvation will include: orthodoxy (right belief), orthopraxis (right behavior) and orthopathos (right feelings). To acquire and grow in assurance then we need to tend to all three.

If your feelings are lacking ask yourself this question: how consistent am I in reading God’s Word and prayer? There is no time when I feel more assured of my salvation than when I am immersed in God’s Word. The key to deep assurance is not extraordinary experiences but normal means of grace which would include the Lord’s Supper. But we need to take them seriously on a daily basis; bible study and prayer. These do not increase our salvation but they do increase the assurance of our salvation.

3. Perhaps the most common source of lack of assurance is fuzziness regarding justification. Justification is what theologians call an eschatological reality brought into the present. That is, the moment a person professes faith in Christ, the verdict of the Last Judgment is declared upon them—immediately and irreversibly. No amount of sanctification of 50 years of righteous living can add one iota or diminish one iota the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to me. When justified, two things occurred (a double exchange); my sins were imputed to Christ and His perfect righteousness is imputed to me.(2 Cor.5:21) Why didn’t Jesus just descend on Good Friday and die for our sins? Why the Incarnation and all the moment by moment perfect obedience to the Father and to the Law for 33 years?

Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the Law for a reason. Most Christians think that salvation includes only the forgiveness of sins, but that is only half the blessing—half the gospel! Being forgiven would place us back in the garden but it would not give us a positive righteousness. Jesus was born and lived 33 years of perfect obedience to the Law so that He would then transfer that robe of righteousness to us the moment we believe. It cannot be augmented or diminished, nor can it be lost. We must not think that our sanctification will add anything to Christs righteousness because if we confuse our sanctification with our justification, then we will commit the same error as Rome. Justification will then become a process of growth or diminishment—that is terrible news. Justification is not a process but a declaration; the sentence of the last Day rendered in the present, which is so good that it is beyond words to describe how lovely that is! Looking at Christ as our righteousness is the only proper basis for assurance. We can sing for joy that we have assurance because of all Christ has done for us!

As Luther said, we are simul Justus et peccator—'at the same time righteous and sinful’. In ourselves we will have the remains of indwelling sin until we die and are glorified. But ‘in Christ’ the Father sees the perfection of His Son. He sees us as holy and righteous as Jesus is! For a Roman Catholic this is almost blasphemous but it is only the perfect righteousness of Christ that will stand up under the scrutiny of the thrice holy God on Judgment Day.

If you focus on yourself and forget about the imputation of Christs perfect righteousness then you are setting yourself (and sinfulness)up for problems with assurance of salvation. Satan will come along and accuse you that a true Christian would not still have so much sin remaining in them. Our assurance is based primarily on the gospel; the gospel of the dual imputation, which has largely been lost today by most pastors and preachers. In ourselves we are still sinful but we cling white-knuckled to the cross of Christ and His finished work…and HIS righteousness. Without that knowledge of double imputation the devil can make mince meat of your conscience; with it, we can be the more than conquerors that we are!

4.  If the beatitudes or the Fruit of the Spirit are being formed in you (not perfectly but some reality) then one can be assured that they have true faith. Or in 1 John, the apostle asks this very question: what are the marks of one who is truly saved, and he mentions several?  But my point here is simple: if you can see God slowly but surely changing your character then that should encourage you.

5. Then lastly, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit Himself bears witness with our inner self (Rom8) that we are God’s children. Some of you have forgotten what you felt like when you are unsaved, but on your lowest day of assurance as a believer, you have more assurance then a non-believer does on their best days. How can I say that? Because He changes our hearts—there is radical heart transplant in which He puts desires which were never there before. Notice how naturally we cry out “Father” when the unbeliever usually says ‘God.’

Service to God is influenced by assurance.

If a child is not assured that his parents love him then the motive for his obedience will be effected. ‘I must obey and then possibly they will love me… if I do this, do that, get an A on my report card, excel in sports, etc. Those who lack assurance will live in constant insecurity due to not knowing if they are well, secure. They may work very hard but it won't be with a smile..not with song in their heart. If a person is not assured that they are truly a child of God or may lose their salvation, then it cannot but help but have an psychological affect over a long period of time.

I wonder how many people on Facebook and elsewhere who have effective ministries are truly assured of their faith? One who is not assured will put too much of their self-worth and significance in their ministries. Since they are deep down insecure, then it may also rob them of energy for service. Many people are so inwardly bent and tormented about the status of their own soul that they hardly have any energy left to care for others around them. All their energy is consumed with self-worry about the state of their own souls, and sadly they may not even be aware of the fact that they are so self-absorbed—it has become so much a part of their psyches. Like a nervous hypochondriac they will waste all their time on self analysis, with little energy for God’s work.

But with a heart at rest in Christ, then one can be: 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15)

The bottom line, is that for a robust life of productivity for the Lord we need to have this heaven in our hearts of knowing that we know; believing that we believe; having faith that we have faith. The assurance of our salvation and that we have this saving faith! The Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) wrote perhaps the best book on assurance entitled: Heaven on Earth.

May the Lord give us this heaven on earth increasingly, for His glory and our comfort and joy.

Part two:

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook forma

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