by Mike Ratliff
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. (John 7:16-18 ESV)
Until recently, I had no idea that there is a battle brewing over believer’s assurance. When I use that term I am speaking of “Assurance of Salvation.” I am at a point in my life where I have little, if any, doubt about my salvation. I know I am in Christ. I believe God has saved me and is sanctifying me on an ongoing basis. I have had some false doctrine thrown at me lately that has been specifically designed by the enemy to make me doubt. However, my assurance is stronger than ever.
The battle that I spoke of seems to be very one-sided. The Free Grace movement is constantly using assurance as their starting point when attacking the doctrines of grace. They say that those who believe in Sola Gracia and Sola Fide could not possibly have assurance. When I read their arguments, I become very puzzled. The more I study and understand the sovereignty of God the more assurance I have or the deeper my assurance becomes. Sola Gracia says that salvation is by grace alone. Sola Fide says that salvation is through faith alone.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
God saves us by His grace through the faith He gives us. That is very clear. Since God saves us by His grace what could make me doubt my salvation? Look at the passage I placed at the beginning of this chapter. Jesus was speaking to the Jews. He was explaining the origin of His teachings. Where did Jesus’ teachings come from? The Father gave them to Him. What does Jesus reveal to us about what will happen in the heart of those who seek to do God’s will? It says in this passage that the one who seeks to do God’s will will know whether the teaching is from God or whether it is coming from within. How do you suppose we will know that? The Holy Spirit gives us this assurance when we are doing the will of God. Since this is the primary way we have assurance, don’t you think it is also the main reason why many professing believers do not have any? They are not seeking to do God’s will. Instead, they pursue their own will exclusively.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. (John 14:18-21)
What is the key to having Jesus manifest Himself in us and why do we need that? Jesus is comforting His disciples before He goes to the cross. He is telling them that He is going away, but He is not abandoning them. He tells them that this assurance will be so powerful that it will be as if He is right there with them. He tells them that the Father loves all who love Him. To them He will manifest Himself. That sounds like assurance to me. What do we have so far? We know that we must seek to do the will of God and that we must love Jesus. The next passage deals with the truth that all who are in Christ are eternally secure.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
I did not see any conditions in this passage. It is a statement directed at genuine believers. If a person is in Christ, there is not one thing that can separate them from the love of Christ. By the way, this passage is a very clear statement on the fact that God loves those who are His, but does not love those who are not. We know that, because when they are sent to the Lake of Fire in eternity they will be separated from God. However, those who are genuine will NEVER be separated from Him.
I could fill hundreds of pages with passages relating to our assurance, but I am sure you get the point. I went through this exercise to show you that our assurance is not based on feelings that we generate, but on the truths that God gives us from His word, as we believe them by faith. The Holy Spirit will bear witness with our Spirit that we are in Christ.(Romans 8:16) That means as we read of God’s love for His elect from the Bible we are assured as the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit.
How will our assured hearts operate in interactions with other believers, the lost, and the world? We must still do as Jesus says and judge not. In fact, the deeper into grace we grow the more humble we become. When we mature like this, we learn to take every thought capture and not allow our flesh to have its way. When we walk the Walk by Faith this way, we will be Christlike. That means our assurance gives us the ability to become less and less self-focused and more and more God focused. When we do this, we do not judge others by comparing them to us. Instead, we simply love them the way Jesus would and judge ourselves in comparison to Him.
What about our dealings with false teachers and those whom the enemy is using to try to bring us down? Should we attack them in turn or should we simply accept their pollution?
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
This is the call to stand for God’s truth. We must be careful to respond to false teachings entirely from the motive of God’s direction. We should never retaliate or strike back from the motive of self-protection or self-exaltation. The source for that sort of thing is pride. If we do that then we have sunk to their level. We must not cast our pearls before swine. (Matthew 7:6) If we will pray and then respond the way God directs us to, we will do one of three things. We will ignore them, we will retreat from them, or we will speak His truth to them according to His judgment. Our assured hearts will enable us to stand and not fall not matter how hard they attack us.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
The Apostle Paul wrote the exhortation above to Timothy who was an evangelist. However, it speaks to all believers as well. The state of the people in Timothy’s day does not look much different from ours. This could be a description of our post-Modern era. What should be the believer’s response? We must be ready at all times to rebuke those who attempt to twist God’s truth to suit them. How do we do that? We have to know the truth ourselves. That is why we must learn what we believe, why we believe it, and how to state it so the Holy Spirit can plow the hearts of those who will hear. Men who will not compromise with the world must man our pulpits. The unadulterated, pure gospel must be preached instead of the non-offending mish-mash messages many hear now.
Who can stand for the truth when the world demands we capitulate and revert to politically correct messages? If we have no assurance we cannot, but if we do then we will. To have the blessedness of assurance manifest in our hearts, we must abide in Christ, take on His Yoke, run the race God has set before us, and Walk the Walk by Faith. When we do this, we are Spirit-led. The Spirit-led believer’s assurance is bulletproof. The Soul-led believer’s assurance is as unstable as water. The Spirit-led believer is not ashamed of the gospel. (Romans 1:16-17) The Soul-led believer, being self-focused and self-conscious, is ashamed of the gospel so it has little power in his or her life.
What kills our assurance? If we allow our hearts to harden, we lose assurance. What hardens our hearts? Disobeying God does that especially when we refuse to repent. If we sin and then justify ourselves instead of confessing and repenting then we pollute our consciences. This creates callousness in our hearts that dims our Soul’s ability to have God’s value system apparent to it. Pride reigns in the heart. Anger and bitterness spring from it along with self-justification. This results in sin becoming easier and easier to tolerate, however, it also causes the heart to become unable to pray, worship, and serve God. This mess is reality for the Soul-led believer. Instead of assurance, the Soul-led tend towards self-righteousness. As we have seen, the curse of self-righteousness is spiritual blindness.
What increases our assurance? A clear conscience is huge. When we have a clear conscience due to a grace-filled life resulting in obedience, we are Spirit-led. We are walking in God’s presence. We are full of assurance and our hearts are humble. What kills pride in our hearts? Humility does that. This believer has assurance manifest in their hearts instead of self-righteousness.
The believers blessed with assurance instead of self-righteousness will be Christlike. The believers cursed with self-righteousness will be spiritually blind. They may misinterpret their self-righteousness as assurance, but they will not be fruitful in the Kingdom to the level the humble, Spirit-led believer will be. Why?
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)
Who is fruitful? Only those who abide in Christ are fruitful. Who abides in Christ? What does the believer have to do to do this? This is submission to His Lordship. As the believer becomes Spirit-led, he or she will be continually submitting more and more of their hearts to Christ’s Lordship. This is abiding. As the believer becomes more and more Christlike, his or her assurance will increase and deepen as well. Jesus said in the passage above that we must abide in Him in order to do good works. If we do not we can do nothing. If we are unable to do good works and be fruitful in the Kingdome then we will have little, if any, real assurance. However, if we do abide in Christ, He will enable us to do the good works God commands that we do. As a result, our assurance is enhanced.
What is the blessedness of assurance? Assurance contributes into the life of the believer the ability to be bold for the Kingdom. Bold, Spirit-led believers will have no problem with assurance. As a result their helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17) is worn and well used. This assurance blesses the believer with the ability to not fall for the attacks from the enemy designed to bring doubt and undeserved self-condemnation into the forefront of the heart. A believer attempting to be bold, but who is not assured will not be able to stand the attack. Doubt will overrun him or her. Self-condemnation for past sins will be brought back to the forefront. Without the blessedness of assurance, a believer is in an unprepared state. He or she is not prepared to stand in the battle. On the other hand, believers blessed with deep assurance due to their Spirit-led walk will be armored up and ready to stand. He or she will not fall.
What has assurance to do with judging not? The genuinely assured believer, as opposed to those who are actually self-righteous, will not judge others by comparing self to them. Instead, he or she will compare himself or herself to Christ. This results in humility and, as they dig deeper into the promises of God, even more assured. Their attitude towards others will be Christlike rather than judgmental. Any “judging” he or she does will be to speak the truth in God’s righteous judgments according to His will.
Dear heavenly Father—we humbly come before you now in our unworthiness. We desperately need to grow in grace and become the Spirit-led believers who are fruitful in the Kingdom. Please direct our hearts to the confess and repent of the sins which so easily ensnare us. Please cleanse our hearts, grant us repentance, and direct our paths to become the living sacrifices who abide in Christ and Walk the Walk by Faith. In Jesus Name—Amen!
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.