Genuine Christian Assurance

by Mike Ratliff

1 Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received the same kind of faith as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the full knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 2 Peter 1:1-2 (LSB)

God is good to those who belong to him. Within that he imparts knowledge of himself to us and that includes knowledge of our own fallenness. He uses this knowledge to make sure that those of us in Christ fully understand that we are in him despite our sinfulness and unworthiness to be so. When we walk in light of this knowledge we also, in the power of the Holy Spirit, walk in repentance according to God’s marvelous grace. We also come to know how awesome it is that we have received the same kind of faith as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ even though all we really  deserve is God’s wrath. As we examine ourselves, as we are commanded to do in sacred Scripture, then, if we are honest, we must admit that instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves we are selfish, self-centered, prideful, self-loving people who are total failures at this. Honestly, I have never kept this commandment by trying to do so. The only time I have ever done so is as I have humbled myself before my Lord as He worked through me as I served in ministry and I found myself loving and serving people in ways that I cannot do no matter how hard I try. On the other hand, as I walk (and drive) through each day with me in control with my focus on me and what I want, that is most certainly not the case. 

If my assurance was based on that performance then I would be in a sorry mess. Oh, and I most certainly do find myself before the throne of grace pouring out my heart quite a bit agreeing with God about my sinfulness and His righteousness and my lack thereof. It is through this humbling process that I am in the process of denying myself, denying what my flesh wants, mortifying it so-to-speak, as I give praise and glory to God as I trust that He is in control of all things and then I simply pursue righteousness from a grateful heart and turn from evil as I am led by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is how I take up my cross daily and follow my Lord. This “knowledge” that this is necessary does not come from the flesh or from man, but from God. It certainly didn’t come from me.

Look at the passage I placed at the top of this post. The word “knowledge” translates ἐπιγνώσει the dative, singular form of ἐπίγνωσις (epignōsis), which means “knowledge, understanding.” However, this is a strengthened form of “knowledge” implying a larger, more thorough, and intimate knowledge. Despite what is popularly taught by some so-called “Christian leaders” in our time, the Christian’s precious faith is built on knowing the truth about God. Christianity is not a mystical religion, but is based on objective, historical, revealed, rational truth from God and intended to be understood and believed. The deeper and wider that knowledge of the Lord, the more “grace and peace” are multiplied. Therefore, even though this whole day was a test of my faith, I was able to turn in faith to my Lord in repentance and agreement with Him about my sinfulness completely at peace in the knowledge that all my sins were paid for at the Cross and that these sinful, fleshly struggles of pride and selfishness in me are part of God’s cleansing fires of sanctification to make me ready for eternity.

To get to that place where we can part ways from trying to justify our sinfulness and, instead, agree with God about it in light of His Holiness and Righteousness, and our need of His grace in order to do anything good (John 15) we must come to know our salvation. We must know what we believe and why be believe it. We must know what Christ has done for us on our behalf and what our responsibilities are in light of that. A good place to start is 2 Peter 1:3-11.

3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the full knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4 (LSB) 

This is, of course, a continuation of vv1-2. Do genuine Christians have to try to live the Christian life by will power or by their own strength? No! Christ has given by His divine power everything that pertains to life and godliness through what? Here is that word epignōsis again. Knowledge is a key word throughout 2 Peter. This knowledge is an intimate knowledge that only genuine believers have granted to them by God Himself. This knowledge is not merely superficial, or a mere surface awareness of the facts about Christ, but a genuine, personal sharing of life with Christ, based on repentance from sin and personal faith in Him (Matthew 7:21). What is this “godliness” stuff? This is to live reverently, loyally, and obediently toward God. Genuine Christians already have all they need to to sustain spiritual growth to become godly because they already have every spiritual resource to manifest, sustain, and perfect godly living. The genuine Christian is eternally secure in his or her salvation and will persevere and grow because he or she has receive everything necessary to sustain eternal life through Christ’s power.

Now, as I read this passage today and reflected not only about my daily struggles in this lost and dying world and circumstances that I often view as unfair, I realized that God was using these conflicts to reveal to me that despite that fact that all of what I just wrote above is true, I am still a sinner saved by grace. I still am a man who is not as mature in Christ as I need to be. I still struggle with the flesh just as all of you do. A lot of my anger is exacerbated by the anti-seizure medications I take, but that is no excuse. I am still placing myself first and those three things that all people struggle with, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life seem to have power of their own at times, especially the last one. However, as I have worked through this as I have prayed and studied God’s Word about this, it has become clear that what God is doing is giving me countless opportunities to turn from these things, to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ in each of them. If I will prayerfully do this as I abide in Christ, then I can do it. If I attempt to do it by my own strength, I may be able to do it for awhile, but I will fail eventually. It is in the failures that my assurance is under attack, but it is in the repentance that it is strengthened. It is in the victories that it is bolstered. It as I can endure the temptations without folding as I walk by abiding in Christ that my assurance is indescribable because I know that I am being sustained by God’s power, not by anything I am doing.

5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these things are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the full knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For in whom these things are not present, that one is blind, being nearsighted, having forgotten the purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and choosing sure; for in doing these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. 2 Peter 1:5-11 (LSB) 

Because of all that God has done for us, we cannot be indifferent or self-satisfied. Think of the Christians who give themselves the credit for being a Christian and for their Spiritual Growth then compare that with what we just read. No, it is God who saves us and grows us. The making of every effort is describing our duty to giving maximum effort for the glory and honor of God. God has done all this for us, but we have a responsibility to do our part and I think this is why so many Christians lack assurance. They fail here. This is what we are commanded to do. The word “supplement” translates the Greek word επιχορηγησατε the aorist, imperative, active form of ἐπιχορηγέω (epichorēgeō), which was used to describe giving lavishly and generously. In Greek culture, the word was used for a choirmaster who was responsible for supplying everything that was needed for his choir. The word never meant to equip sparingly, but to supply lavishly for a noble performance. God has given us saving faith and all the graces necessary for godliness. Our part is to add to those by our diligent devotion to personal righteousness.

The first thing we are to add lavishly to our faith is virtue. This is a virtue that is demonstrated in life backed by moral energy. This virtue has the power that performs deeds of excellence. The next thing we add is knowledge. This is understanding, correct insight, and truth properly comprehended and applied. This virtue involves a diligent study and pursuit of truth in the Word of God. This sort of eliminates those “fellas” who call themselves Christians, but who never use the Bible for anything except a collection of “proof texts” if that. The next thing we add is self-control. This is a literal “holding oneself in.” A Christian is to control the flesh, the passions, and the bodily desires, rather than allowing himself or herself to be controlled by them. Virtue, guided by knowledge, disciplines desire and makes it the servant, not the master, of one’s life. Next we are to add steadfastness or perseverance to our faith. This is patience or endurance in doing what is right, never giving in to temptation or trial. Perseverance is spiritual staying power that will die before it gives in. It is the virtue that enables me to have complete assurance even though I am in midst of a fiery trial that includes temptations and a lot of face time at the throne of grace confessing my sins and agreeing with God about my sinfulness, et cetera. We have already talked about Godliness, which is the next virtue to be added. The next one after godliness is brotherly affection. This is a mutual affection and willingness to sacrifice for on another. The last addition is love, which is the form of love in which the one who loves does what is best for the one loved not what the one loved necessarily wants. I really like how Peter phrased v8,9, “For if these things are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the full knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For in whom these things are not present, that one is blind, being nearsighted, having forgotten the purification from his former sins.

Think about these two verses in light of assurance. If these attributes are missing from your walk then it will be a blow to your assurance. Your fruitfulness will be suspect won’t it? So you see my brethren, Peter is talking about assurance here not whether we are genuine Christians or not. Genuine believers can fall into the fleshly trap of self-focus. They can become neutralized by this because that is what this does. On the other hand, walking in repentance, though quite painful at times, is the only way for us to continue in this growth pattern and remain fruitful. In this our assurance will grow in depth and breadth. Look at the alternative that Peter gives here. Who wants that? “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” The emphasis here is that if we remain diligent then our assurance will be strong and we will be fruitful in the Kingdom of God, but if we go the other way, we will be fleshly, worldly, and defeated acting as if we are not even Christians. Perhaps that is even so for some. God knows.

Soli Deo Gloria!