The Battle for Assurance
October 11, 2018 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Throughout my ministry as a pastor, one of the most recurring and greatest struggles among followers of Christ is that of assurance. Whether it is a teenager thinking through doubts, or a grown man who has been caught in a grievous sin, or someone who has been caught up in the great American scheme of doing everything himself, assurance of salvation often is elusive. Can I really be confident that God will save me? Forgive me of all my sins? Without my help?
This struggle for assurance is only further complicated by warning passages in the New Testament, such as Hebrews 10:26-27:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
We know that the writer of Hebrews is addressing a group of believers in a church. He includes himself in this warning. We cannot write it off as a warning for the non-Christians “out there” who ignore the gospel call. The warning is for believers. For you and me.
So, how do we grow assurance of salvation when we face off with a warning that there could no longer remain “a sacrifice for sins”? Two brief answers:
First, assurance of salvation grows as one rests more and more dependent on God alone for his salvation. As long as we believe we contribute to or affect our salvation by what we do, our assurance will waver. When asking whether a true Christian could sin so heinously that they fall away from salvation, the Westminster Larger Catechism answers (Q. 79):
True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
I know it’s a long and complicated sentence, but read it again, carefully. Notice the list of reasons that a true believer can not finally fall away. Five items…. All God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We are assured of salvation because it is his work, not ours. We rest in him.
Well, if true believers cannot fall away, why are there warnings like Hebrews 10:26-27 in the Bible? My second brief answer:
Second, God uses warnings of punishment for unrepentant sin in order to preserve his chosen in faith. God knows our hearts and that our assurance can be “weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions” (WLC Q. 81). Such warnings awaken sleepy, dull hearts to tremble at the seriousness of sin and run to Christ for deliverance. True believers will not “go on sinning deliberately,” but the warning of a “fury of fire” jars a true believer towards repentance and faith.
Assurance of salvation never leads to complacency over sin. In exalting the sufficiency of Christ and warning of the dire consequences of unrepentant sin, the writer of Hebrews both assures his readers and kills complacency.