Introduction

Assurance of salvation is a Christian view which espouses that the certainty of ultimate salvation is possible in this life because salvation itself is God’s free gift to sinful human beings (Rom 3:23, 24; John 3:16). Just as any recipient of any gift would know with certainty that they have received the gift or rejected it, so would the recipients of God’s gift of salvation be fully aware of it in their lives. Jesus Christ is that gift offered to all humanity and by accepting him, people receive forgiveness of sin and obtain eternal life (John 3:36; 1 John 5:11–13). Assurance is, therefore, based on faith, which is taking God at his word. Many professing Christians hold to the view that no one can certainly and infallibly know that he has obtained the grace of God in this life. In contrast to this negative view, this article seeks to show that Scripture teaches otherwise. The simple question upon which assurance hangs is “Do you believe (have faith) in God?” Unwavering confidence in what God has done and what he requires to redeem us from sin is what brings assurance (Milne 1998:239).

  1. What God has done
    1. He has given his Son (Objective)

God sent his Son in the world. The reason was that by believing in him the world might be saved (John 3:16). The Greek term for salvation is soteria and it denotes the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is to be obtained (Acts 4:12), and upon confession of him as Lord (Rom 10:10) through the instrumentality of the gospel (Rom 1:16; Eph 1:13) (Vines 1996:545). The offer is free (Acts 13:38, 39) and is given to as many as would be willing to receive it (John 1:12). “Salvation,” said C. H. Spurgeon “is everything for nothing! Christ free! Pardon free! Heaven free!” (Biblesoft 1996). He was right, for “…if it is by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom 11:6).

Salvation rescues humanity from enemies such as:

  1. Eternal death: God has declared all people, without exception, unrighteous. The penalty for sin is death and that is the fate that hangs around every person (Romans 3:10-12, 23). Amazingly, the same offended God has, out of the abundance of his mercy, devised a way of escape for humanity from this dreadful fate. He caused his Son to die on the cross so humanity could have a present experience of God’s power of deliverance from the bondage of their sin (Phil 2:12), and thereby escape eternal condemnation. The resurrection is proof that this has been achieved. Satan, sin, and death have all been defeated (1 Corinthians 15:55–57). God now commands people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. Anyone who believes is rescued from their failure to keep the law and everlasting death.

The matter of the law is what we now turn to. 

  1. Condemnation of the law: The fact is that fallen human nature is incapable of perfectly keeping the perfect law of God. All effort to try and earn God’s favour falls into this category since man is so tainted with sin that his very best works are reckoned by God as filth (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:20). However, God, by his gracious act, has provided a way to save poor lost human souls through Jesus Christ, whose perfect righteousness has satisfied offended justice, and procured pardon and everlasting favour to all those who accept his offer. By putting faith in Jesus Christ, all the conditions of the covenant of life are satisfied, thereby setting the once-lost person into a new relationship with God forever. Hence, there cannot be any more condemnation to such a person since he is not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6:14).

This leads to another deed of God besides giving his son—the giving of his Spirit.

  1. He has given his Spirit (Subjective)

God has given his Spirit. One of the many reasons God has given his Spirit is to rescue believers from the dominion of Satan. Unregenerate humanity is under the power and dominion of Satan (Ephesians 2:1–3). When a person receives Jesus as Lord and Saviour of his soul, he changes both his kingdom of residence and his master. That is, he moves him from the kingdom of darkness where Satan is master to the marvelous kingdom of light where Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Peter 2:9). Simultaneously with conversion, God deposits his Spirit in the new convert’s heart (Romans 8:9).

God does this to demonstrate at least three truths:

  1. That as believers they are sealed: By giving the Holy Spirit to believers, God is demonstrating that they are his own children. The Holy Spirit is therefore a mark of ownership to believers that shows they are God’s own possession, belonging exclusively to him (2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Ephesians 1:13–14). This further indicates that the Spirit is a mark of safety and security under God’s care and protection from all enemies. It is an assurance to all who are in Christ that they cannot be harmed by anyone without their Father’s prior knowledge or consent. This is what Titus meant when he wrote that God is calling out of the world a believing people for his own special possession (Titus 2:14). 
  1. That as believers they are pledged: The word “pledge” comes from a Greek word “arrabon” and it refers to an earnest or first instalment of the promised redemption, in pledge of complete fulfilment (Weil 2007:257). Today it may be likened to an engagement ring, a pledge that the full relationship of marriage will follow. In this act of the Spirit, God is giving surety of bringing to completion the work of salvation begun at conversion. The Spirit is given to believers so that they can really know that they will have the fullness of their eternal inheritance. He is a pledge of all that is to come (2 Corinthians 1:21–22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13–14).
  • That as believers they are adopted: This is another amazing revelation of God’s grace to his people. God wants believers to know with certainty that he has translated them from the position of enemies and children of wrath to that of his own children. God does not want them to fear him anymore, but just as a human father enjoys fellowship with his child, so does God want his people to relate with him. That is why the Spirit he gives believers is not of bondage to fear but of adoption, by whom they cry out, ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8: 15, 16). Thus, genuine believers are instinctively aware that God is their Father. The Spirit of God himself, directly and in­wardly and in a most intimate and de­lightful manner, assures them that God is their Father. It is for these genuine believers that the eternal inheritance laid in heaven awaits (1 Peter 1:4).

However, God has not only offered his Son and his Spirit — he has also given a new heart to believers.

  1. He has given a new heart (Subjective)

Another important deed of God is regeneration. That is to say the Spirit brings upon a heart a radical change. It is precisely because of this supernatural spiritual transformation which is observed at conversion that salvation is rightly referred to as a re-birth (John 3:3) or a re-creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). In due course, the changed heart begins to show itself in that person’s beliefs, behaviour and appetites. The regenerated person has been saved from a variety of things such as negligence of duty, sin and indeed all evil. As such, the natural lifestyle of a person so transformed would be holiness, love, and good works. These are obvious fruits of a new heart (1 John 3:6–7; Ephesians 2:10; Col 1:10).

Having looked at what God has done as one basis of assurance, the other would be to consider what he requires, for on these two aspects rests the assurance of salvation.

  1. What God requires
    1. To believe in him (Objective)

God requires faith from anyone who wants salvation from him. He wants to be believed for what he himself claims to be, to say and to do (Hebrews 11:6). Understanding the attributes of God will go a long way in bringing about a sense of trust in God, whose unchanging character and loving nature endures forever. Thus, to know him, for instance, as Creator brings a sense of awe that not only leads to obedience but also to the worship of him. God wants to establish a relationship with humanity through his Son, Jesus Christ. His invitations have been to a reconciliation, and to the offering of free spiritual gifts to any who would come (Isaiah 1:18; 55:1–3). When a just and holy God extends an olive branch to undeserving mankind to “come”, just as he has done, it would be unwise to think that he does not mean it.

  1. To believe in his Son (Objective)

The relationship that God the Father wants to establish with humanity is both with him and with his Son because the two are one (John 5:21–23; 10:30). Belief in Jesus therefore involves:

  1. Believing the gospel: God has chosen the gospel to be the means by which he draws people to himself (Romans 10:17). To believe the gospel is to agree with God on the seriousness of sin and the appropriateness of his method of salvation (Acts 13:3839). Believing the gospel means someone has grasped and accepted God’s redemptive plan. In turn, this leads to the confession of one’s sins.
  2. Repenting of sins: After hearing, the gospel God requires that the person renounces his sinful life (Romans 10:9–10). A repentant heart demonstrates willingness to receive the love of God by denouncing self-righteousness and totally casting itself only on the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Packer 1981:132). The person should then call on Jesus not only to cleanse him of sin but also to become Lord over his life (Acts 2:21).
  3. Receiving Christ: Since salvation is a gift of God to humanity, the person seeking salvation must believe that after he has met the laid down conditions, forgiveness of sin and eternal life will be granted. Therefore, as the person exercises faith, he will be confident that God has deposited what he has promised in his soul after opening it up to him (John 1:12). Hence, the person must rise up from this transaction with God in full assurance that he is saved.

Conclusion

The common notion among the different religions and some Christian groupings all over the world is that assurance of salvation in this world is unattainable. But this position is in direct contradiction to Scripture which teaches that assurance is attainable in this life (Rom. 8:162 Pet. 1:101 John 2:33:145:13). It further exhorts believers to strive to grasp this truth which is meant to fill their hearts with love and abounding gratitude to God for his undeserving favour bestowed on them (2 Tim. 1:124:78). The only condition to assurance is that you believe what God has done and said. The implication is that, while none of those lacking saving faith in Christ can have assurance of salvation, all true believers can and should strive to attain it (Confession. Chap.18). This is what Peter meant when he exhorted his hearers to make their calling and salvation clear (2 Peter 1:10). Scripture commands believers “to walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7; Hebrews 11:1). Oh, how comforting it is to know that salvation is all of grace! (Ephesians 2:8–10).

Bibliography

A Faith to Confess: The 1689 Baptist Confession.

Biblesoft 1996. “Salvation” in International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database.

Milne, Bruce1998. Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (2nd Ed). Inter-Varsity Press.

Packer, J. I. 1998. God’s words: Key Bible Themes you need to know. Christian Focus Publications.

Vine, W. E. 1996. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Weil, Roger 2007. Foundations of the Christian faith. Darlington: Evangelical Press.