Salvation and assurance are two different things.
Salvation is a concrete reality: you either are or you aren’t saved.
Assurance is a feeling. There are many who are saved who don’t feel assured of their salvation. There are also many who are assured of their salvation who are not saved.
Satan, the Deceiver, wants to make those who aren’t saved feel like they are, and make those who are saved feel like they aren’t.
Human intellect is susceptible to deception. Several times in Scripture we are warned “be not deceived.” We are warned about this because too often we are.
There are many days I can observe my behavior and condemn myself to hell. There are other days I can solidly justify myself into heaven.
The question is: on which day am I most right?!
There are two kinds of people on this issue who are in serious trouble.
- The guy who knows 100% with no doubt that he is saved
- The guy who knows 100% there’s no way he is saved.
If you are in group 1, you probably don’t take sin seriously. I know, you’ll chalk it up to taking God’s grace seriously, but really what you mean is that your sin isn’t that big of a deal. Of course God loves me, it doesn’t matter what I do. Plus I do good stuff too.
If you are in group 2, you either don’t take sin seriously because you’re truly not saved and you don’t care, or you take sin so seriously you doubt the effectiveness of God’s grace, mercy, and the power of the Gospel.
People in both camps are largely consumed with themselves. If you are 100% assured you are saved, you aren’t viewing you and your sin from God’s holy perspective. Sin should shake you. It should make you question your love for God. Guilt is a real thing and should cause you to pause and examine yourself. People who don’t feel guilt (another way of saying you are 100% assured of salvation) might just have hardened hearts. Remember the Pharisees? They had 100% assurance of salvation. They were constantly thinking about themselves and their own awesomeness.
People who are always gloomy, doubting God could love them, and assuming they lose their salvation every time they think a bad thought, are also consumed with themselves. All these people see is their mess; they don’t have any confidence in Christ. These people arrogantly assume they are the exception to God’s grace. Even God’s power is not more powerful than I am.
I think the healthy believer avoids both extremes, and also knows there’s a time and place for both.
When I sin, I should feel guilt. I should be aware of God’s opinion of it and wonder how can I, who am dead to sin, walk in it like this? I should confess my sins and ask for mercy. I should examine myself to see whether I’m in the faith, to see if there’s any growth, any fruit of the Spirit. We are easily deceived and our Adversary spends his time deceiving us. Are we taking 1) our own fleshly weakness to be deceived and 2) Satan’s power to deceive into consideration in our assurance?
At the same time, when I do good, I need to keep an eye out for pride and self-righteousness. Many flippant statements of assurance sound more like Pharisees than Christians. Remember Paul was not ashamed to describe himself as the chief of sinners. He was very aware of his sin.
But bashing yourself into the ground over sin does no good either. We can have assurance in the grace and mercy of God, in the power of His Gospel, and His willingness to forgive. We know we have forgiveness granted to us freely in Christ Jesus and we can be cleansed from all ungodliness.
But this forgiveness does not mean we run around doing whatever our flesh feels like. We don’t take the grace of God in vain. We don’t turn God’s grace into lasciviousness. Sin bothers us primarily because it is contrary to who God is, because it is what put Christ on the cross, because it does belittle God’s amazing grace.
There are times, when we are brought low by our sin, that we need to be like Joshua who was told by God to quit moping, get up and take care of the sin! There are times we need to be brought low like Peter when he saw reality when Jesus asked him three times if he loved Him.
I would much rather have someone doubt their faith and be examining themselves to see whether they are in the faith than have someone assure themselves of salvation all the way into hell.
For too long the Church has turned Once Saved Always Saved or Perseverance of the Saints (both of which I think are true) into an excuse to take it easy and live in sin.
The question is not: Once I’m saved, do I stay saved? The question is: are you saved?
Guard your heart. Watch and pray. Walk circumspectly. Redeem the time. Fight the fight. None of these phrases make sense if what the Bible is saying is, “Hey, you said the prayer when you were 6, don’t worry about it, do whatever you want.”
Satan is active and deceiving many in the Church today. I think it’s time we wake up to this.