“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.”J.I. Packer
When pondering the Question of Eternal Salvation, we ask, “How is a person saved?” A classic answer is: “By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.” This means that salvation is a free gift that comes to us through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ (his life, death, and resurrection). It may be ours as a free gift (grace) by simply trusting (faith) in Him as our Savior. This faith looks like belief (confessing that we believe the Good News of Salvation) and repentance (a sorrow for our sin; and a willingness to live according to the teachings of our Lord).
So, the follow-up question: How do I know that I have received this gift? This is the Question of Assurance. There are four main ideas here. You might like to picture them as vital signs of health or pillars supporting a building.
- True Belief: “I know I’m saved because I believe the truth claims of the Gospel.”
- Gospel Lifestyle: “I know I’m saved because I seek to live a life consistent with the lifestyle taught by Jesus Christ.
- Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit: “I know that I’m saved because I have a relationship with Jesus. I recognize His voice in Scripture. I speak to Him in prayer. Perhaps I’ve even discerned his voice in other ways (e.g., through the beauty of song, nature, music, art, etc.).
- Outer Testimony of the Church: “I know that I’m saved because I live in relationship with other Christians who see God working in my life.” These relationships are marked by Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper; by church attendance and involvement.
All four of these vital signs are interrelated, and mutually reinforcing. They are designed to work together to deliver the peace that J.I. Packer is talking about in the quote above. If there are weaknesses or even a complete lack of one or more of these pillars, then we are not in a state of spiritual health.
I’m not talking about perfection. I’m talking about health. No one believes perfectly, lives perfectly, discerns God’s voice perfectly, or lives in a perfect relationship with the church. No one except Jesus is perfect. But there is a relative health that is profoundly life-giving and deeply fulfilling. This is Assurance.