Results tagged “assurance” from Reformation21 Blog

More Mercy in Christ than Sin in Us

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In his book The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes famously wrote, "We have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us." Here is one of those oft repeated statements of Gospel assurance with which believers love to comfort one another. The context, however, is one that has been almost entirely overlooked. Sibbes actually wrote, "If we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing." In context, Sibbes was seeking to encourage believers to make a concerted effort to mortification of sin (i.e. thorough dealing). He wrote,  "A set measure of bruising [i.e. spiritual humiliation] of ourselves cannot be prescribed, but it must be so far as (1) that we may prize Christ above all, and see that a Savour must be had; and (2) that we reform that which is amiss, though it be to the cutting off of our right hand, or pulling out of our right eye." 

Many believers struggle with the assurance of salvation on account of their sin. The Westminster Confession of Faith, in the final paragraph of the chapter on "Assurance of Grace and Salvation"" (Ch. 18), states this so well:

"True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair."

John Owen, in his magnificent work on Psalm 130, set King David forth as the example of one who understood this soul-wrestling with God over his sin and longing for the assurance of God's love and favor. David understood, better than any, the multifaceted way in which God's grace worked in his life with regard to his ongoing battle with sin and his experience of a guilt-laden conscience. Owen wrote:

"Under the Old Testament none loved God more than he; none was loved of God more than he. The paths of faith and love wherein he walked are unto the most of us like the way of an eagle in the air,--too high and hard for us. Yet to this very day do the cries of this man after God's own heart sound in our ears. Sometimes he complains of broken bones, sometimes of drowning depths, sometimes of waves and water spouts, sometimes of wounds and diseases, sometimes of wrath and the sorrows of hell; everywhere of his sins, the burden and trouble of them. Some of the occasions of his depths, darkness, entanglements, and distresses, we all know. As no man had more grace than he, so none is a greater instance of the power of sin, and the effects of its guilt upon the conscience, than he."

Owen went on to set out seven soul-experiences from David's prayers in the Psalms. These serve as typical experiences of one who is already the object of the love and grace of God and yet who feels himself or herself "in the depths." 

1. The loss of the wanted sense of the love of God, which the soul did formerly enjoy. Owen explained: "A sense of God's presence in love is sufficient to rebuke all anxiety and fears in the worst and most dreadful condition; and not only so, but to give in the midst of them solid consolation and joy...This is that sense of love which the choicest believers may lose on the account of sin. This is one step into their depths. They shall not retain any such gospel apprehension of it as that it should give them rest, peace, or consolation."

2.  Perplexed thoughtfulness about their great and wretched unkindness towards God is another part of the depths of sin-entangled souls. "So David complains: Ps. 77:3, "I remembered God," saith he, "and was troubled." 

3. A revived sense of justly deserved wrath belongs also to these depths. "This is as the opening of old wounds. When men have passed through a sense of wrath, and have obtained deliverance and rest through the blood of Christ, to come to their old thoughts again, to be trading afresh with hell, curse, law, and wrath, it is a depth indeed. And this often befalls gracious souls on the account of sin: Ps. 88:7, 'Your wrath lies hard upon me.'"

4. Oppressing apprehensions of temporal judgments concur herein also; for God will judge his people. And judgment often begins at the house of God. 'Though God,' says such a one, 'should not cast me off for ever,--though He should pardon my iniquities; yet He may so take vengeance of my inventions as to make me feed on gall and wormwood all my days.' Ps. 119:120, says David, 'My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments.' He knows not what the great God may bring upon him; and being full of a sense of the guilt of sin, which is the bottom of this whole condition, every judgment of God is full of terror unto him."

5. Prevailing fears for a season of being utterly rejected by God, of being found a reprobate at the last day. "Jonah seems to conclude so, chap. 2:4, 'Then I said, I am cast out of Your sight;'--'I am lost for ever, God will own me no more'...This may befall a gracious soul on the account of sin. But yet because this fights directly against the life of faith, God doth not, unless it be in extraordinary cases, suffer any of his to lie long in this horrible pit, where there is no water, no refreshment."

6. God secretly sends His arrows into the soul, that wound and gall it, adding pain, trouble, and disquietness to its disconsolation: "Ps, 138:2, 'Your arrows stick fast in me, and Your hand presses me sore.' Ever and anon in his walking, God shot a sharp piercing arrow, fixing it on his soul, that galled, wounded, and perplexed him, filling him with pain and grievous vexation. These arrows are God's rebukes: Ps. 139:11, 'When You, with rebukes, do correct man for iniquity.'"

7. Unspiritedness and disability unto duty, in doing or suffering, attend such a condition : "Ps. 40:12, 'My iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up.' His spiritual strength was worn away by sin, so, that he was not able to address himself unto any communion with God. The soul now cannot pray with life and power, cannot hear with joy and profit, cannot do good and communicate with cheerfulness and freedom, cannot meditate with delight and heavenly-mindedness, cannot act for God with zeal and liberty, cannot think of suffering with boldness and resolution; but is sick, weak, feeble, and bowed down.

Owen concluded the section on the soul-experience of believers in the depths of sin with this summary:

"Now, I say, a gracious soul, after much communion with God, may, on the account of sin, by a sense of the guilt of it, be brought into a state and condition wherein some, more, or all of these, with other the like perplexities, may be its portion ; and these make up the depths whereof the psalmist here complains."

While these are "the depths" that believers often find themselves in on account of their sin, they turn to the One to whom David said, "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared." Concerning this appeal to God's mercy and forgiveness, Owen explained that believers must keep these things in view:

"1. The gracious, tender, merciful heart and will of God, who is the God of pardons and forgivenesses; or ready to forgive, to give out mercy, to add to pardon. 

2. A respect unto Jesus Christ, the only ἱλασμός, or propitiation for sin, as he is expressly called, Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2. And this is that which interposes between the gracious heart of God and the actual pardon of sinners. All forgiveness is founded on propitiation.

3. Actual forgiveness itself, as we are made partakers of it; comprising it both actively, as it is an act of grace in God, and passively, as terminated in our souls, with the deliverance that attends it. In this sense, as it looks downwards and in its effects respects us, it is of mere grace; as it looks upwards to its causes and respects the Lord Christ, it is from propitiation or atonement. And this is that pardon which is administered in the covenant of grace."

Believers, as we struggle in our souls for nearness to God, a restored sense of His favor and delight and new manifestations of His presence and power, we must learn to cry out to God from the depths--acknowledging God's holiness, our sin and rebellion, what our iniquities deserve and the great mercy of God in Christ that he continually shows us as we turn back to him from the depths. It is, in this way, that we will repeatedly experience in our souls the truth that there is "more mercy in Christ than sin in us"--as the Apostle boldly declared when he said, "Where sin abounded, grace did abound much more" (Rom. 5:20). 

The Three Greatest Reasons Christ Loves You

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If a preacher had one sermon to preach to unbelievers he would likely preach something that follows the Apostolic pattern in the book of Acts. But what about when faced with the chance to give just one message to those who are Christians? Here there is, naturally, a lot more liberty. 

Usually, when I'm faced with a situation where I may never see the Christians I'm speaking to again this side of eternity, I speak to them about truths that are of special significance to Christians, such as the love Christ has for his bride (Eph. 3:19).

The Puritans sometimes get a bad rap for their theology, especially in the area of assurance of salvation. Yet, I gained full assurance of salvation from reading a Puritan, Thomas Goodwin. No Continental writer has quite given me a sense of Christ's love for me in the way that Goodwin did when I first read him on the heart of Christ in heaven towards sinners on earth. 

So, if you ask me what topic would I speak to Christians about if I had only one study/sermon, it would probably focus on the love of Christ for the church. Indeed, I recently had the privilege of speaking on the love of Christ for his bride in Brazil when I was asked to give an impromptu bible study one evening. 

How do you (a Christian) know that Christ loves you? How can you be assured of his love for you? Here below are what I believe are the three greatest reasons that Christ loves you.

1. The command of the Father on the Son. The Father gave Jesus a perpetual command to love sinners (see Jn. 6:37-40; Jn. 10:15-18; 15:10). Jesus remains in the Father's love by loving sinners. There can be no greater influence upon the Son to love us poor, miserable sinners than the command of the Father. Christ's failure to love us would actually be a failure to love his Father. 

Think of Christ's words to Peter in John 21:15-17. Christ asks Peter three times, "do you love me?" Peter will show his love for Christ by feeding Christ's sheep. Now think of the Father asking the Son, "do you love me?" Son: "Yes, Father, you know that I love you." Father: "Die for my sheep, love my sheep, nourish my sheep."

Christ shows his love for the Father by loving those whom the Father has given to him. There can be no greater pleasure for Christ than expressing his love for his Father. This has massive implications for us: it means that Christ will show his love for the Father by loving us.

2. The work of the Spirit on the Son. Christ possessed the Spirit without measure (Jn. 3:34). He is the man of the Spirit, par excellence. Upon his entrance into heaven, Christ received a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to the greatest degree possible for any human (Acts 2:33; Ps. 45). As a merciful high priest, exalted in the heavens, the Spirit produces grace and mercy in Christ in a manner than even exceeded his grace and mercy on earth. Therefore, Christ, having the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), is even more patient towards sinners in Heaven than he was on earth. This partly explains why Christ said it was better for him to go than stay (Jn. 16:7).

As Thomas Goodwin said, "your very sins move him more to pity than anger." This is what it means for Christ to be a sympathetic high priest.

Christ's resurrected body made it possible for him to receive not only a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, but his resurrected body enabled him to receive an even fuller outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, as the exalted King. Thus Christ is more patient, loving, and merciful in heaven (i.e., in glory) towards sinners on earth than when he was in his state of humiliation. 

3. The holy self-love of the Son. As Christ saves and blesses his people, he is reaping the fruit of his work for sinners. He is more concerned for our salvation than we are. As a good husband, Christ loves his bride. But, remember, in loving his bride he is loving himself: 

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:28-30).

Why would Christ deprive his own body of grace? I can be sure that he will love me because I belong to him, and he would have to hate himself before he could hate me. Whatever grace, love, blessing, etc., we have received as Christians, we can be sure that we have received these graces because Christ loves himself.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me that: 

1) Jesus must love sinners in order to express his love towards his Father.
 
2) Jesus will be patient and merciful towards me because of the effect of the Holy Spirit upon him in Heaven.
 
3) Jesus will love me because he is a good husband, so that by loving me more he is loving himself more.

If you're a Christian struggling with assurance, here, then, are three blessed reasons to be assured: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

And guess what? How many of these reasons for Christ loving us have anything to do with things we do? The greatest reasons Christ loves you are entirely dependent not upon us, but upon the triune God, which really is good news.

The odd thing about some of the theology that comes from the camp of those who claim to emphasize grace in their preaching and teaching is that they don't always do a very good job of expressing the rich theology of grace found in the Scriptures. It is one thing to use the word grace a lot, but quite another thing to express a robust, trinitarian theology of grace that highlights the person of Christ in a manner that goes beyond over-used slogans. 

Personally, I'm glad that the three greatest reasons Christ loves me are not qualifications in me, but instead dependent upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Assurance: How do I know I am a Christian?

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How do you know you are a Christian?

Beware of easy-to-fix theological answers to complex spiritual problems. Poor theology usually offers quick fixes (i.e., a silver bullet approach). And people love quick fixes, which is why bad theology will always remain popular this side of glory. 

Very rarely does one go through the Christian life without some sort of crisis of assurance; and, indeed, a crisis of assurance can be a blessing of sorts if the proper remedies are applied. Whatever the case, we are all faced with the question: "How do I know I am a Christian?"  Who would not desire a quick fix to this eternally significant question? But here, perhaps more than anywhere, we must be careful.

It has been popular for some to say something to the effect, "for the assurance of their salvation, Christians wholly rest in the joyful knowledge and full sufficiency of their free justification" (John Eaton, a seventeenth-century Antinomian preacher). 

If only matters were that simple. I wish that approach worked. It would make my pastoral ministry a whole lot easier if I could solve assurance problems by telling people to simply rest in their free justification. They must do that, but assurance of faith involves other realities. 

Instead, think of how a child knows his father is his father. My children have no doubt that I am their father. Why?

Because they live in the same house as I do and we eat at the same table together (cf. Eph. 2:19; Lk. 22:7-38).
Because we share a similar character, personality, and appearance (cf. 1 Jn. 4).
Because we talk to each other frequently and understand "family" language (cf. Rom. 8:14-16).
Because I tell them I love them and they tell me they love me (cf. Rom. 5:5; 1 Jn. 4:16).
Because I discipline them (cf. Heb. 12:5-11).
Because of how I have treated them in the past (cf. Rom. 8:28; Gen. 32:10).
Because we share the same surname (cf. Matt. 28:19).
Because our friends all acknowledge that I am their father (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Jn. 3:2).
Because they belong to a family with a mother and siblings, whom they love as well (cf. 1 Jn. 3:14).
Because no one else would quite put up with their nonsense like I do (cf. Ps. 85:15; entire OT).
Because they receive gifts from me all the time (cf. Jas. 1:17).

My children know I am their father because of a whole host of realities working together to give them the full assurance that I am their father and other men are not. If you think about those realities above, you can make the connections yourself regarding the way in which the Christian life, especially in the context of the church, mirrors family life in many ways.

In our own assurance of salvation there are both objective and subjective ways we come to know that we are a child of God. As Christians, who are weak, and naturally prone to doubt, we need all of the help we can get from God through his Word and Spirit. What are some of these remedies?

Sometimes I tell doubting believers that the elders have the keys to the kingdom and we believe you are a Christian, so believe us.

Sometimes I tell Christians that the words spoken by the Father to the Son - "You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased" - are words that the Father speaks to us because we belong to Christ.

Sometimes I tell Christians to make better use of the means of grace, especially the Lord's Supper, where the objective promises of God are sealed to us as we eat and drink by (a sometimes weak) faith.

Sometimes I ask if they have unconfessed sin that hasn't been dealt with (Ps. 32:3; 1 Jn. 1:9).

Sometimes I tell Christians they need to sing more Psalms, because then they will realize very quickly whose side they are on (Ps. 83).

Sometimes I tell Christians that they need to obey God's commandments (2 Pet. 1:5-11). But I also tell them that God accepts imperfect, but sincere, obedience. 

Sometimes I ask doubting Christians whether they love God's people, which is a sign that one is a child of God (1 Jn. 3:11-24).

Sometimes I tell Christians to pray more, and continue to call out to God as Father, for the Spirit of adoption enables us to cry, "Abba, Father!" (Rom. 8:15-16).

Sometimes I tell doubting Christians that their lack of faith is a sign of belief (Mk. 9:24). After all, unbelievers don't struggle with lack of faith. 

Sometimes I make the point that God's chastisement of believers is a sign of his Fatherly love (Heb. 12). 

Sometimes I try to convince Christians that Jesus is more interested in justifying them, sanctifying them, and blessing them, than they are in being justified, sanctified, and blessed.

In other words, Christians need to be treated like people, not like sausages in a factory going through a conveyor belt. Each person has peculiar needs, issues, problems, etc., and as such needs to be treated accordingly.

Thus, each Christian will receive assurance of salvation, not from a pithy tweet or quote, but from living the ordinary Christian life, and all that means. To put matters another way, the Christian life is like a healthy ecosystem (i.e., a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment). Christians should have a spiritual community of interacting spiritual realities in an environment (i.e., the church) where we come to know and believe we are the children of God. Strip us from that environment and we lose our grounds for assurance.

Any one of these realities on their own usually isn't sufficient to give us the full assurance of salvation that God desires that his children should have. But, if the Bible is to be believed, none of these realities were ever intended to stand-alone in the Christian life.

Beware of the silver bullet approach. It might initially satisfy, but like any cheap drug, it never lasts.

North Texas Conference on Assurance

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If I died today I would be with the Lord. I know that infallibly. But I'm certainly not the greatest believer who ever lived - not even close. My confidence arises from the fact that I know and trust the greatest believer who ever lived.

The highest and best instance of believing belongs to Jesus. He could have said at any point during his life on earth, "if I died today I would be with the Lord." He had full assurance.

In the midst of constant frustration on earth, where his family, disciples, and own people perpetually let him down, Christ did not waver in his trust that God would fulfill his promises to him (Isa. 49:1-13).

From his mother's breasts he believed (Ps. 22:9-10). 

As a young man he woke up every morning to be taught and instructed by his Father (Isa. 50:4-9). 

Each day, including the last, he committed himself to his Father's providential keeping (Ps. 31:5; cf. Lk. 23:46).

Because he kept his Father's commandments, he remained in his Father's love (Jn. 15:10). 

Because he prayed in the Spirit (Rom. 8:15-16), Jesus had the Spirit of adoption within him which enabled him to cry, Abba, Father, each day (see also Heb. 5:7-8).

Because his Father loved him, Christ received assurances of his messianic calling throughout his ministry, particularly at his Baptism and the Transfiguration (Mk. 1:9-11; 9:2-8). 

Because he was rejected and persecuted, he knew he was fulfilling all that was said about him in the Old Testament scriptures (Isa. 53:3; Lk. 24:46). 

Christ's assurance culminated at his resurrection, which was the public vindication that he truly is the Son of God, now raised in power (Rom. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:16).

Christ lived a life of faith before he entered into a life by sight. But his life of faith, which goes hand in hand with a life of assurance, was dependent upon several intertwining, mutually reinforcing elements. 

Thus, when Christ gave up his spirit on the cross (Lk. 23:46), he did so knowing that he would be with the Lord: "today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk. 23:43). His trust in his Father, at a time when he had many reasons to doubt ("cursed is every one who is hung on a tree"), shows how important his whole life was for that crucial moment when he would lay down his life.

Whatever grace Christians possess, that grace was first in Christ. Adam's unbelief - the first sin he committed - was rectified by Christ's belief! Christ's assurance provides the ground for our own assurance. And so on.

The doctrine of assurance for Christians is not a matter of finding a quick and easy solution. Rather, in the context of the church, the Christian life requires a host of different, but complimentary elements that should enable us to say: "If I died today I would be with the Lord."   

So if you are in Texas in August (22nd-23rd), and you want to learn more about Christ's assurance and our own, please consider coming to the North Texas Conference on Reformed Theology ("Delighting in the Doctrine of Assurance")

Is there a better place to be in August than Texas? Er...


I have benefited from reading the comments on the wide variety of blogs that have picked up the discussion between Tullian Tchividjian and me on the subject of total depravity, the Christian, and the doctrine of sanctification.  In some respects, these conversations are most valuable in terms of the interplay that takes place in the comments.  I have been helped by reading what people are thinking and want to thank those who have commented, whether positively or negatively about me.  I have found, however, a number of misconceptions that it may help to have cleared up.  Here are five points that I hope will clarify this discussion:

Fearless Leader

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Ligon Duncan has published a book called Fear Not, the compilation of several address he gave recently on the topic of death and dying at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson.

Results tagged “assurance” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 18.4, part two

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iv. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. 
Most (or maybe all) Christians have their doubts. Suddenly the message of the gospel seems quite implausible. Or painful suffering causes us to question the goodness of God. Or an awareness of our sin leads us to doubt whether God could ever love someone like us. Our faith is shaken--or, more accurately, the assurance of our faith is shaken, at least for a season.

The Westminster Confession is honest enough about the difficulties of life to admit that doubt can play a large role in Christian experience. True believers sometimes walk in such great darkness that they cannot see the light.

Yet our faith will prevail. God has put his seed within us--the seed of faith. Thus, even in our doubts we still have at least some small measure of faith in the gospel, some trust in Christ, some love for the church, and some sense of our duty. In time, this seed will sprout again, and grow, so that our lives may flower with the fruit of the assurance of faith.

Ultimately, what renews our assurance is the Holy Spirit, who is always working within us to call us to Christ. Once again, the Confession showcases the Third Person of the Trinity--this time by showing us the work of God the Holy Spirit in reviving the assurance of our faith. 

Knowing the power of God's Spirit to grant assurance to our faith guards our hearts against absolute despair. When our faith starts to feel shaky, we should not give in to our doubts and fears, but believe that the Holy Spirit has the power to restore the full assurance of our faith. 

Dr. Philip Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and the author of numerous books, the most recent of which is Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway, 2012).

Chapter 18.3

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iii.This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith but that a true believer may wait long and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness. 

The opening line of this section refers to an ongoing debate within post-Reformation Christianity. Is assurance of the very essence of faith? In other words, does faith always come with some measure of assurance? Or is it possible at times for a genuine believer to lack any certainty that he or she is saved?

The Confession answers this difficult question with typical balance. Ultimately, faith has at least some assurance of salvation, but this may not come right away. This in itself is reassuring, because it delivers a doubting believer from despair. It is normal for Christians to go through seasons of spiritual discouragement that include serious doubts about their salvation.

What should Christians do when they experience such doubts? When we have our spiritual struggles, it is tempting to neglect our relationship with God. But the wise pastors who wrote the Confession of Faith tell us to do exactly the opposite. God has promised to meet us is in the "ordinary means" of prayer, the sacraments, and the Word of God. So we should continue to read our Bibles, talk with God through prayer, and participate in the worship of the local church--even when we don't particularly feel like doing any of these things. 

This is not simply good advice; it is the believer's duty. The Scripture says, "Be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). If we do this, then in his own good time and by the work of the Holy Spirit, God will restore us to peace, joy, love, and all the other good fruit that come with the assurance of faith.  
Dr. Philip Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and the author of numerous books, the most recent of which is Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway, 2012).

Chapter 18.2

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ii. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. 
The Confession employs both affirmation and negation to characterize the assurance of faith. Assurance is not a matter of guesswork or probability--a hope that may turn out to be disappointed. On the contrary, the certainty of our salvation is "an infallible assurance."  

Rather obviously, such a high degree of confidence cannot be based on something we find solely in ourselves. We are prone to doubt, and our propensity to sin sometimes makes it hard for us to be totally sure that we are saved. 

Providentially, the assurance of faith is based on God and not on us. Our certainty of salvation is founded securely on divine promises of salvation, as we read them in the gospel.

To be sure, we do find "inward evidence" that we are true recipients of the promises of God. But this evidence is not merely subjective; it is not based on any virtues that we produce in and of ourselves. Rather, it is produced by the Holy Spirit, who is an objective presence in our lives.
This is one of many places where the Confession highlights the work of the Third Person of the Trinity. Although the Holy Spirit is not given a chapter unto himself, his presence is pervasive. Here the sanctified graces that he produces in us--together with his constant testimony that each of us is a true son or daughter of God--convince us that God will save us. 

This section closes by affirming the biblical metaphor (found in Ephesians 1 and elsewhere) that the Holy Spirit is God's down payment on eternity. The same Holy Spirit who lives in us today will transform us tomorrow--at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Spirit's presence in our lives thus gives us strong confidence that one day we will inherit the new heavens and the new earth.

Dr. Philip Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and the author of numerous books, the most recent of which is Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway, 2012).

Chapter 18.1

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i. Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.
There is such a thing as false assurance of Christian faith. We know this because Jesus warned that not everyone who says to him, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). In the end, some people who think they are saved will turn out to be lost forever.  

Yet we should not let this sad reality keep us from knowing that there is also such a thing as the true assurance of faith. It is possible (as well as desirable) for believers to know that they are believers--for Christians to be sure of their relationship to Christ, and thus to be certain of their salvation.

The Confession offers two clear indicators of saving faith. One is sincere love for Christ. It is characteristic of true Christians to have genuine affection for Jesus.This love may be expressed through heartfelt worship, active service, or in other ways. But however it is expressed, the believer's love testifies to the believer's faith.

A second mark of saving faith is a good conscience before God. A clear conscience comes from leading a holy life. Such holiness, in turn, is produced by genuine trust in Christ, because good works always come from true faith. Genuine saving faith, makes itself evident in a sincere love for Jesus and a clear conscience before God. 

This is not to say that every believer always has full assurance of God's saving grace, The word "may" (in the phrase "may in this life be certainly assured") holds out the hope of assurance without guaranteeing its constant presence in the Christian life. Some believers--we may infer--are sometimes also doubters.  
Dr. Philip Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and the author of numerous books, the most recent of which is Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway, 2012).