The Assurance of Salvation
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.
~ 2 Peter 1:10
It is our duty to seek assurance of our salvation with diligence. This is not done out of idle curiosity about the state of our soul, but to enhance our growth in sanctification. Christians who remain uncertain about the state of their salvation are subject to all sorts of questions that paralyze their walk with Christ. They stumble in doubt and are vulnerable to the assaults of Satan. So we must seek to be assured of our salvation. There are four possible positions with respect to one's assurance of salvation:
Position One: There are people who are unsaved and know that they are unsaved. These people are aware of the enmity they have in their hearts toward God and clearly want nothing to do with Christ as their Savior. They are bold to proclaim that they do not need Christ. Such people are often openly hostile to the gospel.
Position Two: There are people who are saved but do not know they are saved. These people are actually in a state of grace but are uncertain of it. Perhaps they are wrestling with sin in their lives and doubt their own salvation because of a troubled conscience. In this group are those who have not yet made certain that they are among the elect.
Position Three: There are people who are saved and know that they are saved. This is the group who are certain of their election and calling. They have a clear and sound understanding of what salvation requires and know they have met the requirements. They have believed the testimony of the Holy Spirit when He witnessed to their spirits that they are the children of God (Romans 8:16).
Position Four: There are people who are not saved but confidently believe that they are saved. These people have assurance of salvation without salvation. Their assurance is a false assurance.
Because it is possible to have a false assurance of salvation, how do we know if we are in group three or group four? The easiest way to have a false assurance of salvation is to have a false doctrine of salvation. For example, if a person holds to a universalist view of salvation, he or she may reason as follows: “Every person is saved; I am a person; Therefore, I am saved.” But because the person's doctrine is faulty, his or her assurance has no firm basis.
Another way that people falsely assure themselves of salvation is by believing that they will get to heaven by trying to live a good life. Those who think they are living a good enough life to satisfy the demands of a holy God are only deluding themselves into thinking they are saved.
But what if a person has a sound doctrine of salvation? Is it still possible to have false assurance? We must answer yes. A person might think he has saving faith but not really possess it. The test for authentic assurance is twofold. On the one hand, we must examine our own hearts to see if we have true faith in Christ. We must see whether or not we have any genuine love for the biblical Christ. For we know such love for Him would be impossible without regeneration.
Second, we must examine the fruit of our faith. We do not need perfect fruit to have assurance, but there must be some evidence of the fruit of obedience for our profession of faith to be credible. If no fruit is present, then no faith is present. Where saving faith is found, fruit of that faith is also found.
Finally, we seek our assurance from the Word of God through which the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are His children.
Lord, let me seek and gain assurance of my salvation. Amen.
~ R. C. Sproul, from “Essential Truths of the Christian Faith”