Therefore, to being where we left off last week: The basis of our assurance of salvation.
In discussing the basis of assurance of salvation, we are speaking of the ways in which the true believer in Jesus comes to this assurance of his salvation, not the basis of his eternal security....our assurance of our possession of this eternal salvation rests on and grows out of: (1) The Divine authority of the promises of God in the Bible and our faith in them; (2) The inward evidence of a sanctified life, i.e., the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made; and (3) The testimony of the Holy Spirit witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God (WCF, XVIII, ii). (276-277)
If a person is to attain infallible assurance of salvation, he must believe the gospel promises of God revealed in the Bible; and it is by faith in these promises of salvation that assurance of the possession of eternal salvation is attained. (277-278)
The Old Testament believers looked in faith beyond their deaths to fulfillment of the promises of God, assured that the Word of God was true and would not fail.
"So real were God’s promises to him [Abraham] that their fulfillment, though not yet, was as certain to him as something already and inalienably possessed. Thus the existential power of faith made the distant hope a present reality, and these
believers of the ancient world “saw” and “greeted” the promised consummation, even, and indeed especially, in the hour of death, as though already face to face with it." 31. Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977), 478. (279)
Such graces—faith, repentance, love, submission, obedience, hope, hunger after righteousness—are gifts of the Spirit in the life of the believer, and therefore are signs of His presence and work in the believer’s life, as well as evidences that the promises do in fact belong to him. (281)
According to the texts listed above, the witness of the Spirit has two aspects: (1) A work of the Spirit upon the heart enabling the believer to cry “Abba! Father!” to God in Christ; and (2) The testimony and certification of the Spirit in the believer concerning His work in his heart. (283-284)
Because of the work of the Spirit on the heart, regenerating it, and placing the gift of faith in it, the believer is brought by the Spirit to the consciousness of that intimacy of relationship between himself and God the Father so that the believer spontaneously gives expression to it in the words, “Abba! Father!” (284)
Along with the work enabling the believer to know and bear witness to his intimate sonship to God, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). (284)
Two things should be noticed in this statement: (1) The Spirit’s witness is a joint-testimony; and (2) It is a witness to our spirit. (285)
Keeping the commandments of God is proof that the believer makes his home in God and God makes His home in him. We can have certain knowledge that we are thus related to God because of the Holy Spirit which God gave to us in the moment of our regeneration by that Spirit. He is the source of our sure knowledge of
salvation because He is the source of our ability to obey the commandments of God from the heart. (287)
Jesus “came by water and blood… not with water only, but with the water and with the blood” (1 John 5:6)....it appears that it is referring to the two decisive events in the life of Christ defining His person and ministry: His Baptism in the Jordan River and His death on Calvary.....At Christ’s baptism, God Himself spoke out of Heaven declaring Him to be His Son: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). And with that declaration God poured out His Holy Spirit on Him. This is not only the beginning of Christ’s ministry, it is the explanation of His ministry as well as the Divine certification of all His claims. Christ’s bloody death on the cross of Calvary is not merely the close of His earthly ministry, it is the explanation of His suffering by which He obtained our eternal redemption, reconciling us to God. (289)
“It is the Spirit that bears witness because the Spirit is truth” (1 Jn. 5:7). Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God (vs. 10). And it is that indwelling Spirit that continually brings the truth of the Incarnation and of the Atonement home to the souls of men. (290)
The two historical, objective witnesses to Christ—His baptism and crucifixion, and the subjective witness to Christ—the indwelling Holy Spirit “are in agreement.” Together in perfect harmony they accomplish one object: establishing the truth of Christ in the heart of the believer. (290)
If we trust the apostolic witness of men who accompanied Christ in His days on the earth (1 Jn.1:1–3), the witness of the Spirit of God to Christ in the heart is an even greater witness....John does not say that God witnesses verbally and audibly, but that every believer is convinced that Christ is true and that his faith in Christ is real, because God is its author; and being its author He will without doubt be its finisher. (290)
The person who receives Christ as He is presented in the Bible, and rests upon Him alone for salvation has the witness of God to the truth of Christ in himself as an abiding possession. (291)
The witness of God in the believer not only convinces the believer of the truthfulness of Christ’s claims, it also convinces the believer that having accepted the objective witness of God to Christ in the Bible by faith, eternal life is now his present and eternal possession (John 3:16, 36). (292)
The Holy Spirit gives the regenerate heart the spiritual gifts, graces, virtues, and “fruit,” and excites them to lively activity. He then illuminates them so as to give a joyful assurance of a true sonship to the believer in Jesus. (293)
This testimony of the Holy Spirit to the believer’s sonship is always in concurrence with the witness of the believer’s own spirit to his sonship with God. It is NOT, as Wesleyanism teaches, “an independent revelation by which the Holy Ghost reveals immediately to the convert’s mind, without a mediate process of self-examination
and comparison that he is now reconciled.” 50. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 711. (294)
Presumption, or taking one’s salvation for granted, is a dangerous sin. Self-deception about one’s standing with God is possible and frequent. (297)
"In the meantime, the faithful are taught to examine themselves with solicitude and humility, lest carnal security insinuate itself instead of the assurance of faith." 54. Calvin, quoted in Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 709. (297)
First, self-examination and soul-searching must be done with a due regard for the presence and assistance of God. ...
Second, self-examination must be done deliberately. It cannot be done effectively and reliably in a hurry. ...
Third, self-examination must be done frequently, and not just occasionally or haphazardly.
Fourth, self-examination must be done diligently. Arriving at a true knowledge of ourselves requires diligence, care and honesty of heart. ....
Fifth, self-examination is to be done with the greatest impartiality. ....
Sixth, self-examination must be done with the determined resolve that by the grace of God we will “make a right improvement of that judgment which we are bound to pass on ourselves.”58 ....
Seventh, self-examination must be done with judgment.
58. Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, 2:204.
What are some of those marks or evidences of God’s gracious work in us by which we may discern that we are truly and eternally saved from sin?
First, a strong impression of feeling that we are saved is not to be considered a mark of grace....Intense emotions are like iron heated in the fire. When it is taken out of the flames it grows cold again.
Second, a profession of faith in Christ, and the correct performance of external rites of worship are no certain marks of grace. Many have had the form of godliness but have denied the power thereof. ...
Third, the mere performance of external moral actions are not certain marks of grace in the heart. A person may obey God’s demands externally only out of self-interest rather than for the glory of God. ...
Fourth, the true and genuine effects of faith and all the godly virtues that accompany or flow from faith are sure marks of God’s saving grace within us....Faith tends to “purify the heart” (Acts 15:9), enabling us to abhor, flee from, strive against, guard our hearts against everything and anything that tends to corrupt and defile the heart and life. (300)
It increases spiritual joy....
How could an infallible assurance of infallible salvation keep from bringing to the believer a deep sense of joy and peace? ...
It promotes usefulness in God’s work and stimulates us to the work of evangelism. Knowing for certain that we belong to God and joint-heirs with Christ has the effect on us of stimulating us to more diligent service to God. Knowing that we have victory over sin and death in Christ we will be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:55–58). ...
It opens the heart to love and praise to God...
It lifts us above the seductions of this world and assists us in resisting sin, enabling us to beat back temptations and to triumph over them. ....
It will make us contented with the certainty, eternity and all-sufficiency of God’s grace regardless of how much or how little material things we possess in this life....It enables the believer to persevere with patience and joy in the midst of sufferings. ...
Assurance of salvation strengthens us in the face of death. ...
It does NOT, however, raise the believer above conflict with sin nor does it encourage self-righteousness. ....
Some have considered such assurance of salvation to be an arrogant boast producing pride. If we expected to save ourselves, it would be arrogant boasting and pride. “To be in suspense whether Christ is able, and willing, and faithful, surely is no mark of our humility; but on the contrary, it is a dishonor to Him.”71 ...
"The facts are that the more intelligent, the deeper and the more unwavering the assurance of salvation is, the humbler, the more stable and the more circumspect will be the life, walk and conduct."72
71. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 712.
72. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 712-13.
Saving faith is not the belief that we are saved; it is an act of entrusting ourselves to Christ and resting upon Him alone for salvation as He is freely offered to us in the gospel, IN ORDER THAT WE MIGHT BE SAVED FROM OUR SINS....The assurance of faith proceeds from the assurance that we are saved by faith, while faith proceeds from the conviction that we are lost and in need of a Savior. And, although the two may be distinguished, and some believers may wait long before they obtain assurance, that does not mean that assurance must always be separated in time from the primary act of faith. (306)
At the same time, while a measure of assurance is implicit in saving faith: “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), a full and infallible assurance of faith 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 (WCF, XVIII, iii). (307)
This failure to attain to a full and infallible assurance even when faith in Christ is present in the heart is due to several things. (1) Immaturity in knowledge of the nature and effect of the grace of God. (2) A lack of reflection or spiritual development because of inexcusable misconceptions and misapplications of the truths of the gospel and the nature of salvation in Christ. (3) A weakness of faith arising from negligence in the cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit. (4) Disobedience
to the commandments of God. (5) Backsliding. (6) A failure to be on guard against Satan’s assaults and to guard one’s own heart. (7) The excessive care for material and social things. (8) A serious lack of prayer. (9) A love for this evil world. (10) Manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions. (307)
...it must be made clear that, although full assurance does not always accompany true faith in Christ, nevertheless true faith has no lack of certainty regarding the Object of that faith. Every true believer is most certainly assured of God’s reality,
of the truth of the Gospel and the claims of Christ, of the Divine authority of the Bible. (308)
First, how to maintain and strengthen an infallible and full assurance of salvation:
Be diligent and constant in your use of the means of grace instituted by God: the reading and preaching of the Word of God, the Sacraments, prayer and worship, Christian fellowship and obedience to God. ...
Meditate every day on the spiritual and eternal privileges and blessing that belong to all believers in Jesus: regeneration, effectual calling, justification, reconciliation, adoption, sanctification, glorification (1 Pet. 2:9). You will find that concentrated and frequent meditation on the things of Christ will tend to strengthen and maintain your assurance.
Make sure that “your hearts run more out to Christ than to assurance; to the sun than to the beams, to the fountain than to the stream, to the root than to the branch, to the cause than to the effect.”92 Assurance of salvation is precious; but Christ is more precious. No assurance can be compared to Christ. ....
Make sure that your heart is more taken up with Christ than with the evidences of the Spirit’s work in your own life. ...
Make good use of your assurance of salvation. Let it fortify your heart and mind against temptations, increase your resolve to live like a Christian, inflame your affections for Christ, and improve your daily walk as a Christian. ...
Walk humbly with your God. ....
Be on guard against the particular sins by which others have had their assurance diminished. Beware of presumption and the neglect of self-examination. (See Psalm 30:6, 7.) Beware of the neglect of the means of grace. Beware of spiritual carelessness, sluggishness and stubbornness. ...
Consider the sorrow and misery that accompany the loss of an infallible assurance of salvation.
92. Brooks, Heaven on Earth, 307.
Strive to find out what sin or sinful habit or sinful pattern robbed you of your infallible and full assurance.
Mourn over those sins that have turned your day into night and your rejoicing into weeping (Ps. 51). ...
Do not sit paralyzed by despair. Get up, do what it takes to recover infallible assurance. “Repent and do your first works” (Rev. 2:4, 5). ...
Wait patiently on the Lord with persevering faithfulness to Him. (317)
God never has failed those who wait on Him, nor will He ever fail them. (318)
Briefly then, Appendix I:
John makes a sharp distinction between “they” who left and “us” who remain. Their defection gave clear evidence of their true character. Their apostasy was proof, not that they were believers who had lost their faith (which is impossible), but that they were never regenerate believers at all. (320)
So then, here we have the two safeguards against being deceived by heresy: the preaching of the Word of God and the anointing of the Spirit of God. John says “you heard” the Word (v. 24), and “you received” the Spirit (v. 27). The Word came from the inspired Apostles (1:2–5); and the Spirit came directly from God (2:20, 27). (322)
First, we learn from 1 John 2:18–20 that perseverance in faithfulness to Christ and His Word is the hallmark of those who are eternally saved and secure in Christ. They will not apostatize, nor will they “totally and finally” fall away from faith and salvation. ....
"He, in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it." 108. Calvin, Commentaries on the First Epistle of John, 192. (323)
Second, how does it happen that many who seemed to have faith in Christ often fall away into apostasy and heresy? John Calvin answers:
"there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel: there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption
firmly fixed in their hearts. 109. Calvin, Commentaries on the First Epistle of John, 192. (323-324)
Third, such trials are useful and necessary for Christ’s Church. (324)
Fourth, our text gives us Biblical warrant for distinguishing between true and counterfeit believers in the institutional (visible) church. John knew well that not everyone in the church is of the church, not everyone in the church is a true believer in Jesus, not everyone in the church is elected and saved. (324)
Here is the argument: a person can be genuinely in union with Christ, through baptism be in possession of the blessings of salvation in Him, and yet bear no fruit for Him and eventually wither up and die and be cast into hell. He or she, once abiding in Christ, have ceased doing so, and so are cut off from the union with Christ they once enjoyed; and although they were once truly in union with
Christ, having fallen from that position, they are sentenced to hell. (326)
Another approach to John 15:2, 6 and other admonitions in the Bible (as in Hebrews 6:4–6), is this: (1) Since the Bible exhorts us to persevere in faithfulness to God, it must be that such perseverance depends upon our will and exertion. (2) Admonition presupposes not only responsibility for that to which we are admonished; but
this responsibility presupposes that we are able to perform what we are admonished to do. (3) Such verses teach that the final salvation of Christians is dependent upon our diligent obedience to these admonitions. All this means that the preservation and perseverance of the saints depends upon the will of man, so that it is possible for some to stop abiding in Christ and are sentenced to hell. (326-327)
These very arguments and interpretations have been ably refuted time and again throughout the past hundred years of Reformed Protestantism. The problems with these views are exegetical, theological and covenantal. They simply do not fit the Biblical facts.
First of all, let us consider some of them theologically and practically. The Scriptural admonitions to believers to be persevering and steadfast and not to apostasize from the faith in no way contradict the truth of the preservation and perseverance of the saints. (327)
"Not that it ever happens that any one of the elect is dried up, but because there are many hypocrites who, in outward appearance, flourish and are green for a time, but who afterwards, when they ought to yield fruit, show the very opposite
of that which the Lord expects and demands of His people." 114. Calvin, Commentaries on the Gospel According to John, 110. (328)
Although no real believer in Christ can totally and finally fall away and perish, the elect need to have the danger of apostasy and the dreadful wrath of God that comes with it kept before their eyes to make them afraid of defection and to press them to their duty, even though it is only the fruitless, non-elect branches that will be cut off. (328)
"We are dealing with figures and pictures, mercifully used in order to meet our weak capacities; and we must take care we do not draw doctrinal conclusions from them, which contradict other plain passages of Scripture." 117. Bishop J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, (John, Vol. 3) 4 vols. (New York: The Baker & Taylor Co., 1873), 98. (329)
The parable has three principal parts: (1) We have not power to do good except what comes from Christ; (2) We, being rooted in Christ, are pruned by the Father to bear more fruit; (3) Unfruitful branches are cut away and burned in the fire.
The one central point is this: The vital sap—that is, all life and strength—proceeds from Christ alone; therefore we can bear no fruit for God apart from Him....We
must be in union and communion with Jesus Christ to do good; and once His life-giving “sap” flows into our lives we WILL produce fruit. (330)
Now, the problem for some in this parable is that Jesus says: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away… and they are burned” (John 15:2, 6). (331)
In John 15, Jesus describes metaphorically two kinds of people who come into close contact with Christ and who are members of His church on earth: branches that bear fruit (15:2b, 5, 8), and branches that do not bear fruit (15:2a, 6). (331)
Furthermore, we see in verse 8 that abiding in Christ and bearing much fruit for Him is proof of true discipleship. Hence, the fruitless branches were not true disciples, although they may possibly have been disciples only by profession. (332)
These two groups of people have one thing in common: they both were in close contact with Christ and the Gospel in the visible church. Both groups of branches were in the vine, but not at all in the same sense. (334)
In what sense, then, are the fruitless branches to be said to be in the vine: “every branch in Me?” In their own opinion and in the opinion of others, because they have joined the church by baptism, they are actually and vitally in Christ in a saving sense. (334)
Therefore, this parable of the vine and the branches in John 15 does NOT teach that a person can be genuinely, spiritually and vitally in union with Jesus Christ and fail to bear fruit. Baptized unbelievers, who profess to be disciples of Christ, and who are members of the visible church, are NOT as attached to Christ as the fruit-bearing believers are. Both groups do NOT partake of the vital sap of the vine....Those who are in vital union with Christ will never be cut off from the vine. (335)
First, a true Christian is always becoming a Christian, in that his life is one of continuing growth. The true disciple is always becoming more fully a disciple. ...
Second, when Jesus declares: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser,” He is saying that He is our life and the source of our strength to live for Him; and that God the Father is involved in our lives as the One judging our fruitfulness. ...
Third, the purpose of our lives is not our salvation, but our productivity
in Christ’s kingdom.
Fourth, whatever the imperfections of those who are in true
union and communion with Christ, those imperfections will not
cause them to be cast aside by Him, rather those imperfections and
frailties will endear them to the Lord’s care, for such branches shall
not be cut off, but lovingly and tenderly pruned.
Fifth, fruit is proof of being in the vine.
Sixth, Jesus says to you, dear believer,
"Abide in Me. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer and nearer to me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be as it were rooted and planted in Me. Do this, and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you… Severed from Me, separated from Me, you have no strength, and can do nothing. You are as lifeless as a branch cut off from the parent stem."130
Seventh, here is how to be a useful and happy servant of Christ:
(1) [v. 7] “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” This is “a distinct promise of power and success in prayer.”
(2) [v. 8] “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” The meaning of this promise is that “ fruitfulness in Christian practice will not only bring glory to God, but will supply the best evidence to our own hearts that we are real disciples of Christ.”132 ...
(3) [v. 10] “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” The person who conscientiously and diligently obeys Christ’s commandments is the person who will continually enjoy a sense of Christ’s love for him in his heart and soul.
130. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (John, Vol. 3), 101–02.
132. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (John, Vol. 3), 105.