You can have assurance of salvation when you believe that salvation is not your doing, but God’s act of redemption in Jesus Christ, conceived before the foundation of the world, a sacred agreement between the Persons of the Triune God, and carried out by God through the mysteries of His providence in real time.
Once Saved Always Saved?
The lack of assurance in salvation is, regrettably, a common pathology of the Christian soul. Particularly when our past sins conspire with our present doubts, our spirits are vulnerable to diabolical oppression. In short, though saved and kept forever by God, we buy the lie that we are not.
A lack of assurance is not necessarily sinful unless you know the truth and resist it or reject it. Usually, the lack of assurance is a misunderstanding of God’s salvation or the sad result of bad teaching. The Good News is that you can know God’s assurance of eternal life.
The Lord has given Scriptures that support our assurance of salvation. Taken in context and systematized across the broad landscape of the Bible, we can see that God tells us that we can know assurance.
Assurance of Salvation Is Based on God’s Promises
While we could go to a host of Scriptures, consider the truths of Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Read the glorious parts of that affirmation of faith as they build on each other to form the intent of the great Apostle:
- I am sure (Paul had assurance of the Philippians salvation)
- That he who began a good work (because God had started it)
- In you (in their persons, as a kind act to each of them, from the inside out)
- Will bring it to completion (God, not the member of the Philippian Church, will so orchestrate events, past sins, broken dreams, people, family, illness, and even death, so that each person will realize a comprehensive salvation from beginning to end)
- At the day of Jesus Christ. (This work of grace is not merely about conversion, but “salvation” is seen by St. Paul as a magnificent divine series of deliverances—from unbelief, from the grip of the devil, flesh, and the world; from death; and, finally, from the fallen world; from final judgement; from Hell—reaching its eschatological crescendo in the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, and the New Heavens and the New Earth.)
You can have assurance of eternal life. You can live free from the oppressive thoughts that somehow you will lose the gift that God has given you. If you have received Christ then your salvation is guaranteed by God.
However, if you are “setting things right,” “getting on the right foot,” or “making amends” with God on your terms, then it will be up to you to keep what you began. That also has a guarantee: to fail! Receive the gift of God in Christ—your sins covered by Christ’s life and sacrifice on the cross, the punishment for sin by Christ, and His perfect life accounted as your own—by repenting of “auto-salvation” and by faith in “divine salvation” that cannot be lost.
“He who began a good work in you…” If you began it, you can lose it. If God is the author of your salvation, nothing can ever undo the finished work of God in Christ applied to your life through the Holy Spirit.
Assurance of Salvation Is Based on Christ’s Person
When Paul told the Philippians that he was confident that “He who began the good work in you” will see it through until the “Day of Christ,” he was affirming that salvation is not only of God but in Christ.
God’s Covenant of Grace is the sacred bond in blood that “what God requires, God provides” in the Person of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
1. Jesus Christ is your righteousness.
The sinner needs an “alien righteousness,” as Martin Luther put it so memorably; a “perfect life lived on her behalf.” Jesus Christ is your righteousness.
2. Jesus Christ is your substitute.
The sinner needs a substitute to take the punishment for sin that is embedded in the cosmic code of divine justice (the Covenant of Works: “If you sin, you shall surely die”). Jesus Christ is your substitute.
3. Jesus Christ is your Advocate and High Priest.
The sinner must have an advocate with the Father, a High Priest who represents the sinner, and makes atonement continually on his behalf. Jesus Christ is your Advocate and High Priest.
If God began the good work in you, then the only way for you to lose the salvation which God has won for you is to send the time machine into fast forward reverse: Christ would have to come down from His Ascension; Christ would have to go back to the tomb; Christ would have to be swept back on the cruel cross, where the nails would have to go back in to his hands and feet. Yes, it is ludicrous. Christ died for our sins once and for all. He will not go back on His own word and He will not reverse the sacrificial work of His Son.
You are safe forever for God began the good work “in Christ.”
Assurance of Salvation Is Based on the Holy Spirit’s Power
Paul could say that He was confident of the perseverance of the saints in Philippi because the Spirit of God guaranteed that He would preserve them.
The Father covenanted with the Son to save you before the foundation of the world (for His pleasure and not because of any good He saw in you). He sent His Son to live the life that you could never live and die the death that should have been yours. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is glorified as He carries out the divine plan of God. The ruling motif of the Gospel—the cross becomes a crown, the sign of shame is the sign of salvation, the darkness of the tomb becomes the golden glow of resurrection—is now the operative power in your life. God the Spirit is actively making all things work together in your life to bring you home to the Lord.
If salvation is about your keeping it, then your rights as a son or daughter are based on fraudulent papers. But, since you have been saved by God, you are also sealed by Him.
You are safe. And God will cause all things to work together to the good for you.
The Father’s promises, the Son’s person, and the Spirit’s power constitute an unbreakable bond that guarantees your salvation.
And this is the gift of God for you. You can know assurance of eternal life by receiving Jesus Christ as the resurrected and living Lord and Savior of your life and by trusting, not in your emotions or in the vicissitudes of life, but in the unchanging covenant of grace that says, “What God starts, God completes.”
Paul’s message in Philippians 1:6 is not an isolated promise of God to you. God has created a veritable string of fine pearls fitted for your wearing, giving you the ground and the glory of assurance of your salvation.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39).
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13).
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Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary) Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.