Most Christians can struggle at times with doubts about their walk with God. They might question if they really are Christians or not. Such internal struggles may be a good sign indeed – those who are not believers would not even think about such matters or let it worry them.
So asking hard questions and the like is always important here. Sure, one can go too far in morbid introspection, but perhaps it is better to ask too many questions about one’s faith than too few. Let me discuss this matter further, but first mention why it has come about.
A confluence of several happenings often results in a new article being written. One could put this down to mere coincidence, but I tend to look at these occurrences as God events. His divine appointments are often behind what we experience.
That is the case here. Two things recently happened that form the basis of this piece: the discovery of a new book, and a conversation with a woman concerned about her salvation. As to the book, I only just learned about it so I thought I would go check it out. (At my age one has to be a bit more careful about buying every new interesting book that comes along!)
So I looked it over at a bookstore, and as soon as I perused the notes at the end of the book, all doubts were removed. It included so many wonderful Puritans such as Owen, Baxter, Bunyan, Sibbes, Watson, and Brooks, and other heavyweights like Edwards, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul, and MacArthur.
The truth is, there is probably no other group of Christians who looked at the Christian life more carefully, more thoroughly, more biblically, more intensely, and more thoughtfully than the Puritans. So if you see a book full of quotes by them, you know you must buy the book!
I refer to this volume: Donald Whitney, How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian? (NavPress, 1994, 2019). The book first appeared 25 years ago, but has just been rereleased. Although brief (just under 200 pages), you can also tell it should be good just by noting the publisher – the ever-reliable NavPress.
The second episode was a lengthy personal online discussion with a gal who had numerous questions about her faith. Her opening message to me was this: “Hi I like your website. I don’t know if I’m truly born again. How do I become born again? Is getting to heaven very difficult?”
Hmm, so just how would you answer questions like these? On the one hand, it might be easy to do so, but actually it may require a more extended response. Indeed, that is what I offered her. This is what I said in my initial reply to her:
Thanks *****. A very important question indeed. The answer is both simple and complex, and the process is both easy and difficult! Briefly put, the first step (what we call justification) is quick and easy. We cannot save ourselves, so we depend fully on what Christ did for us at Calvary. We acknowledge and turn from our sin and selfishness (repentance), and put our faith in Christ alone (belief). But that is just the beginning: the rest of our lives involves becoming more Christlike (sanctification). And that does cost us everything. As Jesus said, we are to pick up our cross and deny self. Or as Paul said, we are to put to death self, crucify the old man, not give in to the flesh, etc. But God’s Spirit within us helps the born-again person in all this. So justification is what God does for us, and sanctification is what we do with God – a team effort. But see more on all this here:
As we kept going back and forth on this, it became more clear that what she was really wondering about was the assurance of her salvation, rather than how to get saved. She said this for example: “How can I have assurance that I’m trying hard enough to go to heaven? And that I’m truly born again?” I answered as follows:
Thanks again *****. The issue is not to be as sorry as you can. Repentance means agreeing with God about our sin, and seeking – with his help – to steer clear of it. If you are not sure of your justification, you can always go back to Christ and tell him. Simply asking these questions is in fact a good place to be in. Those who are not saved would likely not have such concerns. But go back to Christ and pray something like this:
“I am not sure if I have really been born again yet, but I want to be. So I come to you and confess that I am a sinner. And I thank you that the punishment I deserve for my sin you took upon yourself, so I no longer have to pay the price. I can just rest in you, and by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit seek to grow as a Christian and become more like you. Amen.”
And again, sanctification is a joint operation, so it is not so much us struggling and striving, but allowing God to work in our life and make the changes. Sure, we obey and do what we know is right. But he is ever there to help us and make it happen. We all can have some doubts of salvation, but if we were serious when we came to Christ, we can trust him to complete his work in our lives. See more here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/07/13/on-christian-assurance/
Plus finding a good church with other committed Christians; reading the Bible daily; and praying regularly is a main way that we can grow – and gain assurance. Blessings. I will keep you in prayer.
Later in our discussion she asked, “How do I know I’m overcoming enough, and trying hard enough?” I replied:
No one gets to heaven by trying their best – they only get there because of what Christ has done for them – again that is justification – we cannot save ourselves. He does everything, we just believe and receive. The rest is thankful obedience because of that salvation. It is not about trying real hard – just do what you know to be right. If you are missing something or getting off track, God will show that to you – often through fellow believers, or as you read and pray. At the end of the day it is the Holy Spirit who does the work, as we cooperate with him. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” Phil. 2:13. So it is less about worrying and striving and trying real hard, and more about trusting, resting and having a love relationship with the Father.
But let me bring in the new book on assurance I just picked up. Even though not very long, it has plenty of solid meat. It is well worth getting and reading in its entirety, but let me quote just a bit of it here. In Chapter Eight he says this:
Below are ten questions designed to help you decide if you are entitled to assurance. Many of them have been adapted from the observations of an English Puritan pastor/author of the 1600s, Thomas Brooks….
1) Do you intensely desire assurance?
2) Do you sometimes grieve that you do not love Jesus enough?
3) Do you often wish God would change you so that you would always obey Him and never sin again?
4) Do you think salvation is more important than anything else in the world?
5) Do you ever seriously desire to trade places with a rich, famous, or attractive person you know is not a Christian?
6) Would you willingly and habitually sin against God if you could get whatever you wanted in return?
7) Which would you really prefer: God, Christ, the Spirit, grace, glory, holiness, and Heaven; or all the money, pleasure, fame, houses, lands, possessions, and anything else you could name in this world?
8) Do you admire godly people more than rich, famous, athletic, or attractive people?
9) Would you be content to live without hearing sermons, praying, reading the Bible, or worshipping God in public?
10) Would you be willing for Christ to claim you completely as His own?
That is a very useful list indeed – one which we all can run with. And let me also quote from Chapter Five – “Signs of Eternal Life”. In it Whitney refers to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and then he asks this:
How can we know the truth before it’s too late? How can we find out now if God will accept us into His Celestial City? As we saw in chapter 1, the Bible says we can be sure now if heaven’s gates will open to us (see 1 John 5:13). In fact, it commands us to seek such assurance (see 2 Peter 1:10) and to examine ourselves (see 2 Corinthians 13:5) for the biblical evidences of salvation until we find them….
In 1 John we are told of at least ten attitudes and actions that consistently characterize Christians only. So if you want to know if you are going to Heaven, examine yourself in the light of these evidences of true Christianity.
Here they are in outline form:
1) Do you share the intimacies of the Christian life with other believers?
1 John 1:6-7
2) Do you have a deep awareness of your sin against the Word and love of God?
1 John 1:8, 10
3) Do you live in conscious obedience to the Word of God?
1 John 2:3-5
4) Do you despise the world and its ways?
1 John 2:15
5) Do you long for the return of Jesus Christ, and do you long to be made like Him?
1 John 3:2-3
6) Do you habitually do what is right more and sin less?
1 John 3:7-8, 10
7) Do you sacrificially love other Christians and want to be with them?
1 John 3:14
8) Do you discern the presence of the Holy Spirit within you?
1 John 3:24 and 4:13
9) Do you enjoy listening to the doctrines the apostles of Jesus taught?
1 John 4:6
10) Do you believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ?
1 John 5:1
This is a good list indeed, and these are some pretty good things that we can measure ourselves against. As Whitney says: “Christians should examine themselves for all the evidences of salvation mentioned in 1 John. Probably some evidences will be more apparent than others. But it is vital to look at this list and compare it with your life.”
He finishes the chapter by looking at two extremes to avoid:
“Beware of presumption.”
“Beware of unreasonable self-condemnation.”
As mentioned, one would need to read the whole book to get the proper biblical balance here. But I enjoyed what he had to say – especially all the wisdom from the Puritans and others. This is an important topic for all believers – one that we must take seriously indeed.
(Australians can get the Whitney book at Koorong: https://www.koorong.com/search/product/how-can-i-be-sure-im-a-christian/9781641581844.jhtml )
12 Replies to “Christian Assurance”
Good morning Bill, what a timely article. The material you’ve presented is perfect for those of us who’re running home / connect groups who desire to equip their members in doing outreach and evangelism, or more importantly to assist “our guests” who know absolutely nothing about the Christian Faith, but are interested!
Bill, I know this is going way off Topic, but could I encourage all of your Australian supporters to keep upholding ScoMo and his team. God was gracious to us in getting him back in power, however, to keep him there and to keep him effective for The Kingdom, will take ongoing and fervent daily Prayer. Blessings, Kel.
A common question and a good article, Bill, one that both those who regularly condemn themselves would benefit to read, and warning for those who are prideful in their self-righteousness or part of the crowd who say “I’ve said the words so I’m justified and there is no longer sin in me” need to heed.
I find these questions enlightening and helpful.
Luke 18;9-14 NIV. (The Parable of the Pharisee (religious person) and the Tax Collector) .9. To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” 13. But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
14. I (Jesus speaking) tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God………….. (the Pharisee, (the religious person) you’ll note prayed, but his prayers were all about ME ME ME. I do this and I did that and I give this much and I am not as bad as others and I am not as bad as the tax collector. (His prayer was look at me, and how good he was). But the tax collector recognized his sinfulness and repented and asked God to have mercy on him a sinner. And Jesus accepted the tax collector, the one who recognized his need for God’s mercy and God Justified him. But the religious person who patted himself on the back, saying, “Look how good I am” , God didn’t even give him a glance. You see, its the sinner that Jesus Died for and not the self righteous person, Jesus said that its the sick that need the doctor.
Mark 2;17 NIV. On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is NOT the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have NOT come to call the righteous , but the sinners.”
Call out to the only one who saves, and He will answer that prayer. “Lord have mercy on me a sinner”. and TRUST Him to save you.
If we could save ourselves by our own efforts, then Jesus would never had need to die for our sins. (Salvation, is not about DOING DOING DOING. Salvation is about: IT’S DONE.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV. 8. For it is by GRACE (God’s unmerited favour) you HAVE been SAVED, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the GIFT OF God – 9. NOT OF WORKS, SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST. salvation is a free gift that God offers us and that gift is His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is sinless, and He alone paid our sin debt in full on the cross and Redeemed ( bought us back to God His Father with a price, the price was His precious blood). and if you TRUST IN JESUS CHRIST ALONE FOR YOUR SALVATION, then you are imputed with Christ’s RIGHTEOUSNESS. not your own righteousness, Salvation is NOT by being religious enough, nor about being good or bad enough and not by doing all sorts of good acts/works. etc. Salvation is in Christ Alone, through Faith Alone in Christ’s Redemptive Sacrifice on the cross for our sins and the sins of the whole world.
John 3.16 For God so loved the world that He GAVE His only begotten SON, that WHOSOEVER BELIEVES/TRUSTS IN HIM, SHALL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE. So if you accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour you are Saved. and ETERNALLY SAVED and you become a child of God. John 1.12. NIV. Yet to all who did RECEIVE HIM (JESUS) to those who BELIEVED in His name, He (God) gave the right to become the children of God.
Just like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, He also recognized that he was a sinner, and asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus went into His Kingdom, The thief on the cross also recognized that Jesus would rise from the dead. The thief didn’t have time to get baptised or do any religious duties etc. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “This day, you’ll be with me in PARADISE. He was saved from that moment.
Then after you are imputed with Christ’s Righteousness. God works with us unto good works, but that’s not for salvation, Good works comes after you have been regenerated (saved, born again) and we do good works, not for salvation but because of our Love for Jesus, who died in our place.
Ephesians 2: 8 -10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCEE FOR US TO DO.
There is NO-thing we can do to earn God’s favour. Isaiah 64.6 says that ALL our righteous acts are like filthy rags;……..
We must put on CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS. and that’s by BELIEVING AND RECIEVING CHRIST AS OUR SAVIOUR.
1 John 5;13 (also tells us that we can know that we HAVE (present tense Eternal Life. ). We have eternal Life NOW if we Believe. and 1 John 5. 11-12. (Tells us what Eternal Life is) 11. And this is the testimony, God has given us Eternal Life, and THIS LIFE IS IN HIS SON. 12. He who has the Son has life; he who DOES NOT have the Son of God DOES NOT HAVE LIFE.
So, once you believe ON Jesus, TRUST IN HIM and believe that He is God the Son you shall be saved and you are kept saved.
If you happen to sin whilst you are kept saved by God, we can confess that sin/s to GOD you don’t lose your salvation, but you will lose fellowship with God until you make it right with Him. 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness. ” Amen.
To God be the Glory.
Bill, I’m not sure if it’ll be of interest to you and your readers but an animated version of The Pilgrim’s Progress was released earlier this year. The DVD version on Amazon appears to be All Regions but as yet it doesn’t appear to be available via Koorong, Word or secular stores. It may not be as theologically deep as the original text but still another resource,
I think another important thing that has been a great help to myself is to recognise that God cannot lie and therefore must keep his promises. He promises that all who call on his own name will be saved which means that when it comes to the doubting believer (with doubts like: does God really love me? Will he save me? Maybe my faith isn’t real or good enough) they can trust that he will not cast them out because to do so would be to go against his own standards.
Excellent and needed topic, Bill. I think one of the most common and effective weapons the enemy brings against Christians is a feeling of condemnation which they don’t know how to fight because they don’t have enough revelation on it.
the real hard part for me is I have a sin that I can’t seem to shake it is a shout sin high are very hard to deal with. try as I might it doesn’t go away. it seems to be my thorn in the flesh. it is shameful and misunderstood I hate when I fall into it but I can get away from it. I have asked God to cure me with no cure happening. sometimes I too wonder if I am saved. I sometimes think why would God love ME or save ME when I can’t stop doing this sin? Why would Jesus want ME in heaven? I think being molested when I was very young is part of it but I can’t seem to shake the thoughts. so I don’t know how to answer #6 on Whitney’s list.
#7 is a bit tough too since socializing with adults is difficult for me (I can socialize with kids no problem as they don’t intimidate or scare me but I and more intimidated by adults and a bit scared) I have atypical autism and find children easier to be around and God has gifted me so I can work well with them. (I think I would make a great dad but probably not a good husband since I don’t understand women, or girls for that matter, and just can’t fit into normal adult life)
Thanks Paul. Hang in there and keep on going. I will offer prayer for you as well. Blessings.
Paul Wilson, be encouraged. If the desire within you is to be holy then that is not there by your own self, but by the spirit of God. So keep on fighting the good fight, which is resisting the temptations of our flesh and of the evil one. Remember, a the apostle Paul said, it is those who run the race to the end that receive the prize – so don’t despair, and understand that to varying degrees in varying ways we all have sin which must and will diminish in our lives as we die more and more to self and live more and more to Christ. I too, will remember you in my prayers.
I thank both of you for your prayers. As much as I tried to do for the kingdom, disabilities prevent much, I always feel worthless. I’m the person who is in a crowded room and has no-one to talk to and if I leave no-one notices. “oh you were there?” would be the response if I mentioned being at a party or mentioned something that happened there. I just hope I can be of service in the Millennial Kingdom.
The same problem is evident in the list of 10 things from Whitney Chapter 8, and the list of 8 things from Whitney Chapter 5. They ask only about the present state and current patterns. Even baseball has a more circumspect view of what a baseball player is. This assurance answer system is designed to make nothing that is not true about you right now … matter! We can call this “assurance by current stuff only, and check tomorrow.”
How did this situation come about? Robbing assurance from faith (contra Heb 11:1). How did that come about? The desire to have a litmus test to judge others.