No, Paul Was Not Arrogant Nor Presumptuous

On certainty and assurance in the Christian life:

It is sometimes thought that to have certainty about something, or a very strong assurance of something, means you are arrogant or conceited. Of course the Christian will get this accusation made by non-Christians if he says things like ‘I know that Jesus is the only way to God’ or ‘I am sure that the Bible is God’s word’ and so on.

But here I want to look at another sort of certainty – one that some Christians think we just should not have. They believe that having an assurance of salvation is not proper. This notion recently arose in the context of a post I had shared on the social media. It was a quote from Burk Parsons and it said this:

“When someone asks if you believe you’re going to heaven, saying ‘I hope so,’ isn’t humble, it’s arrogantly believing that it’s resting on your works. And if you respond, ‘Yes, I’m certain,’ isn’t arrogance, it’s assurance—based on the works of Jesus Christ.”

Some Christians were quite unhappy with that however, and said that it is presumption and worse to say you can have any sort of certainty when it comes to your salvation. Of course this is the old debate about whether one can have assurance of salvation or not. It is the old debate about eternal security. It is the old debate about whether a true child of God can lose his salvation.

I do not intend to rehash all that here. Indeed, as I had to say in a comment after various folks came along objecting to the meme, it was NOT my intent to get into yet another interminable theological war, especially since these matters have been debated countless times over the centuries.

So I simply offered a few quick comments and left it at that:

“Two basics I go with here: 1) We are saved by grace alone, not works; 2) We stay humble before God and take seriously the warning passages of Scripture – in that light the Parsons quote is something I can run with.”

“Biblical texts on certainty and full assurance are found throughout Scripture. And we also have many warnings as well. So we are to ‘Beware of presumption’ and ‘Beware of unreasonable self-condemnation’.”

I suggested those who are interested could read two earlier pieces of mine which discuss this:…/12/on-christian-assurance-2/

Still, folks came along raising their objections. As mentioned, I do not desire to once again start a major theological war on these matters. And I have already discussed the matter of losing one’s salvation in other pieces, eg.:

So I will not repeat all that here. But when folks claim that any confidence, assurance or certainty is wrong, I still must insist on letting Scripture speak. And so many passages can be appealed to in this regard. Simply consider just one book written by just one of the New Testament writers.

I refer to Paul and his second letter to Timothy. It contains a number of quite strong passages in which there is real certainty – and not arrogance. They contain real assurance – and not presumption. Here are some of these texts:

2 Timothy 1:12 I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

2 Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

2 Timothy 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

In these and so many other passages like them, we see Paul full of certainty, full of confidence, full of conviction. That did not make him arrogant. That did not mean he was being presumptuous. After all, he was writing these words while inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Of interest, I did mention that first text in my social media discussion, only to have one person say that we must guard against certainty since we can be mistaken and fallible. But as I just said, Paul was penning his letters as he was led by God’s Spirit. So he was NOT mistaken, nor was he fallible in what he said. Moreover, he fully seemed to expect those he was writing to to have the same sort of confidence and certainty.

While each of these four texts could be examined at length, let me simply offer some commentary on the 2 Tim. 4:18 passage. Andreas Kostenberger says this about it:

Although Paul clearly laments the fact that no one in the Roman church stood by him at his first defense, he is convinced that the Lord won’t fail him: he will rescue him from every evil attack (cf. Matt. 6:13) – whether physical deliverance or spiritual preservation – and bring him safely into his heavenly kingdom. Earthly kings or emperors may persecute him, but the apostle knows that his eternal destiny is secure (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Image of 1-2 Timothy and Titus: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary (EBTC)
1-2 Timothy and Titus: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary (EBTC) by Köstenberger, Andreas J. (Author), Alexander, T. Desmond (Editor), Schreiner, Thomas R. (Editor), Hamilton, James M. (Series Editor), Mathews, Kenneth A. (Series Editor), Wilder, Terry L. (Series Editor) Amazon logo

Or as R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell comment:

Paul did not expect acquittal – he was certain of death (cf. v. 6). But he looked death straight in the face and roared with confidence….


Confident of rescue. His confidence … was not an expectation of deliverance from death but rather that no evil attack would undermine his faith or his courage or cause him to lapse into disastrous sin. Furthermore, this death would deliver him once and for all from all evil. It appears that Paul had been praying the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer – “but deliver us from evil” – and was confident that would happen in his life and at his martyrdom.


Confident of Heaven. Death held in one of its hands his deliverance, but in the other hand his destination – Heaven… Paul calls it a “heavenly kingdom” because he was already in Christ’s kingdom, but this would be the heavenly aspect.


Such soaring, roaring confidence came primarily from Paul’s belief in God’s Word….

Philip Towner speaks of how Paul viewed the Lord’s intervention from two perspectives:

His allusion to the lion’s mouth, against the background of Psalm 22, refers to physical death, from which Paul had been spared (on more than one occasion, 2 Cor. 11:23). And while Paul’s portion of the work is still to be finished, this protection will be assured. But ultimately the Lord’s faithfulness extends to his rescue to eternal life (his heavenly kingdom). No evil worked against God’s people can keep them from this goal (compare Rom. 8:31-39). Paul’s own experience of Jesus’ travail was his opportunity to learn of the Lord’s strength for endurance and promise of protection.


It seems that it is when circumstances least warrant hope in God that the conviction and experience of God’s promises to stand near and deliver grow most clear to the righteous. Paul’s hope of salvation was never more certain than when he wrote these final words. The doxology, which proclaims the Lord’s glory, is the fitting conclusion to this reminder of the presence, power and rescue of God.

Finally, Gordon Fee puts it this way:

In typical fashion the recent rescue from immediate peril is reflected on theologically. . . . Once again, the focus of the letter is on eschatology, in the form of one of Paul’s triumphant certainties: What God has already accomplished in Christ, he will see through to final consummation; the salvation he has begun he will indeed complete.


Such a note of eschatological triumph, not to mention past victories, calls for a doxology (cf. 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16)….

Again, this will not resolve the ongoing debates about whether or not the Christian can lose his salvation. But at the very least, such passages, along with the commentary I offered, should disavow us of the silly notion that talk about confidence and certainty and assurance are somehow wrong and out of place when discussing such matters.

Indeed, if I offered all such texts here on this, I would have a very long article. Just one more from Paul, again exuding certainty and strong conviction: “Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)

I for one will not feel ashamed about being confident in the things God said I should be confident in. Decrying certainty in such areas is not the way to proceed here. That is not how Paul and the other New Testament writers saw things.

Yes, as I keep saying, we also keep in mind the other texts, such as: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). But BOTH can and should be insisted upon, simultaneously.

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One Reply to “No, Paul Was Not Arrogant Nor Presumptuous”

  1. Yes correct. I kept thinking through this article of the scripture in 2 Cor 13 and you used it right at the end. We should be able to test ourselves and determine if we are in the faith and I suspect that anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time should probably have done this, perhaps repeatedly. I know I have had to at least once.

    I also think it is telling that the very issues Paul was addressing were shown at the end of Cor 12 and were to do with licentiousness and sexual sin – exactly as we see today.

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