Bedrock Discipleship: Assurance

We wanted to begin this series of messages on bedrock discipleship by grounding everything we believe on the teaching of Scripture. We want everything we hold on this to be established by the Bible, and to ensure that this is so, we need to be biblically literate people. When we come to the Scriptures this way, we encounter God’s testimony—which is the ground of any testimony we might be able to offer. But when we give our testimony, we will be cross-examined by somebody, and we will be asked, “How can you be sure . . .?” And so we come to the matter of assurance.

The Text:

“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:10–13).

Summary of the Text:

We saw last week in John 3:32 that the Son of God has the testimony (marturia). When we believe His testimony, we are acknowledging that He speaks the truth (v. 10). And so what is the testimony that He gives? It is both objective and subjective. This is the record (marturia)—God has given us eternal life, and has done so through His Son. Note that God’s testimony lands in our inner life. The objective side of it is that all life is in His Son (v. 12). If you have the Son, you therefore have life. If you do not have the Son, you do not have life. These things were written, not so that we might be tormented with uncertainty, but rather so that we might know (assurance) that we have eternal life, and that we might know this because we believe on the name of the Son of God (v. 13).

Two Extremes:

Now if it is true that not every person baptized into the visible church is saved, and that is true, then the obvious question becomes “how can we tell the difference between those who truly have the testimony, and those who simply say that they do?” It is a reasonable question, but that has not kept many people from doing many unreasonable things with it. There are two extremes to avoid—one is to assume that if your baptismal papers are in order, then you are automatically in, as though the kingdom of God were like a purebred line of golden retrievers. The other extreme is to flinch whenever sin is mentioned and question your salvation at every little thing. Oftentimes, ecclesiastical professionals will manipulate both tendencies for their own profit. Don’t.

That You May Know:

Going back to 1 John 5:13, if we have the Son, if we have eternal life, God wants us to know that we do.

Doubts and Questions:

There is a vast difference between doubts and questions. Doubts can never be answered in principle because they are phrased like this: “What if . . .?” Questions have answers. They can be posed, you follow it out, and you learn something. Here is the difference. Suppose a happily married woman suddenly has a panic attack out of nowhere. “What if my husband is cheating on me?” The only appropriate answer to this is “what if he isn’t?” That is quite different from a wife asking “who is the blonde in the red convertible out front, the one who is honking for you, who is that?” That’s a question.

Biblical Marks of Rejection:

We are not to over-engineer this. In the context of a biblical community, the burden of proof is on the one who insists upon excluding himself. Note two things about a particular way of living “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these . . . they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19, 21). It is manifest who will not inherit the kingdom.

Biblical Marks of Adoption:

We are supposed to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). We are supposed to examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). This can be done without morbid introspection. But how? Keep in mind that in all that follows, it is not so much what you look to as the way you look to it. Baptism, Bible, etc.

  • We saw in 1 John 5:13 that we are to believe on the name of Jesus. We are to hold fast to Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9). This is the foundation of everything else. Do you trust in Jesus?
  • Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). The Spirit is given as a guarantee (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:5-6). The Spirit is given to us as an assurance. How do we know we have the Spirit? He grows things (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:9). He kills things (Rom. 8:13).
  • We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14). What is your attitude toward those you know love God? Do you want to be with them, or are you repelled by them?
  • “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Jesus says that a mark of true conversion is humility of mind, becoming like a little child.
  • “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet. 2:2–3). A marked characteristic of life is hunger—in this case, hunger for the Word.
  • “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). There are two kinds of people in the world—those who are perishing and to whom the cross makes no sense, and those who are saved, to whom it does.
  • “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). Here is another explicit statement of how we know. We know because we obey Him.
  • “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). But the previous mark should not be clutched in a false perfectionism. We do still sin. But what happens then is another mark of true conversion.

The Conclusion of the Matter:

What is the conclusion of the matter? We are saved by the grace of God in Christ, plus nothing (Eph. 2:8-9). We are not saved by good works. But we are saved to good works (Eph. 2:10).

Theology That Bites Back



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  • timothy

    Very nice, thank you. Very assuring as well (:
    There is a small grammatical error in “The Summary Of The Text” in the sentence “The objective side of it is that all life in in His Son (v. 12).”

  • Douglas Wilson

    Timothy, thanks.

  • Anthony

    I have a question about a verse.  I’ve been told by a pastor that continual sin  after being saved can get you into hell.  Do you agree with that?  If not, can you explain some parts of the bible like how Jesus talks about rejecting a church for being lukewarm in Revelation or in the gospels how the parable of those in rocky soil can’t endure tribulation and fall away?  One verse in particular that sticks out to me is Rev 3:5?  How can Jesus say that He will not blot someone out of the book of life?  That implies that He would, right?

  • timothy

    I do not have a specific answer, but a general one. I too would fixate on 1 or 2 verses and try to reason the whole of scripture from those verses.
    What Pastor Wilson is teaching is to look at the whole Bible when considering a subject. When that is done, the verses in question then fall into a broader context that give them meaning that is different when considered alone.
    I am sorry I lack the skills to give you specific examples of what I mean (or maybe I just need some more time and coffee to think of some). I would note that Pastor Wilson has done exactly that when discussing the topic of Assurance.
    Ah! Coffee just kicked in. 1 John 5:13  “That ye may know that ye have eternal life”. That was the stickler for me. Just by fixating on that verse, I remember thinking to myself, “no, I do not know it. I have read it, but that is not a reason to know it. Just because somebody says the sky is red does not mean it is. So, just because you have stated that I may know does not mean that I actually do.”
    What is needed, and Pastor Wilson did it in his post is to step back a bit and take in the whole of scripture. Get some situational awareness. With that, the verse drops into place perfectly.
    My 2 cents.