A Biblical Definition of Assurance

This is part 2 of the two-part series on biblical assurance.

The topic of assurance of salvation should give believers in Jesus Christ hope and a future. But what does it mean? How do you define it? That is the purpose of this post – what is assurance? How is it grounded? How can Reformed Arminians guarantee assurance of salvation?

I would define assurance in this way: biblical assurance is the confidence and hope in the atoning work of Jesus Christ for those who believe in Him for salvation.

Confidence and Hope

Insofar as faith is the appropriating element of salvation, the manner of which faith appropriates salvation is through a trust and confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The faith of a human being is not conjured up within them by their own volition and willful intention but is graciously given by God to those offered the gospel by grace before regeneration. As mentioned before, even non-Arminians believe in the idea of pre-regenerating grace.

This confidence and hope possessed by believing persons is often characterized in the Bible as faith. Faith, according to the writer of Hebrews, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). In ultimate ways, the author of Hebrews is revealing the true nature of faith – confidence and hope. Faith is the means through which persons are saved. Notice how the aspect of faith for salvation is the present and the future. There is a present confidence in the reality of one’s justification through the person and work of Christ. Yet, there is also a forward-looking element to faith in that there is a future reality promised to those who persevere in faith. However, the only way one possesses the future reality of the life to come is by faith in Christ to endure this life until the hereafter. As Forlines notes, “We are saved by faith and kept by faith.”[1]

For the doctrine of assurance, an important distinction must be made between saving faith and other forms of faith. Some note of a historical faith which means a person understands the claim of Scripture, or a temporary faith which might truth in these claims for a short time,[2] while others simply call it common faith. In other words, faith is the condition for how one comes into a state of grace. Therefore, faith is the required condition of the believer’s union with Jesus because it is “a condition required in the object to be saved, and it is in face a condition before it is the means for obtaining salvation.”[3]

It is this saving faith that gives us confidence and hope that we are saved in the here and now and are being saved for the life to come. Only can faith produce confidence and hope for the believer in Jesus Christ because faith is the confidence and hope in the object of salvation, Jesus Christ. Yet, the only appropriating element for salvation is saving faith. While faith is the appropriator of salvation, it is not the ground – the ground of our salvation is Jesus Christ and His finished work.

Atoning Work of Christ

The ground and foundation of all that believers experience in salvation is only found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the atoning work of Jesus Christ that grounds the mercy and judgment of God in the salvation of His people. The only possible way for salvation to occur for humanity was by the God of Heaven willingly giving himself to save humankind.

Salvation is nonexistent without the atoning death of Jesus Christ in the place of wretched sinners. The redemptive purposes of God all culminate in this event in time when God the Son left the principalities of Heaven to become human and live the life humanity could not live and die for them in their place to pay their sin debt. Oh, how comforting it is to rest in the arms of our substitute and satisfactory Lamb, Jesus Christ the righteous! His bloody death and bodily resurrection are the only grounds for assurance of salvation for sinful human beings. None other can save but Him. Therefore, there is no assurance of salvation unless it is grounded and founded in Jesus Christ by faith in His atoning death on the cross and resurrection for humanity.

Believing in Him

While assurance is grounded in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, the element of belief in His atoning work is necessary for a continual assurance throughout one’s life. Belief in Jesus has nothing to do with a predestinarian element to salvation, but the willful confidence and hope from a person responding to the drawing call of God. Jesus tells those following Him around throughout His ministry that “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40).

In John 6:40, two words truly present the idea that salvation is conditioned on the faith and belief of the individual drawn by God to Christ. The word behold (θεωρών) implies a theoretical analysis or contemplation of Jesus. To behold Jesus is to carefully consider who He is and His claims to be God in flesh.[4] Directly related to faith is the element of belief in Jesus Christ. We know this because of John’s use of the word believe which is πιστεύων which contains the same root for faith in the New Testament (πιστεύω).[5] Both beholding and believing in the person of Jesus Christ is the way one comes to be regenerated by Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

We behold Christ by affirming that He is who He said He was, and we believe that His life, death, and resurrection is the only means through which we can become righteous before a holy and just God. Any other “belief” nullifies the atoning death and resurrection of Christ and makes it worthless. John’s purpose in writing his gospel account, and Jesus’s purpose in John 6 is to persuade those following Him to see Him for who He truly is and believe on His name for salvation.

Salvation

Salvation of the one who beholds and believes in Jesus Christ is both a present and future reality. While the gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely transactional, it does hold an element of instantaneous redemption. The justification a believer experiences through faith and belief (beholding and believing) in Jesus Christ is immediate. Also, however, salvation is a continual persevering work throughout the believer’s life in Jesus Christ. Faith is a continual condition for salvation and a necessary continual element of assurance. The issue is not with Jesus; the issue is with human beings who possess wills bent toward sin and self-sufficiency. Jesus will keep those who the Father gives Him. He will not cast them out, nor will He drive them away. He cannot do otherwise; human beings can do otherwise.

Thus, the “keeping” element of salvation is beholding and believing in Jesus – it is saving faith in His atoning, sacrificial death, and His resurrection. The way believers can have assurance of their salvation is by their continual close union and intimacy with Jesus Christ, the all-sovereign keeping Savior.

The fundamental ways in which assurance is first possessed is by a close union with Jesus Christ. Since the object of our faith is Jesus Christ alone, it only logically concludes the only way one can be assured they are saved is by being in union with Him through continual faith and belief. The second way in which assurance is possessed is through the acting out of one’s saving faith. True, continual assurance comes through the expression of sanctified actions and intentions from the believer in Jesus Christ. Being in intimate union with Jesus Christ through faith and belief, and living as if Jesus is Lord over your thoughts, intents, and actions, gives believers the assurance to continue living for Him until the next life is ushered in.

Conclusion

When doubts and fear and skepticism enter in, the possibility of unbelief and lacking faith become realities and could even cause men to walk away from the Lord completely. For this reason, Jesus implores us to believe in Him because He will keep us as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The God-ordained role of human beings in salvation is to do just this: work out your own salvation. Man has nothing to contribute to his regeneration, for he comes into it by faith and belief in the Son of God. Man has no role to play in his saving, other than faith and belief in the Son of God.

Therefore, we must rejoice in the gracious kindness of Almighty God who has promised in His Word that, as we respond to His drawing us to Jesus Christ through faith and belief, He will keep us as we hold on tightly to His Son, the Chief Justice of our souls. Nothing in this earthly life will be as assuring to mankind as the eternally good, eternally sovereign, all-sufficient person and work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of God’s elect.

Only will assurance be real to the believer when it is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, who left His heavenly principality to live, die, and rise again in the place of sinful humanity for their redemption and reconciliation to God. Spurgeon probes his audience so clearly, “To put together all I have said, you must quit every other hope; you must take Jesus to be your sole confidence, and then you must be obedient to his command, and take him to be your Master and Lord.”[6] Biblical assurance is grounded in this verity that all other ground is sinking sand, and Christ is truly your only solid rock on which you can stand.


[1] F. Leroy Forlines. Classical Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 351.

[2] J.V. Fesko, “The Doctrine of Saving Faith” The Gospel Coalition, accessed September 7, 2021, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/doctrine-saving-faith/.

[3] Arminius, “On Faith” Works, 723-724.

[4] H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 364.

[5] Ibid., 641.

[6] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “All Comers to Christ Welcomed” The Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, accessed September 3, 2021, https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/all-comers-to-christ-welcomed/#flipbook/.

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