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 5:14
The Apostle John wrote these words to remind his readers of the purpose of his letter. The reason for the letter was so that the believers who would read these words would come to the point where they were sure of the fact that they had been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. It was important to the Apostle that those who professed belief in Jesus knew with all assurance that they had indeed been saved by Him.
This particular concept (that one might know with all assurance that one is saved) has been a contentious one throughout history, and it reminds me of a story that has been told of my grandfather who was a pastor for many years.
I believe it was in the late 1970’s when he preached a sermon declaring that one could be assured of one’s salvation, and that one could know without a doubt if they were indeed one of God’s children. Unfortunately for him, the church context in which this message was preached was hostile towards this message, and he was asked by church leadership to recant this message of assurance, or risk further disciplinary action. He did not recant.
I share this story to show the contentious nature of this subject. Many oppose the message of assurance precisely because they feel as though it may lead to a life of sin and licentiousness.
But we as believers must ask ourselves, if the Apostle John writes these words at the end of his letter, telling us that the purpose of it is for our assurance in our salvation, why do we struggle with this concept? Why do we push against its message?
If the Apostle John clearly lays out this concept in 1 John, what is the purpose of assurance in Christ? How can we come to this assurance in our own lives? Should we pursue this assurance of salvation for ourselves? Is it truly important for us to know with absolute certainty that we are truly saved by Jesus?
One of the greatest puritan theologians of all time, John Owen, saw the need to pursue the assurance of our salvation. He wrote, “It is the duty of every believer to seek assurance of personal forgiveness. The apostle exhorts us all to it, ‘Let us draw near, in full assurance of faith,’ (Heb 10:22).”
In Owens writings, he concedes that many who profess Christ may never come to a place of full assurance here on earth, and he concludes that full assurance is a rare thing. It is nevertheless something that ought to be sought after with vigor. According to Owen, it is through the exercising of one’s faith that ultimately brings about assurance, and the greater the assurance of one’s faith, the greater our works of faith become. It is a wonderful cycle!
For Owen, the attainability of the assurance of our salvation was only possible because salvation and faith in Christ are a gift from God, not a reward for our works. If we were assured of our salvation because of our own works, what a flimsy assurance that would be, as each one of us fails to live up to God’s standard of holiness on a daily basis.
According to Owen, our assurance lies not in our own works, but rather the works of Christ. We are given the gift of faith by Jesus Christ, and the more we exercise this gift of faith, the more our assurance of salvation grows. The more we know God, the more we trust Him. The more we trust Him, the greater the assurance of our salvation. The greater our assurance, the greater our faith will grow, and the cycle continues. When we truly know the God of our salvation, we cannot help but find peace and assurance in Him who saved us.
Assurance of faith is not always something that happens immediately after conversion, or something that happens automatically or without effort, but rather it is something that is brought about by a life of sacrificial service to Christ. As we exercise our faith in Christ, we begin to see Him more clearly through the pages of Scripture, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our faith in Him grows through this, bringing with it the most peaceful assurance that we can know. We can rest in Jesus, knowing He has finished the work on the cross. Pursue Christ, and greater assurance will result.