I’m certain (100% certain!) that I belong to God, that I have eternal life, that I’m a child of God, that I’ve been changed on the inside so that I can be comformed to Christ’s image, and that I’m destined to be with Jesus in the kingdom of the Son of God’s love. Some Christians feel I shouldn’t say that, that it makes me seem arrogant or presumptive of God.
My country-raised-and-religioned grandmother used to say, “Eddie, you shouldn’t say such a thing. You can’t talk for God. Now you just stay on the straight and narrow, boy.”
This was the same grandmother who, after serving Jesus in little country churches for over 60 years and sacrificing her widow’s mite to just about every charlatan tv evangelist of her day said to me, “I just hope I make it to heaven.”
I have little doubt that my grandmother is now in heaven because I know that she had placed her faith in Jesus. In theological terms, she possessed eternal security.
The tragedy is that she didn’t know she was secure. In theological terms, she didn’t have assurance.
The two are related, but they’re not the same.
Eternal security is a fact due to God’s faithfulness whether the believer realizes it or not. Eternal security rests on a proper concept of what God actually does when He saves a soul. He loves unconditionally (John 13:1), purposes to keep His people in spite of everything (John 10:28-30), listens to His Son who lives forever to make intercession for us to keep us saved (Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1), His Spirit places us in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and seals us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30), and His Word guarantees that nothing can separate us from Christ (Romans 8:28-39).
Assurance is the realization that one possesses eternal life. It is the personal confidence that right relations exist between one’s self and God. It is based on two issues: (1) First and foremost, assurance is based on the unconditional promises of the Word of God (1 John 5:13; 2 Timothy 1:12; John 6:37, 47; Ephesians 2:8-9). (2) Evidences of new life in our experience give us secondary confirmatory confidence—the Spirit’s witness that we are God’s child (Romans 8:16), and a growing love for other Christians (1 John 3:14) are two ways God affirms us as we grow in Christ. Generally, the evidences of sanctification salvation (good works, change in attitude, new motive for living, love for Christ) can be extremely encouraging personally and to all who are watching our lives. But, they are the least reliable source of assurance because of the existence of carnal believers (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), and the possibility of deceptive good works in tares and other religious unbelievers.
Lack of assurance will stunt the growth of believers. Rather than rejoicing in the free gift of eternal life and getting on with growing in Christ, these tragic children of God are constantly trying to earn, keep, or prove that they have already received new life. Like my grandmother, they will fear that they haven’t measured up, literally until their dying day. What a waste!
Giving assurance to those who are not Christians will give them false comfort and false confidence in themselves and their works rather than the Savior they need. Like the Pharisees, these works-righteousness religious moralists parade their deeds and tell others how to please a God they’ve never met. What a disaster!
Here’s a bit of my internal conversation about eternal security and assurance as I disciple:
- Make sure you let them know that eternal life is given freely to all who believe.
- Make sure they’re not trusting in their religious works or moralistic ways.
- Make it about Jesus.
- If they have believed in Jesus, and Jesus alone, take them to the laminated promises of God so that they leave here with assurance in their heart.
- If they insist upon trusting in their works, don’t give them assurance, give them the gospel.
- If they say they “had a religious experience” but there’s been no life change, probe until you’re sure they’ve had the opportunity to believe in Jesus.
- Invite them into a deeper walk with Jesus and ask them to commit to this discipling relationship.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the difference between eternal security and assurance.
Sometimes these frontal questions cause them to squirm and my stomach to churn. But there’s so much at stake. It’s a necessary conversation, a threshold we have to press toward.
Have you ever wondered if someone you were talking to about Jesus really was in Christ? Have you tried ignoring talking with them about their experience with Jesus because you didn’t want to offend them?
Think of it this way, What’s offensive about truly loving someone so much that you wanted them to be sure of their eternal security and to live in the joy of personal assurance? ⇦Tweet that!
I hope this helps.