When we think about having assurance of our salvation we usually are quick to affirm the truth that we have read in 1 John. We have been told “Now by this we know that we know Him” (1 John 2:3), and “These things I have written to you…that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). We know that we can know that we know Jesus. Or at least we hope so.
Some Christians will tell us that they have never doubted their salvation, as if a lack of assurance is evidence of weakness or immaturity. All I can say to that is that if someone really has not ever had any doubt at all then perhaps this reveals a false assurance, an assurance that is too good to be true. Not that I want anyone to doubt. I want us to be sure. Anyone who struggles with sin and desires sanctification surely has seen enough of themselves to wonder how God could save “a wretch like me”. Faith that falters is still faith.
We often miss the fact that when we doubt we are compelled to be reassured. Doubts about our salvation rarely destroy our faith and often lead to strengthening it as we shore up what is lacking. So while we should not fear doubts, we also should not let them linger. Let us sing “My heart has no desire to stay, where doubts arise and fears dismay.”
A doubt is a lack of faith, and too often we doubt the truth when we really should doubt the doubt. It is the doubt that is founded on fear and uncertainty. Why trust the doubt and let it affect how we think, feel, and act?
Doubts usually arise because of sin, sorrow, or struggles. We fall to temptation and are disgusted with ourselves, wondering how a person who is redeemed could do what we have just done. We become overwhelmed with grief or sadness and hope and joy give way to fear. Or we grow weary in the struggle against sin and sorrow, losing sight of Christ in the midst of trials and tribulation. We sink in the wind and waves and wonder how a disciple of Christ could fail so miserably.
In attempting to pull ourselves back together and regain some semblance of assurance we are often encouraged to look at our good works. We are told to examine our lives and see the things that are different now than before we came to know Christ. These outer changes, and even changes in attitude and appetite, are described as fruit, and we know you can tell a tree by its fruit. But too often when we do look at fruit and our good works we are still just looking at ourselves. True lasting assurance cannot originate with self because we know how prone to failure we are. Even the largest ego and the most assured self-esteem with falter when we come face to face with our depravity.
Where do we find assurance then? How can we really know that we know Jesus, and that He knows us?
Make Your Calling and Election Sure
We read in 2 Peter 1:10:
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;
To be diligent is to “make every effort”, to work hard at accomplishing a task. Here we are told to be even more diligent to make our calling and election sure. In other words, we need to diligently make sure that we are called and elect.
In order to understand how to do this, and in order to find the key to true and lasting assurance, we must recognize that our calling and election is a matter decided by God, not by us. We are not being told here to examine anything that originates from us. It is not that we responded to the call, or that we ourselves have made a decision, or elected, to follow Christ. These words refer to specific acts of God directed toward us for His own purposes and glory. So assurance does not come from what we have done with what God gives us, our assurance is based on the fact that our salvation, start to finish, is a work God has done through Christ.
Calling refers to an invitation or command. We are called to salvation. This is referred to as the effectual calling and is mentioned by Paul in several of his epistles. This is God’s initiation of our relationship with Him. The truth is that as a carnal (lost) person, we on our own are dead and bound in sin and have no desire within ourselves to abandon our sin or come to Christ (1 Cor 2:14). As the great old hymn Oh, How I Love Jesus proclaims “Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.” This is absolutely true, if He did not love us first, we would never love Him. Hence Jesus tells us in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” This is the calling. And when God calls us, He means it (Rom 11:29).
We see then that God calls us to repent and believe (Matt 9:13), to come and follow Christ (Matt 11:28), and to produce good works (1 Peter 2:21; Eph 4:1). While we may see the fruit of regeneration in our lives as we repent of our sin and trust Christ, following Him and producing good fruit – these things are not the basis for our assurance. The basis of our assurance is found in the fact that God has called us!
Election is thought to be a controversial and confusing topic doctrinally, but it really isn’t either. The word “election” refers to making a choice. When it comes to salvation the choice that really matters is not our choice, it is God’s choice! Biblically we see that election refers to God’s choice in saving sinners, and no matter what we believe about the doctrine of election, this we can all agree on – if God did not choose to save, no one would be saved!
We know that He does not call us based on what He sees in us, for any good we have done, or evil that we have shunned (Rom 9:11). And it certainly is not based on anything good in us. When God went looking for good among men He proclaimed in His Word, “There is none good, no not one” (Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 53:3; Romans 3:12).
What we see in 1 Peter 1:1-2 is that the doctrine of election speaks to more than just God’s choice to save us. It is deeper than that. We have been chosen by God to salvation, but we have also been chosen for obedience.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
Obedience is a mark of salvation to be sure, but it is not a reason for assurance. Our hope of assurance is found in the truth that when it comes to salvation God has chosen us. If we look to good works for assurance of salvation then we are really just looking at self. Self cannot save us or give us assurance. If on the other hand we look to Christ and the promises He has given us through His Word, then we can truly be sure, because Jesus never changes, the Spirit never leaves, and God cannot lie.
We have been called and chosen by God for salvation, justification, sanctification, and glorification (Rom 8:30), so that we might produce good works for His glory now and forever as we enjoy the everlasting life we have been given because of the life and death and resurrection of Christ, our Lord and Savior. In order to make our calling and election sure we must look to the promises of God. His Word is sure, steadfast, trustworthy, and pure.
God’s Sure Word
One promise from God’s Word can effectively and efficiently disperse our doubts. And while there are many promises to choose from and to meditate upon, let us look at one promise that Christ Himself gives us that will help us find assurance of our salvation.
When it comes to calling and election, Jesus said, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). He also said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).
There is our calling and election. He calls, we come. If we come, He will not cast us out or turn us away. If our assurance is faltering and failing, if we are sinking fast into sin, sorrow, and struggles – look to Jesus, call to Jesus, come to Jesus! Based on the authority of His Word and the surety of His promise, if we come He will receive us. He is our assurance.