Two ways we can be assured of salvation

March 10, 2017

On this blog I have wrestled, alongside some of you, with the following question: “If I have truly been justified by God, is it possible for me to lose this gift, such that unless I repent and seek God’s forgiveness and grace—literally become re-justified—I will go to hell?” Wesleyan Christians believe the answer is “yes.” We believe backsliding (for that is what we call it when it happens) is a real and present danger, even though we also preach assurance: for those who are (presently) justified, they can know they’re justified through the witness of the Holy Spirit within them. (See Romans 8:12-17 for one classic proof-text.)

Indeed, in a post a couple of months ago on infant baptism, I said that only a belief in the reality of backsliding can sustain the sacramental view of baptism that many Protestants, including Methodists, hold.

As I’ve said before, the issue of backsliding is purely a secondary doctrine: Whether we lose our justification through persistent, unrepentant sinfulness, or persistent, unrepentant sinfulness proves that we never had it to begin with, the result is the same. Consequently, all of us—believers in backsliding or in eternal security—need to seek assurance.

For this reason, I fully endorse this video from John Piper. Reflecting on the Romans 8 passage, he offers two reasons for assurance: hatred of our sin and childlike dependence on our heavenly Father. (This clip also demonstrates in small measure why Piper is among his generation’s most gifted preachers! What a show-off! 😉 )

3 Responses to “Two ways we can be assured of salvation”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, although I appreciate the “dilemma” and the attempted “either/or” resolution, I think it is difficult to say that anyone can have “assurance” if “backsliding” to the point of losing salvation actually obtained is a real possibility. If we can “backslide out,” then our “security” is in our own laps. And how can any of us be “assured” that under no circumstances would we ever “fall away”? “He that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” I think the only way we can have “assurance” is that once we ever have, truly, been indwelt by the Spirit (without whom we are “none of his”), he will not “depart from us.” Now, I frankly don’t know that no departure is “theologically correct.” My point is, however, that “assurance” of retention of salvation can only properly be predicated, in my view, with God as exclusively “holding the keys,” or keeping us in the palm of his hand, “and no man is capable of taking them out of my Father’s hand.” Thus, I am not at all confident of my OWN ability to “keep myself saved.” I can only hope that GOD will do that.

    (Not that I actually see myself as likely to fall away at this point, but keep in mind that I DID in practice fall away while at college and stayed in such a “frame of mind” and “practice” for about ten years! What would have happened had God let me die while in such a state? Thankfully he did not, so in my case this has become a moot point, but my current thought is that I would have awakened in heaven, but quite “sheepishly,” and with little or no rewards!)

    • brentwhite Says:

      There was a time in my life, post-conversion, when I, too, fell away—in practice if not in confession. The thought about my own death during that period has crossed my mind. What would have happened?

      I wonder if your statement (“I think the only way we can have ‘assurance’ is that once we ever have, truly, been indwelt by the Spirit (without whom we are ‘none of his’), he will not ‘depart from us’) doesn’t beg the question: How can we know that we have been “truly indwelt” by the Spirit?

      All of us, whether we believe in eternal security or not, must examine ourselves. John Piper gives a couple of little tests. There are many more in scripture.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        This is really a tricky issue. Thus, at the moment I am quite certain I am indwelt by the Spirit. “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are the sons of God.” I imagine that you are certain of that as well. But what about BEFORE the “falling away” in my case? I guess I can’t swear to that “indwelling” as an indisputable fact from my memory today, but I know I was “doing a lot of Christian things,” including witnessing to other people, and certainly considered myself to be a Christian. But I gradually became “less dedicated” when I got to college and presto, when I read in my Intro to the Christian Faith book as a freshman at Furman in winter term about a “silly contradiction” in the Bible, I suddenly stopped believing. Did the Spirit then depart? Well, I certainly “did not believe” and “acted that way,” but interestingly occasionally I did or said something that in retrospect seems like the “Spirit popping out” despite myself. So, I can’t really swear one way or the other “where the Spirit was” during that stretch–merely being “quenched” or “gone.” Therefore, it is remotely possible that I did not have the Spirit before Furman, but that is highly unlikely. Whereas, whether I “had the Spirit” during the “interim” is the rub. That’s the “million dollar question”–except way more “expensive” than that!


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