Without a doubt, everyone needs, wants, and seeks assurance in all realms of life—in matters of human relationships, finances, job security, retirement, government, and especially in our beliefs about God, man, salvation, and spirituality as it is described for us in the New Testament. In his thought provoking book, No Condemnation, a New Theology of Assurance, Michael Eaton writes about the absence of assurance in Asahel Nettleton. Nettleton was a powerful evangelical preacher in 19th century America who said of himself, “The most that I have ventured to say repsecting myself is, that I think it possible I may get to heaven.”5 A few pages later, in describing his quest for an encouraging theology, Eaton wrote:
On one occasion the mistake of a British Museum librarian meant that instead of the words of Tobias Crisp I found myself reading about the death-bed experiences of 17th century Puritans. I was shattered to discover that their assurance of salvation at such a time was not what I would have expected. Then I came across the remark of Asahel Nettleton, quoted above, which expressed the very essence of everything I felt was wrong with the approach to grace that I had grown up with.… Surely, I thought to myself, there is more joy and assurance in the New Testament than that…6
But what is assurance? Basically, assurance is freedom from doubt; a sense of certainty that something is true, will occur, or that all is okay. Synonyms for assurance consist of words like certainty, certitude, conviction. All these nouns ultimately mean freedom from doubt.
Assurance is not a foreign concept of the New Testament. In Acts 2:36, Peter said, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (NIV) The word assured is the Greek ajsfalw'", “sure, certain, secure.” It is used of the concept of guarding something or someone securely (cf. Acts 16:23; Mark 14:44). It comes from a verb ( asfalivzw) which means “to guard.” From that it developed the meaning of “that which is sure, certain,” or “assurance.”
Writing to Theophilus in the first of his two-volume treatise on the person and work of Jesus Christ, Luke wrote,
Luke 1:1-4. Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. 3 So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know for certain [ ajsfavleia] the things you were taught. From the meaning and use of the Greek word ajsfavleia, we can clearly see some of the issues involved with the concept of assurance. We want and need a sense of certainty, based on the evidence of Scripture, regarding the truth because such a sense of certainty or assurance also gives a sense of security.
Furthermore, this is something which God wants us to have and which church leaders, using the truth of God in Christ as revealed in the Bible, ought to be diligent to provide through the study of the Word. With this in mind, note what Paul wrote to the church at Colosse when they were facing false teaching (Col. 2:1-5). These false teachings were on the verge of undermining the assurance of the Colossian believers with regard to what they had believed about the person and work of the Savior. Note the development of Paul’s argument here:
1. Verse 1 expresses Paul’s concern and effort expended on their behalf: “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,”
2. Verses 2-3 express his first and fundamental purpose—to give the full assurance which comes from understanding what is theirs through Christ: “that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
3. Verses 4-5 express his second purpose, which is also the result of the first. He says “I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.”
In Galatians 1:20, to assure his readers of the truth of what he was writing, Paul wrote, “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie” (NIV). Literally, “behold” or “take note, before God …” Here the apostle was setting forth historical evidence and calling God as his witness as well. The fact is people need and should have assurance, but it should, of course, be based on credible evidence that what they are asked to believe or have believed is the truth.
1. Scientific, that which can be repeated in a laboratory or under scientific controls.
2. The legal-historical, that which is based on showing something is beyond a reasonable doubt based on oral and written testimony and exhibits or other forms of evidence like a gun, a bullet, archaeological findings, manuscripts, etc.
Sometimes people try to argue against the Bible or Christ with the statement, “You can't prove that by scientific method,” with the implication that believing in the Bible and in Christ is therefore unreliable and unbelievable. Such a claim is false.
Historical events and issues cannot be proven by the scientific method because they cannot be repeated. That’s true. But it is not true that this makes the claims of the Bible and its testimony to Jesus Christ false. Why? Because the scientific approach is totally inadequate to prove things about a person or an event in history. It cannot prove whether or not George Washington lived or if John Kennedy was assassinated or if Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead. However, there are other forms of evidence that can be brought forth that are used every day in courts all over this country to give evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that certain things either happened or did not happen, or are true even though they cannot be repeated.
Thus, the Savior said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” He said, “You shall know,” and not just hope or feel it’s true. Through the resurrection and many other infallible proofs, God has given us credible evidence for the genuiness of the claims of the Bible as being God’s Word and for the certainty of the claims of Christ.
Acts 17:30-31 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead (emphasis mine).
With this in mind, compare Romans 4:13-21 and note the element of firm assurance that Abraham had. God wants us to have assurance and to know the peace that comes from assurance, but we must be sure that our assurance is based on the truth of Scripture or our assurance will be empty.
New Christians, and even many older believers for that matter, need assurance concerning the very message of the gospel they have believed and of the new life they have in Christ as believers. With the many winds of strange doctrine blowing across the landscape, people are often assailed by all kinds of doubts and fears about their decision to trust in Christ.
Is what I believed really the gospel? Just what does my decision to believe in Jesus Christ mean in my life? What are the ramifications and consequences? Can salvation be lost? If I commit this sin or that sin, does it mean I was never saved? Some evangelists or preachers give the impression that once you accept Christ all your problems will be over, when in reality a whole new set of problems begin with hostile forces on the attack. The Christian has moved from Satan’s kingdom into the kingdom of Christ, which Satan hates. This also tends to unsettle a person’s assurance (see 1 Thess. 3:1-8).
1. To give personal assurance concerning what the gospel message is.
2. To give personal assurance concerning the results of personally believing in Jesus Christ.
3. To cover biblical promises essential to gaining assurance of what believers have in Christ.
4. To provide ability to deal with any doubts regarding God’s provision for all areas of life.
Assurance deals with the confident realization of what the Christian has in Christ and who he or she is in Christ. It covers a number of aspects of the salvation God gives to those who trust in Jesus Christ. For our purposes, these lessons on assurance will consider the following areas:
1. Assurance Regarding the Gospel—Is what I believe the true gospel?
2. Assurance of Salvation—On what do I base my assurance?
3. Assurance of Eternal Security—Is there some sin that can cause me to lose my salvation?
4. Assurance of God’s Daily Provision—Will God really care for me?
5. Assurance of God’s Provision for Sin—How do I deal with my sin problem?
6. Assurance of God’s Guidance—Can I count on God’s guidance in the many decisions I face daily?
7. Assurance of Eternal Rewards—Since my salvation is secure, are there no ramifications if I fail to walk with the Lord?
5 Michael Eaton, No Condemnatin, A New Theology of Assurance, InterVaristy Press, Downers Grove, 1995, p. 3.
6 Eaton, p. 8.