Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, assurance.

The doctrine of assurance wrestles with the big question, “How can I know I’m saved?” The answer it provides is, because of “the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, [and] the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are children of God.”[1] You can find the doctrine throughout Scripture (Romans 5:2, 8:15-16; Hebrews 6:11, 6:17-18; 1 John 2:3, 3:14, 3:24, 5:13).

The doctrine has an objective and subjective dimension which should be distinguished (but not separated). The first dimension we can refer to as “assurance of salvation.” It asks the big question in an objective sense: “How can I know I’m saved?” It refers to the ground of Assurance, the place we look outside of ourselves to see that salvation has been accomplished. And the answer is to one place: the finished work of Christ. This aspect of assurance never shifts because God’s promises of salvation in the gospel never do. A Christian can be sure of his salvation because God himself has promised!

The second aspect we can call “assurance of faith.” It deals with the subjective aspect of the big question–“How can I know I’m saved?”; as in, “That may be salvation, but how do I know that I have true saving faith which receives it?” It refers to the personal experience of assurance. A Christian can be sure of his salvation by looking inward at his fruit and the Spirit’s conviction in his heart that he belongs to God. This sense of assurance may rise and fall. Why?

“True believers may have the assurance of their salvation diverse way shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light. Yet, are they never so utterly destitute of the seed of God and life of faith..this assurance may, in due time, be revived”[2]

The doctrine of assurance, then, is both a steadfast objective reality and a fluctuating subjective experience.

Assurance is a sweet doctrine for the Christian life for two reasons. First, it teaches a Christian’s salvation remains assured because the divine promises of salvation in the gospel never bend. Second, it acknowledges that while a Christian’s subjective experience of assurance may waiver due to sin, affliction, etc. they themselves remain just as held by God. Not only that, but it can always be buffeted and grown.

Because our salvation rests in the objective work of Christ and not our subjective experience, we can objectively assure one another even in the midst of our lack of subjective assurance that we are his until our experience “catches up” to truth. This is what the doctrine of assurance assures us of!

For the Kids:

“Assurance” refers to a Christian’s confidence of salvation and the genuineness of the faith that connects them to salvation. Assurance has two dimensions. The first is found outside of us and so is called “objective.” This sense of assurance comes from one place: God’s promises of salvation in the gospel. How can you be sure you’re saved? Because God promises it in the gospel!

The second dimension is personal, or “subjective.” It’s found by looking at our fruit and at the inner-conviction from the Spirit that we belong to God. Because it is related to ourselves, the experience of this second sense of assurance can be grown or diminished. How can you be sure you’re saved? Look at your fruit and the Spirit’s testimony within you!

Assurance is like a bicycle. The rear wheel (the objective dimension) never turns because it is held in place by the bike-frame (the gospel). The front wheel, though, can wobble from hitting rocks (suffering, God’s hiding his face, etc.). Not only that, but it can turn different directions due to the actions (sin or obedience) of the rider (the Christian). All make up the bike of assurance God uses to carry the Christian.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 18.2: “Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation”

[2] Ibid. 18.4

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