Arrival of Assurance
Some trends develop slowly, and as a result often we’re not aware of their implications and potential problems until they have gained substantial power. Assurance of salvation constitutes one such trend. By assurance of salvation I am referring to a person having total confidence that they are headed for heaven.
Assurance Vs. Eternal Security
Some people confuse assurance of salvation and eternal security. The doctrine of eternal security asserts that once a person is saved he cannot lose his salvation. However, that doctrine does not necessarily provide the individual with assurance since a person can be saved but nonetheless not be sure that he is. In other words, there is a difference between being saved and knowing one is saved.
Historical Doubts Regarding Assurance
Historically, two predominant schools of thought regarding eternal security resided in Arminian and Calvinistic theology. Both taught that the individual was saved by faith and not by works, but they also held that the lifestyle of the individual provided evidence of spiritual life. Arminians believed that one could lose his salvation. This left the individual in doubt about his eternal destiny, especially if his life was characterized by a pattern of sin. Calvinists, though believing that a believer was saved eternally, taught that those who were genuine believers would persevere in their walk with the Lord. Therefore, a person lacking a consistent walk with the Lord would have questions whether he was persevering, and therefore whether he ever was a child of God. In other words, Arminians not living a godly life had concern that they might lose their salvation, and Calvinists living in sin had concern that they never were saved. Therefore, in neither system could one whose life was characterized by sin have assurance.
However, in recent decades the view has developed that a person making a profession of faith is eternally secure and therefore can have absolute assurance of his salvation. This approach views the condition of salvation (saving faith) as consisting of believing that Christ died for one’s sin, and in response praying a prayer inviting Jesus into his heart. Since a person can be reasonably sure that he believed Christ died for his sins, and even more confident that he prayed the prayer inviting Jesus into his heart, he has virtually no reason to question that he is saved. And since those taking this position tend to believe in eternal security, he can be equally confident that he will not lose his salvation regardless of how he lives.
Not only is this person confident of his salvation, but loved ones also maintain the same assurance regarding him. If even shortly after he prays the prayer he falls into a pattern of sin that turns out to be a lifelong lifestyle, a typical response is, “Well, I know he’s headed for heaven because he prayed the prayer inviting Jesus into his heart.”
This trend is exacerbated by the contemporary perspectives that God accepts us unconditionally, the stated implication being that our behavior does not adversely affect God’s attitude toward us. In fact, some teach that God does not even see our sinfulness, but when He looks on us He only sees the righteousness of Christ. As a result, a person who has prayed the prayer but lives a life characterized by sinful behavior is sure he’s headed for heaven both because he prayed the prayer and also because he has been taught that his lifestyle has no implications regarding his relationship with the Lord.
This confidence in his eternal destiny is bolstered even further by the nature of the gospel related to this contemporary approach. The gospel message is comprised almost in its entirety, if not completely, with the message “God loves you.” Since this person is never instructed regarding the wrath of God toward the sinner, he has the sense that God has always maintained positive feelings toward him, which gives him little reason to believe that God’s attitude would ever be any different.
For the above reasons, many today who have prayed the prayer and have adopted a sinful lifestyle nonetheless possess absolute confidence they are headed for heaven.
Many passages in Scripture teach differently, asserting that genuine belief produces a changed life. One wonders how many people possessing such assurance, and who have been encouraged in that assurance, some day will open their eyes in an eternal hell. Can you think of a more graphic form of evangelistic malpractice?