How May I Have The Assurance That I Am A True Child Of God?

In our last article, we highlighted the importance of knowing if we are genuine Christians. A genuine Christian is one who has been born again (regenerated). The Lord Jesus Christ told Nicodemus: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:3). There is no such thing as an unborn-again Christian. You are either regenerate or you are dead—spiritually dead!

Now, if you know that you are for real, you can be sure that you will persevere in the faith. Christ our Lord said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand" (Jn 10:27-29). The author of Hebrews tells us that the promise of God for our eternal salvation is immutable, —because God has cut a covenant with Abraham in which he passed through the pieces and so guaranteed with His entire being that He would keep His promise (Heb 6:13-20; cf. Gen 15:8-21). So the Apostle Paul declares confidently that nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (See Rom 8:34-39).

There are Christians of Arminian persuasion who refuse to see that these divine promises are absolute and not dependent on man, and so they have no ground for assurance. They believe that they could lose their salvation anytime, and so they ought to live in fear because the human heart is so easily swayed. Poor Arminians! But the Scripture is clear, our salvation is entirely dependent on God. Even our faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8), and the Word of God teaches us unambiguously that God will preserve our faith so that we will always remain a believer. What about apostates? They were never regenerated in the first place. The apostle John says: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us" (1Jn 2:19a).

Nevertheless, the question we need to ask ourselves is: How do I know that my faith in Christ is true? How do I know I am not just fooling myself like Simon Magus? Conversely, how do I know for sure that I truly believe? "It is one thing for me to believe, and another thing for me to believe that I believe" (Thomas Brooks).

The Westminster Confession of Faith, of all the Reformed Confession, has perhaps the most instructive and biblical confessional statement on this subject ever to be penned. In chapter 18, entitled "Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation," the divines taught: the possibility of assurance (§1); the basis of assurance (§2); the cultivation of assurance (§3); and the renewal of assurance when it is lost (§4).

WCF 18.2, which is of particular interest to us in this article, reads: "This certainty [of salvation] is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope [Heb. 6:11, 19]; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation [Heb 6:17-18], the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made [2Pet. 1:4-5, 10-11; 1Jn 2:3; 3:14; 2Cor 1:12], the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God [Rom 8:15-16], which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption [Eph 1:13-14; 4:30; 2Cor. 1:21-22]."

Promises of God

The first ground of assurance is the promise given in the Scripture that all who repents of their sin and all who embrace Christ,—believing that He lived and died on behalf of sinful man, and that He rose again, and that He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding for His own,—will be saved and preserved in their faith. John Murray’s explanation can hardly be bettered:

Every believer is assured of God’s reality and the truth of the Gospel. These are the certainties which constitute the ground of faith itself [which] does not exist except as it entertains the assurance of these certitudes. Faith is not compatible with uncertainty as to its object, though it may consists with uncertainty as to the possession of the salvation which is the result of faith. Neither does it mean that there is any insecurity in the salvation of those who believe. The security does not rest upon the stability of the assurance the believers entertains of that security; the security resides in the faithfulness of the Saviour (Collected Writings 2:266-7).

In other words, the promises of salvation are not only the objective ground of assurance, but the primary ground as well. It is the bedrock on which the other two grounds of assurance rest. Or to put it in another way, you may only have assurance of salvation, if you know and understand the Gospel. A person who does a lot of work in a church, but has no appreciation of the Gospel, is,—in the final analysis,—an unbeliever trying to attain salvation by works. Such a person ought to re-examine his foundation. Similarly, a person who claims to have experiences of the Holy Spirit, but have no desire to know what the Scripture teaches is simply fooling himself or is deluded by an unholy spirit. On the other hand, a person who has a trusting faith (fudicia), and not just knowledge (notitia), or a mere assent as to the truth of the Gospel (assensus), may have the confidence that he is a child of God.

But "the heart is deceitful above all things" (Jer 17:9a), and it is conceivable that a person who claims to trust in the verity of the Gospel may in fact be deluded as to the reality of his faith (cf. Jas 2:18-20). The secondary grounds, therefore, provide the additional assurance that the personal faith is real.

Evidence of Grace

The first of the two secondary grounds is that of evidence of inward grace. The Puritans including the Westminster divines, distinguish between two closely related aspects of evidence of inward grace. The first has to do with the existence and improvement of the marks of grace in the soul such as genuine love, meekness, poverty of spirit (or humility), hatred for sin and hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc (cf. Gal 5:22-23; Matt 5:3-6). The second has to do with good works which flows from a heart of love and obedience (cf. Matt 7:16; Heb 6:10). In other words, the first is invisible to others, the second is visible. The Puritans speak of these two aspects in terms of a "mystical syllogism" and a "practical syllogism." Basically, they mean that since the Scripture presents these marks as the evidences of regeneration, we may conclude that we are regenerate, if we can honestly detect them in our lives. It is true that when the Puritans were addressing this aspect of assurance, they did enjoin introspection. But they did not end there. Jonathan Edwards, for example taught that "assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination as by action." In other words, we must not think that. we may obtain assurance merely by inward examination. True assurance may only be found in children of God who are walking in the straight and narrow way of life, and actively obeying the will of God given in the Moral Laws. "Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments: (1Jn 2:3), says John.

In any case, how should we evaluate ourselves? Dr John H. Gerstner offers us three steps: (1) Introspection—search your hearts prayerfully and evaluate the visible fruits of your heart. Joseph Hall articulates this idea graphically: "Motion is the most perfect discoverer of life. He that can stir his limbs, is surely not dead. The feet of the soul are the affections. Hast thou not found in thyself a hate and detestation of that sin whereinto thou hast been miscarried? Hast thou not found in thyself a true grief of heart, for thy wretched indisposition to all good things? Without a true life of grace, these things could never have been" (2) Retrospection—see if there’s evidence of spiritual growth since your profession of faith. You may remember the day you made a profession of faith or the day you were baptised. That may be important for your assurance, but bear in mind that it is more important for you to see if there were evidence of spiritual improvement since then. And (3) Extrospection—what do other believers who are trustworthy say about you? Do ask! Have you ever examine your self critically in this way?

Of course, such inward and self-examination must never be over-emphasised so as to detract from the certainty of the promises of God, neither should they be exercised but by those who have a clear grasp of the Gospel.

Testimony of the Holy Spirit

The third basis of salvation is found in the Holy Spirit witnessing to our spirits that we are the children of God. Dr Joel Beeke has correctly noted that the Westminster divines were not all agreed on what this means. The first group with divines such as Jeremiah Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, and George Gillespie believed that the Spirit works through the conscience in the context of the syllogisms (above). The second group with divines such as Samuel Rutherford, Henry Scudder, William Twisse held that the Spirit sometimes witness to the believer’s spirit by direct application of the Word. The third group led by Thomas Goodwin held that this is an extraordinary testimony of the spirit of God in the spirit of believers to give them full assurance of the love of God and to grant them joy unspeakable. Personally, I tend to agree with the second group. Though I would not discount the experiences of those in the third group, I believe these experience are really heightened experience of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit bear witness with our spirits that we are the sons of God by assuring us of the Fatherly love of God as we read the Scripture or meditate on Scripture already memorised. When this assurance of love floods our hearts, our natural response is to cry call out unto God, calling Him "Abba, Father." We must remember that such illumination are not "extraordinary revelation" (see WCF 18.3, WLC 81). If, then, you are would have such additional testimony of the Spirit, you must read and meditate on the Word rather than expect some mystical experience.

Conclusion

As we conclude this article, I trust that you are better equipped now to know if you are indeed for real. All three aspects must be applied as a three-fold cord to test your life before you may have full assurance of salvation. But bear in mind that full assurance does not belong so much to the being of faith as it belongs to the well-being of faith. Believers may possess saving faith without knowing assuredly that they do possess it. "A child of God may have the Kingdom of grace in his heart, yet not know it. The cup was in Benjamin’s sack, though he did not know it was there" (Thomas Watson). Nevertheless, since it is imperative for every believer to give diligence to make his calling and election sure (2Pet 1:10), it is not only desirable, but a duty of every believer to attain assurance of faith. Think about these things. Consider the promises of God: do you find yourself believing and trusting them? Examine your life: do you find the marks of grace? Recall your reading and meditation of the Word of God, and the occasions when you heard the Gospel preached in purity: did not your heart burn within you (Lk 24:31)? Did you sense the love of the heavenly Fatherly shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5)? If you can but answer positively with some degree of confidence to all three questions, you may, by the grace of God, conclude that you are indeed a child of God. But do not grow complacent. No true child of God will grow complacent. But continue to seek Him, and plead with him to sustain your assurance as you walk in obedience and diligently use the Means of Grace. If, on the other hand, you are not concerned about having assurance at all, or if you find that as you consider the three grounds of assurance, that you have no cause to claim any one of them, then I am afraid, it is likely that you are yet in your sins, in which case, may I urge to go to the Lord in humble repentance, seeking His forgiveness. The fact that you have persevered to read till this point spells hope for you, I believe.