Assurance and the Westminster Confession of Faith

As believers who truly love Christ and who seek to serve Him, we can be assured of our salvation. The Spirit is our “earnest” or pledge and as such is the promise that we are sealed in Him. We cannot be lost. Our feelings may wax and wane, but the security we have in Christ is a firm foundation. We can love and obey God with the sure knowledge that nothing can separate us from Christ. We can look forward to Christ’s return with great joy and without fear. We can have assurance.

 

“The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621)[1]

Can we know that we’re saved? That question was at the heart of the Reformation. Rome taught that professing believers could never be certain of their salvation. For this reason, believers needed to be careful to perform all the duties and sacraments required to merit final justification. But even the most dedicated believers could not know for sure if they would be saved.

In contrast, the Reformers insisted that because salvation was accomplished by God’s work alone believers could know for certain that they were saved. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection secured the full salvation of all His people. Believers, instead of striving to add sufficient works to be saved, receive and rest upon Christ’s finished work for their salvation. By the work of the Spirit, believers are united to Christ and receive all of His benefits. These benefits include the perseverance of believers until the day of redemption.

Assurance of salvation is one of the most precious fruits of the Reformation. As the Reformers taught, we don’t have to wonder if we’ve done enough to be saved. We don’t have to live in fear that God will reject us at the judgment day. Our salvation has been accomplished. God has begun a good work in us, and He will bring it to completion. (Phil. 1:6)

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 18, “Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation,” addresses four particular questions about assurance: what is (and isn’t) assurance, what is the purpose of assurance, how can we have assurance, and what do we do if our assurance is weakened?

First, what is assurance? According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, assurance is a true hope and a certainty of salvation for those who truly believe and love Jesus and who seek to live a life pleasing to Him.[2] This assurance is not the false hope of those who have not received and rested in Christ. It is not a guess or a wish. It is “an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation,”[3] the inward evidence, and the testimony of the Spirit. Because the Spirit is at work in us, we can know that we are saved and that God will keep us until the end.

What is the purpose of assurance? Besides knowing we’re saved, what does assurance do for believers? The Confessionlists three “fruits of assurance.” These are having peace and love in the Spirit, love and thankfulness to God, and strength and cheerfulness in obedience.[4]

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