Whatever Happened to the Teaching of 'Assurance of Salvation'?

Paul DID NOT say, 'Keep on plugging away at the Christian life and - who knows - you might eventually make it into His kingdom, but there are no guarantees, so don't build your hopes up too much'! He said, 'If you are justified, you are ALREADY in His kingdom!'

C an we know that we are saved right now??

On the other hand, is it just arrogance to seek such assurance?

I was recently asked this question:

"What has happened to 'Assurance of Salvation'? Has this doctrine disappeared? I don't hear about it anymore...Is it correct that this can only be a Protestant doctrine?"

Yes, this doctrine seems not to be mentioned much these days but it remains a solidly Protestant doctrine and it is very biblically-based. Yes, it is also correct to say that this teaching cannot be properly upheld under Catholic theology.

To properly explain this, we must look at the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism with regard to that all-important teaching of justification. I seem to have covered this elsewhere just recently but we need to briefly look at it again.

Catholic 'Infusion' of Righteousness

We must understand that Roman Catholicism believes that God infuses righteousness into His those truly obedient believers who are true to their church, its ongoing duties, and to their system of sacraments (through which 'grace' is bestowed). The good works that these people do are then seen as being due to their having been 'infused' with God's very righteousness. From this, the Catholic concept of sainthood comes; "saints" are seen as very godly, pure and unsinning individuals. In Catholic art, for instance, such people are often depicted as having a 'halo' over their heads.

Protestant 'Imputation' of Righteousness

Protestantism, based - I must say - on solid New Testament teaching, rejects the "infusion" view of righteousness, in favour of the 'imputation' view.

Richard P. Belcher sums it up quite nicely:

"The Reformation view says that God imputes the righteousness of Christ to men by faith alone, apart from any works they can do, and on that basis alone God accepts men, whereby works follow by God's power, not to save men, but as a result of their salvation [that having already been received]." (p 162, Belcher, 'A Journey in Roman Catholicism,' 2004 paperback. Richbarry Press, Columbia, SC. My emphases)

This teaching brings the Protestant view directly into line with the teaching of Paul the Apostle, especially in such books as Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. This means that we are saved and justified in Christ Alone - not by any conceivable number of religious observances!

A lifelong observance of various pious religious duties (intrinsic to Catholic obedience and justification) finds no place here. It is CHRIST ALONE Who saves - not any priest, or denomination of priests, or collection of observances!

So 'justification' - that is, how we are restored to God - is different within Catholic and Protestant theology. The Catholic uses the term to describe two different things:
a. Men and women being accepted by God
b. Sanctification (that is, to gradually become increasingly more Christ-like, overcoming ones failings).
The Catholic puts these two things together under, if you will, one umbrella.

Protestantism, on the other hand, insists that - to get the proper understanding - we must view these two elements separately, in the following manner:

a. Justification: God accepting us on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ and the efficacy of His supreme sacrifice. This occurs at once.

b. Sanctification: The work of the Holy Spirit within the coverted individual over an entire lifetime.

So - for Protestants - biblical justification is not a man becoming a righteous man, but, rather, about God declaring him to be righteous on the basis of faith and grace. This declaration is on the basis of Christ's righteousness - not his own! It is fully legal, or forensic, it is about accepting responsibility (which Christ has now done for our sins).

Men and women are declared righteous at once, on the basis of faith. But this righteousness is not yet fully formed within any such individual yet is declared at the very throne of God in Heaven. The Holy Spirit will have brought this about, of course, and He goes to work within each human soul (sanctification).

So, under the Protestant view, a converted man or woman can have assurance of salvation right now. How come? The moment we are justified before Christ, we can have assurance. Don't forget that justification is not based upon our righteousness, but upon Christ's righteousness! Assurance is based upon the sure promises of God, Christ's righteousness and our faith - it is not based upon our works.

Under the Catholic view, however, the works must be our works, though now enlightened and assisted by God's infusion of His very righteousness into our souls. But Catholic 'justification' can never mean that one has assurance of salvation because the whole process is put under the one umbrella. For the Catholic, this process must manifest itself in lifelong obedience to the Catholic Church, with its numerous duties, observances, including taking confession where necessary, regular acceptance of the grace which - in their view - must be administered through the priest - faithful attendance of "Holy Mass" being especially vital in this process.
So, since the Catholic does not know how his or her life will finally pan out, it is hard for them to have assurance. Justification has now become blurred, it is no longer an instantaneous thing. Moreover, we have to say that - within the Catholic concept - legalism has entered in. Sadly, wherever legalism enters, the Pauline teaching of justification and divine grace become relegated to an inferior place.

In complete contrast, the Protestant will look to such Scriptures as these:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:12-13).

John is saying, yes, you may know that you have Eternal Life - yes, right now! If we truly "have" the Son, we have Eternal Life. This is not about, 'yes, you might make it in the future' - this is what we can know right now!

Paul probably goes even further than this:

And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:30-39. NIV throughout).

These verses show that God does not give up upon any individual whom He has already justified at the very court of Heaven! A lifelong observance of various pious religious duties (intrinsic to Catholic obedience and justification) finds no place here. It is Christ alone Who saves - not any priest or denomination of priests, or collection of observances!

Now let us check out something else which John the Apostle wrote,

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 to me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. (John 10:27-29).

This is true assurance. Paul and John DID NOT say, 'Keep on plugging away at the Christian life and - who knows - you might eventually make it into His kingdom, but there are no guarantees'! They said, 'If you are justified, you are ALREADY in His kingdom! Both John and Paul write with a sense of immediacy about our justification before God. We are already justified so what can now go wrong? The answer? Nothing! Do we truly believe this? We should believe it!! Strangely, I find that a few do not. I think that the problem is we sometimes continue to have this lingering feeling that our justification before God is somehow based upon our own righteousness - it is not, it is based upon the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, if any of us stumble and sin tomorrow, that is down to our own human failings, 'the law of sin and death' which continues to operate within our bodies in this present life (Romans 8:1-2).

Now while true assurance is not available to the Catholic, nor, indeed, has any place in the teachings which he or she will receive, nevertheless, some such people will undoubtedly walk in faith with a quiet confidence that the Lord will see them through to the end. I do not doubt nor denigrate that, indeed, it is to be praised. Without doubt, some - indeed, perhaps many - Catholics will be saved because, in the final analysis, salvation is not according to holding the correct doctrines but is based purely upon God's election, His faithfulness and the righteousness of Christ! Catholics may not fully understand this point but that will make no difference to the workings of the Eternal God.

Why has the teaching of 'assurance' all but disappeared? Could be the times in which we live. Trouble is, if taught the wrong way, the teaching can sound obnoxious, presumptuous and arrogant. A few years ago some elements of the charismatic movement got hold of the teaching, taught it very badly and just offended people. Nevertheless, we should not give up on a plainly biblical teaching which was obviously very close to the heart of Paul.

The pity is that because Catholicism has blurred the vital teaching of justification, probably few Catholics will experience True Assurance as both Paul and John clearly encouraged it and taught it. So 'assurance of salvation' is a very real and valid doctrine - let us hold to it!

Robin A. Brace. February 24th, 2012.