Saturday, October 29, 2005

Election & assurance

Last month, Perry Robinson made the following statement:


For example, when I was Reformed I knew many people who were sure that they were elect. They were quite dogmatic on the point. Most of them ended up falling away and/or dying in unbelief to my knowledge. They thought that had confirming evidence of their own election. They thought that they had the self attesting witness of the Spirit. Now can someone be wrong and think that they have the self attesting witness of the Spirit and not actually have it? I see no reason to think that this isn’t possible.


Perry proceeds to tie this into a general objection to Reformed theology. I responded in kind.

However, I’ve also wanted to discuss his example on its own terms, for it raises an issue of pastoral theology.

It would be a grave mistake for any Calvinist to directly vest his assurance of salvation in election, per se, or special redemption, or other suchlike.

At a first-order level, the Reformed basis for the assurance of salvation is no different from any other Evangelical tradition: faith in Christ.

If you don’t have faith in Christ, everything else counts for nothing at all. Indeed, without faith in Christ, everything else counts against you.

Christ is the door. Faith in Christ is the port of entry.

Now, given faith in Christ, certain other doctrines and blessings click into place. For there are various promises attendant to faith in Christ.

If I believe in Christ, then I have reason to believe that I’m elect, that God will preserve me in faith unto death.

So, at this second-order level, the various doctrines of grace, such as election, special redemption, sola fide, and perseverance, do afford a secondary ground of assurance.

But all these promises are promises to Christians. They are attached to our faith in Christ.

What a Calvinist should say is not: “I know I’m a Christian because I’m elect,” but, “I know I’m elect because I’m a Christian.”

So our reason for believing that we are elect is no weaker or stronger than our reason for believing that we are Christians. Our blessings in Christ are contingent on our being in Christ.

At an ontological level, it is true to say that I “am” a Christian because I “am” elect.

But, at an epistemic level, it is wrong to say that I “know” I’m a Christian because I’m elect.

The order of being is: election>faith
The order of knowing is: faith>election

The assurance of salvation properly follows the order of knowing, and only indirectly, the order of being. So the evidence for our ontological status is still a matter of faith. If you are elect, then you will have the grace of faith. But faith is the sign of grace.

It’s the grace of God which engenders our faith in God, but it’s our faith in God which is the sign of his grace.

The opposite error would be to trust in your faith in Christ. Once again, the assurance of salvation comes, not from trusting in your faith, but trusting in Christ. You don’t look to your faith; rather, your faith is looking to Christ.

Faith looking at itself is a source of spiritual insecurity. Never look to your own faith. Don’t put faith in faith; rather, put your faith in Christ.

By the same token, there are theological traditions which deny the assurance of salvation because they treat the grace of God as resistible, or treat justification as a process, or intrude human merit into the transaction.

Such traditions cannot benefit from a secondary level of assurance. They rob the believer of the assurance of salvation.

You can see this with Wesley and Luther before they rediscovered the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith. I don’t doubt that they were already children of God. But their defective theology prevented them from laying claiming all the riches of Christ.

In addition, there are Christians who fret over whether they have enough faith, or the right kind of faith. For now, I’d just say two things:

1.This is really out of our hands. If there’s nothing more you can do about it, then there’s no point in working yourself into a frenzy. Leave the rest to God and wait upon the Lord.

2. These sorts of anxieties are a petty good sign of the presence, rather than the absence, of grace. It is the nominal Christian, the man dead in sin, who is insensible to self-doubt. Dead men suffer no scruples or inner struggles. Their conscience is clear because their conscience is seared.


  1. And a very edifying post you write. Thank you brother and may God richly bless you. You have a firm grasp on this truth.

  2. That is the easiest to understand explanation of what to me has always been a knotty question that I have ever seen. A real blessing, thanks.

  3. Indeed, a real blessing.

    May God I pray continue to strengthen your ministry. Peace and blessings to you in the name of the Lord

  4. You all are too dogmatic. It doesn't matter what u believe, as long as you love everybody. This means loving the oppressed and the poor.

  5. I do believe in loving the oppressed. That's why we're over in Iraq--to show our neighbor-love by killing jihadis right and left.