Thursday, September 21, 2017

The presumption of salvation

How the assurance of salvation is dealt with is a distinguishing feature of different theological traditions. Some theological traditions deny the assurance of salvation because they say the regenerate can lose their salvation. Some theological traditions affirm that assurance of salvation is possible, although attaining a sense of assurance may need to be cultivated. Some Christians vest assurance in the altar call. Some Christians vest assurance (or hope) in the sacraments (e.g. baptism, communion, absolution, last rites).  

I think these debates tend to labor under a common misunderstanding. Many theological traditions operate as if there's a presumption against salvation, so it's then a question of how to overcome that presumption, while some deny that possibility outright. 

To the contrary, I'd say there's a presumption of salvation. That statement needs to be qualified, but here's the basic principle: Biblical soteriology presupposes that humans aren't good enough to attain salvation through their own merit or willpower. God must save them because they cannot save themselves. Put another way, if they were good enough to save themselves, they wouldn't need to be saved in the first place. If they were good enough to save themselves, they'd be too virtuous to be in need of salvation. So Biblical soteriology presupposes that salvation depends on God's will and God's grace rather than our own goodness or willpower.

In that event, the bar for salvation is quite low. And by the same token, the bar for the assurance of salvation should be quite low. To worry that you're too sinful to have confidence in your salvation is not a good reason to doubt that you are heavenbound, for the whole point of biblical soteriology is that you're too sinful to save yourself. Only God can do it for you.

Now, to say the bar is low doesn't mean there is no bar. A person needs to believe core doctrines of the faith. And God must be at the center of his life. That should occupy his thoughts. He should have a daily prayerlife. He should reflect the religious psychology we see modeled in the Psalter, of an intellectual and emotional life directed towards God. And by "God" I mean the God of Biblical revelation. 


  1. Furthermore, the desire for salvation, expressed honestly, as it entails desire for eternal communion with God, can really only come from Him.

    Much like I've heard in reference to parenting: If you care enough to worry about whether you're a good enough parent, you probably are.

  2. Of course, the Bible emphatically states that we can KNOW FOR SURE that we possess eternal salvation (John 5:24; 1 John 5:13). And no, one doesn't have to embrace the doctrine of Eternal Security in order to believe in "faith alone" or "vicarious atonement". It is technically not "easy" to lose salvation (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).