Assurance of Salvation: Five Key Principles

Sproul JrDr. R. C. Sproul Jr writes:

There is no greater personal issue than our relationship with the living God. There are no greater stakes imaginable than the difference between eternal torment and eternal bliss. As such it is no wonder that so many struggle with issues of assurance of salvation. I cannot, of course cover the gamut of the issues in a brief piece, but can give some basic principles that I pray will help.

1. No one is allowed, save the Lamb, to look into the Book of Life, but there is no need to. Too often, especially in Reformed circles, the concern is expressed this way, “How can I know if I’m elect?” As a Reformed theologian let me clearly affirm that all the elect will be saved, and only the elect will be saved. But I will still ask, “Why would you want to know that?” We don’t believe in justification by election. If you stand before the judgment throne and God asks, “Why should I welcome you into My kingdom?” and you reply, “Because my name is in Your book” your name quite likely isn’t in His book. The issue isn’t the secret things of God, but what He has revealed.

2. Your obedience is not the bedrock of your assurance. Given the remains of sin within us it can be profoundly difficult to give a clear measure of our own spiritual growth. In fact I have been known to argue that the better we get the worse we seem to ourselves. That is, as we grow in grace we grow in our capacity to see our own sin more deeply. Which the devil delights to use to discourage us. It is Christ’s obedience that secures for us our eternity.

3. Your obedience is a part of your assurance. Be careful, especially when trying to help others, not to simply assume that all those struggling with assurance need to be assured. If you are living a lifestyle of unrepentant gross and heinous sin, you would do well to doubt your assurance. The center of the obedience I would call you to look for, however, would be here—believers are those who repent and believe.

4. Repenting is neither more nor less than crying out to God in Christ, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” Believing is rejoicing in the faithfulness of His promise, that as we so repent, we go home justified. It is not the depth and power of your repentance that earns God’s favor. None of us repent as deeply as we ought, and so must ever repent for the weakness of our repentance. But Jesus came to save sinners.

5. If you fear you have committed the unpardonable sin, you almost certainly haven’t. Those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit do not have the Spirit in them to convict them for blaspheming the Spirit. If you find yourself obsessing over this question, it is almost certain that you obsess over other things and may be suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If so, then you struggle with this fear, remind yourself a. that the fear is a good sign and b. Jesus died for sinners, including those struggling with OCD.

Bonus Point
Remember also that you are not called to answer this question alone. The elders of your church are called to judge the credibility of the professions of those under their care. They, of course, can and do err. But if they are concerned for your soul, you ought to be as well. If they are delighted to receive you as a brother, be a brother and receive them back with joy.

Bonus Bonus Point
One great theologian ministers to those suffering a lack of assurance by asking these questions—Do you love the Lord with all your heart, mind soul and strength? And when they answer, “no” he asks, “Do you love the Lord as you ought?” And when they answer, “no” he asks, “Do you love Him at all?” He’s a wise man.

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Lloyd Jones on Inerrancy

From an article at

“Dr. Lloyd-Jones (20 December 1899 – 1 March 1981) was a minister in the 20th century who spoke concerning the issues within evangelicalism with an almost prophetic character. Lloyd-Jones recognized that evangelicalism, in a desire to influence wider society and academia, was making compromises that would lead to the inevitable decline in gospel preaching and godly living. At the 1971 IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) conference the doctor spoke on the topic “What is an Evangelical?” While addressing the particulars that an evangelical believes, Lloyd-Jones stated “the first is the doctrine of Scripture.” In the extract below the preacher expands what a true evangelical should believe regarding this central doctrine.”

The basis of faith says: ‘We believe in the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of holy Scripture as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.’ I contend that it is not enough just to say that; we have got to go further. There are people who claim to subscribe to that doctrine, who, I would suggest, in some of their statements raise very serious doubts as to whether they really do accept it…

It seems to me that we have got to spell out much more clearly the whole notion of revelation. It is difficult to do that in a short statement. The basis speaks of ‘the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness’, but we must go beyond that. We have got to assert today this category of revelation. We have got to exclude the notion that men have arrived at the truth as a result of searching and thinking, or by means of philosophy. We must affirm that it is entirely given, that ‘holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Pet. 1:21), or, as Paul is constantly reminding his readers, that his gospel is not his own, ‘For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 1:12). We have to underline in a new and very definite way the whole notion of revelation and also, in the same way, of inspiration, showing that by inspiration we do not mean that these men were inspired in the way that certain poets have been ‘inspired’ and given glimpses into truth, but that they were actually controlled by the Holy Spirit. ‘Borne along’, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:21, or as Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:16: ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God’; it is ‘God-breathed’. These things we must assert with particularity.

martynlloydjonesIn the same way we have got to assert today that we believe that Scripture contains propositional truth. This has often been the dividing line between evangelicals and pseudo-evangelicals. I have noticed over the years it is one of the first points that indicate a departure from an evangelical position when men begin to object to, and to reject, propositional truth, as Karl Barth did and as most of his followers still do. But we claim that in the Bible there are propositions, truths stated in propositional form, with regard to God and His being and His character, and many other matters. We have got to assert this element of propositional truth.

Likewise we have to assert particularly the supernatural element in the Scripture. What do I mean? Well, we have got to emphasize that we believe in prophecy in the sense of foretelling. The emphasis today is on ‘forthtelling’. We admit that we agree that prophecy is forthtelling but, over and above that, it is foretelling. To me one of the profoundest arguments for the unique inspiration of the Scriptures is the truth of prophecy, the fulfillment of prophecy. We have got to emphasize this extraordinary manifestation of the supernatural.

We have also to insist upon a belief in the literal truth and historicity of the miracles of the Old and the New Testament, because there are people who say that they can still subscribe to our general statement about the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, who increasingly are denying the historicity of many of the Old Testament miracles, and indeed are trying to explain away some of the New Testament miracles in terms of science or psychology. We must assert the historicity of these manifestations of the supernatural.

Then the next thing to be said under this heading of Scripture is that we must believe the whole Bible. We must believe the history of the Bible as well as its didactic teaching. Failure here is always an indication of a departure from the true evangelical position. Today there are men who say, Oh yes, we believe in the Bible and its supreme authority in matters of religion, but, of course, we don’t go to the Bible for science; we go to it for help for our souls, for salvation and help and instruction in the way to live the Christian life. They are saying that there are, as it were, two great authorities and two means of revelation: one of them is Scripture and the other is nature. These they say , are complementary, they are collateral, and so you go to the Scriptures for matters concerning your soul, but you do not go to them to seek God’s other revelation of Himself in nature. For that, you go to science.

You are familiar with this view which, it seems to me, is not only extremely dangerous, but tends to undermine our whole position. We have got to contest it, and contest it very strongly. There is one thing about this present tendency which is quite amazing to me, and it is that those who advocate it seem to think that they are saying something quite new; but it is not new. It is precisely what Ritschl and his followers were teaching a hundred years ago. ‘Judgments of fact’ and ‘judgments of value’, as they called them. It is just a return to that. That is how evangelicals in the last century went astray in the 1840s and subsequently. That is precisely how it came about. Their argument was that they were merely out to defend the truth of the gospel against this increasing attack from the realm of natural science. And that was the method they adopted. They hold that the Bible is only concerned with ‘religious’ truth and so, whatever science may discover, it cannot affect this truth.

Our friends today with the same motive- and let us grant that their motive is good and true- are doing exactly the same thing. It seems to me that in so doing they are on the same path as the followers of Ritschl and others, and it always ends in the same result, namely that the gospel itself is compromised. We must assert that we believe in the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis and all other biblical history.

This extract is from “Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered On Various Occasions 1942-1977. Edinburgh U.K.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013.” (pages 299-355), available for purchase online here.

Interview: Law and Gospel

Last evening I was interviewed by Scott Oakland on the website on the subject of the distinction between Law and Gospel. You can hear the full interview here.

Hidden miracles of the natural world

“We live in a world of unseeable beauty, so subtle and delicate that it is imperceptible to the human eye. To bring this invisible world to light, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg bends the boundaries of time and space with high-speed cameras, time lapses and microscopes. At TED2014, he shares highlights from his latest project, a 3D film titled “Mysteries of the Unseen World,” which slows down, speeds up, and magnifies the astonishing wonders of nature.”

Response to Dr. Adam Harwood

Dr. Adam Harwood preached a sermon against Reformed theology at Emir Caner’s Truett-McConnell College. In response, Dr. James White shares some of his concerns with its simplistic approach.

Election, Reprobation, Christ and the Cross

I was interviewed this morning (April 15, 2014) on the “Knowing the Truth” radio broadcast with Kevin Boling as we talked about the doctrine of election, reprobation, Christ and the Cross, responding to a new book by Austin Fischer “Young, Restless and No Longer Reformed.” The 55 minute program is available to hear/download here.

A Verb Our Culture Wants You To NOT Believe

Dr. James White: A quick discussion of a verb you will be asked to reject and disbelieve in the course of the coming week—if you are a Christian, that is.

Voting in the Church?

Sproul JrFrom an article entitled, “Should we vote in church?” by Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr.

Ask RC: Should we vote in church?

Types of Church Government
There are, at base, three forms of government. The first is rule by one. The second is rule by a few, the third rule by all. In civil government this would essentially be monarchy, republic and democracy, broadly speaking. In church government it would be episcopacy, presbyterianism, and congregationalism, broadly speaking. Rightly understood then the church, whatever denomination, if it is indeed a part of the church, is an episcopacy. Just as Jesus reigns over the nations, so He reigns over the church. His vicar, however, is not the bishop of Rome, but the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has given us the Word of God. That Word, true in all that it teaches, does not come equipped with a Book of Church Order. Good men, good Reformed men, over the course of church history have argued that under Christ’s reign the church should function as an episcopacy. Other good Reformed men argue for presbyterianism, and finally good Reformed men have spoken in defense of congregationalism.

The Rule of Elders
This Reformed man, while acknowledging that this isn’t the clearest thing in the Bible, sides with the presbyterians. The church should be ruled by a plurality of elders. Even if I am right, however, this doesn’t settle fully the question of whether or not we should vote in church. It does, however, set some boundaries.

First, if the church is to be ruled by elders it cannot simultaneously be ruled by the congregation. Congregational votes at the very least cannot overrule the will of the session, at least without devolving down to congregationalism. This still, however, doesn’t outlaw all votes by the congregation. One might, for instance, take a poll of the congregation. Insofar as such a poll would be non-binding, it is no denial of Presbyterian church government. Suppose the elders are curious to know how many of its member families would be interested in a mid-week Bible study, or even if Tuesday or Wednesday would be a better evening for such a study. By all means take a poll. The elders, however, would have to decide.

Congregational Voting on Elders
Second, there is value in having the congregation “vote” on who should be their elders. Here again I would argue we have to be careful not to let the congregation wrest rule for the session. That is, I don’t believe the congregation can impose an elder on the session. I argue that the approval of elders should be two-fold. Certainly the session needs to approve potential session members. But when the congregation votes on potential elders they are doing something other than ruling in the church. They are acknowledging the rule over them. That is, they are agreeing to have the elders be in authority over them.

Typically these issues do not become difficult in themselves. That is, it is rare for a church to find itself in trouble, or in battle mode, over competing classes of members. That said, there are often subtle dangers in not thinking through these issues well. To say, for instance, that the elders rule in the church is not to suggest that the members are just spectators, that they are not full members of the body. Much less should it communicate differing levels of spiritual standing. Elders are sinners saved by grace. Laymen are sinners saved by grace. We are all called to do the work of the ministry. On the other side of the coin, when congregations do vote, or even meet together in discussion, it is important to not import the wrong categories into the meeting. The church is not a business, and the members are not stockholders. And it most certainly is not a democracy.

Sin & Church Rule
There is no church government that will eliminate sin. Things go wrong in all kinds of churches. It is tempting in the midst of dealing with sin to think the grass must be greener on the other side. It is especially tempting to believe, “Things would be so much better if only I had more power to bring it to pass.” But we all bring sin with us wherever we go. One man ruling is dangerous. All men ruling is dangerous. A few men ruling is dangerous, but, I would argue, less dangerous than the first two. Which is why God gives us elders and gives elders the authority to rule in the church.

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Miscellaneous Quotes (100)

quotes“Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned much later of the discovery of soft and pliable blood vessels still contained in a Tyrannosaurus rex femur bone. Blood vessels are not minerals. They are made of proteins that do not last millions of years. This was the first of many instances of original tissue fossil discoveries that challenged the most basic tenets that I thought I knew about dinosaur fossils.” – Brian Thomas, ICR Science Writer

“What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united than anything in the world; and yet without any confusion! That the same person should have both a glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity, and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That a God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man, are such expressions of mighty power, as well as condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven.” – Thomas Goodwin

“In this union between the two natures there is the greatest distance involved. The creator is identified with a creature. In the union of the two natures one sees eternity and temporality, eternal blessedness and temporal sorrow, Almightiness and weakness, omniscience and ignorance, unchangeableness and changeableness, infinity and finitude. All of these disparate attributes come together in the person of Jesus Christ.” – Mark Jones

“Unbelief is like gravity, it’s always pulling down on the authority of Scripture.” – Mark Dever

“We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God – which is another way of saying that all our seeking will fall short unless God starts and finishes the search. The decisive part of our seeking is not our human ascent to God, but His descent to us. Without God’s descent there is no human ascent. The secret of the quest lies not in our brilliance but in His grace.” – Os Guinness, Long Journey Home

“We are cosmic traitors. We must recognize this problem within ourselves if we are to grasp the necessity of the cross.” – R.C. Sproul

“The great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me.” – Samuel Rutherford

“Reformed theology so far transcends the mere five points of Calvinism that it is an entire life and world view.” – R.C. Sproul

“Faith and repentance are as much benefits of the covenant of grace as justification . . . . faith and repentance themselves . . . . are components of the gospel, not the workings or fruits of the law.” – Herman Bavinck

“God gives the grace of forgiveness in order to receive the glory of worship.” – Rhett Dodson

“People fall in private, long before they fall in public.” – J.C. Ryle

“He whose head is in heaven need not fear to put his feet into the grave.” – Matthew Henry

“Did Christ finish His work for us? Then there can be no doubt but He will also finish His work in us.” – John Flavel

“Truth is never determined by majority opinion, but by divine revelation.” – Steve Lawson

“If the cross is not foolishness to the lost world then we have misrepresented the cross.” – Steven Lawson

“Preaching on unity doesn’t unify a church. Preaching Jesus unifies a church.” – Steve Dighton

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely the little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at any point.” – Martin Luther

“They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?” – Martin Luther

“…even acts of civic kindness done by an unbeliever fail to meet the requirement of God’s law—namely, that all our actions must be done with a view to glorifying God.” – Derek Thomas

“At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle to evangelism is Christians who don’t share the gospel.” – Albert Mohler

“Ho, Ho, Sir Surgeon. You are too delicate to tell the man that he is ill. You hope to heal the sick without their knowing it. You therefore flatter them. And what happens? They laugh at you. They dance upon their own graves and at last they die. Your delicacy is cruelty, your flatteries are poisons, you are a murderer… Shall we keep men in a fool’s paradise? Shall we lull them into soft slumber from which they will awake in hell? Are we to become helpers of their damnation by our smooth speeches? In the name of God we will not.” – C. H. Spurgeon

“I used to say ‘he needs a radical conversion.’ Now I say, ‘a true conversion is radical.’” – Linda Samson

“The Epistle to the Romans has sat around in the church since the first century like a bomb ticking away the death of religion; and every time it’s been picked up, the ear-splitting freedom in it has gone off with a roar. The only sad thing is that the church as an institution has spent most of its time playing bomb squad and trying to defuse it. For your comfort, though, it can’t be done. Your freedom remains as close to your life as Jesus and as available to your understanding as the nearest copy. Like Augustine, therefore, take and read–and then hold onto your hat. Compared to that explosion, the clap of doom sounds like a cap pistol.” – Robert Capon

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” – C. S. Lewis

Unconditional Forgiveness?

David Murray writes:

I’ve lost count of the number of times some tragedy has occurred – a mass shooting, a terrorist attack, a drunk driving death – and the victims or their relatives, usually Christians, start “forgiving” the offenders within hours or days of the crime.

I understand the motive, and also the desire to present an attractive witness about Christian forgiveness to the world. But it’s not a faithful witness to God. It does not reflect how God forgives, which is to be our pattern and model. Here’s why:

God does not forgive those who do not want forgiveness.

Here’s how God forgives:

1. God is willing, ready, and eager to forgive everyone: That’s His beautiful nature, His compassionate character, and His constant desire.

2. God offers forgiveness to everyone: God offers to release those who have offended Him from their deserved punishment and alienation from Him. There’s a big difference between offering it and giving it. Offering it is unconditional; giving it is conditional.

3. God does not forgive everyone regardless of their response to His offer: Although He offers forgiveness to all, not all respond. Some don’t even think they’ve done anything needing forgiveness.

4. God’s forgiveness is conditional upon repentance (Luke 13:3; 17:3; Acts 2:38): God’s forgiveness is conditional upon the offender wanting forgiveness and wanting to turn from His offending ways.

5. Forgiveness through repentance produce reconciliation on both sides: Offering forgiveness reduces the temperature of the conflict; but only the giving of forgiveness, in response to repentance, ends it.

Having seen how God forgives, let’s remind ourselves of the basic biblical principle:

Our forgiveness is to be patterned upon God’s forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Matt. 6:12, 14-15).


1. We must be willing, ready, and eager to forgive everyone: This is not easy and usually requires Gospel work to be done in our own hearts as we realize how much God has forgiven us.

2. We must offer forgiveness to everyone: This step and the previous step together are a kind of lesser forgiveness, sometimes called positional forgiveness. We are in a position where we are ready to forgive and we offer it freely. If this is what people are talking about when they say, “I forgive the person who raped and murdered my daughter,” then that’s fine. It’s more than fine; it’s amazing grace and can only be given by God. However, it’s not forgiveness in the fullest biblical sense and must not be confused with it.

3. We must not forgive everyone regardless of their response to our offer: Forgiving someone before they repent is un-godlike, avoids dealing with serious issues, and while it might offer some temporary and superficial relief, does not produce long-term satisfaction to the conscience nor reconciliation.

4. We must forgive upon the condition of repentance: According to Matthew 18:15-17, if a person sins we must reprove them. If they do not respond with repentance, we must take it to another level. If they repent at any stage, we must forgive them, even if it’s the 490th time they’ve done it (Matt. 18:22)

5. Forgiveness through repentance produces reconciliation on both sides.
Full forgiveness, sometimes called transactional forgiveness, is when all five steps occur, resulting in deep and lasting reconciliation. This is the kind of forgiveness that most glorifies God, most benefits the offender, and most satisfies the offended.

However, I don’t want to minimize the releasing power of steps 1 and 2. Some people say, “I can never forgive until Jim repents.” If so, you are going to carry around a huge and growing load of resentment as you pile up unresolved conflicts in your life.

But, if by God’s grace you are enabled to take these first two steps, to work through positional forgiveness, you will experience wonderful load-lightening relief. Here’s a sample prayer if you’re in this situation:

Sample Prayer
“Lord, Jim has done me great wrong, but won’t confess it or ask for forgiveness.

I can’t therefore forgive him without misrepresenting you or damaging his spiritual welfare.

However, I’m not going to carry this pain around to burden and burn my mind and heart for years. I’m handing this over to you, because you said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’

Lord, you know I don’t want your vengeance executed on Jim, but with this prayer I’m promising no more vengeance on my part. I hand that entirely over to you.

I promise to not dwell upon this incident, but rather I transfer it all over to you, and trust you to put right in your own time and way. You know I am ready to forgive Jim fully, freely, and forever, should it ever be asked for.

Please help Jim to understand your view of sin and to seek your forgiveness and mine. Amen”