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The topic of discussion at the Borg house lately has been the nature of assurance. You see, both Rachel and I grew up in the evangelical world where assurance of salvation was founded and grounded in the “sinners prayer.” I remember being asked “If you died tonight how do you know you'd go to heaven.” My answer always was based on the fact that I'd asked Jesus into my heart. At which point I was generally patted on the back and told that I had no reason to doubt my salvation.
Having come to the Reformed position I'm quite convinced that my idea of assurance was largely mistaken for most of my life. While easy-believism advocates what we might call a “cheap assurance” the Westminster Confession knows no such thing. In fact it says “a true believer may wait long and conflict with many difficulties before he be a partaker of it” (18.3). The point of the Confession is to teach that saving faith and assurance don't share a 1:1 correlation, true believers may lack assurance—it doesn't belong to the “essence of faith.” A.A. Hodge calls assurance one of the “highest attainments of the divine life.” This seems to be an echo of what the Apostle Paul says in Colossians 2:2 about how he struggled that all might reach full assurance, or rather be brought to complete certainty of their faith. It seems we must be careful to distinguish between faith and assurance.
In this line of thought J.C. Ryle once wrote:
"Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and not the flower.
Faith is that poor trembling woman who came behind Jesus in the press, and touched the hem of His garment (Mark 5:27). Assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers, and saying 'I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God' (Acts 7:56).
Faith is the penitent thief, crying, 'Lord, remember me' (Luke 23:42). Assurance is Job, sitting in the dust, covered with sores, and saying, 'I know that my Redeemer liveth'; 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him' (Job 19:25; 13:15).
Faith is Peter's drowning cry, as he began to sink: 'Lord, save me!' (Matt. 14:30). Assurance is that same Peter declaring before the council in aftertimes, 'This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved' (Acts 4:11, 12).
Faith is the anxious trembling voice, 'Lord, I believe: help Thou mine unbelief' (Mark 9:24). Assurance is the confident challenge, 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? Who is he that condemneth?' (Rom. 8:33, 34). Faith is Saul praying in the house of Judas at Damascus, sorrowful, blind, and alone (Acts 9:11). Assurance is Paul, the aged prisoner, looking calmly into the grave and saying, 'I know whom I have believed...There is a crown laid up for me.' (2 Tim. 1:12; 4:8). Faith is life...Assurance is more than life."
While Ryle's mere distinguishing between faith and assurance doesn't resolve every question, let us be stirred in heart to truly make our calling and election sure, that we might grow up into the full assurance of faith.