edit: Cleaned up and reformatted 4/18/17.
I told a story when I was teaching Sunday School once that I heard in Systematic Theology class: A girl said that when she was on an airplane, she was talking to a guy next to her who informed her that he was a Bible teacher. The conversation went something like this:
“Oh, so you’re a Christian.”
“Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit told me that I am not elect. So I’m not saved and I’m going to Hell.”
“Uh… so why are you a Bible teacher?”
“I want to help other people find out if they’re elect, even though I am not.”
While there is something rather noble about his attitude (“Well, stinks for me, but I’ll try to help other people”), it’s also terribly misguided. I told the students in Sunday School about the danger of emphasizing some speculative, mysterious, and secret election by God in eternity past over faith and repentance. And as much fun as it sometimes is to needle overly sensitive Calvinists, I know that most Calvinists would readily agree that the man above was sorely mistaken because, in their view, faith is evidence of one’s prior election.
Scripture says that whosoever believes will have eternal life, not whosoever is secretly elected by God (John 3:16), and it also says that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and has resurrected, you are saved (Romans 10:9). The reason I told this story was to show the primacy of faith and how it assures a believer of inheritance. In other words, faith and election should never be separated, and the former should never be demoted to satisfy our human systems. The fellow above, if he truly believes that Christ is Lord, will be pleasantly surprised when he dies and finds Jesus waiting for him but face-palming at his wacky theology.
However, apparently some students identified more with the man in the story than the surprise of the girl, and several of them, due to some cursory introductions to Calvinism that they have gotten elsewhere, were struggling a bit about the genuineness of their faith. Basically, it was the exact opposite of what I wanted to convey.
That said, I will not sit here and just blame what I believe to be problematic issues within Calvinism. This is a question that is difficult for all Christians, even those Christians who ultimately reject “once saved, always saved” (their biblical case is more robust than people give them credit for). I personally believe in assurance, but I also do not think that it is taught in a way that encourages an easy believism. There is always a stress on the works and righteous life that follows faith, because if it is true faith, there should be a general turning away from sin.
In essence, assurance is not fire insurance; you don’t just sign your name on a dotted line and you’re good to go after that. Assurance, in an almost paradoxical way, should be tested by the life of a believer. Thus, Scripture itself seems to intentionally teach a live tension within the idea of assurance. Continue reading