Assurance of Salvation?

A number of Protestants find it singularly compelling that they “know” that they’re eternally saved. I’ve always found this line of reasoning sort of strange. To the last individual, they’ve argued or admitted that:

  1. The saved can know that they’re saved;
  2. The damned often think that they’re saved, but they aren’t (obviously);
  3. Even those saved around the damned often think that the damned individual is saved, and before he or she ultimately “falls away.”

This struck me as sort of a baffling paradox: if the symptoms of being saved and being damned-but-deluded are the same (you think you’re saved, other people think you’re saved), where’s the assurance, exactly? After all, the person in #2 may be just as assured of his salvation as the person in #1, but that assurance of salvation doesn’t seem to be doing much for him. If anything, it might even be damaging, presuming (as non-Calvinist Protestants believe) that the damned in #2 could have been saved.

But Christopher Lake, in announcing that he was converting from Reformed Baptist back to Catholic, goes on a long and unrelated (but interesting) aside about assurance of salvation. Here it the aside in full, taken from Called to Communion:

Reading through the comments for this post, and comments on related posts at C2c, I just had a stunning and terrifying realization. The entire time that I was a convinced Reformed Baptist (from, approximately, 2005 until earlier this year), within the parameters of the Reformed soteriology I held, there was no way for me *know*, in fact, that I was saved. Logically, it would also seem that this would also apply to *anyone* who accepts Reformed soteriology– whether Presbyterian, Reformed Anglican/Episcopal, Bible church, Calvinistic Methodist (as was George Whitefield), and so on. I will explain my thinking and invite anyone to correct me if my reasoning is flawed, or completely incorrect, here.

As a Reformed Baptist who, by definition, believed in the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints (the Reformed understanding of “eternal security”), to be sure (no pun intended!), I believed in assurance of salvation, I sang about it in church, and when I evangelized non-Christians, it was at least my *desire* to share the concept of assurance with them. I *thought* that I knew I was saved, and that my salvation was secure for all eternity. In fact though, there was no way for me to know. All that I could *truly know* is that I possessed *signs* of belonging to the elect.

However, there were other, worrisome “signs” in my life that sometimes led me to *doubt* whether I was one of the elect. I repeatedly struggled with certain sins, and sometimes, chose to give in to them. My Reformed friends would tell me that the fact(s) that I *did* struggle, and that I lamented and hated my sin, showed that I was a true brother in Christ, one of the elect.

There was the other side of that coin though. I still *did* give in to sin at times, and at those exact moments, chillingly, the sin felt good. I also felt sickness, revulsion, and self-reproach, but part of me did like the sin. Soon after would come repentance and confession to God, and many times, talking with fellow Reformed Christians about my various sin struggles. These friends would assure me that I was continuing to hate and fight sin, and that those are signs of being elect. They would also lovingly warn me (as they should have, as my friends) not to become complacent *about* my sin or *about* my assurance– for either of these could lead a hardness of heart and a
“falling away,” thus proving that I never really belonged to God.

Therein lies the crux of the problem with the Reformed concept of assurance. It isn’t
really assurance. It is a “confidence,” one might say, though without complacence, that one is saved, based on the appearance of *signs* that one belongs to the elect. However, those signs could all be ultimately temporary in one’s life, and therefore, illusory. One must also, from time to time, check one’s life to make sure that the “signs” of belonging to the elect aren’t beginning to be outweighed by possible “signs” of being reprobate (non-elect).

The latter was a periodic struggle (and over time, a heavy burden) for me, as a Reformed Baptist who sought to have “assurance” of my salvation. I could never *truly* have assurance of my salvation, in any sense *other* than how I appeared to be showing signs of belonging to the elect, from one day or week or month (which might have been very encouraging) to another day or week or month (not as encouraging).


  1. Hi Joe,

    I’ve been following your blog, great stuff, but not had time to always post.

    This issue of Assurance is a pretty damning factor in Protestant Theology, because it’s at the heart of Sola Fide. Luther was so terrified of the God-Of-Wrath he invented in his mind, he had to invent a “solution” to “comfort” himself: Sola Fide, the belief that Jesus took care of everything for you, so you wouldn’t have to “worry” about your future fate.

    But the ironic (or maybe Providential) thing is that Protestants get trapped by their own logic (which is especially antagonizing for the Reformed camp, who thrives on “logic,” so called).

    As you (and I and Catholics for a long time) have pointed out, there is no objective way to measure the Saved from the Deluded-Saved since both ‘respond’ with the good works and struggles with sin that “true Christians” are to respond to.

    But the situation is actually *worse* than that: John Calvin clearly taught something called *evanescent grace* in which God gives a ‘fake grace’ to the Reprobate to make them *think* and act as if they were Saved, and this only so that He could damn them with greater punishment for such deceptive behavior (other Reformed teachers will reluctantly admit God does this too).

    When speaking to other Reformed on this, they either wont see it, or pretend they don’t see the problem.

    But the most astonishing factor is that some Reformed will admit the individual cannot know if they are saved, which doesn’t actually get them out of anything but rather concedes defeat of their entire system. Since Protestantism teaches God only loves certain people, you must ENTER that religion *assuming* you’re one of the lucky few. If you don’t know, you can’t say God loves you. If God doesn’t love you, or you don’t know, then any worship or Christian living is in vain.

    A final problem with the Reformed view of “Assurance” that I realized not too long ago was that of Christian leadership. The Bible clearly lists offices of the Church, yet if someone is not Saved, they cannot ontologically carry that office. In the Reformed scheme, if you can’t know if you’re saved, nor can anyone else, then logically it’s functionally impossible for there to be Christian Church officers in Calvinism since they very well could be Deluded-Saved. Make sense?

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