Doctrine of Assurance Pt. 6
Reid A Ferguson
1 Corinthians 2:9–16; John 16:1–15; 1 John 2:18–27
As most of you know, we’ve been working through this little letter of 1st John in an effort to get a firm handle on John’s assertion that he had written it, at least in part, to give certainty to believers that they really are saved – now!
1 John 5:13
1 John 5:13 ESV
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
How can I know that I know that I know, that I am in right relationship with God?
That my sins are forgiven; that I am already received as one of God’s own children; that when I die, I will immediately go to be in the presence of the God who loves me and sent His Son to die for me for all eternity?
While not everyone struggles with this question in a deep way – many do and all should.
For some, they question it because they simply have never heard or believed the Gospel: The Gospel that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
They know the world is a pretty broken place, but they don’t know why.
They’ve never heard the Biblical explanation that all pain, sickness, disease, war, heartache and misery are part of the human condition because back when God created us in His image – we rebelled against Him.
How we wanted, and STILL want the right to govern ourselves as we see fit. To name right and wrong for ourselves. And to live for ourselves, rather than for the One who made us for Himself.
They’ve never known that God loved us so even in our rebellion, that He devised a way to remain absolutely holy and not compromise His justice, and still buy us back to Himself from our ruin.
And that plan was to send His own perfect Son – Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, to live a life that completely fulfilled all that God could demand of us, and, be our substitute on the Cross, enduring the just wrath of God against our rebellion and sin. This is so that all who put their trust in Him as their sin-bearer, might be forgiven, reconciled to Him and granted eternal life.
They have not heard that is the state of affairs in this world as God has made it known. Or they’ve heard some other, some false Gospel.
Others, have fully believed that Gospel. They know the truth of all this and have come to Christ for forgiveness and salvation from the judgment of God – and yet still – for reasons unknown to themselves, cannot find complete rest in it.
They are plagued, tormented by thoughts that somehow, they will still be damned. That they are not in right relationship with Him. They fear to trust fully: Perhaps because of some failure they imagine is outside the sufficiency of Christ’s blood, or because they do not “feel” it so, or maybe because they think they’ve just not been good enough since believing.
Sadly, even some Christian traditions have (for whatever reasons) taught people that they cannot really know that they are already in a right relationship with God.
They’ve have been told that such an assurance of actually “being” saved, of being in an irreversible right relationship with God is unknowable. That you might have some reason to hope it is so – but might be lost again tomorrow.
Or that there may be this endless cycle of being saved, then lost, saved again and lost again – and that no one can ever truly rest in the finished work of Christ on their behalf.
He’s done His part, but if you fail to do yours, all of it is out the window.
John wants all of those who might read this letter to come to a place of assurance before the throne of God.
If that lack of certainty is because you need to hear and believe the Gospel – because you never have – then we invite you to listen really hard this morning.
You really can be born again – become a new creation in Jesus and be fully and finally reconciled to the living God.
Or maybe your assurance has been wounded by errant teaching, or some cause unknown to you.
Of all the things we’ve examined in this regard so far – none of them John has brought forward to date carries as much weight as this one does.
And it is captured in one very simple but eternally profound phrase: 1 John 5:10a
1 John 5:10a ESV
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God, has the testimony IN himself.
That is what by God’s help I hope to unpack for you this morning.
Now by way of the very briefest of review – so far John has been building his foundation for certainty regarding our salvation by getting us to look at our relationship to some key things:
The Word of God: Is it divinely authoritative for us?
God Himself: Is my relationship to Him based upon actually having believed the Gospel?
Sin: Do you hate your love of it.
Christ’s People (the Church): Do you have a unique affinity for them?
World’s Values: Are you rejecting them in favor of the Bible’s revelation of what has true value?
This morning – What is my relationship to The Holy Spirit: Do you know the reality of Spirit given conviction over mere facts or unbelief?
Let’s look at how John addresses this in 4 key passages.
- 1 John 2:18-27
1 John 2:18–27 ESV
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
Let’s take this in 3 sections.
- 1 John 2:18-19
1 John 2:18–19 ESV
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
We’ve discussed the historical situation behind his words here earlier – so I won’t spend a lot of time on it.
Simply, there was a thought system invading the Church at this time, called Gnosticism. And part of the teaching of the Gnostics was that all physical or material matter is inherently evil. Therefore, they said Jesus could not have been God in the flesh, since God could not inhabit evil matter. So Jesus must have only “appeared” to be human. Or that the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism, but left before His crucifixion.
And once you got this secret knowledge of theirs about who and what Jesus REALLY was – then you could become part of the spiritual elite they imagined themselves to be.
But it was all centered around errant views of Jesus Christ.
You will recall John’s opening to this letter is all about establishing that Jesus was in fact God’s Son and that He really was in a human body – very God and very man as the early Church would come to phrase it.
So when these Gnostics left the Church because their doctrine was rejected – it caused a stir. And they tried to get others to go with them.
John says look – the truth is this – if they had really been true Christians to begin with, they would have stayed with us. But the fact they split off shows you they were never really Christians as the Bible defines it.
BUT! b. 1 John 2:20-25
1 John 2:20–25 ESV
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
You don’t need this supposed secret knowledge this group claimed. Why? Because you have “been anointed by the Holy One, and you all HAVE knowledge.”
The truth is – John says – Jesus Himself has given something to you, which in the giving makes you KNOW for certain these guys are dead wrong about Jesus.
John calls this an “anointing.”
Now anointing in the Bible was always a means, usually by smearing oil on someone, to show that they were fitted for an office in serving God. So prophets, priests, kings – and in some cases even objects were “anointed.”
This anointing was always symbolic of the Holy Spirit being the one who equipped the individual for that service. We can’t develop that fully here but 2 passages may be useful in grasping what John is after.
In Luke’s Gospel we’re told Jesus went into the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth one sabbath, and opened the scroll to Isaiah and read this: Luke 4:18
Luke 4:18 ESV
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
What is this “anointing” here? The text is clear – it is nothing other then the Holy Spirit Himself.
We see this again in Acts 10:37-38
Acts 10:37–38 ESV
you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Now why would John use that anointing language when it comes to Believers?
Quite simply because it is Jesus Himself who spent a whole lot of time in the Gospel of John getting the Disciples ready for that same Holy Spirit He and the Father would send to Believers after His ascension. That He would baptize or anoint Believers with His Holy Spirit
John 14:16–17 ESV
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
And what will The Spirit do when He comes? Tons! but let’s look at 2 just briefly.
John 16:8 ESV
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
Don’t miss that word CONVICT. Convict, utterly convince us inwardly of our sinfulness; that our righteousness is not sufficient to please God; and that we then stand in fear of judgment. Bring inward conviction of these things so that we must act on them.
John 15:26–27 ESV
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
We could build our case with dozens more passages but the idea here is plain: The key work of the Holy Spirit, is to bear witness about who Jesus is – directly to the soul.
To bring an inward conviction of the truth about Jesus.
Remember the verse I cited at the beginning?
1 John 5:10a
1 John 5:10a ESV
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
So John’s 3rd point comes clear:
- 1 John 2:27-28
1 John 2:27–28 ESV
But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
What is he saying? That by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit, every genuine child of God has this:
A Conviction that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.
John will build on this but let me get this point cemented so we grasp it well.
Knowledge come in different forms.
I believe that on average the moon is about 238,855 miles away.
I believe it because I’ve been taught it. And because I believe there are those who, with the means and methods requisite, have worked out those calculations.
I believe it has a solid, iron rich core, a fluid outer core of primarily liquid iron around the core and a partially molten boundary layer.
I believe all that. and I can see it every night so I know it is there. But I don’t know it the way those who walked on its surface do. They have a realization of the moon I will never have.
And, if some of those things I believe about the moon were to be altered later due to more investigation – so what?
And for many, knowledge of Jesus falls into similar category.
They believe what they’ve been taught. Trusting that those who taught them knew what they were talking about. But know it? Know it like they know sunlight when they see it each day? Nope.
They are Christians in name only.
Christians because that is how they were raised or taught.
Christians because they aren’t Muslims or Jews or adherents of some other belief system.
But not Christians by the conviction induced directly in the soul by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
But this is the thing which is indispensible to the genuine Christian – the one who has been born of God by the Spirit – they KNOW who and what Jesus is as really and as truly as if they had walked the shores of Galilee with Him.
The Spirit has given them an inner reality of Him which they can no more deny than they can deny their own existence.
They do not just believe it – they know it. Supernaturally.
Now that is John’s starting point. It is the common experience of all those born again by the Spirit of Christ – that the reality of His incarnation is indisputable fact, that nothing can take away from them.
And this is surprisingly true for the genuine believer who is struggling with assurance.
If this is you today, you really need to lean into this beloved: You know full well that no matter how you feel, no matter how down, depressed, despairing, confused or distracted you are at any given time, nevertheless you cannot get away from the fact that the Son of God is real, and that He came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Get this – the very source of your misery is that Jesus is real to your soul. For if He were not so real to your soul, you could just give up believing instead of wrestling as you do.
No, your very wrestling IS incontrovertible proof that you indwelt by His Spirit. So, as Paul says
Romans 8:9b ESV
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
What is the first thing the indwelling Spirit bears witness to in the soul of Believers only?
An absolute CONVICTION that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.
John was telling his readers that no one could bring them some new or secret knowledge about Jesus that was in any way superior to the Witness that was already in them – which showed them that any other teaching about Jesus was antichrist.
But John isn’t done yet.
1 John 3:24b-4:6
1 John 3:24b–4:6 ESV
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
John’s 2nd point is that the indwelling Spirit of Christ brings another conviction with Him:
Conviction that the Apostolic witness is true.
Because we’ve spent much time already on the subject of the Believer’s relationship to the Word of God – I will not press this point here more than note that when one is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, all questions about whether or not God’s Word is true and authoritative end.
It doesn’t mean one might not have questions about how to interpret, understand or apply various parts of the Word.
What it DOES mean – as in the text: We know the Spirit of God and of Truth as opposed by the spirit of error, by whether or not one “listens” to what the Apostles taught and preached and wrote.
The anointing that abides in the Believer brings an undeniable conviction regarding the Word of God AS the Word of God given to us by the Apostles.
Paul says this is why he had confidence that the Thessalonians he preached to were genuinely saved:
1 Thessalonians 2:13
1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
If you are one of the struggle-rs here today, let this stand to give you an assurance like nothing else can – if you have that deep seated, Spirit wrought conviction that the Word of God is just that, even if you are battling with understanding some things it teaches aright – that conviction is a work of the Spirit alone.
Some may say they believe it, but deep down never tremble at it, never search it out, never let it search them out.
But the one anointed by the Spirit knows that they know that they know that this is God’s Word. And nothing can shake them from that reality. For it is a reality, and not a mere belief.
Building upon the previous 2, John then multiplies his case:
1 John 4:13-19
1 John 4:13–19 ESV
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
Here, John reiterates his 1st point – Jesus’ Spirit within us makes US testify, bear witness that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.
By that same Spirit we have come to know and believe the love God has for us.
You see the mounting argument. If we share the Spirit’s conviction of who and what Jesus is, and that He came to save – then in His saving act we come face to face with the reality of His love for us. We come face to face with it in a way that is unlike anything else.
We can complain that we do not feel His love. We might say that we even doubt His love. But what we cannot deny is that He tells us we know His love for us by the fact that He died for us on the Cross.
In other words, the Spirit grants –
A Conviction that God’s love toward us is absolutely proven in sending His Son to die for our sins.
This beloved is the very essence of true saving faith.
1 John 4:15-16
1 John 4:15–16 ESV
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
If I know the witness of the Spirit within granting a powerful conviction regarding the incarnation and His death on Calvary – then knowing that, I must also concede – incontrovertibly, the love that God has for me.
John Calvin put it this way: “We shall now have a full definition of faith if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.”
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).
You see how these work together. The Spirit gives us a deep conviction that Christ has come, that the Word about Him is true, and that His death on the Cross is His testimony regarding His toward me, whatever I may or may not think or feel. I must concede what His Word teaches.
So my problem of assurance may be that I am unwilling to accept the proof that He says is the best proof of His love.
It may be a faith issue after all.
But there is a last work of the Spirit in the soul that John has yet to bring before us.
1 John 5:6-12
1 John 5:6–12 ESV
This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
To be sure this is a somewhat complex passage, but the basic ideas most commentators agree upon:
1st. The testimony of the water, is a reference to Jesus being baptized.
And it was in His baptism that He most identified Himself with us – we in our sinful fallen state. Though He was not sinful, He joined Himself to us in that outward visible demonstration. It is a testimony to His being physically among us. Contra the Gnostics.
2nd. His blood bears witness – that He really and truly died for our sins on the Cross. He was no mere apparition, and this was no myth. He died in a Roman crucifixion, as a sinner in our place. Also contra the Gnostics.
And to this the Spirit bears witness yet again. How?
Romans 1:1–4 ESV
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
He was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit – who in doing so, declared Him to be the Son of God in power.
These 3 bear a unified witness about Him: The Water, the Blood and the Spirit.
The same Spirit who indwells all His own. That Spirit which brings:
A Conviction that Jesus really came, really died, really rose from the dead – and that believing in Him IS the conferral of eternal life.
1 John 5:11
1 John 5:11 ESV
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Conviction that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.
Conviction that the Apostolic witness is true.
Conviction that God’s love toward us is absolutely proven in sending His Son to die for our sins.
Conviction that Jesus really came, really died, really rose from the dead – and that believing in Him IS the conferral of eternal life.
In closing let me bring us to 3 takeaways. Each for a different group.
- The one who says they are a Christian – but for whom these absolute convictions are not your experience.
Call on Him today. Ask God to open your heart and mind – to send the Holy Spirit to birth new life in you and make these things more than mere speculations or beliefs – but transforming realities.
To reveal Christ to you in all of His saving power in His substitutionary death on the Cross. Ask Him to give you this new life in Jesus.
The promise of His Word is that those who come to Him, He will not turn away. Come to Him today. This very moment.
- My dear brother or sister who is struggling with assurance.
Stop and consider that even in your worst moments of doubt and torment – that you cannot escape the reality of these truths. They are burned into your soul.
You need to let those convictions fill the role they are intended to have – to be tokens of the Anointing which indwells you – The presence of the Holy Spirit. And that this belongs only to those who are Christ’s.
The reason why you cannot be at peace, is because this witness continually confronts you in every frame of mind. And this is God’s own proof that you are His.
- The Compromising Christian. The reason you are so miserable here today, is because you cannot get this monkey of the reality of who and what Christ is – and what He has called you to – off your back.
And you will never be at peace, never be able to live with Christ in assurance until you yield to what you know to be the truth. You are in a most mysterious and dangerous place. You know the truth, and yet you are trying to live apart from it. Repent. For if you do not, you will find in the end that you had no real conviction, but mere knowledge. And knowledge will not save you – only Christ can.