Having established that the Christian’s assurance of faith is “founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel”, we can be free from constantly trying to “feel” saved. We can know we’re born again by seeing and believing that Christ truly died and truly rose again from the grave. Salvation is not based on experience; it is based in God’s covenantal promise.
But that does then mean our assurance is never something to be felt or experienced? Isn’t assurance at some point an awareness?
The Confession continues, This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and struggle with many difficulties before he be partaker of it; yet being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of means, attain thereunto: and therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance;—so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
When you read the Psalms and hear of crying out to God, you are reading of someone struggling with faith. For instance, we read in Psalm 88:1-2, “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!”
This is the cry of a person who is struggling with whether or not God hears, and yet, he persists in seeking God. The Psalmist is asking God to hear him. We do ourselves and our fellow believers a disservice when we make faith look easy. Sometimes, it is good to admit that God feels like an idea, or at best, a distant being. But the believer insists that there is no other, and we must seek after God.
What a privilege it is to be able to seek him! The unbeliever wants nothing to do with God except the possibility of God meeting the unbeliever’s demands. But the child of God can seek his or her Father, knowing that their words will be heard, even if it feels like walking through sludge.
But notice that the Confession calls for “the right use of means”. We should not presume that assurance is something given without being sought. Salvation and assurance are distinct, yet assurance should be the fruit of salvation.
So, we seek assurance, not by laziness but through endurance. Hebrews 6:11-12 tells us, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
If you went to a home store, bought a bunch of material, and laid it out in your backyard, would you expect a new deck to magically appear? Of course not. You would know you had to assemble all the pieces. Building a structure requires earnestly working toward that end. You must take what you’ve been given and put it together.
Assurance requires the same kind of earnestness. It does not require “extraordinary revelation”, meaning that it only requires the revelation we currently have. Or, Scripture. We make our calling and election sure through the use of ordinary means. The fellowship of the church is not to be underestimated. When we see our fellow brothers and sisters struggling and enduring, we are edified and encouraged. The one who endures to the end will be saved.
But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that assurance is promised despite our sin. The Confession continues, True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light, yet are they never destitute of the seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are preserved from utter despair.
The believer may fall into temptation and sin, and his or her assurance may suffer. Assurance being diminished is not the same as salvation being lost. However, it can at times feel as though that were the case. But we “are never destitute of the seed of God”.
When you sin and your conscience is pricked, you may feel the guilt and shame of offending your heavenly Father. That in itself is not a bad thing. Sin is no light matter. But God is good, and his word endures. Your salvation is sure even if the experience of assurance waxes and wanes.
Let your conscience be grieved. But in doing so, seek the balm of God’s pardon. His mercy is abundant, and he joyfully gives it to his children. That does not mean that sin should abound so that grace might as well. But knowing our frame, that we are but dust, our Father bestows mercy upon mercy. And therein lies our assurance.