True Salvation Assurance

Dan Corner

What is true salvation assurance? As with other important teachings found in the Bible, there usually is a counterfeit which many people accept as truth. The teaching of salvation assurance is no exception to this.

Before we go to the Scriptures, we must learn what has been communicated by the OSAS teachers regarding salvation assurance. From there we will have a point of reference to compare with the Bible. You might be surprised to notice the close link the popular teaching on salvation assurance has to OSAS. The following is what nearly a dozen different authors, from that perspective, have written on this subject.

OSAS Teachers On Salvation Assurance

True believers can have a full assurance of their eternal salvation (1 John 5:11-13). This would be impossible if we could lose our salvation.
... if you believe that you can lose your salvation whenever you cease to believe or fall into sin, then assurance is beyond reach. That is why I tried to establish in an earlier chapter the doctrine of the security of the believer. If we are not sure that our relationship with God is eternally secure, it is very difficult to grow in the Christian life.
God's security and man's assurance are companion truths when it comes to the believer's salvation. They may be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Security is what God provides for the believing sinner. It is an aspect of His great gift of salvation.
Assurance is the certainty the believer has when he accepts God's security.
Assurance of salvation is the confidence and certainty that believers possess eternal security when they confess their sin, repent of their sin, when they believe that the penalty for their sin was paid by Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, and when they receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Those who have trusted Christ as Savior are set apart by God the moment they are saved. Thus they are secure, and assurance comes by accepting that position in the Savior. Again, the two truths are not identical, but they are related to each other.
Some people believe no one can have real assurance -- not even a true Christian. They reject God's sovereignty in salvation, thereby destroying the theological basis for eternal security and assurance. That's the historical Arminian view (named after a Dutch theologian). It asserts that if a Christian thinks he is secure forever, he is apt to become spiritually negligent.
The final perseverance of the saints is one of the grand and distinctive blessings proclaimed by the Gospel, being an integral part of salvation itself, and therefore any outcry against this doctrine is an attack upon the very foundations of the believer's comfort and assurance.
Assurance is an inextricable part of saving faith. As the Apostle John said it, "I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (italics his).
Assurance concerns the realization that a person has eternal life. But security is a true fact whether or not an individual has assurance of that or not.
Eternal security is a doctrine of Scripture, a divine revelation of an abiding fact which exists, whether it is believed or not. Assurance is only the personal confidence in a present salvation.
Now, God wants you to enjoy your salvation. His "plane" cannot fall, and you do not have to hold on to the seat in front of you. He holds you! My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand [John 10:27-29]. He never lets go. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy your salvation. Someone has said, "All the way to heaven is heaven"(italics his).
Election gives assurance of salvation.
Eternal security is the truth that establishes a Christian in assurance of salvation.
For the most part, what we are being taught on salvation assurance is clearly based on the foundation of OSAS, as just shown. We are told once a person has had a moment of true faith in Christ he is saved and will remain saved. Because he will always be saved, he should have assurance (or confidence) of his salvation; and if one denies OSAS then assurance is beyond reach.

Is this really the kind of salvation assurance the Bible teaches? Are the OSAS teachers misrepresenting those who believe in a conditional security when they say such cannot have assurance? Furthermore, is there a dangerous overconfidence that is generated by OSAS? Let's go to the Scriptures and find answers for these and other questions regarding assurance.

The "You May Know" Salvation Assurance Passage

Without a doubt, the most commonly cited passage regarding salvation assurance is 1 John 5:11-13:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (NIV).
Regarding verse 13, John MacArthur
, Jr. has written:
John's purpose statement is explicit in 1 John 5:13: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (emphasis added). There the apostle spells out his intention. He is not trying to make believers doubt; he wants them to have full assurance (italics his).
But then at other times, MacArthur seems to contradict this statement when he writes:
For one ultimately and finally to fall away from the faith proves that person never really was redeemed to begin with: ...
No matter how convincing a person's testimony might seem, once he becomes apostate he has demonstrated irrefutably that he was never saved.
If a person leaves the fellowship of God's people and never comes back, he or she was never a true believer to begin with.
But no true believer can fall into settled unbelief or permanent reprobation.
The point is not that God guarantees security to everyone who will say he accepts Christ, but rather that those whose faith is genuine will prove their salvation is secure by persevering to the end in the way of righteousness.
John Murray takes the same position regarding a true faith persevering in holiness to the end:
... we may entertain the faith of our security in Christ only as we persevere in faith and holiness to the end.
In contrast to MacArthur and Murray, D. James Kennedy, who embraces the Westminster Confession, indirectly denies that one who has a saving faith will persevere to the end in the way of holiness:
I think back many years ago of a man in this church who was engaged in adultery -- a man who had been a minster [sic] and had left the ministry, but a man who seemed to be a godly man -- a man who seemed to be a Christian. Only God knows the heart. He became involved with a married woman. He was going to have her divorce her husband and marry him. I admonished him and urged him to repent. He was brought before the discipline committee and they admonished him to repent. He was suspended from the sacraments, but he did not repent. Finally, the Session determined that since he remained impenitent, they would have to excommunicate this man from the church. Just before that happened, God pulled his string and suddenly that young man died. These are just some of the unlimited, infinite ways God can chasten those who are truly His own, who do not repent of their sins. My friends, we need to take the warnings seriously because they are very real.
So, a person who dies an unrepentant adulterer can be a true Christian, according to some who hold to the Westminster Confession!

Kennedy also wrote about falling away:

It is true that Christians can fall into sin; we can partially and temporarily fall away, but not totally and finally fall away.
One must ask, if that unrepentant adulterer didn't totally and finally fall away, what would it take? Surely he didn't persevere to the end in the way of righteousness!

Salvation Assurance In Name Only

Seemingly, MacArthur and some other OSAS people who subscribe to the Calvinistic Westminster Confession see no contradiction in saying we can have full assurance now; then turning around to say if we ever fall away from the faith or ever become apostate, even after a convincing testimony, we prove we were never saved as we thought we were!

In other words, if you turn away from Christ at the very end of your life, even after a convincing testimony for Christ of many years, you show at that point in time that your faith was not real, as you thought it was, but only spurious. Then on the other hand, if that same person comes back he may have a real faith after all! So, if one has a real faith and turns away from Christ for an extended time of years during which he lived a most wicked lifestyle, but at the very end of his life comes back, he was saved all during the time he was in that unrepentant state. Only one's spiritual condition at the very end of his life, as he takes his last breath, will reveal if his faith was the saving kind or just a close counterfeit!

Though denied, the essence of the OSAS moderate view, embraced by MacArthur and others, is: If you ever had true faith, you're saved, but you can never really know until the very end of your life that you had true faith to be saved. Again, they are apprehensive to admit to this, but it's consistent with their view. Remember, if there remains any opportunity in time to become apostate, and one does even after a convincing testimony of many years, then he shows he was never really saved to begin with, that is, unless he comes back to the Lord.

The bottom line in this is nothing more than double talk about the full assurance people, like Robert Morey, say one can have. A present-tense salvation assurance cannot, in reality, co-exist with the possibility of becoming apostate in the future, thereby proving such a person was never saved to begin with, even when he had a convincing testimony. So, in spite of what such OSAS proponents may say, they really don't have any salvation assurance at all, except in name only because time still exists for them to possibly become apostate!

Zane Hodges noticed something about that view which contradicts its profession:

But equally, the Christian himself cannot be sure he has the faith of God's elect unless he perseveres to the end. Thus every Christian must live with the possibility that he may prove in the end to be nonelect, that is, "reprobate"!
But incredibly, Hodges also wrote:
Paul does not say, as lordship teachers so often do, that his readers should question their salvation if they become involved in sexual impurity.
Obviously, MacArthur and Hodges display vast differences in theology while they both embrace OSAS. The former is "moderate" in position, while the latter "extreme." Both denounce each other's position on saving faith, yet hold to OSAS.

What Does 1 John 5:13 Really Say?

Many people who base their salvation assurance on 1 Jn. 5:13 are unaware that it refers only to those who have a present-tense belief in Jesus! Please notice verse 13 from Young's Literal Translation:
These things I did write to you who are believing in he name of the Son of God, that ye may know that life ye have age-during, and that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God.
This important truth about the word believing automatically changes the meaning that we should have of this often-cited passage. The truth is, this passage offers salvation assurance only to those who presently are believing in Jesus. In contrast to the Stanley-Hodges-Lutzer extreme position, this verse definitely does not offer salvation assurance to people who no longer believe in Jesus!

Also, according to the immediate context, such people who are believing are the only ones who presently have the Son.

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 Jn. 5:12, NIV).
Please note this verse does not say, he who had the Son, but has the Son has life, which is also present tense!

With the present tense still in mind, John repeated the same truth, but this time from the negative, "he who does not have [present-tense] the Son of God does not have life" (NIV).

John 6:47 and Salvation Assurance

Jn. 6:47 is another commonly used OSAS passage that is likewise misunderstood. While referring to this Scripture, John Rice wrote:
Do you have everlasting life? You may answer, "Yes, I have everlasting life because the Bible says, He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.' I did believe on Him. I did trust Him. I did rely upon Him. Therefore I have everlasting life."
As cited elsewhere, OSAS belief for salvation is usually taught to be a past moment of faith in Jesus Christ, especially in the extreme camp, rather than a continuous-tense believing on him. Apparently, Dr. Rice wasn't aware that "believeth" (KJV) is a continuous tense!

Dave Hunt also refers to this same passage:

Christ said, "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (Jn 6:47) and "shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (Jn 5:24). Those who lack assurance have not believed Christ.
Neither 1 Jn. 5:11-13, Jn. 6:47 nor any other Scripture assures salvation for those who once truly believed, but have since stopped (Lk. 8:13) or have shipwrecked their faith, as Hymenaeus and Alexander did (1 Tim. 1:19,20). Please make a note of this. To think otherwise is to go against Scripture!

Therefore, all OSAS proponents (extreme position) such as Hodges and Lutzer are clearly wrong to say you can cease to believe and still remain saved.

Regarding ceasing to believe but still remaining saved, staunch once saved always saved teacher Charles Stanley declares:

... believers who lose or abandon their faith will retain their salvation,...
Remember, for such people, it only takes a moment of true faith in Jesus to be saved for all time. Hence, if after that moment of faith one would abandon their faith they would still retain their salvation.

In contrast, the Apostle John declared:

(1) We must have a present-tense possession of the Son to have eternal life.

(2) We must have a present-tense believing in Jesus to know we have eternal life now.

This is God's truth on the only real salvation assurance that exists. So while salvation assurance does exist and one can have it now, it is only an assurance for a present-tense salvation because of a present-tense believing on Christ.

Remaining In The Son

Can our remain[ing] in the Son, as John wrote of elsewhere ever vary once we truly have him? The answer is yes! This brings us back to the issue of the believer's security.

For us to more completely understand 1 Jn. 5:11-13 we must have other Scriptures in mind, including 1 Jn. 2:24,25:

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us -- even eternal life (NIV).
That passage states that our remaining in the Son and in the Father is conditional! Surprised? If you are like most, probably so. Yet, you shouldn't be since the Bible has many such conditional passages related to salvation, which would obviously affect salvation assurance.

1 John Uses Know In Other Ways

There are still other passages in the book of 1 John besides 5:13 which we must also focus in upon to have a fuller understanding of true salvation assurance. Sadly, many seem completely unaware of the following verses which also use the word know:

  • We can know who knows God and who doesn't:

  • We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him (2:3-5, NIV).
  • We can know who has been born again:
  • If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him (2:29, NIV).
  • We can know the children of God and the children of the devil by one's behavior:
  • This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (3:10, NIV).
  • We can know we have passed from spiritual death to spiritual life by our love:

  • We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death (3:14, NIV).
  • We can know other people are not saved by the hatred they have:
  • Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (3:15, NKJV).
  • We can know we belong to the truth by helping our Christian brothers materially, if they are in need. This shows God's love in us:

  • If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence (3:17-19, NIV).
    Please note, according to the Apostle John, we can know another person is unsaved by his behavior with as much assurance as we can know we are presently saved, because we are believing on Jesus! Love and general obedience (or hatred and general disobedience) to God are the checkpoints for such cited by this true grace teacher in his epistle.

    Regarding knowing another's spiritual family, Paul knew Elymas was a child of the devil (Acts 13:10) and Peter knew Simon's heart was not right before God at a future point in time after he believed (Acts 8:21). John also knew that Diotrephes was unsaved (3 Jn. 9-11).

    In opposition to all of these Scriptures, we are flooded with the following type of messages:

    And those who do repent and believe the gospel are eternally saved. But neither I nor you nor anybody else is in a position to say well, so and so is not a Christian. What we can say is he's not living as a Christian should live.
    Now all of us know someone who was a deacon in the church and had a testimony for the Lord. Now they're tending bar somewhere. Well, about that person the Bible says, "The Lord knoweth them that are his, but let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." In the last analysis, you do not know nor do I if a person is truly a Christian in the last analysis because the essence of being a Christian is that the soul, the inner man, is saved.

    Salvation Assurance and Works According To OSAS

    Part of the problem for this misunderstanding by the OSAS proponents comes from thinking everything we do or fail to do is a work.
    For whatever behavior or conduct may characterize the believer it can be called a work, whether good or bad. If I sin, it may be called a bad work, if I obey Christ's commands, it may be called a good work. For this reason "lack of work" is redundant. But I put it that way in order to make it absolutely clear that salvation is by grace through faith alone -- faith plus nothing.
    Since we aren't saved by works (Eph. 2:8,9), then obviously our obedience (or disobedience) can't even be remotely connected with identifying true salvation, so they think! Accordingly, 1 Jn. 3:10,14,15 and many other Scriptures seem impossible (by their false understanding of salvation assurance) and therefore are nullified by their "tradition" of OSAS.

    Finish reading this article

    Related Topics:

    Plan of Salvation

    The New Creation In Christ Radical Change

    Eternal Security or Conditional Security

    BEWARE: Joseph Prince Is A Dangerous False Teacher [This critique is very thorough, but is no Joseph Prince Biography.]


    Bible Answers

    Devotion To The Lord Jesus Christ

    Devotion To Mary

    Evangelical Outreach Alphabetical Map

    Contact Us Or Join Our Internet Church

    Evangelical Outreach
    PO Box 265
    Washington PA 15301