Should you question your salvation?

The topic of fruit as evidence of salvation has recently been brought to my attention again, and I thought it would be good to take some time to write out some of my study on this topic from a while back. I’ll be doing so in a series of blog posts, then collecting the results together at the end.

The crux of the question is this: if a person sincerely trusts in Christ for salvation, but then sees some degree of a lack of fruit in their lives, should they at some point question whether they were saved in the first place?

As an answer, I propose the following:

  1. Biblical theology is based on a person having absolute assurance that they are saved. To demonstrate this fact, I will show that the logical flow of all of Paul’s general letters requires absolute assurance, and fails entirely if such assurance is not possible.
  2. The theology of questioning salvation on the basis of fruit, is based on the impossibility of ever having absolute assurance that you are saved, but, rather, always having only a relative assurance. I will show this from the clear statements of salvation-questioning teachers, and from logical necessity. I’ll then handle common objections to this conclusion, showing that although some claim that absolute assurance and questioning salvation can coexist, they cannot.
  3. Therefore, since Biblical theology requires absolute assurance, and salvation-questioning theology makes absolute assurance impossible, it will be demonstrated that salvation-questioning theology is inconsistent with the Bible.

For this post, I’ll simply state my arguments in support of point 1, then in future posts defend them one at a time.

1. Biblical theology is based on a person having absolute assurance that they are saved.

Arguments for this point:

  1. Paul addresses all of his letters to a group of people he calls “saints” and “brethren.” This sounds as though he knows that they are saved. And if he (and they) could not know for sure, it would be misleading for him to refer to them as such, because some of them would not be saints and brethren.
  2. Many of Paul’s declarations of what is true about the redeemed, are stated not in the abstract, but in the second person. He says “you are all sons of God” (Gal 3:26). This sounds as though he knows that these truths apply to his readers. And if he (and they) could not know for sure, it would be misleading for him to say so. He would have to say “Christians are all sons of God – are you one of them?” as many salvation-questioning teachers say.
  3. Paul exhorts Christian living on the basis of assurance of salvation. He says “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you” (Phi 2:12-13). This sounds as though the basis for their work should be their assurance that God is at work in them. And if this could not be surely known, Paul would have to say “work, because if you do not then God must not be at work in you” – as many salvation-questioning teachers say.

I hope, from this brief summary, it is clear that Paul’s train of thought in all of his letters requires an absolute assurance of salvation. He writes to people he calls saints, tells them what is true about them in Christ, then exhorts them to act on the basis of that knowledge. He does not address a mixed multitude, telling them what is true about Christians and asking them to see if they fit the criteria, then telling them to work so that they will discover whether or not they are Christians. To force Paul into such a theology is to take isolated statements and elevate them above the overall logic of Paul’s writing. And this is no purely intellectual matter – this assurance is God’s intended basis for peace and Christian living, free from fearful, servile duty.

One Response to Should you question your salvation?

  1. Brian Stock says:

    Josh, it is great that you are thinking about these types of questions. I will have to disagree with you. I am mainly disagreeing with your use of the word “absolute”. I will fully agree that Paul’s theology promotes Preservation/Perseverance of the Saints (that is, those who truly believe will believe in the end). And I will agree that Paul’s letters are spurring on “saints” and “brethren” to see their assurance of salvation.
    However, I feel that you are reading Paul and the rest of the Bible to simplistic. First, the “saints” in the beginning of the letter gives a general call to the church not a specific, everybody is absolutely saved in the church therefore you should not question your salvation. Second, in Paul’s letter, he writes to the Christian in hopes that his Gospel to them in is not “in vain”. For example, from one of the clearest presentations of the gospel in all of Scripture, Paul writes, “1 Corinthians 15:1-2 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Paul saw that there are confessing Christians that are not saved and have believed in vain. They do not hold firmly to the preached word and they need to question their salvation. Here are two more passages where Paul clearly stating that Paul does not have this “absolute-assurance/never question your salvation”: 2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.; Galatians 4:11 “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Almost seems that Paul is worried for all the “brothers” (1v2) that they have not truly received salvation). My point is that in Paul’s very letters he is spurring on Christian in love with Christ-promises and judgment warnings to examine themselves: “2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
    Other passages to look at:
    2 Peter 1:10 “Therefore, brothers,1 be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Peter here uses the term “brothers” in a general way and then calls them to check their salvation (calling and election) by their fruit or “practices”.
    Also I will point you to some of the parables of Jesus in Matthew 13: The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Wheat among the Weeds (this one speaks of the field as all the world and I would include the ‘visible’ church to be apart of the world.) Also, consider the many Hebrews warning passages.
    So, I will offer those passages to you to consider for now. I believe there is a health God-honoring way to examine or question your salvation that will root out sin and let the Christian stand firmer on the Christ as the ground of his salvation. This is not to be in despair all the time, but once again point your heart to the only unbreakable steel of salvation anybody has: the righteousness of Christ.

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