[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of a book by a Traditionalist/Provisionist author and an Arminian (see the reference at the end of the article). SEA publishes a variety of perspectives and sometimes non-Arminians when we think what they have to say is helpful in some way. But articles on SEA do not necessarily represent SEA. They are the perspective of the article author. References to “our reply” in this article do not mean SEA’s reply, but the authors’.]
One must understand that your assurance ultimately rests on your firm belief in these three main factors:
- The Sincerity of your Commitment.
- The Genuineness of your Experiences.
- The Trustworthiness of your God.
If anyone of these factors is missing then assurance is not possible, not really. You must believe that your commitment to the Lord was sincere. Sure, you may have been relatively ignorant of doctrine, or confused about all the nuances of what it means to be a disciple, but you must believe that you were sincere when you committed your life to following Jesus. If deep down you know you said a prayer, walked an aisle or got baptized for some reason other than a sincere commitment to Christ, then you will never find the assurance you long for. Your sincere faith
must rest on Christ and his righteousness alone for your salvation.
Secondly, you cannot have lasting assurance if all you have to base your relationship on is the first experience. Imagine the wedding ceremony being the only experience on which to base the assurance of your relationship with your spouse. Proof of the relationship is better established by the hundreds of intimate experiences in life since that ceremony, not the ceremony itself. The same must be true in a relationship with your Savior. It’s not just about what happened when you made that first confession, but it is about all that God has done in your life since that
Finally, and most importantly, you must believe the One in whom you have put your faith is trustworthy. Will He keep His promises? If the last of these factors is undermined, then the other two crumble apart as well. After all, what good is a commitment to someone you cannot trust? And how can you believe the experiences are genuine if the person with whom you are sharing those experiences proves to be disingenuous?
For instance, if a wife found out her husband had many other wives throughout his life that he used and discarded for his own good pleasure, how could she possibly be assured of his genuine love for her? She could hope that their love was genuine, but knowing that he was not a trustworthy man would inevitably bring serious doubts.
This final point is why I believe Calvinism cannot logically bring assurance to those who are consistent within its systematic. Even Calvinists affirm that there are people who sincerely believe they will be saved, but in reality are self-deceived. For instance, John Piper, speaking of the Calvinistic systematic, writes, “You can embrace a system of theology and not even be born again.”80
In a worldview where God determines whatsoever comes to pass, as the Calvinistic scholars affirm, it must be said that those who are self deceived are such ultimately because God has so determined it. If you happen to be one of the individuals who God has destined to remain in self-deception, falsely believing that you are saved when in actuality you are not, then you could not know this fact until after judgment day.
Because the Calvinistic system affirms that God is willing to unchangeably decree and use self-deceived individuals to be objects of divine wrath in order to bring Himself more glory, it is impossible for any consistent Calvinist to be certain that he or she is not one chosen for this ignoble purpose.
Believing that you have committed yourself to Christ and have had experiences with him in a relationship means nothing if He is not trustworthy and loving toward humanity in general. And because He is proven (on Calvinism) to be able and willing to decree for others to sincerely believe they are saved when they really are not, there can be no assurance He is not doing the same with you. There is no way for a consistent Calvinist to know if he has been chosen for self-deception or true salvation, whereas the non-Calvinist can have at least as much
assurance in salvation as he or she has in a marriage with a trustworthy spouse.
As such, Calvinism offers very little assurance of salvation if it is relegated to an eternal secret election, which is why Calvinists have also historically fretted over whether or not they have been secretly chosen.
Walls and Dongell: “This dreadful possibility is what haunts
Calvinists who struggle with the assurance and certainty of
salvation. Times of moral failure and depression can easily be
construed as evidence that one is not chosen after all and that
God is hardening one’s heart for not responding more faithfully to
What do Calvinists believe?
John Calvin: “Men preposterously ask how they can be certain of
a salvation which lies in the hidden counsel of God. I have replied
with the truth. Since the certainty of salvation is set forth to us in
Christ, it is wrong and injurious to Christ to pass over this
proffered fountain of life from which supplies are available, and
to toil to draw life out of the hidden recesses of God.”82
Yet, it is Calvinists themselves who admit to struggling over this very matter: “I frequently meet with poor souls, who are fretting and worrying themselves about this thought—‘How, if I should not be elect!’ ‘Oh, sir,’ they say, ‘I know I put my trust in Jesus; I know I believe in his name and trust in his blood; but how if I should not be elect?’ Poor dear creature! you do not know much about the gospel, or you would never talk so, for he that believes is elect. Those who are elect, are elect unto sanctification and unto faith; and if you have faith you are one of God’s elect; you may know it and ought to know it, for it is an absolute certainty. If you, as a sinner, look to Jesus Christ this morning, and say—‘Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling,’ you are elect. I am not afraid of election frightening poor saints or sinners.”83 Here you have people who claim to trust in Jesus, but yet do not know whether they are saved because they might not be “elect.” The advice given: “Have faith you are one of God’s elect.” The problem is that it encourages people to place their faith in Election, which is a problem unique to Calvinists, as non-Calvinists have no such fear of an eternal secret draft not going their way. Non-Calvinists can simply trust in Christ, and ultimately, that was also the advice given: “Let your hope rest on the cross of Christ. Think not on election but on Christ Jesus. Rest on Jesus—Jesus first, midst, and without end.”84
Assurance must not rest on a presumption of secret election, but instead, must rest on the promise of God to keep His Word for all who believe in His Son. I don’t need to guess or suppose whether God wishes to save me, personally, since if Jesus died for all, then I can know for sure that He died for me because I am a part of the all for whom He died. I can know that God wants to save me because He provided the means for my salvation at Calvary, and I trust in His promise to keep His word.
80 John Piper, Why are Calvinists so Negative? [Interview with John Piper; accessed
online at: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-are-calvinists-so-negative
81 Walls and Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, InterVarsity Press, 2004, p.202.
82 John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, Westminster John Knox
Press, 1997, p.126.
83 Charles Spurgeon, Election.
[This post has been excerpted with permission from Leighton C. Flowers with Richard Coords, [re]Reformed: A Journey In and Out of Calvinism with a Verse by Verse Commentary (Trinity Academic Press, 2020).]