Why Calvinists Cannot Have Assurance
Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission. Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.
I grew up as a church brat. I could literally quote John 3:16 before I could spell my first name. Asking me when did I come to know that Jesus was Lord would have been like asking me when did you come to know your mom was your mom. I grew up believing in and following the ways of the Lord. I put my faith in Christ at young age and have remained an active part of the church my entire life.
As a teenager, I often remember one of those former gang banging drug dealers turned evangelist coming through town with their rags to riches testimony and inspiring story of God’s redemption. While I sincerely appreciated hearing what God had done in their lives, sometimes it left me feeling a bit uncertain about my own salvation experience. This was especially true when they would end their messages with the often-used question, “Do you know that you know that you know that if you died tonight you spend eternity with Jesus?”
I thought I knew until I compared my little ol’ boring testimony to his and he added that extra “you know that you know” in there. I simply was not sure “I knew that I knew”…whatever that means.
I struggled with doubt early in my journey. My assurance seemed to wane as the experience of making that decision faded from my memory. I remember praying the “sinner’s prayer” several times throughout my life to make sure it stuck.
Doubting salvation is a point with which many Christian’s struggle. I discussed the common question of one losing their salvation and the doubt that surrounds such issues HERE IN ANOTHER ARTICLE.
We must understand that our assurance ultimately rests on three main factors:
- The Sincerity of your Commitment
- The Genuineness of your Experiences
- The Trustworthiness of 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 know that you meant it 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 faith must rest on Christ and his righteousness alone for your salvation.
Secondly, you cannot have real 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 my relationship with Laura, my wife of 18 years. I can prove I’m married not merely by pointing back to the ceremony, but more importantly to my relationship with her today and all the thousands of genuine experiences that mark our lives together. 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 time.
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?
This final point is why I believe Calvinism cannot logically bring assurance to those who are consistent within it’s systematic. I do not mean to offend anyone in bringing this charge, because it is not meant to be personal. It is a purely logical argument based upon the reality inherent within the deterministic framework.
Please allow me to explain:
- 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.”
- 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 you were condemned.
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 purposes. Believing that you have committed yourself to Christ and have had experiences with him in relationship means nothing if He is not trustworthy toward humanity in general. And because He is proven 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.
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