In recent days, it has become common-place in conservative evangelicalism to provide assurance of salvation to people if they have “a desire to know”, “affections for”, or a “love for” Jesus1. Is this a solid ground for assurance of salvation? Below, I present the argument that it is not solid ground for assurance because it lacks biblical support, contradicts what is written in scripture, and is not the way that the divinely inspired authors answered the question of assurance. I’ll conclude by lamenting what I think is a dangerous trend in evangelicalism to jettison our Biblical roots and rely more and more on theological constructs derived (hopefully) from the Bible.
Lack of Biblical Evidence
In all of the answers given by the pastors in citation 1, there is a conspicuous lack of Biblical support provided for their central theme. John MacArthur cites some scripture, but most of it is not cited in reference to his thesis that we can know that we are saved “if we love Him”; the only biblical reference to prove his point is the story of Peter and his restoration after Jesus' resurrection. R.C. Sproul refers to the same story (Peter’s denial and restoration). I don’t see any evidence in this text that it is even intended to provide assurance of salvation. Let me repeat my initial complaint: we have a supposedly divinely inspired, perspicuous, life-giving, inerrant, and infallible text which has been sovereignly and graciously preserved for us2, yet we are comfortable answering a question as heavy as “Am I truly saved?” without a firmly rooted reference to scripture!?!? My brothers, this ought not to be! Our arguments must be derived from and rooted in the text of scripture, rightly understood.
This observation does not necessarily disprove the thesis of the pastors mentioned above; I’m simply emphasizing what I see as an epistemic failure in not relying on divinely inspired texts. The next section raises a possible discrepancy between the thesis of the pastors mentioned above and the Bible.
Contradictions with Scripture
It seems that the pastors cited in the previous section are asserting that a love for Jesus is a sufficient demonstration of one’s salvation (that is, one must only prove that one has a love for Jesus to have complete confidence that one is saved). For a love for Jesus to be a sufficient demonstration for our salvation, however, that implies that it is impossible for an unbeliever to think that he/she has a love for Jesus. If it were possible for someone who is not saved to believe that he/she has a love for Jesus, a perceived love for Jesus would not longer be a sufficient demonstration of salvation. If you think this is stretching the argument, I have heard a pastor claim that a love for Christ “can’t be faked”. So does the Bible support the necessary claim that a love for Jesus can’t be faked?
I think the Bible contradicts the claim that a love of Jesus can’t be faked. 1 John 4:20, echoing the cautions earlier in the book of 1 John which start with “if we say…” (1 John 1:6, 1:8, 1:10), implies, by my understanding of the text, that it is possible for some to say “I love God” without actually loving God. I believe this verse implies the possibility of counterfeit love for God because otherwise, what is the purpose of such a warning if it is not possible to be in the situation described by the warning? Thus, I think it is biblically possible for someone to think he or she loves God without actually loving God. Hence, I do not think there is Biblical support for a necessary premise of the argument that a love for Jesus is sufficient evidence of salvation.
I say this not with the intention of shutting the arguments down as that would require more in-depth argumentation (which I am happy to provide); I simply want to point out that we are making assertions which are, from my understanding of the text, contradicting what the Bible says. In the next section, I’ll present how the divinely inspired authors of scripture answered the question of assurance.
Divinely Inspired Answers
The final difficulty, that I’ll address in this post, with the argument for assurance based on ‘love for Christ’ is that the biblical authors answered the question of assurance, but we do not answer the same way. It is not just that we don’t support our arguments with scripture; we are ignoring the divinely inspired, infallible answers that we have. The book that most directly addresses the issues of assurance of salvation is the book of 1 John. I’ll provide a brief sketch of how the Apostle John (under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writing an inerrant and infallible text) answers the question of assurance and you can see for yourself if this lines up with the answers given by pastors today. In the passages below, I’ve underlined the assurances (or un-assurances) of salvation that I have noticed (there may be more). John states in 1 John 2:3-11:
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
And 1 John 2:15-17:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
And 1 John 3:4-10:
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
And 1 John 3:13-24:
Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
And 1 John 4:1-21:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
And 1 John 5:1-5:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
And 1 John 5:13-20:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
The only statement in that is close to the “love for Jesus” argument is 1 John 5:1-2, but even this is clarified and made more practical by defining what it means to love God in 1 John 5:3 when the apostle says “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments”.
To be clear, I think all true Christians do love God (Ephesians 6:24, 1 Corinthians 16:22, 1 John 5:1-3). I’m just concerned that we are putting too much weight on this as the exclusive test of salvation and that we are relying on it without support from scripture.
What pains me most about this trend is the disregard and complacency shown for God’s divinely inspired word. Do we really think we have more wisdom than scripture? How have we become comfortable answering questions (which are addressed in scripture) differently than the divinely inspired authors themselves?
If you think I’m misunderstanding something, please contact me.
Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
~ 1 John 5:21