False Grounds for Assurance of Salvation (part 1)

January 28, 2020 · 1680 words · 8 minute read Thought   Assurance of Salvation   Salvation   Bible   Sin  

In this post, I seek to prove that assurance of salvation that is rooted in logic like: "You have a desire for God's word, so you must be saved." or "You are wrestling and concerned about your sin, so you must be saved." is false - that is, it is no, true ground for assurance of salvation.

“Oh listen, do you love the Word of God? There’s no greater proof that you have really passed from death unto life than if you have an insatiable love for the Word of God.”1

Preface

A Warning

Before continuing, I encourage you to read the warning here.

If you are looking for the grounds of assurance of salvation (the means by which we can know that we are saved), I don’t have any to offer you right now and sincerely ask that you stop reading.

If you have assurance of salvation based on an argument like:

“You have a desire for God’s word, so you must be saved.”

or

“You are wrestling and concerned about your sin, so you must be saved.”

I warn you that I intend to prove that this argument is not logically consistent with other premises taught by many of the same churches propagating this teaching.

Thesis

In this blog post, I intend to demonstrate and prove that a common, logical argument used to assure people of their salvation is not valid logic because it contradicts other beliefs held by the same churches using said arguments. I argue that the argument fails because it takes a necessary characteristics or criteria of a Christian and makes it a sufficient characteristic.

The Argument

There is a certain type of argument that I regularly hear used to assure people of salvation. In this section, I give three examples of this argument and then generalize the argument to its basic structure. In the next section, I critique what I see as the argument’s weakness.

Example Argument #1: Concern for Sin

There were many times in my middle and high school years when I was wrestling with sin and was very distraught over my sin to the point that I questioned whether or not I was truly a Christian (and this still happens to this day). When I would express this to pastors/elders in the conservative, evangelical churches I attended, I was regularly told things like:

“To start off with, the fact that you are wrestling and concerned about your sin is a good indication that you are saved.”

The logic of this statement is basically as follows:

  1. Premise: You are concerned about an increasing pattern of sin in your life
  2. Axiom: If someone is concerned about their sin it is highly likely (if not certain) that he/she is saved
  3. Conclusion from 1 and 2: The fact that you are concerned over your sin is a good indication (if not a cause for certainty) that you are saved

This argument is regularly repeated in the same, logical form, but with different grounds for assurance/confidence of salvation. Here is another example:

Example Argument #2: Desire for God’s Word

Here is the same, logical structure as the first example but using a desire for God’s word as the grounds for assurance/confidence of salvation:

  1. Premise: You have a desire for the word of God
  2. Axiom: If someone has a desire for the word of God, it is highly likely (if not certain) that he/she is saved
  3. Conclusion from 1 and 2: The fact that you have a desire for the word of God is a good indication (if not a cause for certainty) that you are saved

This argument appears in sermons by protestant pastors.1

Example Argument #3: Love for Jesus

Or here is the same logical structure using a ‘love for Jesus’2 as the grounds for assurance/confidence of salvation:

  1. Premise: You have a ‘love for Jesus’
  2. Axiom: If someone has a ‘love for Jesus’, it is highly likely (if not certain) that he/she is saved
  3. Conclusion from 1 and 2: The fact that you have a ‘love for Jesus’ is a good indication (if not a cause for certainty) that you are saved

This argument is regularly used by protestant pastors.3

Basic Structure of the Argument

Fundamentally, the logic in all of the preceding examples is the same and breaks down to this (I’m using ‘X’ to represent some thing or characteristic indicative of being saved):

  1. Premise: You have X
  2. Axiom: If someone has X, it is highly likely (if not certain) that he/she is saved
  3. Conclusion from 1 and 2: The fact that you have X is a good indication (if not a cause for certainty) that you are saved

In the next section, I’ll describe how I think this logic is lacking because it tries to make good, necessary characteristics into sufficient characteristics indicating salvation.

The Problem with the Argument

I think the problem with the logical structure presented above and the examples given is that it tries to make necessary characteristics and criteria for salvation into sufficient characteristics and criteria. For the remainder of this post, I’ll explain the difference between necessary and sufficient, apply it to the arguments that were presented in the last section, and give an example where the logic of the previously presented arguments falls apart.

Necessary and Sufficient

In philosophical language, some attribute/characteristic is a necessary characteristic of some category if every member of that category has that characteristic. In other words, having a certain characteristic is necessary to be a member of that category. For example, a necessary characteristic of a football field is that there are goals on either end (at least, this is a necessary characteristic in most cases). If anything is put forward as a football field and does not have goals on either end, we can safely say it is not a football field. If anything is put forward as a football field which does have goals on either end, we can conclude that it might be a football field. We can only say it might be a football field and not that it definitely is because there are other fields with goals on either end (e.g. lacrosse).

An attribute/characteristic is sufficient if every member of a category and only members of said category have that attribute/characteristic. For example, having the molecular structure H2O is a sufficient characteristic of water because all water has that chemical composition and water is the only substance with that chemical composition.

Trying to Make a Necessary Sufficient

I think the problem with the argument is that when someone uses that argument, they pick one thing (which, perhaps, is something necessary for Christians) and they make it a sufficient thing. In other words, I agree that Christians should have a concern for sin, a desire for God’s word, and, perhaps, a ‘love for Jesus’2. But unbelievers can have these things too (see the next section for an example), which means that they are not sufficient evidence for my salvation; only necessary (if even that). If you don’t have those things, I think the Bible gives you grounds for being concerned; but I don’t think we can look at any one of those things and hold that up as the only (or at least primary) and definitive indication of our salvation.

Where the Logic Fails

Roman Catholicism

Consider the arguments presented in the first section. Let’s apply one of these arguments to Roman Catholics and see if they fit. We’ll take the first argument (the argument based on a concern for sin). The argument goes as follows:

  1. Premise: You are concerned about an increasing pattern of sin in your life
  2. Axiom: If someone is concerned about their sin it is highly likely (if not certain) that he/she is saved
  3. Conclusion from 1 and 2: The fact that you are concerned over your sin is a good indication (if not a cause for certainty) that you are saved

Does this apply to catholics? I posit that premise #1 applies. There are a good number of catholics who are very distraught over their sin (some a good deal more distraught than many protestants). If premise #1 applies, it follows that the whole argument holds for catholics. In other words, according to the logic of that argument, catholics with a concern for sin are probably saved.

But there is a problem here… Most of the churches I grew up in which use the arguments presented above also believe that Roman Catholicism is teaching a false gospel (and that anyone faithfully adhering to their teaching is not saved). Something doesn’t seem right. It seems that we are trying to hold to the following logic:

  1. Premise: Anyone with a concern for sin is probably saved
  2. Premise: Many Roman Catholics have a concern for sin
  3. Conclusion 1 and 2: Roman Catholics are probably saved
  4. Premise: Roman Catholics faithfully following their church’s teachings are not saved

Note that the conclusion in #3 flies in the face of premise #4. We have a problem! Among other possibilities, it seems that either:

a. We have wrong facts/premises (e.g. premise 2 or 4 is wrong)

b. We have faulty logic (e.g. premise 1 is wrong or a fallacy has occurred somewhere)

Either way, applying the logic of the arguments does not work if you believe that Roman Catholics are not preaching a true gospel.

Conclusion

Many of the arguments and defenses of assurance of salvation which I have heard are, in my understanding, large oversimplifications (at best) or simply incorrect (at worst). We must be careful that we do not take something that is necessary and make it sufficient. I do not intend this blog post to cast doubt into the lives of those seeking to be found righteous before God the Father, our creator. But I do hope this blog post challenges you to:

  1. Think carefully about how we ground our assurance of salvation
  2. Use scripture rather than cute, trite clichés to find assurance of salvation