At the recommendation my dear friend Nathan Martin (@nater_Martin) I spent some time last night reading the excursus in G.K. Beale’s “A New Testament Biblical Theology” on the assurance of salvation (pgs. 865-870). Assurance is one of the most important doctrines for a new believer to comprehend, but unfortunately it is often presented in ways that are at best unhelpful and at worst can be unbiblical. Instead of offering trite sayings or clichés, Beal provides us with a clear, simple and Biblical model for understanding the assurance of salvation. He argues that we can understand assurance as a triangle, “with each angle contributing to an aspect of assurance. “
Trust in God’s Promise of Salvation
Beal states that, “First, God promises throughout the NT that those who place their faith in Christ and his redemptive work will receive an inner assurance that they have truly benefitted from Christ’s work (the top of the triangle).” (p.867) He then cites 1 John 5:9-15 as a classic example of this teaching in Scripture:
If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 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.
This passages teaches us that “God ‘has testified’ that ‘eternal life’ comes through belief in ‘His Son,’ and those ‘who believe’ in the Son ‘have the testimony in ‘themselves.’” (p.868) We have the assurance of God’s Word that He has given life to all who believe.
The Bible clearly teaches that no one will be saved by their good works, but it is also equally adamant that those who have been saved will produce good works. Beale uses Ephesians 2:8-10 to demonstrate this point:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Verses 8 and 9 are universally used to demonstrate the Biblical teaching concerning justification by faith alone, however; we often skip the next verse. Verse 10 is important because it teaches that as believers we are saved to do “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” Beal says, “..one who has truly been resurrected (Eph 2:4-6) and thus becomes a part of the new creation will inevitably and increasingly be characterized by good works (Eph 2:10) instead of behaving like “dead people” in bondage to “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1-3).” (p.868)
One of the ways that I explain this to new believers is that the greatest evidence of genuine salvation is a changed life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This new life is exhibited through a change in behavior and attitudes that lead to good works. These good works not only demonstrate to others that we have received a new life, but also serve as assurance to us that God has indeed transformed our lives through the gospel. Beal says, “…believer’s assurance of truly being part of the new creation comes as they look back at their former life and see the changes that have come about as they look back at their former life and see the changes that have come about since they became Christian.” (p.869)
Conviction by the Spirit
Many years ago I heard an evangelist say that one of the ways that we know we are saved is that “whenever we fall into sin we are immediately convicted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.” He summed this teaching up by saying, “We can’t get away with anything.” Looking back this was one of the most evident signs to me that something had changed in my life. I can remember shortly after I was saved falling under tremendous conviction for uttering a curse word on the playground. What had been a regular activity before now suddenly felt out of place and wrong.
Beal closes by saying, “…faithful, growing Christians should receive multiple assurances from these three angles, which have a cumulative force, enhancing the overall sense of confidence about the reality of their Christians experience.”(p.870) But also warns that, “no confidence should exist in those who profess to believe in Jesus but who reflect no discernible change for the good in their lifestyles and who have no conviction about changing their sinful ways.”
G.K. Beale “A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011)