“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Jesus speaks these words right before revealing to Peter that he will deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows. How devastating the words must have been to Peter. After following Christ for so long, only to hear his Master tell him that he will deny Him three times. But even in the midst of this dismal prediction, Christ gives Peter assurance.
Having had some conversations about “assurance of salvation” here on the blog, I wanted to spend some time personally to look at Scripture in order that I might be moved to a more Scriptural view of assurance, as I feel that I am far from understanding what God’s Word says about the matter. This is an essential topic, and is also one I believe to quickly become complex.
It is difficult to define this doctrine (or “teaching”) of assurance of salvation and therefore is one that has been debated quite a lot over the years, especially with the rise of Arminianism and Calvinism. But as J. C. Ryle said, “God’s children must not let themselves be driven from the use of a truth, merely because it is abused.” And so to the point that I am flawed and have much room for growth in my own relationship with the Lord, I study and write, that I might become more enthralled with my Savior, and grow in my love and devotion to Him.
So as we go back to our setting, the upper room where the last supper took place, Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat. What does Satan want to do? Well, we can see what Jesus prayed for- “that your faith may not fail.” What is the one thing that can keep Peter from Christ? What is the one thing that will keep Peter from heaven? Death? No. Suffering? No, suffering won’t keep him from Christ. Protection from Satan, and temptation? Well, yes…but what would Satan or temptation bring about? It would bring about Peter falling away, it would bring about unbelief. Unbelief is the only thing that can keep Peter from Christ, from salvation, from heaven. And we see that in Jesus’ prayer, for Jesus prays that Peter’s faith would not fail, combating Satan’s desire.
Who does Jesus pray to? To Peter? To Satan? No, of course not – He prays to God. The assurance that Jesus gives Peter is not based on Peter’s own work, or desire or willpower. Rather it is based wholly on God. The assurance given is that though Peter will fail, God will not and will cause Peter’s faith not to fail, but will uphold it and cause it to stand.
This is important for me, for I can quickly base my own assurance on my own work, my own past performance, or even my current “faith”. But Jesus gives assurance based fully on God’s work, not on mine. Peter is called to look to God, not to himself for assurance.
So the story continues, Peter does deny Jesus, just as was predicted. And then he mourns, he cries. He repents, and later is restored by the risen Christ Himself.
Why did Peter’s faith continue? Was Peter a better man than Judas? Was Peter’s will stronger than Judas’? No, the only reason Peter repented was because God cause his faith to endure. There was nothing that Peter did – God did it all. If God did not sustain Peter’s faith – Peter would have fallen away and would be in hell right now.
It is always interesting to read first and second Peter in light of the narrative of Peter’s life. And there is a correlating passage in 1 Peter 1:5 where Peter gives this same assurance to his readers.
Peter speaks of God causing us to be born again, and then speaks of an inheritance reserved for us in heaven, waiting for us to arrive. But what thing could cause us to not reach that inheritance? What do we need protection from? Just as I asked before, will death prevent us from reaching heaven? No, in fact, that will bring us to it. Suffering? No, rather that brings joy. Satan? Well, we do need protection from him, but why? Because we could fall into temptation and fall away – we could find ourselves in unbelief. Unbelief is the one thing that will keep us from Christ, that will keep us from the reward in heaven.
And so, what does Peter say? He says we, “…are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5)
What do we need protection from? Unbelief! And how does God protect us? He protects us by His power through faith – faith is what protects us. It is what we lack. And if we have it from God – then there is assurance. But without it, there is no assurance, for if we take this as God protecting us through our own belief, then we are not protected “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” And if we take this as being that we believe and then God through my belief does his part to protect me from…oh wait…protect us from what? If we have faith there’s nothing else we need to make it to heaven!! If we have faith, what is there left for God to do? We have what we need. NO! We do not have faith – God is the only power that can hold my faith. If God does not protect me from unbelief by sustaining faith in me then I will perish! God protects us through faith. Faith is the means of protection.
Peter gives us the same assurance that Jesus gave him – God will make sure that your faith will not fail.
Is there danger? Yes. That is why there is a need for protection! Is there a safety net that will catch me if I do not believe? No. I will go to hell if I do not believe.
But, what is my assurance that I am going to heaven based upon? It is based on the work of God, trusting that He will protect me from unbelief – protect me through faith. If God doesn’t sustain my faith – I will not continue in my belief.
I must look to God and to God alone for assurance, for security. Not in my own works, or my past, or in church attendance, or any other thing I do.
This does not mean I am home free – this does not mean that there is no battle. No, far from it – there is a battle, I need to fight, I need to win. But security is found in this: God is fighting the battle for me, and He will win it.
There are three main types of assurance:
No Assurance: I must make sure my faith doesn’t fail, otherwise I will go to hell
False Assurance: I should try to live out my faith, but if I fall away from God and reject Him, I will still be saved because my salvation is secure.
True Assurance: My faith must be in God’s work and His work alone in my life; if I am to be saved I must be saved by God-made faithfulness. If I choose to throw away my salvation and fall away into unbelief, I will not be saved, I will go to hell. My assurance lies in that fact that God holds my faith, and that I do not. Therefore I must rely fully on Him and be assured only in Him and His work.
This is our confidence, our assurance: “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
“Father, there is much I do not understand about how this all works. But most of all I am so greatful that you are the source of faith, the source of a sure salvation. And that I can trust You to save me – for I know my own heart, and the depths of my own sin. Apart from you I am lost! I am ruined! Oh, but there is forgiveness with you oh Lord! There is forgiveness!!! Forgiveness through a salvation that You alone have wrought in my soul. May this understanding cause me to pursue holiness, and love and good works. May this understanding cause me to praise you, cause me to glorify Your name among the world – that they too might see Your glorious work of salvation and come to see Your beauty, and be saved to the glory and honor of Your name.”
This is mainly a regurgitation of a sermon by John Piper entitled: “The Elect Are Kept by the Power of God”
You can listen to it here: http://www.desiringgod.org/
I also read: The Perseverance of the Saints, Part 2 – by John MacArthur
and Faith and Assurance – by J. C Ryle
and The Doctrine of Assurance – by John G. Reisinger