Where do you look for assurance of salvation? Or, to put it another way, what causes you to question your assurance?
Our Affections and Our Assurance
A lot of Christians answer this question by considering their affections. Affections is an older term and concept for Christians, perhaps most popularized by 18th Century theologian Jonathan Edwards and then reintroduced by John Piper in the last 40 years. When used in this context, it often refers to spiritual affections. These are “the kind of inclinations toward God and his word, his ways, and his works when we have been born again to love God, delight in God, and praise God.”
The term itself is not unhelpful. Neither is the practice of gauging our affections (cf. 2 Peter 1:5–9). Christians should consider whether their hearts are inclined to love God, serve God, obey his word, and offer praise to him. Taking our spiritual temperature with the thermometer of God’s Word is the regular practice of the godly. If our heart is cold toward God, it indicates a problem. If we’re not well, then we need some medicine.
But what is the prescription? This is where we run into problems.
Many Christians will question or feel confident about their salvation based on the intensity of their affections. So if they’ve had a really good quiet time, they feel more assured in Christ. If their heart was stirred during musical worship or from reading the Word, their standing feels more secure. And likewise, if they haven’t experienced these things, or if the intensity of their experience this week is less than last week (or month or year), they begin to question their salvation. The prescription given by many is to look at yourself, gauge your affections, and do the things that inflame and increase your delight. In other words, you need to treasure Christ if you aren’t treasuring Christ. But how much delighting, loving, and treasuring will bring assurance? And how do we measure it? It’s subjective and full of variables. I don’t believe the Bible teaches us that our ultimate, even our primary means of assurance, is our affections.
But this doesn’t mean that our affections aren’t valuable. It also doesn’t mean that affections are not a suitable basis for assurance of salvation.
Does this sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth? I’m not. Affections are a suitable basis for assurance of salvation, just not your affections.
Affections are a suitable basis for assurance of salvation, just not your affections.
God’s Affections and Our Assurance
Instead of focusing on the fluctuating flame of our affections, the pattern established in the Scriptures is to look away from ourselves and look unto God. More specifically, the Christian’s assurance is not based upon their affection for God but God’s affection for them.
God tells us many times in Scripture that he loves his people (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Titus 3:4; 1 John 4:9–10, 19; etc.). But this would be of little comfort if God’s love was like our love, fickle and fluctuating. Not at all. God does not change, and this should be a great comfort to us because it means that his love toward us does not change (Malachi 3:6). There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or less. Isn’t that amazing? You should stop and think about this for a minute. Nothing you do, dear Christian believer, can increase or decrease God’s love for you, his child.
Why? How? Because God has purposed in eternity past to elect you unto salvation. This was done in love (Ephesians 1:4). Then, in time and space, he sent his Son Jesus to live, die, and rise as your substitute (Galatians 4:4–5; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Then upon Christ’s ascension to heaven, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to apply the work that Christ has accomplished (Romans 8:16ff). By faith, we are united to Jesus Christ and adopted as sons (Ephesians 1:5). We are part of God’s family where we sit under the eternal smile of God (1 John 2:2). As Christians, dwelling together under the canopy of grace, we bask in his eternal, unchanging, unrelenting, unconquerable love.
Our assurance, then, is based upon God’s character and promises. Who is the mediator of these blessings promised to us? It is Christ Jesus, by whose doing and dying we’re made to be God’s children. And our assurance is through the Holy Spirit who makes us like little children cry unto God our Father (Romans 8:16).
The Bible does call us to obey God and engage in careful self-examination (Romans 7; 2 Peter 1:5–10). But even in these passages, there is always a whiff of God’s character and promises to lead us to Christ (Romans 8:1ff; 2 Peter 1:2–4).
So do take your spiritual temperature. But don’t take the wrong medicine when you get the reading. Let it drive you to the One who had the most perfect inclinations toward God and his word, always delighting, treasuring, loving, and praising God on your behalf. And as you look to Christ, wherein all of God’s promises are yes and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20), find yourself rejoicing, loving, and treasuring–for assurance? No. From assurance.
If we are granted a deathbed to reflect upon our lives, our comfort will not be in the intensity of our love for God, but in the certainty of his love for us.
If we are granted a deathbed to reflect upon our lives, our comfort will not be in the intensity of our love for God but in the certainty of his love for us. That which will give you comfort on your last day should fuel every day until then with joy and delight in him.
Affections matter a great deal when we are talking about assurance. But there’s a catch: it’s not our affections we’re talking about. It’s God loving, delighting, and even treasuring us that brings assurance. It’s God’s affections towards his people—communicated in the word, realized in Christ, and received through the Spirit—that provide our assurance.