1. It is a mistake to believe that assurance will always result in subjective experience: In 1 John 5:13, John explains the purpose of his letter, “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.” This implies that one may have eternal life as a possession without the subjective (often emotional/affective) knowledge of a fact. Guthrie explains, “It is a mistake to think that everyone one who is in Christ doth know that he is in Him; for many are truly gracious [have the grace of God] and have a good title to eternal life, who do not know so much, until it be made out afterwards.”
Or, as Westcott puts it, “The eternal life may be present and yet not realized in its inherent power.”
It is as if one were the heir to a large estate, but is unaware of the inheritance until the attorney reads out the will.
A note of caution here: the verse quoted comes in the fifth chapter of 1 John. John has been at pains to make clear that eternal life may be present and yet there be no evidence of its existence: John has listed many elements of true saving faith. For instance, a man who never loves, who always and only knows condemnation and guilt, who never confesses sin, who does not believe Jesus is Lord has no right to claim the hope of 1 John 5:13.
John is referring to a subjective state of assurance which flows from an objective knowledge of assurance. We might paraphrase John as saying, “I have detailed to you the objective evidences and information about assurance so that you can experience assurance as a subjective joy and hope.
2. It is a mistake to think that all who come to the knowledge about their interest in Christ do attain an equal certainty about it: We cannot make assurance as a fact dependent upon assurance as a subjective experience. Moreover, a subjective experience cannot be measured by the reported experience of another.
People have natural inclinations and differences in emotion and temperament. Some are easily made happy, some have less affective nature. However, some expect that their experience of assurance must be the same as some other person’s apparent experience. The least reflection on the matter should show this untrue.
Imagine two people, each who have come to a true saving knowledge of Jesus. One person may revel in the fact that Christ could possibly save such a sinner. This person may be overwhelmed with joy. Another person may be overwhelmed with the greatest of the Savior and feel a tranquil awe. A third may feel broken over their sin and a grave sorrow for time lost. The one who feels sorrow cannot look at the one who feels joy and say, I do not feel like him, therefore, I am not saved.
If there is only one song I can sing
When in his presence I see the great King
This will my song for eternity be
Oh what a wonder that Jesus loves me.
3. Our emotions are variable; therefore, our subjective experience will vary: Consider the great variety of emotions and thoughts experienced and described in the Psalms – poems and songs written by men of great godliness. In some places, there is great despair (Ps. 13) or great hope in the midst of trial (Ps.3) and everything in between. Consider the following examples: Ps. 31:22, 77:7-9, 91:2, 119:57.
Do not take a variable heart as a variable Savior.
4. The ability to answer the objections of skeptics and mockers is not the measure of salvation: Some people think that a true and settled faith must be one which can answer every question of every skeptic. This is to make assurance and salvation dependent upon one’s ability to argue.
A child may very well know that her mother loves her without being able to give a reason for everything that her mother does. Job could not answer the Why of his affliction; but that does not mean that he had no grounds for believing his security.
When troubled by a question, do not be troubled in your Savior. Many people have gone out this door, strangely thinking that their personal ability to construct and destruct an argument is a necessary proof of salvation.
Let us be content with the argument of Paul, 2 Tim. 1:12, “For I know whom I have believed.”
5. Just because some vainly believe they have are ‘right with God’ does not mean that a believer cannot have a true interest in Christ.
We have all seen those who happily claim to be right with God and yet give no interest to the contrary. We have seen people who think to have such clear knowledge of God that they are willing to commit heinous crimes in the name of God. We have heard of some so wicked that they use the Bible to prey upon the weak – perhaps even thinking themselves to be doing the business of God.
Jesus himself told us that those who persecute his disciples will even think that they are rendering service to God, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).
It would be a mistake for a poor lamb to think herself without a shepherd because they are wolves dressed as sheep. What more would the deceiver do than to sow tares among the wheat? We know that an enemy has done this. However, we must not take the presence of tares to mean that there will be no harvest.
Conclusion: We must not measure the truth of our salvation either by our present feelings or by the actions and questions of unbelievers. Our strength and our hope does not rest in ourselves but in our Savior.