REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTIAN ASSURANCE, by D. A. Carson

Published on January 5, 2022 by Eugene Ho

Westminster Theological Journal, 1992 | 29 pages

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by Steve West

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Summary

Over the last few decades, the topic of Christian assurance has not received the attention that it merits. “By ‘Christian assurance’ I refer to a Christian believer’s confidence that he or she is already in a right standing with God, and that this will issue in ultimate salvation.” There are real tensions in the biblical texts—some indicate that believers are chosen for salvation, and others say we are to test ourselves and not fall away. These texts have been subjected to an extraordinary range of interpretations, and theological arguments are also being examined and debated afresh. What Calvin really believed on these issues and how the Reformation tradition developed theologically is a major area of current debate. In America, the Grace Theological Society has grounded salvation in the mental acceptance of Christ, even if there is no change of life whatsoever. Aside from certain movements, however, in many places very little is said about assurance at all.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul argues that some in the church have the Spirit but are not acting like it; they are rebuked for living in a fleshly way. Nothing in the passage introduces an absolute disjunction between types of believers, as if Paul is dividing them into ontological categories, or as if there are some believers who obey Jesus and others who never do. They are fleshly as they quarrel and pride themselves on the basis of following certain human leaders in various factions. The text is not saying that someone can be saved and yet live like a carnal pagan for the rest of their life.

The new covenant promises include everyone in the covenant community knowing the Lord and having their old hearts removed so that a new heart with God’s law written on it can be transplanted into them. They are all forgiven, made clean, and given the Spirit. Many of the discussions about assurance seem to focus on forensic categories like justification, rather than looking at transformation and spiritual power that comes by the Spirit in the new covenant. New covenant believers are not perfect, but we should expect to see lives transformed and growth occurring. We will sin, but we ought not to; sin is shocking and disgusting for the Christian. . . .

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REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTIAN ASSURANCE, by D. A. Carson

Westminster Theological Journal, 1992 | 29 pages

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