WCF 18: Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation

People who believe in Jesus and want in all things to please God can still struggle with assurance of salvation. Circumstances like the transition from childhood to adulthood, major trauma, and the imminence of death can trouble believers with spiritual doubts and fears.

But Scripture urges us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). To truly combat our doubt and gain rich confidence in God we have to be clear about what Scripture means by “assurance of faith.”


Assurance Is Different from Presumption

To presume is to take for granted that something is the case; to suppose without reason. One might presume that they have sufficient funds to write a check—that presumption could be false, and result in sad consequences. Many people, instead of experiencing genuine assurance of grace and salvation, simply “deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in favor with God.” The presumptuous put more stock in their own righteousness than in the righteousness of God which believers receive by faith. The self-deceived fail to reckon with God’s absolute holiness and human sinfulness. But God is holy. And we are sinful. It is the extremity of folly to simply declare yourself a child of God without warrant. Fabricated dreams of salvation will perish when hypocrites meet God.

And genuine assurance of salvation and mere presumption have different fruits. Hypocrites talk religiously, but lack the power of new life. Lacking a new heart and the Spirit working in them they continue to produce bad fruit, no matter their religious façade. Not so with real believers who gain true assurance. Contrary to the old objection proper assurance does not “[incline] men to looseness.” Instead, it results in “peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience.” Only by an assured faith can we know that our labors in the Lord are not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

Presumption is not assurance. A deep awareness of God’s holiness and our sinfulness will enable us resist taking grace for granted.


Assurance Is Possible

Scripture gives examples of believers who experienced genuine assurance of salvation. Job knew that his redeemer lives and that he would see God after he died (Job 19:25–26). Paul knew whom he had believed. He was convinced that God would guard him safely until he entered glory (2 Tim. 1:12). The Bible is written so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God … and have life in his name” (John 20:31). “And by believing you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Scripture also calls us to pursue assurance. “It is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure” (cf. 2 Peter 1:10). And there are “ordinary means” we must use to gain confidence that God is for us. So how can we gain assurance?


Believe God’s Promises

A desperate man once asked a straight question: “What must I do to be saved?” And the answer is just as plain: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30–31). The God who cannot lie promises that whoever believes in his Son shall never thirst (John 6:35).  “He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).


Perceive Inward Evidence of Grace

Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you love God? Do you endeavor to walk before him with a clear conscience? Can such fruit come from anyone but God? Jesus said that good fruit can only come from good roots (Matt. 7:15–20). True godliness confirms that Christ is in you.


Accept the Testimony of the Spirit

The promise of the gospel is amazing. Without the Spirit’s help we would never believe it. But “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). Receive the Spirit’s deposition. Don’t grieve the Spirit by arguing against his testimony, or demanding more evidence than what he chooses to offer.

You don’t need “extraordinary revelation” to know that you are a child of God. Through the ordinary means of grace—listening to God’s voice and using his ordinances—true believers may “be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Only Jesus’s blood shed for us gives us the confidence to enter the holy places (Heb. 10:19).


Assurance Is Not Always Persistent

Still, infallible assurance is not so tied to faith that believers always know to the same degree that they believe. Peter’s faith wavered because of fear (Matt. 14:30). True believers wrestle against unbelief (Mark 9:24). The writer of Psalm 88 believed both that God was his salvation (1) and that God had forgotten him, let him fall from his fatherly hand, and angrily delivered him into the pit of hell (5–7). “A true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before” he gains assurance. Every conversion experience is different—some feel more gradual, others seem instantaneous. So is every experience of assurance different. “True believers may have the assurance of their salvation … shaken, diminished, and intermitted.” How?



Believers may neglect to preserve their assurance by falling into sin. Count on it—you will not feel that you love Jesus when you are deliberately breaking his commandments (John 14:15). When David persisted in unrepentant sin God’s hand was heavy upon him (Ps. 32:3–4). He didn’t feel God’s embrace but the heavy weight of that strong right hand that had always disciplined Israel’s enemies.



Believers may be shaken by a “sudden or vehement temptation.” Our unwanted thoughts and carnal attractions might suggest that we have no interest in Christ. But even our worst temptations cannot separate believers from God. “In every respect,” Jesus also “suffered when tempted” (Heb. 2:18). He will help us even in our most extreme struggles (4:15)



God may withdraw from believers the light of his face. Some people struggle with seasonal depression. We can feel sad when the clouds eclipse the sun and we are forced to live in the shadows. Our spiritual lives can be like that too. Jesus did nothing wrong. Yet he felt that his heavenly Father had forsaken him. And for reasons known only to God we can come under that same dark cloud for a time.

But even in times of darkness God will support his children from total despair. Believers trust God. We are loved by Christ. We are united to other loving Christians. We know what God expects of us. And at the end of every believer’s journey of faith we will see the Lord. Every doubt will be removed. Every hope will be confirmed. Until then pray for greater confidence to say with the psalmist, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). And anticipate closing your eyes in death only to open them again to see the face of your Savior.

William Boekestein pastors Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has authored numerous books including, with Joel Beeke, Contending for the Faith: The Story of The Westminster Assembly.

William Boekestein