Monday, October 27, 2008

Paul's Assurance of Salvation

Yesterday at church we talked about assurance of salvation, one of the expressed purposes for why 1 John was written.
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.

We talked about the fact that assurance comes through our perseverance in the faith, not through banking on a decision we have made in the past.

This morning as I read through 2 Timothy, I was thinking about how Paul viewed his assurance. Here is what Paul says in verse 18 of the fourth chapter.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul's confidence that God would "rescue" him from every evil deed does not mean that Paul will survive or be vindicated from the evil attacks of his enemies. Though in verse 17 he talks about being "rescued from the lion's mouth," the meaning of "rescue" shifts from the physical to spiritual in verse 18 because now Paul talks about being brought safely into God's "heavenly kingdom." In fact, Paul literally says that God will "save me into his heavenly kingdom." So Paul's assurance of eternal life is based on his expectation that God will keep Paul from being overrun by evil and falling away from the faith.

That's why Paul could say earlier in this chapter that he was confident of his heavenly reward because he had "fought the good fight . . . finished the race . . . kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Assurance of salvation deepens as we persevere in the faith by God's grace.


XLT said...

So, if I don't face possible martyrdom unwaveringly in all cases, I might not be saved?

What would be at stake if Paul had "fallen away from the faith"
in his final persecution?

"Will rescue me" doesn't sounds a whole lot like confidence in his own perseverance...but rather hope in the promised life of the kingdom, regardless of anything that happens.

Does 1 John 5:13 refer to the whole book or the preceding 3 or so verses? In other words, is fellowship with God, (I think we agree that this is the main subject of 1 John, based on your earlier posts)the deciding factor in assurance, or is it the promise/statement of fact expressed in the few preceding verses?

Are assurance of salvation and security the same thing?

If either one of the above isn't based on the belief in the promise of God, then can the other be based solely on the promise of God?

I agree that our assurance isn't based on a decision in the past. It has nothing to do with a force of will on our part, but rather belief or faith in Christ...Trust in his promise through Jesus Christ.

...just trying to get at what it is you are actually saying here.

BCJ said...


FINALLY I got someone to "spar" with a bit on my blog!

I would say that at least Paul felt like if he had fallen away from the faith he would be in danger of proving by his apostasy that his faith was not converted. I would point to passages like Colossians 1:21-23 and 1 Corinthians 9:27 and 1 Timothy 4:16 for support of this kind of reading of Paul.

I don't see why you don't find confidence in Paul's words "will rescue me" in 2 Tim 4:18. You say it sounds like "hope in the promised life of the kingdom, regardless of anything that happens." But it seems to me that Paul's assurance was based on his confidence that he would be delivered from every "evil deed." In other words, if he had not been "delivered," he would not have been "saved" into the heavenly kingdom, right? If I'm correct about that, then what would you say "every evil deed" refers to? I suppose you would say that it means Paul would be taken out of the world and that would be his "rescue" from the evil being done to him. But I don't think that interpretation fits what Paul says elsewhere about the need for perseverance.

I do take 1 John 5:13 to refer to the whole of 1 John rather than to just the preceding verses. And yes, I do think "fellowship with God" is a "deciding factor" in our assurance. Of course, if one is in fellowship with God the statements in the preceding verses are also true. But how can one know if he "has" the Son? I would say it is by enjoying the fellowship with him that John aims to help his readers have.

I do not think assurance and security are the same thing. Security is God's ability to deliver on his promise. It would be true regardless of whether or not a person possesses assurance. So a person can believe that God will deliver on his promise but still not know whether or not he will be one who will be a part of that promise (and thus the need for assurance in ways other than just trying to convince his readers to believe in eternal security.)

Hope that clarifies what I'm trying to say.

XLT said...

Hi Ben,

Don't really want to "spar" per se...but noticed that I disagreed, and I believe it is in significant ways...

Col 1:23 appears to me to be referring to an eternal reward for perseverance, not a requirement for perseverance for eternal salvation... (1 Cor 3:10-15, 2 Pet 3:14-18)

1 Cor 9:27...pretty much the same thing...we don't run to receive eternal life...we run to receive commendation...

1 Tim 4:16...if we read "save" here as eternal salvation, we have more than one problem...if you read it that way, then he's talking about achieving salvation...literally "you will save both yourself and others" by teaching faithfully...What's the difference between this and achieving salvation by the sacraments, if this is what this passage means?

He's not talking about eternal salvation, but rather the pastoral duty of delivering his flock and himself the effects of faithlessness in this life...which are profound and destructive.

The immediate context in 2 Tim 4 refers to suffering inflicted upon Paul...particularly, "out of the lion's mouth." It seems a stretch to me to say that they are his evil deeds in context... It IS a statement of confidence, in the promise of God.

From 1 John 5:10-13...they knew they had the a paraphrase...because "God said so" it was by his promise that they knew they had eternal life. Based on God's character, not their actions.
I agree with you on your basic definitions of assurance vs. security. However, again, I believe that the immediate context provides the answer as to where the assurance lies...if the immediate context provides the answer, we don't need to go any further...

It looks like to me he has included it, precisely because he thought his teaching on fellowship might be misunderstood. He's saying "You know you are saved, you know you are a child born of God by you know you can do it now, let's have fellowship with God"

Like I said, I didn't mean to sound like I wanted to spar, and I won't spar... but I believe the interpretations you have provided serve to undermine assurance, rather than support it.

Grace and Peace,


BCJ said...


Thanks for your dialogue with me on this. I think healthy discussion over things like this are good, and that's all I meant by my "sparring" reference. Not like I'm trying to pick a fight or anything my brother!

Help me again with Colossians 1:21-23. How do you see any reference to reward in verse 22? Sounds much more like final salvation to me. If one does not "continue in the faith" (v. 23), then he will not appear "holy and blameless and above reproach" before God, right? That doesn't sound like loss of reward to me.

I do not think my reading of 1 Tim 4:16 causes the theological problem you suggest. Why cannot God save by means of the ministry of the Word? Isn't that what Rom 10:14 explicitly says? We are not achieving salvation for anyone; God is the one doing the saving, but he chooses to do so through the Word.

If Paul is not talking about final salvation in this passage, then why does he use the word save (sozo), a word which usually (always?) means eschatological salvation for Paul?

Regarding the "evil deed" of 2 Tim 4:18: I did not say that this is a reference to his own evil deeds. But I am suggesting that "evil deed" be interpreted spiritually rather than physically. As Mounce says in his commentary on the PE (p. 598), evil deed is a reference to "any danger that would destroy Paul or his faith."

Most commentators I read agree that "these things" in 1 John 5:13 is a reference to the entire book. And throughout the book John's emphasis seems to be on perseverance in the right belief, along with obedience to God's commandments and radical love for others, as the proper evidences of genuine salvation. He warns his readers about those who were once a part of them but had left (so proving they never really were a part of them to begin with) in 1 John 2:19. My understanding of 1 John is not, "You know you are saved, you know you are a child born of God by you know you can do it now, let's have fellowship with God." I think John is saying that it is THROUGH our fellowship with God (manifesting itself in right belief, obedience, and love) that we DEEPEN our assurance of eternal life. For John eternal life is a Person (1 John 1:2); so assurance of eternal life comes as we have genuine fellowship with the One who IS eternal life.

You will also have to help me see how my interpretation undermines assurance. I am basically affirming the Reformed teaching on the Perseverance of the Saints, a teaching which, properly understood, I find quite helpful for my own assurance. As you know, Perseverance means that "all those who are truly born again WILL BE KEPT BY GOD'S POWER and WILL PERSEVERE as Christians until the end of their lives." So it is God's power that enables me to persevere. Paul was confident that God would enable him to persevere in 2 Tim 4:18 ("he will rescue me"). As I understand the promise of God concerning eternal security, my examination of myself (2 Cor 13:5) gives me confidence that I am truly born again and so will be able by God's grace to persevere to the end and attain to final salvation.

Again, I don't see how that undermines assurance. But just as importantly, I also do not want to give false assurances. Failure to proclaim what I find to be the clear teaching of the Scripture on perseverance is in danger of doing just that. And the book of Hebrews seems to be written for the very purpose of warning against apostasy and urging perseverance.

I welcome your response.

XLT said...


Again, context in Colossians demands something other than a discussion of eternal salvation...the book is addressed to "saints and faithful brethren." The discussion is within the context of saving faith, it is not a discussion of what constitutes saving faith...

According to your interpretation, 1 Tim 4:16... if you say "save" here is eternal salvation...I might be able to grant that those who heard his faithful teaching might be said to be saved by that, although I would clarify that and say through that teaching they had an object for their faith, something to believe in.... and their faith in that object is what saved them...

The troubling reference there, is that Paul says that Timothy would be saved by his own faithful teaching... Timothy, who was a "true child in faith" (1 Tim 1:2)

Romans 10:14 does not say the same thing as 1 Tim 4:16 particularly if you interpret "save" as eternal life in 1 Tim 4:16... the clear means of appropriating salvation from Rom. 10:13 and 10:14 is belief...Paul is laying out the fact that you have to know what the object of the faith is to have faith in it. Nowhere in that passage is someone saved eternally by preaching the message...which is what 1 Tim 4:16 says in light of your interpretation.

It is very arguable that sozo is not "always?" used as eternal salvation...although when pressed onto a Reformed grid, the word almost always has to be interpreted that way or the system doesn't work.

I do not hold to the doctrine of Perseverance as is common to most Reformed theologians. I do not believe it is scriptural...and especially do not believe it is clear, particularly in the passages you have cited here.

1 John 5:13 is an absolute statement...yet if we are honest with ourselves, if we look to our actions, and our thoughts and our obedience, and even our possible doubts... we cannot have absolute assurance that way...

"getting better" even consistently, isn't good enough for absolute assurance...but that's what John says he's writing to give his readers.

John didn't say..."so you may suppose" or "so you may think" you have eternal life. That would be the best we could do with our self righteous understanding of ourselves. God's promise alone is the way we can have absolute assurance...His "declaration in spite of the facts", as Dr. Toussaint says so often.

The very fact that 2 Cor 13:5 exists, means that he is not referring to examining yourself to see if you are justified...1 Corinthians again, as Colossians, being addressed to the "saints" at must be referring to something within the frame of reference of the Corinthian's position as saved individuals. It is an exhortation to believers, who cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:35-39)

To call the Corinthians "saints" would be ridiculous, and worse than that, a lie, from a Reformed perspective...

I know you have suffered at the hands of legalism in your life, Ben, in forms that I have not. But I have suffered at the hands of this type of "TULIP" legalism for many years... I believe you have traded a fundamentalist legalism for a Reformed one. I was taught these doctrines, I learned them, I defended them, and I taught them...and was delivered from them, in large part by the teaching and writing of the same man you credit with opening your eyes to the legalism found in "fundamentalism." Have you run your interpretations by Uncle Chuck? I am not trying to be accusatory in this, Ben, but just as you feel the need to honestly speak your conscience on these matters, so do I.
That being said, I have spoken my conscience, and won't bog down your blog any further on this discussion.

Grace and Peace,


BCJ said...


Thanks again for discussing this with me. I always find it helpful when I am challenged on my opinions and forced to think deeper about things.

Obviously we are going to disagree if you do not find the Reformed teaching on perseverance convincing. But I think you make a wrong assumption when you say that since the book of Colossians is addressed to "saints and faithful brethren" that means that Paul must not be discussing eternal salvation in Colossians 1. Perhaps (probably?) there are those within the church who are truly not saved and who, by their eventual apostasy will prove that they are not really born again. This to me is the most obvious interpretation of Colossians 1:21-23. I find absolutely no basis for the discussion to be about eternal rewards.

I find the same thing to be true concerning your understanding of 2 Cor 13:5. Paul can address the church at large as the "saints in Corinth" without being ridiculous. Not everyone in the church had to be a legitimate "saint" for him to say so. That would not be a lie from a reformed perspective at all. But I'll let that go for now, too.

More personally, I thank you for your concern that I not give myself over to a "Reformed" legalism. But I was leaning this way before I went to DTS and I have not changed my mind. Yes, "uncle Chuck" helped me get out of fundamental legalism, and I still respect him very much for that. But I have also been helped much by a more reformed understanding of the Scripture that I find convincing even if you do not.

One final note. Though you may have great concerns about the Reformed teaching of perseverance, you should at least admit that Reformed doctrine holds solidly to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. How can one be more solid on that than men like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and John MacArthur? I do not know how you "suffered at the hands of TULIP legalism," but it would be too far to say it is a system of legalism. You may find it inconsistent, but I'm not so sure it can rightly be called legalistic.