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Assurance - How do we get it?

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How many of you reading this Article, say you have no assurance? Do you equate fears and anxieties with no assurance? Do you think that assurance means you will be completely rid of every trace of doubt? Then let us see what God says in His word. All references are found in the 1611 KJAV.

The Word: ‘Assurance’

The word is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, and a different word is used in each case.

Deuteronomy 28:66

“And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life.”

Is this more or less how you feel?

Though you might agree, the actual situation was this: God was telling the people that they were no longer following His law. Therefore, He was going to hand them over to their evil ways, which would mean they were to be hounded and subdued by their enemies. They would be scattered “among all peoples”. That certainly provoked high anxiety in the nation! Is this not exactly what happened to the Jews, even from the timer Jerusalem fell in 70 AD? Is this not what has happened to them in every country they have settled in? It happened, and continues to happen, because the Jews turned away from truth and true worship.

In verse 65 we see that it was God Who gave them a “trembling heart” and “sorrow of mind”. It was God Who gave them doubt and fear (verse 66) and, therefore, no assurance of their life. This was because God saw them as worthless, even as slaves. They turned from Him, so He turned from them.

Can this be applied to us today? Yes; though the original words were about an historical activity peculiar to the Jews, it contains principles we can hearken to today.

The ‘assurance’ in the text is ’aman. It means to have faith and to be faithful, to be sure, reliable and trusty; it means to stand firm, to believe and trust. The Jews at that time did not have these attributes in their hearts. So, God gave them over to their desires… and the result was fear, anxiety, and God’s removal of His presence. If we do not stand firm in our faith, then our beliefs will suffer, and we will do whatever sin requires of us. Because we have thus moved away from God, He moves away from us. The result is fear and anxiety and loss of assurance… our trust in God.

We then become more like our spiritual enemies and those who sin constantly. Only you know if this applies to your own current state. Be truthful and repent, and God will again take you back. We need not sin in the same magnitude as the Jews; we may not be ‘wicked’, but if we continually live our lives without obeying God, then our sins are equal in God’s eyes.

Does this meaning apply in every case of lack of assurance? We will see as we go through scripture…

Isaiah 32:17

“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.”

This is the second reference to assurance in the Old Testament, and the word used for ‘assurance’ is betach, mainly meaning security or safety. Before this text we have a chapter speaking of the opposite – the ways of sinful men… churlish men who devise ways to “destroy the poor with lying words”, liberals “who devise liberal things”, “careless daughters/women” who will suffer for many years because of their ways. These folks should be troubled, and will be troubled!

Notice there is no ‘quick fix’ and instant recovery, only years of trouble when nothing nice and pleasant happens. Very often, even if we repent of something, the effects of our former lives will continue, so beware of sin of any kind. Only one thing can alleviate the troubles: “the spirit be poured upon us from high”.

Once the people are renewed by God, they will again know peace and assurance. The “works of righteousness” are those things that are right in God’s eyes, salvation, prosperity, and righteous acts. What is right and what are God’s acts? They are shown to be ‘peace’: shalowm; soundness, health, welfare, prosperity… those things that make for a good life. It includes quiet, tranquillity, contentment and friendship. Do we have all this in our lives? Some have them as a pretence, caused by a sinful delusion, but they know it in their hearts.

The root of shalowm, shalam, means to be at peace because we are covenanted or promised it by God. But, as with all of God’s covenants or promises, He expects us to keep to our side of the promise. Thus, His promises are always conditional. And when we comply, by obeying, we will be ‘whole’ or ‘complete’. Indeed, we have nothing to fear when we live totally for the Lord, and can expect “three times” benefits.

“The effect” of righteousness, refers to our works that cause us to comply with God. These holy works lead to us having “quietness and assurance for ever”. Quietness, shaqat, is to be undisturbed, at rest from fears.

In my work in psychiatry, many years ago, I had to deal physically with many violent men. I learned how to apply certain techniques to keep myself safe, and knew how to control my emotions and reactions. In that way, no matter what the situation, whether quiet or explosive, I was able to remain calm and assured. The quietness given by God is greater, and means that even when all around us is wicked and foul, we may rest in God and know calm and peace.

‘Assurance’, betach, is security and safety. It means we can be bold and confident, because God is with us. If we do not know God is with us, then we must be sinning, for the reward of compliance is assurance, or a knowledge that we are secure. It is not possible to feel insecure if we are standing alongside God! If we are in a war and have the strongest champion at our side, why should we fear? Assurance is to trust in God, batach, but not to feel so comfortable as to be careless.

Now this is where human sense must be overtaken by divine truth. It is this – we can have this assurance even when everything around us seems to be falling apart, when everyone is against us, and when our own feelings are anything but settled! Read that again.

It means God, and not our meagre feelings, is in control. We are to follow without query, even when we are afraid and do not know what is happening. That is true obedience and trust! Follow God regardless of outward appearances and He will grasp you in His hand, to keep you safe. This kind of utter trust will always bear rewards from God. In this text we see that we will know assurance forever.

To put it another way: when everything seems to be awry, it is the human reaction to walk away and hide. For the Christian who seeks assurance, this is the exact opposite way to go! Rather, when everything seems a mess and horrendous, that is when we must stand firm, trust God, and wait for His answers. If we try to escape, we do not give the Lord opportunity to do anything, and so miss a very big part of building up our faith. It does not matter if all around us seems in a mess. What matters is that God is our Lord and will help us, if only we trust and stand firm.

New Testament Assurance

We find only five instances of ‘assurance’ in the New Testament. That is, in the 1611 KJAV and its English transliteration. Many more examples can be found by looking at synonyms and Hebrew-Greek wordings.

Acts 17:31

“Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by (that) man whom he hath ordained; (whereof) he hath given assurance unto all (men), in that he hath raised him from the dead.”

The assurance here is global, being given to all men, that Christ has arisen. This is vital, because, as Paul says, if Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain. In this text Paul was not talking to saved men and women, but to pagan philosophers on Mars’ Hill. He was telling them of the resurrection of Jesus, and the subsequent coming Judgment Day when all men will be judged. His assurance, pistis, is God’s truthfulness, which can be trusted. There are several other possible meanings, but not in relation to God, in this text.

Colossians 2:2

“That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and the Father, and of Christ.”

This is a different setting and so the meaning and word will be different. The word used is plērophoria (‘of the full assurance’). It means to have full and certain confidence, or assurance. The root means, in this text, to show something to the full, to carry through to the end, to be filled with an inclination, to persuade and convince, and so to be assured.

This idea, ‘to bring to full measure’, means to increase faith and knowledge so that one is fully prepared to hand his life over to God unreservedly, regardless of what is happening in his life, or even if things appear to be going ‘downhill’, or without any kind of remission of troubles. The reference in this text is to the effect of God on the mind and emotions.

Therefore, if having this assurance is proof that a Christian has been fulfilled or has come to the fullest knowledge of God, then it means that before this occurs, the same person has been living with semi-trust in God (which itself causes anxiety). To be assured we must hand everything over to God. We must stride forward in trust, whether or not we can see God moving or acting in our life.

If we cannot see the direction we must take, how can we stride forward? Surely this is ‘blind faith’? No, faith is never ‘blind’. We do not jump into the dark with no knowledge whatever! God has given us sufficient information to get on with, and our compass is set in the right direction. If a man looks at his compass and it says ‘north’, and this is where he should be heading, then it does not matter that we cannot see every bump or curve in the road.

Likewise, God has given us His word, scripture. If we read and obey what is given, then we are already on a proper compass setting. As we obey what is already given to us, so God then gives us further clues on the way – but we must firstly start travelling the road of faith before we can see what the road looks like!  

We can set our compass and say we have faith, but if we just sit in our armchair and never leave the room (as most Christians do), how can we possibly see what the road is like, or experience what it has to offer? It is not possible. We must travel onwards, even when the going is bumpy or even scary! As we travel, so God gives us more and more faith, because we can see what God is doing, even if we do not fully understand.

Part of this assurance is for all Chrjstians to love each other (“knit together in love”). It is a truth that I never saw this genuine love until I left the ‘system’ of legalistic Christianity. Now, I see it in those friends who genuinely display love by their actions and words, but not in my own home-town! Where is this binding love that is essential to assurance?

“Full assurance” is described as “all riches”. It is to be rich beyond measure, because such love gives comfort and gives us absolute certainty in God and His salvation. This certainty is given in abundance, as with all gifts. And the assurance we get is “o understanding”, synesis… a knowledge that ‘flows together’, because the mind is going along with whatever God gives. Thus, we are talking about intelligent appraisal of whatever God says and does, and a reflection on it.

1 Thessalonians 1:5

“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”

Anyone, including charlatans, can preach the truth. And anyone can listen to it, including the outright wicked. But neither preaching nor listening is of any use unless it comes with power. Reading scripture is good, but it will never save a man on its own. Salvation is not in reading or hearing but in election and predestination. It is God Who saves, not reading or listening. These are just the things used by God to enable us to know the truth and hear Him.

The Holy Spirit must come to us with His power, dynamis. That is, His strength and power, showing us His ability, which is always far greater than what we can see. It is the power God has because He is God, and it is the power behind miracles, and giving us a moral character. It is also the power that regenerates us and leads to salvation itself. It is behind His giving of riches to some, and faith, and all other gifts. And this is just the beginning of God’s might!

Again, the word for assurance is plērophoria, a ‘full carrying’ or abundance. That is, we expect God to act and to do, and He does, so this in itself gives us full assurance or confidence in Him. If we do not see it in our own lives, it is because we refuse to see it, and not because God does not do it.

When we ask in trust, God will give whatever it is. The caveat, of course, is that we ask properly and not out of human selfishness. If we are already living in the truth of scripture, then whatever we ask for will be in His will. Then, we will receive what we ask for. And that will give us greater confidence in God, assurance.

In the actual text it refers to the people believing because the Apostles came with the Gospel and miraculous power. Today, even if we do not see such miracles we can be sure they occurred, and continue to occur, and God remains the same. The major meaning of ‘power’ is not miracles but moral stature. I am convinced that when we have this moral stature and stand firm in Christ, that we will also see His miraculous power. As I said earlier, we must follow the Lord no matter what we see or do not see, until He decides to show us something more.

Hebrews 6:11

“And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.”

In this text Paul refers to the way Christians supported those who taught them, and to other fellow believers. He says that the Apostles and men called to teach desired that every Christian should “shew the same diligence”, or earnestness and a striving to do similar things. Why? So that they will know the “full assurance”, that is trust, in “hope”… to expect goodness from God as well as eternal salvation, until they reach Heaven. The end of assurance, then, is a genuine looking-forward to God showering us with benefits and grace.

To do this, Christians had to work hard at pleasing God (not because we must, but because we should do it from a heart full of love – we want to), and should copy those who are holy and true (verse 12). These are good works, necessary.

Hebrews 10:22

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

We can see from this verse that assurance involves faith, and faith must be backed by a pure body and soul. If we do what we should not – drink, drugs, sexual impropriety, etc… anything that harms the body, that is God’s temple, and anything that harms us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, then we cannot expect assurance.

The faith we should have is absolute, because it believes God is Who He says He is, and believes everything He says and does. Someone recently told me they “refuse to believe God will send anyone to hell, because He is a God of love.” In this very statement is the failure of that person’s beliefs. By saying it, he rejects God’s word and character, and so will never know assurance or peace. He cannot know it because to have such peace we must believe absolutely, not just the parts we think are suitable.

Few Christians today believe in this absolute way, and make many excuses for not believing this or that, though what they reject is in scripture. Does it mean that we will not know assurance if our beliefs are incomplete or not based on truth? Yes, that is what I am saying. There is a difference between one who doubts, and one who believes in heresy. It is the latter who will not know assurance. The one who doubts is in a far better position, because he has not expressed rejection of truth, but merely finds acceptance hard. One is against God, whilst the other is struggling but honest.

There is much more to say about assurance, but the examples above go some way to explain what it is.

Overall, assurance is a state of knowing in one’s heart and mind that God is real, and that what He says is sure. It is based on inner confidence in His word – because that is the only place we can go to find what God says. Even when God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit in some remarkable way, it must still be consistent with what He has said in His word… which it always is.

A dictionary sees assurance as freedom from doubt, or as self-confidence. But godly assurance is not of this kind. It is certainly not self-confidence, but the opposite. Can a Christian be assured and yet know doubt? Yes, he can, because what he must trust is not himself, but God. However, such doubts are usually transient, because faith tends to cast it aside very soon. Satan loves to trip us up, and he often does so through doubt. Even when we do not have any final answers, when we are in doubt we must say “I believe regardless of my doubt. Lord help me”, and He will!

Put it this way: imagine walking towards a certain place. We go off on our travels and follow the signs. At each junction we look for another sign and when we see it we go that way, and so we keep going until we reach the destination. It is the same with God. We start off by knowing what He says in His word. Even if we do not see another sign for a long time we keep on going, trusting that a suitable sign will appear at the right place. And so it does. Always. He does not leave us stranded!

So, believe, even when you cannot see what is going on. It is at these ‘not knowing’ points in life that we are likely to lack faith. Just remember that we are precious to God and He will never let us down. Any long periods of fear are usually because we have either gone off the right path, or we are disobedient, or because God is trying our faith. Whichever it is, just keep on going in faith. That is the key to assurance.

We can say that assurance is not itself a gift, but the result of obeying God, building our knowledge and understanding, and complying with any gifts and benefits we have been given. When we have done all this, and God has done whatever He wishes, the end result must be assurance. It means that when we pray for assurance, we are not praying aright. Rather, we should take care to obey in every aspect of our lives, before we can expect assurance.

Assurance, then, will not be given as a gift by God, simply because it requires our response of obedience. Assurance can be described as the summation of our holy lives. If we are not holy we will not be assured. This is not of works, separate from faith. It is a proof of our faith and works. Do not ask God for assurance. Instead, ask for the strength to obey and to live as you ought. Assurance will come automatically when we are walking with God. When we do not, we can expect the opposite!

© June 2009

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom