It’s a question most every Christian has asked: “Am I saved?” The challenge of adversity, the temptation to sin—any low point in a spiritual walk may lead a person to doubt their identity as a child of God. Sometimes it may even be the imposing standards of a legalistic community that leads you to question your standing with God, or it may simply be moments of fleeting doubt. Whatever the cause, doubting your personal salvation is not a unique experience. Before his Aldersgate experience in 1738, John Wesley writes that having an assurance of his identity as a son of God was missing. According to his own interpretation of his spiritual journey, it is very likely that before this evangelical conversion Wesley was not yet a Christian. He writes about that very personal Aldersgate experience: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Whether you identify with Wesley’s faith before or after Aldersgate, after his faith became personal, he held to a strong doctrine of assurance—the belief that a person can indeed know they’re saved. The traditional Roman Catholic position was that one could not know with certainty whether they had obtained salvation, and the Reformed tradition was not uniform (though John Calvin himself in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:5 went so far as to say that Paul believed those who doubted were reprobates). John Wesley’s experience in life—from hearing the last words of his father Samuel whisper about the “inward witness,” to his conversations with the Moravian August Spangenberg, all impressed the importance of assurance for children of God. It was a privilege given to Christians and came at the point of regeneration, along with freedom from the bondage to sin. Though there were exceptions (ultimately assurance was not a necessary condition for justification or regeneration) it was a common privilege afforded to everyone born of God.
Besides inheriting this theology from his encounters with other Christians, Wesley’s study of Scripture helped move him in this direction. Romans 8:16 most clearly teaches this when it says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Here we realize that knowing our identity is a supernatural work of the Spirit. Even our subjective knowledge of our identity depends on God’s revelation. Also, when Paul encourages Christians to test themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5-6), the implication is that one can know the answer. This is in fact what verse 6 means when it reads, “And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” Jesus promised that those who remain in him will bear much fruit that will last (John 15:1-8). Surely this means knowing who you are as a child of God is a grace offered to all who believe. John Wesley went so far as to teach that some Christians may even reach subsequent assurance of their entire sanctification, so certainly he believed it to be a mark of the new birth.
There may be moments when a difficult situation will remove any sense of personal assurance. Maybe lapses into sin will lead one to doubt. Nonetheless, relationships—and being a child of God is just that—are not broken off instantly. The same God who gracefully justifies us also preserves us in our weakness. The merit of our identity is not based on our subjective knowledge but on the work of Christ and the Spirit in our lives. Assurance is nothing other than a gift of God to his children.
Consider the following ways the doctrine of assurance makes a difference.