Assurance is something that every Christian seeks. Various traditions claim that it is obtained through a variety of means. Some claim that it cannot be claimed at all. Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? by R.C. Sproul, an entry in the Crucial Questions series, seeks to tackle this question.
Sproul begins with a general discussion of assurance and how different traditions understand it. He then proceeds to outline four types of people:
- People who are saved, and know it
- People who are saved but do not know it
- People who are unsaved and know it
- People who are unsaved but do not know it
Now, I might squabble with the second category of people… since I think that a belief that Christ will save you is necessary for faith in Christ to save you. How can you trust that Christ will save you, if you don’t know that Christ will save you? I also might add a fifth category of people who are unsaved, but don’t think that salvation is a thing.
However, since the remainder of the book is focused on taking people from category four and helping them transition into category one, I’ll focus my attention there.
By “People who are unsaved but do not know it” Sproul means something like “People who know they are saved but are not.” He calls this “false assurance” and spends a great deal of time explaining this. I’m not sure the lengthy time (relative to the length of the book) was necessary, but as usual Sproul is careful and precise in his presentation.
He then proceeds to explain three soteriological positions that lead people to false assurance. Universalism, Legalism, and Sacerdotalism. While I think that heuristically, the second and third of these collapse into themselves (ultimately believing that we are saved on the basis of something we do), it is a helpful distinction. He claims that ultimately all three of these categories lead to people who think they are saved, but are not.
He then proceeds into the fourth chapter to discuss how we might gain true assurance. Rooting the idea that we are able to gain assurance based on the fact that we are commanded to do so, he then proceeds to explain various views of election and predestination. Now, it seems to me a somewhat inconsistent notion that on the one hand we are able to gain assurance because we are commanded to do so, but on the other hand we are not able to be perfect even though we are commanded to… but I digress. The remainder of the chapter points toward the idea that if we can become sure of our election and regeneration, that we can be sure of our justification and ultimately sanctification/glorification. However, I was left wondering how one might be able to be more sure of someone’s election or regeneration than one could be sure of their own current justification or salvation.
Sproul closes the work by discussing the idea that we can be sure that we are saved if we love Jesus. Rooting this in the reality that we can not love Jesus if it is not granted to us to do so (regeneration). He also discusses the idea that the indwelling testimony of the Holy Spirit is the ultimate source of assurance. However, like the previous chapter, I was left wondering how one can be sure of those things.
Ultimately, I was disappointing that the traditional Reformed position was not better represented in this work. Although the idea of examining one’s self for fruit in keeping with repentance was touched on, it was not a major point in the work. Furthermore, and this should warm the hearts of my Lutheran readers, I was disappointed to see no reference to remembering our baptism. For the Reformed, our baptism serves as a sign of God’s promise to save those who are united to Christ by faith. Although it does not guarantee salvation, it is a sure sign that one is a member of the visible Church, where the Holy Spirit regenerates people by the preached Gospel, and confirms this regeneration by confirming our union with Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
Ultimately, I think that Sproul here misses the mark. Rather than give concrete things people can look at, he pointed to other realities that can be incorrectly assumed. We can be sure we are saved if we are elect. How can we know for sure we are elect? We can be sure we are saved if we are regenerated. How can we know we are regenerated.
I’m not sure, for those reasons, that I would really recommend this book to anyone. While it is helpful for some of the soteriological discussions, and might serve as a good primer for that… someone who is genuinely needing to find assurance of salvation would not benefit from this book. It seems to me that those persons are the primary intended audience, and thus this book left me feeling… well… unsure.
Please note: Reformation Trust / Ligonier Ministries has provided me with an electronic version of this book for review purposes, and will be providing me with a hard copy edition in exchange for this review. They do not require positive reviews, nor have they edited or modified this review in any way.