It is possible to believe the promises of God, and have the assurance of salvation, and yet be lost forever.
Professing Christians With False Assurance
This possibility is implied in Matthew 7:22, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” These folks believed that they were secure in relation to Christ. They called him “Lord,” and they tapped into supernatural power in his name.
Perhaps they had even more “assurance of salvation” than many strugglers today (who are genuinely saved) because supernatural power was flowing through their hands. So when they read the promise, “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5), they believed it was true of them. But it wasn’t.
That is why they will be shocked when Jesus says to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). They are lost. But they thought they were saved.
Now, Jesus’ point is that their lives of sin already testified to their lostness. But I am drawing out another point beneath their sinful deeds. I want to know what their false assurance tells us about how to truly believe a promise of God.
We believe the Bible teaches that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). So when Jesus rejects them because they are “workers of lawlessness,” we know that the deeper problem is a defective faith. If we are condemned for our sinful works at the last judgment, it will be because they are the evidence of unreal faith.
Saving Faith and Dying Faith
So my question is this: If we can believe at least some of the promises of God, as these folks did, and still be lost, what makes the believing of promises a truly saving belief?
Charles Hodge gives us a clue. In 1841, Hodge wrote a short, popular book on the Christian life called The Way of Life).
Now what makes the difference between dead faith and saving faith? I’m not asking how these two faiths prove themselves to be different. That’s James’ point (and Jesus’ point in Matthew 7). They prove themselves to be different by their fruit. I’m asking something else: How are they different in their essence? What is the true experience of faith and what is the false experience of faith?
Here’s what Hodge says: “We may believe on the testimony of those in whose veracity and judgment we confide, that a man of whom we know nothing has great moral excellence. But if we see for ourselves the exhibition of his excellence, we believe for other reasons, and in a different way” (154, my italics).
This “different way” is what makes believing true, saving believing. There is nothing wrong with believing Christ or believing his promises on the testimony of others. In fact, that is how all of us came to faith. We relied on the testimony of the apostles and prophets. But being persuaded that the goodness and trustworthiness and beauty of Christ and his promises are factual is not saving faith.