The following appeared on the Trinity House Blog:
Are apostasy and assurance mutually exclusive? Some seem to think so. But let’s consider this a bit:
No reformed man would ever say that a man who is “saved” today will be safe forever no matter what. Rather we say, “your sins are forgiven, now, walk faithfully, glorify the Lord, love and worship Him all your days.” And we say this without qualification, because it is true.
The implication of this is important, however. If someone walked into my study and declared, “Hey Wilkins guess what? I’ve decided, based upon God’s promises, that I can live as I please and believe anything I want and still go to heaven when I die! And I don’t have to worry about anything you or anybody else says or does to me!” If anyone said this to us, we’d respond by telling him in no uncertain terms that he’s lost and deceived and headed for eternal condemnation. And if he says that we’re making God a liar and an “Indian-giver,” we’d say, “Nope, the promises of God are ‘Yea’ and ‘Amen’ in Christ. But when you deny Him, ignore His will, and walk as His enemy, you forfeit all interest in those promises and call down God’s judgment upon yourself.”
That’s a classic Reformed response.
And this response in no way undermines assurance (just as it in no way impugns God’s faithfulness to His promises). Assurance is founded upon the fact that all who believe can know for certain that they are beloved of God, forgiven of their sins, and the recipient of all His promises and thus, may rest in peace with sure and certain confidence.
Assurance is based upon the fact that Jesus promises He will not cast us off arbitrarily or forsake us for no reason. Assurance is based upon the fact that no man and no circumstance can rip us out of Christ’s hand. Indeed, nothing outside of me can separate me from the love of Christ Jesus.
But assurance is not based upon a belief that eternal life is mine no matter what I do or believe. Assurance is only for those who believe.
The rebel, the unbelieving skeptic, the self-conscious hypocrite, the one who crucifies Christ afresh and tramples upon the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, the one who despises the baptism that saved him, will surely perish – and has no right to any assurance of salvation.
This is the common position of everybody who is Reformed.
And that reality does nothing to undermine true, legitimate, biblical assurance.
One of the problems in this discussion is the view that some have of apostasy. We sometimes speak of apostasy as if it is something that comes upon a man like a flu virus. Here’s a guy who loved Jesus and was faithful when he went to bed on July 28 but then, for no apparent reason, he woke up on July 29 and was an unbeliever who didn’t love Jesus any more and yet, couldn’t tell you why. Apparently, the Spirit just decided to up and leave him and allow him to return to his “unregenerate” state.
This is like the modern view of love which views love as an arbitrary emotion that falls upon us and leaves us without reason or rhyme. So that men claim simply to have fallen “out of love” with their wives for no specific reason whatsoever. They just woke up one morning and their love had fled, never to come home again. We all know this to be bogus and if a man says this, we know he’s lying. Love doesn’t just vanish, it dies – and there’s always a cause of death.
In the same way apostasy doesn’t “just happen.” Apostasy is the result of an extended period of compromise, disobedience, and unbelief that culminates in a denial of Christ not to be repented of. In other words, no one apostatizes, unless he wants to and is willing to work at it. And therefore apostasy catches no one by surprise. It’s the result of an intentional, purposeful, and persistent choice to depart from Jesus and the faith.
In other words, apostasy is something that a person who is sincerely loving Jesus and seeking to be faithful to Him need never fear.