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When someone becomes a Christian, should they feel an 'assurance of faith'?
Thank you for this honest and interesting question about the assurance of faith.
The first thing to recognise is that not everyone who comes to faith in Christ has an immediate spiritual certainty that they have received God's grace. The promise of the gospel message is that if we repent from our sins and rebellion against God, and put our faith in Christ as our sinbearer and Saviour, we will be saved.
There is a wonderful example of this from the New Testament Acts 16:25-34. Some Christian leaders were in prison falsely accused of crimes against the Roman empire. An earthquake occurred during the night and the prison doors flew open, but instead of escaping the believers remained in the prison. The jailor would have been executed for negligence had they gone and so he was deeply affected by the faith in God and moral character of the prisoners. Here is what happened next:
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
Not only the jailor but his whole family put their faith in Christ - and publicly declared the fact by baptism into the fellowship of the Christian Church. There is no mention in the story of what spiritual experience they had as a result of being converted other than their willingness to become committed, and this is generally true of all the conversion accounts we read in the New Testament. If any definite experience is spoken of it is usually the emotion of rejoicing, for example in Acts 8:39, when an Ethiopian government official who had visited Jerusalem had been shown the gospel message by the evangelist Philip and responded by putting his faith in Christ and being baptised: And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
Assurance of salvation is a gift of the Holy Spirit to a believer which is based upon the confidence we have that God will always accept those who turn to Christ in repentance and faith. It is well explained in Romans 5:1-2:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God...
Notice here that peace with God is not first of all an experience but a fact. However, notice as well that it is closely connected with rejoicing in our new-found faith. Many new Christians will experience such a sense of relief or delight in being forgiven without understanding the connection with possessing a new spiritual status, but not every believer will have that joy straight away. Indeed, some Christians never possess the kind of certainty we call 'assurance of salvation'.
Consequently, we need to be careful about introducing the issue to new Christians. It is good to explain that the Holy Spirit grants us confidence before God that we are saved. Paul describes it like this:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:14-16)
Again, though, it is important to notice that the sense of confidence from the Holy Spirit is a by-product that He is at work in our lives to make us more godly: the spirit of sonship. If you say to someone, therefore, 'Has the Holy Spirit testified with your spirit that you are a child of God?' someone may be unsure; but if you ask whether they have become more sensitive to their own sin and to God's presence in their lives, they may well say He has, without realizing that such an experience is one of assurance!
My answer, then, is to take care when you speak to a new Christian to make sure the basic things are there of genuine repentance and genuine trust in Christ for salvation and wait until you are convinced of those things. Then it is good to talk about that consciousness of God being at work to make us more sensitive to our sins and of being a new person as a child of God. From that we can go on to share about the meaning of assurance.
In closing, if you are not already a regular attender at a Bible-Believing local church, I want to encourage you to do so. It would be good to speak to a Christian leader or another trusted church individual regarding your question. I know they would be delighted to further answer you as well as offer prayer and support as you continue your spiritual journey: www.lookingforgod.com/churchfinder
Please use our Interactive Answer Matrix and feel free to ask another question. Our helpful staff are praying for you and waiting to try and answer to you from the Bible, and will be delighted to tell you more about Jesus Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world. www.lookingforgod.com/your-questions
*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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