The Flower of Faith: Dry or Drowning?

When I was attending college I remember coming home over Christmas break and constantly hearing stories from my family about things they were doing to build God’s kingdom. I started asking myself what I was doing to help. I wasn’t attending a Bible study, sharing the gospel on campus, volunteering at a soup kitchen—nothing. Was I just selfish, too busy, distracted, or was there something else? I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was concealed deep in the corners of my heart. “Maybe,” I worried, “I wasn’t doing anything because I wasn’t actually a Christian.”

The more I stewed over this, the more convinced I became that I had missed the grace boat and was only now realizing I’d been drowning for years. So when I came across the heading in J. C. Ryle’s book Holiness entitled “Assurance of Salvation,” my troubled mind slowed and eyes read carefully. Ryle wrote that assurance of salvation is central to a full, confident, and freeing Christianity. Then living an empty, fearful, imprisoning Christianity, I agreed. But how could I find that kind of assurance when I didn’t really know what assurance of salvation meant?

Assurance of Salvation, and Why We Lack It

Assurance of salvation is believing in the objective reality of our salvation without doubt or fear. In other words, it is believing that our being Christian rests in something real and apart from us. It is holding fast to this salvation in faith, looking forward with confidence to its fruition. Ryle writes, “Assurance after all is no more than a full-grown faith—a masculine faith that grasps Christ’s promise with both hands—a faith that argues like the good centurion, ‘If the Lord speaks the word only, I am healed. Why then should I doubt?’” (Matt. 8:8). It is, Ryle tells us, the ability to look downward to the grave without fear, backward to our past without shame, and forward to the day of reckoning with confidence.

Though such a fine thing, so many Christians (like my college self) lack assurance of their own salvation at some point in their life. This is not surprising as we so often bend our ear to unguarded and shifting emotions (Phil. 4:6) instead of abiding in God’s love (1 John 4). Fred Sanders, in The Deep things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, writes “evangelicals, who have a genius for cultivating authentic experience, also have a knack for reducing things to the level of experience.” In short, Christians too often look for emotional highs and heart-throbbing experiences as proof that we are God’s child. We forget both that it is God who works in us, and that he takes his time.

Perfect, Not Perfect

Living as independent, postmodern Americans, we often believe that we are the masters of our fate, the captains of our soul. If we can change our gender at will or find success through right practices, what’s saving ourselves? We fail to grasp the twin truths that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5), and God made us alive in Christ while we were yet dead, powerless to do anything (Eph. 2:5). It he, not we, who saves us, making us perfect in Christ; and he, not we, who keeps us. Therefore, if God has declared us perfect in Christ, we are perfect indeed. But if being Christian means we are perfect in Christ, why do we still sin?

Perhaps because of our instant gratification age, we tend to expect personal holiness to happen instantaneously. When it does not, we worry that something went wrong, just as we fret over not receiving a reply from a friend we’ve texted. While God proclaims us forgiven and free through Christ (justification), we are still in the process of learning how to live in this freedom (sanctification). We will not learn this, through the Holy Spirit, until heaven. While still earthly, we sin; and one of the sins is doubting Christ’s work in us: lacking assurance. As Ryle states, “while it is true that a person may have saving faith in Christ and yet never enjoy an assured hope . . . all God’s children have faith—but not all have assurance.” If that is true, what is the point of struggling to find assurance? Isn’t it enough that someone just reminds us occasionally that we have a nose on our face?

Leisure to Work for God

Assurance of salvation makes us stronger Christians. Ryle writes, “Faith [which we all have] . . . is the root—assurance the flower.” The healthier the root, the more abundant the flowers. If we have strong faith and absolute confidence that we will one day be with God in glory, we fear neither death, storms, bad tidings, nor difficult circumstances.

Assurance is to be desired, because it tends to make a Christian an active, working Christian . . . a believer who lacks an assured hope will spend much of his time in inward searchings of heart about his own state. Like a nervous hypochondriac person, he will be full of his own ailments, his own doubtings and questionings, his own conflicts and corruptions. In short, you will often find he is so taken up with his internal warfare that he has little leisure for other things and little time to work for God (Ryle).

Assurance, then, is of infinite value as it frees us up to serve God fully. And, just as we can cultivate the ground to encourage growth, so we can cultivate our faith to grow our assurance.


The first step is to look outside ourselves to God and his world as it is—not as we think it should be. As I said earlier, the reality is that assurance is the work of the Spirit in us, not our own inferences. He convinces us we are God’s children (Ryle; see Rom. 8:16). Trust that reality and seek to understand more deeply what it means through studying God’s Word. Here are a few excellent passages with which to start:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

The more we dwell on these and other like passages, the more our confidence grows as does our understanding of how God has ordered the world. We begin to see the world correctly, and our place in it as children of God. Creation becomes, for us, a concrete and tangible way of knowing God. Just as we can understand Van Gogh more by studying his art, so we can learn more about God through his creation. Revel in it, contemplate on it, and talk to God about it.

Never can we underestimate the centrality of prayer to the Christian faith. Through prayer, God fills and grows us. Through prayer, we are drawn outside of ourselves to another, the Other. Through prayers answered, God confirms his faithfulness. So pray often and specifically. Then listen, wait, abide in stillness before the God who saves.

Worth the Seeking

If we seek after these things and fill our minds and mouths with the truths revealed to us through God, we can rest easy. If we stop naval gazing and start star gazing, we find reality is far more fixed than could be imagined. Assurance of salvation is freedom from ourselves and is central to a robust Christian life. It means believing unwaveringly in God’s promises to us through Christ. And though many of us reduce assurance to emotional experience, that does not mean it is out of reach. So in the words of Ryle, I urge you “though it tarries, wait of it. Seek on, and expect to find . . . [for] believe me, believe me, assurance is worth the seeking.”

Mrs. Elisabeth Bloechl is a house cleaner and aspiring writer and member of the OPC in Hammond, WI.