Missed it by that much. Calvin's doctrine of befuddling assurance/non-assurance

The Work done outside of us

I had other plans but God providentially changed them.

I had planned on writing about finding the Gospel message in the arts, e.g. dances, lyrics, paintings, etc., but then this showed up in a Facebook group I am a part of. The discussion was one Zwingli’s affirmation of all the baptismal verses (see meme on this post) and yet he denied the efficacy of baptism. I’ve only been Lutheran just over a year, but things are beginning to clear up quickly regarding my biblical position on the Sacraments (See Winter Came…Everything Changed blog post here: https://www.lutherangirl.org/blog/winter-came-and-everything-changed).

What is ‘evanescent/confused/illusionary’ faith?

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes on the Christian Religion the following:

"Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence, it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption ... there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith ... Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their mind to this extent ... there is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent." [John Calvin, Institutes 3.2.11]

A few years ago I took a course on Calvin’s Institutes. However, I must have slept through this section because I honestly do not remember reading this. I think I would have been just as shocked that Calvin thought, and evidently taught, that one could have this elusive “confused faith” and that there are those who think they are among the elect and turn out to be among those chosen to damnation (Calvin’s doctrine of Double Predestination).

You: I think I’m saved…I think I’m saved…I think I’m saved.

God: Nope. Just kidding.

Think about this: you are struggling to figure out if you are among God’s Elect. What are you to look to? Mostly, Reformed will tell you Christ Jesus but then quickly add that fruit is an evidence of your regeneration. The Heidelberg states that true faith has three parts: Knowledge, Ascent and Trust. It also states that those with “true faith” will do good works which is evidence of this true faith. However, Calvin writes that the reprobate (those chosen to damnation and not salvation) perceive the power of special grace, have the light of faith and that basically, “there is no difference between them. He goes on that they’ve tasted the Heavenly Gift but that Jesus has given them a “temporary faith”. Okay, I need to stop here and make a comment: How cruel can this be?

God's Word with the water...

You only THINK you are saved

You are told to look at your fruit for the evidence that you have true faith, while at the same time, Calvin is teaching that your fruit proves nothing because you still may not have true faith.


How am I to figure out if I’m among the Elect? I may be doing the same good works as the reprobate. Or, I might just be a reprobate doing the same works, producing the same fruit of the Spirit, that the elect do. By this fruit professing believers are supposed to be assured that they have true faith. Now, Calvinists, the Dutch Reformed and Lutherans hold that true faith is a gift from God, but yet, the Reformed say the professing believer might just be fooled. Oh what dangerous ground we have stepped on. This is far worse than a slippery slope. This is not assurance. This is torment at its worst. If a person is struggling to believe that they are a true believer, look to their works, trust in Christ alone, acknowledge they are saved by grace alone through faith alone according to God’s Word alone believing this, Calvin is saying they might still be a reprobate?

If this confused believer then goes to the pastor, he might say that they’ve seen fruit in their life and they are trusting Christ alone for salvation. Let me emphasize this point of Calvin’s, “under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common” They look saved, profess faith in Christ alone, it appears God has been propitious to them (meaning covered their sins in the righteousness of Christ) and yet they are not under God’s protection? Besides this, “the reprobate never receive anything but a confused awareness of grace[1]” So God has given them “confusion”? I thought God was not the author of confusion (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33).

Joe Heschmeyer writes:

Calvin sees this problem and proposes two equally unhelpful solutions:

1. “Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith.“

2. “Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father.”[2]

There is a serious problem here. Heschmeyer’s chart (see link) is correct to point out that the reprobate, under this “confused” grace have all the evidences of true faith and yet, are not actually saved. So the struggling believer cannot at all rely upon any evidence in their life to prove they have true faith? By even questioning salvation, is the believer actually showing they don’t have salvation because they do not possess full assurance? This salvation becomes an illusion and none can ever have real or full assurance of salvation. Again, this is a cruel torment. This also means that God is promoting this illusion and by it lying to the seemingly saved person by perpetuating the idea that though they’ve been predestined to hell they’re going to think they’re saved on the way to hell. Absolutely cruel.

Such great comfort

Brace for Mind-Blowing Comfort in Baptismal Waters

How then does one know they are saved? The LCMS website has a fabulous answer, so I’m just going to post it here and then comment a little on it:

QUESTION: On what should we base our assurance of salvation? I know the Word and the promises of the Gospel are our rock, but how do we distinguish between real faith and mere intellectual assent? I ask this because many evangelicals make me nervous when they say that if one has doubts about one's salvation, one is probably not saved because the Holy Spirit is supposed to provide inner assurance. (I guess this ties in to the whole Pietist problem.)

But in the face of emotional ups and downs, moral failings, intellectual doubts, and confusion over doctrine, how can one know if one truly has faith in Christ?

ANSWER: Lutherans believe that faith is created and strengthened not by looking inside of one's self (to one's own faith and/or doubts) but by looking outside of one's self (to God's Word and promises in Christ).

Therefore, assurance of salvation is to be sought by looking to God's Word and promises in Christ (which create and strengthen the faith through which one is saved), not by looking inward at the strength or weakness of one's own faith (which creates either pride and false assurance or doubt and lack of assurance).

Anxiety regarding doubts, strength of faith and certainty of salvation are signs of faith (however weak it may be), not signs of unbelief, since the unbeliever has no concern or anxiety about doubts, faith or salvation. (see https://www.lcms.org/about/beliefs/faqs/doctrine#assurance).

A Great Answer

“The assurance of salvation is to be found outside of one’s self.” Great answer. This means I do not have to look at the ebb and flow of my faith, to my horrifically bad attempts at good works, to how much time I spend in “devotions” or anything, including feelings, inside of me. If I’m concerned about heavenly things it is because I have been born from above, regenerated, saved. The spiritually dead have no concern. Only the spiritually alive concern themselves with whether or not they are going to hell. But, Calvin would have you think that the concern you have means you don’t have full assurance of faith and are therefore only in possession of an illusionary or confused faith.

When I read this quote from Calvin this morning, my heart sunk. How could any reformed, Presbyterian, London Baptist or any other branch of “reformed” Christianity ever truly offer their members assurance. How do any of them go on knowing now that they might just have a fake faith and were actually eternally damned even though they appeared saved. Yes, there are warning passages in the Scripture which sound the alarm not to walk away from the faith but that is because they were actually in the faith. They tasted and touched, they believed for a time. This is because Jesus did indeed die for the sins of the world. He is the propitiation of the world which includes the one strong in faith or weak and doubting because it has nothing to do with them.

In baptism this true faith is given. This work is outside of us done by the water with the Word and is the work of God alone. In the waters of baptism we are assured that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake and the person, no matter the age, is granted that gift of true faith.

Again, the LCMS site answers:

Lutherans believe that the Bible teaches that a person is saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

The Bible tells us that such “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus Himself commands Baptism and tells us that Baptism is water used together with the Word of God (Matt. 28:19-20).

Because of this, we believe that Baptism is one of the miraculous means of grace (another is God’s Word as it is written or spoken), through which God creates and/or strengthens the gift of faith in a person’s heart (see Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:1-4; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 12.13).

Terms the Bible uses to talk about the beginning of faith include “conversion” and “regeneration.” Although we do not claim to understand fully how this happens, we believe that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant.[3]

Look to your baptism

So, if you are struggling with assurance, have been told to look at the fruit being produced in your life and encouraged to believe in Jesus alone for salvation and yet still think you might be among those with a confused or illusionary faith, take heart. Look to your Baptism where Christ Himself forgave you your sins and partake of the Holy Supper, of the True Body and True Blood which was shed for YOU for the forgiveness of your sins. Stop looking inside. Look outward and REJOICE for your sins, though they are great, are not counted against you but the Righteousness of Christ has been credited to you.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (14292-14293: Library of Congress Classis (Kindle Edition, n.d.).

[2] Joe Heschmeyer, Evenescent Grace, accessed September 19, 2018, http://shamelesspopery.com/assurance-of-salvation-and-evanescent-grace/.

[3] “Baptism and Assurance,” Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, http://www.lcms.org/about/beliefs/faqs/doctrine#assurance.

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