A Christian once introduced another believer as someone who seems to think he can tell God what He should do, while giving himself the credit for simply listening to God and doing what God tells him to do. The implication was that the believer being introduced was so assured in his beliefs that he might not shrink from attempting to convince God to see things his way. Putting aside the question of the legitimacy of that charge, this scenario does raise the question of the believer’s assurance and how it is gained, enjoyed, and worked out.
The scriptures use the phrase “full assurance” three times, and it is significant that it is found only in the epistles of the New Testament.¹ It is only believers in the finished work of Christ that are exhorted to this high level of certainty, for it is only Christians who are sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (I John 2:20). The context of this verse makes it clear that the Christian has the capacity to know the truth revealed by the Spirit and passed along to us in the inspired, written Word of God. Moreover, we who have the Spirit are able to distinguish between truth and error with confidence because of the knowledge He bestows.
In terms of the timeline of our Christian experience, the first kind of “full assurance” we have both the privilege and the responsibility of possessing is that of faith. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). A believer in Christ may know all sins forgiven, and can enjoy the perfect peace of a purged conscience, though he has to do with a holy and righteous God that cannot allow sin in His presence. It would not be at all appropriate for a Christian, no matter how young in the faith, to come into the presence of God, to worship within the veil of the heavenly sanctuary, while still having doubts about his sins or sinfulness. The believer’s sins are gone because Christ bore them on the tree (I Peter 2:24), his conscience has been cleansed by the blood of Christ applied to his soul at the moment of faith, and he is washed by the water of the word, which regenerated him and set him in an entirely new position before God, where sin can no longer attach itself. To present oneself before God as a worshiper without that full assurance of complete acceptance by Him would be a contradiction of the saint’s position, as “holy and without blame, before Him in love”.² What blessed assurance is ours!
Hebrews 6:11 brings before the Christian pilgrim the need for spiritual diligence to be able to enjoy “full assurance of hope“. The context here is not worship, but perseverance to the end of the path of faith, in that way (after that fashion) to inherit the promises of God. Those promises, to be realized at the end of the pilgrim journey, could not have been made more certain for the believer now, for God swore by Himself that Abraham would receive the promise made to him, and the promise of eternal life to a believer in Christ is no less sure.³ However, in order to properly enjoy in this life those “exceeding great and precious promises” while bearing fruit for God, and in order to better enjoy at the end of this life a richly furnished entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:4-11*), diligence and perseverance is required. That diligence brings with it full assurance of our destiny without a shadow of doubt, which allows us to enjoy the Lord Jesus here while we wait for glory with Him, no matter how difficult the path. This is the essence and relevance of the Christian’s hope. It provides boundless encouragement to go on for Christ in this life.
Finally, God desires the Christian’s growth in the knowledge of Himself, and this godly process should characterize a mature believer as much as a babe in Christ. There is no plateau on which a saint may finally stop “growing by the true knowledge of God”, but there are heights that may be reached in the “full knowledge of the mystery of God”, and where one may enjoy “all riches of the full assurance of understanding” (Colossians 1:10*; 2:2-3*). This understanding goes beyond the basic Christian truth of the Son of God sent into this world as the Messiah, as the Lamb of God sacrificed for sinners, the “bread of God” come down from heaven and giving life to the world. This elementary line of truth might be considered “the word of the beginning of the Christ” (Hebrews 6:1*), but there is much more that the writer to the Hebrews wanted to explain to them, and there was much more that Paul desired the Colossians (and the whole church) to be occupied with, namely, the “mystery of God”. In it are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as having to do with Christ as the Head of His body, exalted in the heavens above all things, and more than that: Christ Jesus is Head over all created things to the church, His body and bride. Furthermore, He was among the Colossians who were Gentile believers, as “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), for His body is a unity made of up Jewish and Gentile believers alike, who wait for Him to return in glory with them to reign over the earth in “the administration (dispensation) of the fullness of times”, when all things are headed up in Christ (Ephesians 1:10*). All these wonderful things, and more, were not known before the cross, but we have the privilege and the exhortation to be fully assured in our understanding of them. They comprise the “mystery”, God’s secret now made known to the church for our everlasting wonder and praise.
There is immense blessing to be had by the Christian in the possession of full assurance of faith, hope, and understanding, when enjoyed in communion with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and all the more so by saints whose hearts are united together in love.°
¹ Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 6:11; 10:22
² Titus 3:5; John 13:10; I John 3:9; Ephesians 1:4
³ II Timothy 1:1, 9; Titus 1:2; Acts 13:48
° Colossians 2:1-2
* Darby translation