John Calvin’s emphasis was upon certainty. He abhorred the way in which Romanism kept people wondering whether or not they were saved. In his Defense of the Reformed faith, p. 256; Eerdmans, Grand Rapids (1958), he wrote:
Thus nothing is left but constant disquietude, and slow torture, and perplexing doubts, which will wear out the soul not less effectively than open murder.
In speaking of Roman confession, he also said,
The Apostles did not discharge their office of binding and loosing by hearing Confessions, but by preaching the gospel . . . And the reason why they strongly urge Confession is, because they wish to make the world obsequious to them, and to hold it in subjection . . . yet to color Confession, and hold it forth as a thing necessary to salvation, is neither expedient nor lawful. Conscience cannot be squeezed by the chains of such laws, without being strangled. (Ibid., p. 257, 258).
He was concerned about poor, wretched people, deluded by the traditions of men, who were enslaved to a system purporting to be Christian, but in reality, anything but.
There is salvation neither in works of penitence, nor in any other ceremony or human action. Salvation—with the assurance it brings—is in Christ alone. It is because by His death and resurrection He satisfied God once for all, that those who believe can have assurance of salvation. In what are you trusting—that which brings certainty or that which brings confusion and terror?
The book of 1 John was written to give assurance to true believers (1 John 5:33). What does it tell you is the way to know that you are saved? There are many statements in the book which answer that question. Although each of these may put it differently, 1 John 2:29 is as clear and concise as any of them:
Since you know that He is righteous, you may know also that whoever is doing righteousness has been born of Him.
Assurance comes from a change in one’s life that John says is a birth which God brings about: “whoever is born of Him.”
This new life is the result, John says, of what we call “regeneration” (being given spiritual life that enables one to believe the Gospel). To be born of God also enables him to live differently—to live righteously. Apart from this spiritual birth one is unable to do those righteous things that God approves: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 5:5). To be “in the flesh” means to have only the natural, sinful life with which you were born—to be unregenerate (that is, to be without the newness of life that comes only with being born of God). So, those who do righteousness may know that they have been born from above.
The interesting phrase that is central in the verse is “doing righteousness.” When one sees the fruit of the Holy Spirit (righteousness), Who regenerates, begin to appear in his life, he may know that the change has taken place—that he is a child of God? Notice, it is not when he feels something different, but when he does things differently, that he may have assurance of his salvation.
How can one know what these righteous acts are? By studying the Bible. There alone is the standard of righteousness.
Friend, do you do righteous things—those that God says please him? If your life has been changed so that more and more it conforms to that standard, you have reason to believe you are saved.
Being 84 years old has some advantages. For instance, I have a connection with a very different past. I remember the street lamp lighters who, every nite came along with their ladders, climbed up them and lit the gas street lights. The ice truck came by each day or so and you had the driver chisel off a hunk of ice with his ice pick for your ice box. And so on . . . and on . . . and on.
Well, I also remember how one day my father took me to a store as a little boy and we picked out a red wagon he was going to buy for me. He put down a couple of dollars—he didn’t have the full amount that it cost—and a tag was affixed to the wagon with my name on it. This “DOWN PAYMENT” was the first of several subsequent payments, until the entire amount was paid. In the meanwhile, my wagon was safe—no one else could buy it. When the final payment was made, I got the wagon. Meanwhile, I had to wait in anticipation!
This sort of transaction goes back a long way—even to biblical days! Listen to 2 Corinthians 1:22—
He has also sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts
God has given us a down payment to assure us that our place in heaven and eternity is secure. No one else can have us (the Devil included) since He has claimed us and tagged us (sealed us) with the Holy Spirit. His Name has been placed upon us as His own. One day He will fully give us all He has planned for us, and we will no longer have to wait with such a partial joy and blessing as that which the Spirit gives us now. We will then possess not only a wagon, but a wagon-load of blessing from Him! Be patient, Christian; you are sealed!