An accurate awareness and articulation of the doctrine of the Assurance of Salvation is extremely important to Reformed Theology. We must make it clear that only true believers who live out their faith can be assured of their salvation. The doctrine of assurance does not promote antinomianism, as it is often slandered of doing. The Bible condemns those who say “Let us do evil that good may come,” (Rom. 3:8), or “who turn the grace of our God into lewdness,” (Jud 1:4). Justification is by grace alone through faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…
1 John 5:13aNKJ
The Protestant Reformation is most often remembered and celebrated as the time God restored the crucial doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone to the church. We also think of the five solas of the Reformation, which in addition to “faith alone” include: “Scripture alone,” “grace alone,” “Christ alone,” and “to the glory of God alone.” However, during the Counter Reformation, when the Jesuit Order was founded and then employed to stop the Protestant movement, it was the doctrine of the Assurance of Salvation that was their primary target. In the latter half of the 16th century, Jesuit Priest and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine wrote in his work On Justification, “The principle heresy of Protestants is that saints may obtain to a certain assurance of their gracious and pardoned state before God.” Echoing the Council of Trent, Bellarmine understood that if Christians could be assured of their salvation simply through faith, its fruits, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then the whole Roman sacerdotal priestly hierarchy, who alone were held to be able to distribute the continued infusion of sacramental grace claimed to be essential for justification, would necessarily fall to the ground. Therefore, to try and snuff out Protestantism, Roman Jesuits focused their attention of the doctrine of Assurance. If they could only get men to reject or lose their assurance, then all of the Protestant solas would be defeated, including therefore, the heart of the gospel: Justification by Faith Alone.