Thank you for your insightful post (see Lordship and Assurance). I need clarification on the subject still. If 1 John was written to give assurance, why does it have us examine our fruits and test ourselves? Does not our walk provide evidence of whether or not we have received the Lord?
Great follow-up question! Many use 1 John to deal with evidences of salvation. But this can get very confusing, because unsaved moralists can pass many of the tests from an external standpoint. Is salvation really the issue in I John?
My understanding is that the purpose of 1 John is fellowship and fullness of joy (1:3-4). Yet fellowship with God would certainly be assuring in a secondary way. But if you primarily emphasize assurance by evidences, then you are (perhaps unwittingly) making assurance by works. This is not very “sure” because we don’t always live right. Since justification is by grace through faith and sanctification is by grace through faith, how can assurance be by works? Two keys help to have a right perspective.
First, the word often translated “abide” changes the focus of the “evidences.” It occurs over 20 times in chapters 2-4. Abiding is a picturesque term for depending (cf. John 15:4-5). The “evidences” of 1 John are actually evidences of abiding, not salvation. When you abide in Christ, the fruit (evidences) of the Spirit will be manifest. So the evidences are really evidences of abiding. Obviously, you can’t abide in Christ if you’re not “in Christ.” But it is possible to be in Christ and not abide. Therefore, lack of evidence means one of two things, not one of one. It could mean you’re not in Christ, because you can’t abide in Christ if you’re not in Him. But it could mean you’re in Christ, but you’re not abiding.
Second, as wonderful as abiding and the resulting fruit of the Spirit are, tragically, we do not always perfectly abide. Therefore, experiential assurance is at best intermittent. At best it can only be a secondary assurance. Thankfully, 1 John 5 emphasizes absolute assurance. “And this is the record [This is what God says!], that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life…These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God [which means they already have eternal life]; that ye may know [assurance] that ye have [already] eternal life.” When you believe on Jesus you have eternal life (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24; 6:47). The Bible says so! The way you know what you already have is by looking at the record—because it says so! Infallible assurance comes only through the infallible Word!
Hope this brings some clarification.