Let me close this series on assurance (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) with some cautions about using the "signs of grace" to gain assurance.
First, be careful how you define the marks of grace. On the one hand, do not require such signs of yourself as no Christian has in this life. A true Christian keeps God’s commandments (1 John 3:24), but no Christian ever comes to the point where he may say he has no sin (1 John 1:8). Although he does not hunger and thirst for God as much as he should, he does sincerely hunger and thirst for God.
On the other hand, do not make signs of saving grace out of qualities that unbelievers can have. Taking the sacraments, having right doctrinal beliefs, and exercising great ability in Christian service may all appear in a person who is not born again.
Second, only test your graces by the true standard, the Word of God. Scripture alone is the light to guide our feet (Ps. 119:105), God’s wisdom to make us wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).
Third, never use the signs in a way that hinders you from receiving and applying Christ for your souls. Rest on Christ alone for reconciliation with God and atonement of your sins. Your graces are but signs of Christ; they are not Christ Himself.
Fourth, do not make signs of salvation into grounds and causes of salvation. We wrong our souls when we take pride in the evidences of God’s grace in our lives and place sinful confidence in the signs. Find comfort in signs but rest in Christ.
Fifth, test yourself with signs only while simultaneously casting out your self-love and self-flattery. Many lie to themselves like the ancient Jews who cried, “the temple of the Lord!” We can only know ourselves by the supernatural teaching of the Holy Spirit. At the same time however, you must cast out your unbelief which refuses to acknowledge the work of God in your heart. How can you thank God for His grace to you if you will not acknowledge it?
Sixth, do not examine yourself for signs of grace when your soul is full of darkness, doubts, and temptations. You cannot see clearly then.
Seventh, do not think that no sign will be sufficient unless you first persevere to the end. Arminians insist that no one can be sure of his election by God until he has persevered in faith and obedience. Thus no man can be happy until he dies. Perseverance is a promise to the godly (Phil. 1:6), but it is not the only distinctive sign of true godliness.
Eighth, when you examine yourself, pray to God for His Spirit to enlighten your eyes. The Spirit of God is the effective cause of assurance. Just as only the Spirit can bring biblical truth home to the soul, so you can have all kinds of evidence of grace but your heart will not be persuaded until the Spirit establishes you in certainty.
Ninth, never think that a person may not take hold of Christ until he has this certainty by signs of grace within himself. Do not look for spiritual qualifications before trusting Christ for your justification. Though it is popular to say that faith is a strong persuasion that my sins are forgiven, in reality justifying faith is not assurance. Assurance is a fruit of faith.
Lastly, do not resist God’s Spirit with unbelief when He comes to assure you with evidences of your salvation. It is a great sin to rebel against the Spirit when He convinces a person of sin, but it is a greater sin to rebel against Him when He moves us to claim God as our Father, for His greatest glory lies in being the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
Therefore, test yourself by the signs of grace laid in Scripture: obedience to God’s commandments (1 John 2:3), sincerity before God (2 Cor. 1:12), turning from sin (1 John 3:9), willingness to be searched by God (Ps. 26:2), growth in grace (John 15:2), serving God out of inner motives of Spirit-worked faith and love (1 John 4:13), and love for other Christians (1 John 3:18). And where such things are present, may the Spirit of adoption work assurance.