Michael Spencer, a.k.a. IMonk, posted a dazzling essay on assurance. No matter how assured you are on assurance, I encourage you to read the whole thing.
My first impression was recognizing how much I empathize with Spencer. It's not clear to me if Spencer was a preacher's kid or not, but we were spiritually formed in a similar environment. Growing up in church has given me a foundation God has built on, but it has also left me with a lot of unneccesary baggage that almost killed my faith. I'm thankful that God's grace carried me through those dark days of my youth.
I previously posted on my own struggles with assurance. Spencer's answer reflects my own current position, although I lack the capacity to write about it with such keen insight. Whenever I feel lost in assurance, I go back to one thing I've always understood: the Cross.
My friend Jack Moraine used to jest about those who wore crosses around their neck as a fashion statement. The cross was a tool of execution, he said, and wondered if people would feel as comfortable wearing a symbol of the electric chair on a chain. He wasn't being glib or morose in asking this question. He wondered if people truly understood what the Cross meant. There's no power in the wood or the nails, but all the power is in the Man who bore the brunt of our sin while nailed to it. Demons do not fear the symbol, they fear the reminder of Christ's sacrifice and ultimate expression of love that conquered them. If people wear the cross chains as a reminder of Christ's suffering and His ultimate victory over sin and death ... let's hope that number of people who "get it" is larger than I think it is.
But to those of us who are concerned with assurance -- and those of us who ought to "get it" -- we still miss the point. In being concerned with our salvation, we attempt to prove to ourselves and our peers that we are, indeed, among the elect. Some of us may even attempt to climb up on the cross ourselves, as if we are worthy! The point of the Cross is Christ went there because we were not fit to do it ourselves.
The fact the Bible tells us to look for the evidence of salvation does not appear to me to be a command to prove our faith. Instead, I believe it is a call to check our hearts to see if we are taking a license to sin -- in our hearts, in our acts, or even in our laziness. If we don't see the conflict with God in that -- if we are not humbled by the Cross and made more aware of our sinfulness -- then assurance should be called into question. The work, however, is in the heart, not in the hands, because the hands will only do the bidding of the heart. Do you desire to do God's will? Do you desire to be more like Christ? Do you desire to put away the things of this world and be transformed? Is not this desire evidence that God is working on our hearts? How could we even desire such a need if God has not redeemed us and put that desire there? The issue then becomes acting on this unearthly desire that God has put on the heart. In Philippians 3:12-16, this action is defined as a sign of maturity, not just a sign of salvation. It seems to me that a heart of struggle to conform to Christ will mature, and that is a process that requires time and patience.
I can point to many works of my hands that show signs of salvation, but I still see sin in my life and I still see a need for the transforming work of the Spirit. Am I regenerate or degenerate? I could become spiritually handicapped if I spent my life dwelling on this question. I will not let this knock at my faith that I know the Spirit first breathed in me to confess and believe. I cannot change on my own, not with all the desire in the world. I cannot produce works by myself that prove salvation. That is God's work, and God knows my desire for more of His change in my life. For now, anyway, that is all the assurance I need.