For a certain kind of Christian, assurance of salvation can feel as fickle as a winter sun. Here and there, the sky shines blue and bright, filling the soul with light. Far more often, however, the days are mostly cloudy, the sun shadowed with uncertainty. And then sometimes, the sky goes gray for weeks on end, and the heart walks heavily under the darkness of doubt.
From the outside, such Christians may seem to bear much spiritual fruit: friends may mark the grace in their lives, accountability partners may encourage them, pastors may find no reason to question their faith. But for those under the clouds, even healthy fruit can look pale and sick. So even as they read their Bible, pray, gather with God’s people, witness, and confess their sins, they usually find some reason to wonder if they really belong to Christ.
How does assurance sink into the heart and psyche of those prone to second-guess? The Holy Spirit has many ways of nourishing confidence in his people — not least by teaching us to recognize the fruit he bears. But for the overly scrupulous among us, for whom personal holiness always seems uncertain, the Spirit also does more: he lifts our eyes above the clouds to show us God’s unchanging character.
Among the divine qualities he uses to nurture our assurance, we may find one surprising: God’s infinite commitment to his glory.
For the Sake of His Name
At first, God’s commitment to his glory may seem to weaken, not strengthen, a doubting Christian’s assurance. If God does everything “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14), for the fame of his name, what hope do we have — we who daily fall short of that glory, who often dishonor that name? We would need to find assurance elsewhere, it would seem.
Yet those who pay attention will find God’s zeal for his name running like a silver thread of hope through all the Scriptures. When Israel’s army fell before Ai, “What will you do for your great name?” was Joshua’s cry (Joshua 7:9). When the nation sinned by demanding a human king, Samuel assured the fearful, “The Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake” (1 Samuel 12:22). When, later, Israel teetered on the brink of exile, Jeremiah pleaded, “Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake” (Jeremiah 14:21). And when the nation languished in Babylon, Daniel grounded his bold prayers on “your name” (Daniel 9:19).
Again and again, the guilty people of God appeal not only to God’s mercy, but to his unflinching allegiance to his glory. Save us, restore us, keep us, defend us — and do it for the sake of your name! So what did they know about God’s name that we may not?
His People, Their God
First, they knew that God, in unspeakable mercy, had condescended to put his name upon his people (Numbers 6:27). By making a covenant with Israel — taking them as his people, pledging himself as their God — he wrapped up his glory with their good; he wove his fame together with their future.
The surrounding nations knew, as Daniel prayed, that “your city and your people are called by your name” (Daniel 9:19). And so, when God lifted up his people, he lifted up his name; when God helped his people, he hallowed his name. Through Israel’s welfare, he trumpeted his own worth, showing himself as the only living God in a world of lifeless idols.
No doubt, God’s name proved useless to those who presumed upon it, who chanted “The Lord! The Lord!” so they could keep sinning in safety (Jeremiah 7:8–15). When Israel’s unrepentant ran to God’s name for refuge, they found the door locked. But for the humble repentant, God’s name stood like the strongest tower (Proverbs 18:10). They might be sinful and unworthy in themselves, but God had given them his name — and for the sake of that name they found mercy, forgiveness, safety, and help.
“The name of God is the hand of God reaching down to helpless sinners, bidding them to grab on and not let go.”
John Owen writes, “God in a covenant gives those holy properties of his nature unto his creature, as his hand or arm for him to lay hold upon, and by them to plead and argue with him” (Works, 6:471). The name of God is the hand of God reaching down to helpless sinners, bidding them to grab on and not let go.
The Lord, the Lord
Second, these saints knew something about God’s name that would have been too wonderful to believe if God himself had not revealed it: at the heart of God’s name is not only the glory of greatness, but the glory of grace.
When the Lord himself “proclaimed the name of the Lord” to Moses (Exodus 34:5), here is what he said:
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty. (Exodus 34:6–7)
To be sure, God is zealous to display the glory of his greatness — his holiness, his power, his authority, his eternity. When he raised up Pharaoh, for example, “so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16), he wanted all nations to tremble before the plague-sending, tyrant-crushing, slave-freeing God of Israel. He is “the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10:17).
Yet, as God reveals to Moses, he is not content merely to show the glory of his greatness; he also exalts the glory of his grace — his kindness, his patience, his abounding love and faithfulness. Unlike so many gods of the nations, mercy, and not only might, sits on the throne of his glory. Well then might we say with Micah, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression” (Micah 7:18) — and who glorifies his name by showing grace?
But we can say even more. For in the fullness of time, God lifted up his name in a way wholly unexpected, altogether glorious: by lifting up his Son.
Assurance in Every Syllable
When God sent his Son into the world, he sent him with a name — with many names, in fact. And in his mercy, God was pleased to inscribe assurance in nearly every syllable.
Some of Jesus’s names do speak directly of his greatness, calling forth fearful awe. He is the Lord who commands creation, the King who rules the nations, the Judge who sifts men’s hearts, the Holy One who terrifies demons. But in line with the revelation of God’s name to Moses, so many of Jesus’s names testify to the glory of his grace.
For how will he get glory as Savior unless he saves the utterly lost to the uttermost? How will he get glory as servant unless he bends to wash our filthy feet? Or how will he get glory as redeemer unless he sets the captives free?
As Lamb of God, his glory rests on cleansing the worst sins with his most-worthy blood. As bridegroom, his glory shines in the forgiven splendor of his bride. And as the way, his glory leads lost sinners home.
Now, as heavenly advocate, he glories to bear our names in his scars. As head of the body, he gloriously nourishes and cherishes his members below. And as founder and perfecter, his glory redounds when he finishes the faith he begins.
“This Jesus will not lose one jewel in his crown of names.”
We could go on, showing how the glory in the names propitiation, bread of life, light of the world, and more is a glory made for sinners’ good. This Jesus will not lose one jewel in his crown of names. He will not let his glory as mediator be diminished by one lost case, or his glory as shepherd be tarnished by one devoured sheep, or his glory as high priest be brought low by one needy, trusting sinner left without help.
Such names shine like so many suns in the sky above, each a burning assurance meant to chase away our clouds.
His Glorious Grace
Now, knowing that God saves sinners for his name’s sake may not resolve all our doubts. After lifting our eyes to such unclouded skies, we may lower them again upon a world of gray, wondering if God is saving us for his name’s sake. So how might this sight of God’s character help the hesitating soul?
First, simply fixing our gaze on God rather than self may do much to nurture spiritual health. If we often live in the cellar of the soul, trying to judge our spiritual fruit in the dim light of scrupulous introspection, long and regular looks at God may lift us into sun-lit skies, where for a few wonderful moments we forget ourselves, and then perhaps dare to believe that the light of this God can swallow any darkness, even ours.
Second, meditating on God’s grace-filled commitment to his name may remove the deep, subconscious suspicion that God’s glory and our salvation are somehow at odds. We may begin to feel, and not only say, that this shepherd would rejoice to carry us home upon his shoulders, that this father would run to see our silhouette on the horizon.
If you want a deeper sense of assurance, then, by all means keep killing your sin and pursuing the holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). But also labor to travel often above the clouds, where you remember that God created this world not only “to the praise of his glory,” but “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 14). And therefore, all of God’s zeal for his glory, all of God’s love for his name, stands behind the sinner who casts his soul on Christ.