“How do I know if I’m really saved?”
William Wallace, a revolutionary and protagonist in the film “Braveheart” said: “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” Most of us are aware that at a future date we will die. At times we can be scared of what comes after, we can be filled with shame or fear, we can be lacking confidence in our eternal destiny, and as a result we do not truly live. Our body may be alive, its cells titillating with the energy of life, but our spirit is burdened with the unbearable weight of eternal uncertainty. This is the fear that I myself grew up in. To whom the debt for my fear is owed, I cannot say, nonetheless I was paralyzed for much of my young life. Perhaps it was the Christian culture I was raised in, or the misapplication of law passages like James 2:10. Very likely it was a combination of the two and the evaluation of my own failures as I struggled to attain Biblical and cultural perfection. At the end of every day I would beg God to forgive me for the many weaknesses and failures of that day, hoping He would forgive me, knowing that if He did not, I might die in my sleep and surely end up in hell. My assurance of salvation proceeded from primarily one thing, how well I was fulfilling Gods commands.
If it was a good day, and I stayed out of trouble, avoided lying, didn’t lust, didn’t play computer games or watch TV, I would go to bed thinking I was possibly safe. Though to be sure, I would ask God to forgive me for the sins “I forgot about.” The next day at school a kid would show me a porno picture, hidden discreetly between the pages of his notebook, and once again, I was uncertain if I was indeed going to heaven. I would lay in bed and mentally try to make myself competent, finding good deeds that would outweigh the bad of the day. I would seek out sinful acts by “Bible heroes” hoping to convince God that since David got into heaven after killing someone and committing adultery, I would still be allowed in, after all I hadn’t yet killed anyone. I did hear about Jesus and forgiveness, or that the “blood of Jesus washes all sins,” but from what I understood that was a very serious thing, if the blood washed you and made you clean, and that cleanliness was the only thing that could get you into heaven, then you had better not get your robes dirty again, or else you would lose it, and maybe God would not re-wash them for you. I even heard it preached that if you “lose” the Holy Spirit, God would likely not forgive you and you would be doomed. And so I was locked in perpetual fear and insignificance, barely able to keep afloat in a raging storm that seemingly wanted to swallow me and send me to hell. Yet, this is not the type of dreaded existence and lack of confidence the Lord has called Christians to (2 Pet 1:10).
CAN WE KNOW?
Yes. I am confident in this, that the Bible tells us we can be sure, and indeed wants us to be sure (2 Pet 1:10). Yet, a dire warning must sound beforehand, many people are certain of things that are not true. There is a false assurance and a true assurance, and in order to discern where you stand you must judge your roots and your fruits (Mat 7:17), this will distinguish you between false assurance and true assurance.
There are plenty of people we know who claim they certain that they will be in some version of Heaven or Nirvana. In some cases there are saints awaiting them, in other cases, 99 virgins. Regardless of the version of Heaven, many people exhibit strong and exclusive claims about what it takes to make it to heaven. If I say the only president of the USA is Obama, and another says its McCain, clearly we cannot both be right. Likewise those making exclusive claims cannot all be right. Ultimately two groups of people have false assurance and will not be saved according to Scripture.
The first are those who have a false view of self: they trust in their works to be saved. Jesus clearly tells of people who will come to him on the last day and claim their good deeds should save them, yet they are rejected for not intimately knowing God (Matt 7:22-23). This includes anyone from any religion (or anti-religion) that thinks looks to themselves thinking they are “good enough” for God to save. The second group includes those who have a false view of God: They are at the opposite end of the spectrum who care little about anyone’s goodness but in their blindness think mischaracterize God by saying He will save everyone apart from issues like sin, redemption, the cross, and etc because He is indebted to. In their minds God needs to save everyone to prove to them that He is Good. So they strut around proudly caring not for the Scripture, for what God said, for what God did to justify, or for anything to do with Him at all. It is my deep desire that you would not fall into either group, but find true assurance that is based on a true view of self and a true view of God.
The Apostle John tells us that our assurance in not only a possibility, but that is actually his intent in writing part of the Bible as the Holy Spirit inspires. He says: “I write these things…. that you may know that you have eternal life”( 1 John 5:13). God cares that his children know they are his children. The Holy Spirit, through inspired authors like John, speaks to us about understanding that we are truly saved and resting in the assurance of our ultimate salvation. True assurance looks very similar to false assurance as mentioned above, and at heart its simply “being certain.” Yet, contrary to popular opinion, true assurance is not simply “blind faith” where a person believes in something against all reason, intuition, emotion, or education. Instead, true assurance respects all of these and causes all to go to work with, rather than against, faith. True assurance is not gained from simply barging along and drowning out other voices out of the fear that they will destroy your faith, instead it hears them and after hearing them still realized there is a Voice that is more trustworthy. True assurance is not a faith that asks no questions or never deals with doubt but the Words of Christ overwhelm the doubt and you realize you trust them more than your doubts. True assurance is not embodied by a strong, exuberant personality that esteems at proving arguments and eschews ultimate self-confidence. Instead, the assurance of salvation is a deep conviction and unyielding trust in the person, work, and words of Christ. It never looks to self, it always looks out to Christ. There may be permanent disillusionment with people you trust, the church, family, and especially yourself, but ultimately there is none with Christ, for ultimately true assurance is trusting Christ. True assurance of your salvation comes NOT from believing you are saved, but from believing IN Christ the Saviour.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Jesus often used farming metaphors to describe eternal principles and spoke of salvation as a good tree that produces good fruit (Mat 7:17). The end result (the fruit) depends and stems from unseen things deep down (the roots), and so do our works stem from our root, which our new nature that comes from Christ. To simply do works without being saved deep down in your roots is legalism; it’s like tying plastic fruit to a tree in hopes of proving it’s a good tree.
Theologically (Our Roots)
God declared it
Throughout history God declared in his word that a salvation is coming for His people. He gave prophecies that we know of as the Old Testament and these foreshadowed and testified of Jesus. In these last days God has spoken through sending Jesus and inspiring the New Testament authors, again confirming the salvation that He initiated. And God has promised that all who believe upon Jesus will not only be saved, but “has eternal life (John 3:36; 1 John 5:11-12). Notice the active possessive verb used is “has,” it signifies that Gods promise is current and not based on some future condition. If you believe in Jesus, God promises that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-12,13). In addition God promised that this is a gift, not something that can be earned, so there could be no doubt that this is not from you, it’s for you (Eph 2:8-9). If you are struggling remind yourself believe and trust in the Word of God. If you don’t believe in God and His word, then you should not be seeking assurance, if you believe in Him, you must trust Him. Here are some other passages to mediate on: Jer 32:40, John 10:27-28, Rom 8:1, Rom 11:29, Rom 14:4, 1 Cor 10:13, 1 Cor 15:10, Eph 1:13-14, , Phil. 1:6, 1 Thes 5:23-24, 2 Tim 1:12, Jude 1:24, 1 Peter 1:3–5, 1 John 2:19, 1 John 5:4-5, Heb 9:12
Jesus accomplished it
The Scriptures tell us that all men are fallen and deserve the wrath of God, however, Jesus died on the cross as a substitutionary atonement in our place. Because of this we have received justification in the eyes of God (Rom 4:25). We often hear of the discussion regarding Salvation, and whether it’s by works or Grace through faith , and how that looks in practical living. Orthodox Christianity has always said salvation is by Grace through faith, however, at the core, salvation does come from works. It doesn’t come from the quality of our works or the quality of our faith, but the quality of Christ’s works. If you are struggling remember that Christ died to pay for your sins, and was resurrected to prove payment accomplished. How can God charge you to pay for your sins if Christ paid them in full and gave you His righteousness? If you think what He did is not enough, can you, silly person that you are, actually contribute enough? Never.
The Holy Spirit reminds of it
What God authoritatively declared and Jesus accomplished, the Holy Spirit gently whispers into our hearts and our lives. He reminds us of Gods Truth, and Christ’s Work, the Scripture says that “The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Rom 8:15-16). The verse above is given in the context of prayer to God as Father. Do you find yourself looking to God as a Father? Who, but the Holy Spirit could have put that desire in you? In addition Scripture testifies of what the Holy Spirit does, it says in 1 Cor 12:3 that “no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” This is an undeniable truth, if you believe in God, if you consider Jesus as your Lord, then you have the Holy Spirit inside you, gently assuring you of this undeniable fact, that you are a child of God. If you have the faith and concern to seek God inside you, who else could have placed it there besides the Holy Spirit? Satan?
Practically (Our Fruits)
These practical ways of finding assurance are the result of the above roots and faking them will not prove you are saved, however, they are the external testimony that we are saved internally.
You hate sin.
The first sign of a true Christian is one who will not live in habitual sin (Rom 6:2; 1 Pet 4:2; 1 John 3:9). Many upon (mis)reading a few of these passages get even more afraid because they assume they need to be perfect in order to truly prove they are of God, however, the passages primarily speak of our attitude and character towards sin, not our performance. Currently we are not yet perfect (Phil 3:12) but as we a sign of being believers we desire to live without sin, we strive to wage war on sin, and we grieve when we sin. A person living in habitual sin, who doesn’t care about it, shows himself to be carnal and fleshly, yet the one who may struggle with sin but hates it, shows the character of God who also hates sin. Do you love or hate sin? When you find sinful desires in you, do you join Paul in hating your tendency to sin and desire to change? (Rom 7:14-19)
You love others
Jesus said that a sure way of knowing someone is one of his disciples is the love they have for one another (John 13:35). But not only those that are near to you, Jesus commaned us to love our enemies as well. So look deep down and ask yourself, what is my reaction towards people? Is it one of spite, hate, slander? Or is it one of love that testifies you have passed from darkness into light? (1 John 3:14). If you find you are constantly thinking of others, worrying about the fate of others, neglecting yourself for someone else, this is a sign of Gods grace in you. If you find that you even love and care for your enemies, I dare say that is a characteristic that cannot come from anywhere else besides on high.
You care for the things of God
This one seems obvious, but often people miss it. I spoke with a friend who was struggling to know if he was saved or not. The thoughts of God, salvation, and the Bible preoccupied his whole mind, and his great desire was to be approved by God and to please God. Yet in all of that, he was confused if he was saved. His character testified that the Holy Spirit was working in his life, yet his mind neglected that. The Scriptures say that the things of God are not accessible to the sinful man, they appear foolish to sinners dead in sin (1 cor 2:14). Thus one more sign of the Spirits work in your heart is your desire to know and understand who God is, what He did for you, and what you are to do for Him.