How Can I Know I am Saved?

Introduction

When one first arises from that watery grave to walk in newness of life, he or she experiences a tremendous sense of relief and comfort. The feeling of safety and security is overwhelming. However, as time passes and sin creeps back into the young Christian's life, he or she begins to wonder, "Am I still saved?". Since we have previously rejected Calvin's answer that the elect are immutably saved, we must turn to the Scriptures to answer the question, "How can I know am saved?".

First, please note that this question is not about establishing faith in the existence of God or in the inspiration or integrity of God's written Word. These questions are considered elsewhere. In this article, instead of strengthening trust in the general availability of salvation, we want to find confidence for our own personal salvation.

Second, this question cannot be answered by a simple self-examination of our personal feelings, because our feelings can be very deceptive (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12). For example, please consider the apostle Paul, who who committed heinous sins by persecuting Christians, and yet his conscience never warned him (Acts 26:9-11; 23:1). Similarly, a person may be overly fearful of his standing before God, even though God has accepted him (I John 3:20). Since the feelings of our hearts do not necessarily reflect the true spiritual reality, any trust placed therein is vain at best and damnably misleading at the worst.

"That You May Know"

Although not the exclusive purpose (abstaining from sin and refuting false teaching were others - I John 2:1, 21-26), one of the reasons that John wrote his first epistle is provided here as follows:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (I John 5:13)

Why is it important for believers to know that they have eternal life? Elsewhere, John introduced the occasion for his writing as follows:

The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us ... And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (I John 1:2-4)

One will never experience "full joy" as long as his heart remains unsure of his eternal fate. It is evident that such uncertainty, if left unchecked, will eventually transform into discouragement, then into depression, and finally into despair and hopelessness, which is ultimately an expression of faithlessness. As was implied by John, knowing that we have eternal life is closely related to our continued belief in Jesus (I John 5:13); therefore, it is critical that we establish a firm basis for justifying assurance in our own salvation; otherwise, we may truly lose that which we fear to have already lost.

First Things First

It should be evident that no one can have confidence in his personal salvation until he has first satisfied God's simple requirements for obtaining salvation. In other words, one cannot lose what he does not already have. Please consider, that John's epistle, designed to inspire confidence, was addressed to those who had already obtained forgiveness of sins:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (I John 5:13)

I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake. I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. (I John 2:12-14).

Therefore, John's following solution for confidence offers no assurance to the unbelieving or unregenerate. We must first follow the New Testament pattern for conversion before we can obtain forgiveness of sins; otherwise, we have no hope, much less assurance.

Assuming that this foundation is in place, let us briefly study the first epistle of John, looking for the marks that indicate one possesses eternal life.

Mark #1: Obedience

One of the first characteristics we find in John's first letter is obedience to God's commands:

"Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him." (I John 2:3-5)

Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us." (I John 3:24)

If one claims to be a Christian, but generally fails to act like one, then he will be widely regarded as a hypocrite (Matthew 23:1-4, 13-15, 23-28). Therefore, it is no surprise that one of the first marks proclaimed by John is the disciple's obedience to His Teacher. Again, John records:

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. ... No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (I John 3:6-10 - NIV)

The NIV translation was selected for this reading because it best reflects the ongoing, characteristic nature of the original Greek verbs. John is not saying that Christians do not sin ever, because he previously provided instructions for such occasions (I John 1:7, 9; 2:1-2). Instead, John states that Christians do not live in sin. They are not characterized by sin. They cannot be, if they are true Christians. God's Word, which they have ingested, will ultimately enable them to overcome, if that represents their true desire. Therefore, we can expect a Christian's life to reflect spiritual growth and an ever advancing triumph over sin. When such people become entangled in sin, they repent, confess, seek forgiveness, and move forward (I John 1:7, 9; 2:1-2).

Therefore, we should examine our own hearts with the following questions: Is there some cherished but sinful practice that we are knowingly maintaining? Are we excusing select sins with statements such as: "Nobody is perfect!"; "But, I am not as bad as so and so"; or "I will repent tomorrow"? These excuses reflect an ongoing acceptance of sin, which makes us subject to the very warning of the above verse. Consequently, if our lives reflect any toleration of sin within our own life, even if it is just one practice, then we will find no comfort in the Scriptures. The assurance that John's epistle offers is an absolute rejection of sin. Therefore, "let us lay aside every weight and the sin, which so easily besets us" (Hebrews 12:1), so our hearts can be assured before Him.

Mark #2: Adhering to Truth and Upholding It

As implied by the mark of obedience, we must necessarily adhere to truth and uphold it; otherwise, we will fail to obey God, regardless of our claims (Matthew 7:21-23).

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. ... They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (I John 4:1-6)

This passage corroborates the previous point made that we should not simply accept our feelings as being testimony of spiritual things, possibly even assuming them to be intimations from the Holy Spirit. Instead, we are to receive such feelings with skepticism, "testing the spirits, whether they are of God." Please notice that the above passage not only directs us to test the spirits, but it gives us at least one standard of measurement for qualifying them - comparison with the previous messages revealed to the apostles and prophets ("he who knows God hears us"; see also I John 1:2-4; I Corinthians 14:37-38).

The above quoted passage provides an obvious point for examining ourselves again, so that we may have assurance: Do we truly love the word of God (II Thessalonians 2:9-12)? Do we recognize and adhere to the message delivered to the first century apostles and prophets? Do our lives reflect a pattern of measuring all thoughts and teaching by the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), or do we simply accept any idea or feeling which seems sensible to us?

Mark #3: Love

The next mark, which indicates our redemption, is our love of the brethren.

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. " (I John 3:14-15)

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (I John 4:7-8)

Please notice that this love is not just a sentimental feeling. Furthermore, this love is more than just words. It is action. Do we love the brethren? What actions sustain this claim? How do we see love? How did God show us His love for us?

"By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." (I John 3:16-19)

Again, we should pause to consider if we do indeed love the brethren. Do our lives reflect sacrificial love and service toward our brethren, or does it reflect self-serving indulgence?

Mark #4: Faith

After considering the above marks of a child of God, one may wonder if this list constitutes a merit based system of justification, which ultimately places confidence in our own works. However, John corrects this overreaction by listing faith (which necessitates grace) as our final confidence-building mark of the true Christian.

"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (I John 5:1-5)

Please observe the close correlation between obedience, God's commandments, love, and faith. These marks are inseparably intertwined. One cannot love others, without first loving God and obeying Him, which cannot be accomplished without accepting the revealed commands of God. Ultimately, all of this hinges on our faith.

Our sins, like all of the spiritual reality, exist unseen by human eye. We can no more empirically observe our sins any more than we can emperically observe their forgiveness. Jesus acknowledged this difficulty when he used an observable miracle to prove that He possessed power to forgive unseen sins (Mark 2:5-12). Therefore, regardless of the exact details, maintaining confidence in one's salvation will always require faith (II Corinthians 5:6-8). Consequently, a prolonged resistance to develop confidence in one's salvation manifests an underlying faithlessness in God's ability to ultimately forgive sins and nurture his children.

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives." ... Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-12)

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. (I Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Admittedly, we have some small part to play, but the Lord has already done what may be considered the "heavy lifting". The part that remains for us is neither impossible nor beyond our grasp (I Corinthians 10:13), only because the Lord Himself placed it within our tiny reach (Acts 17:26-27; II Corinthians 10:3-5). However, laying hold on what God has offered to us requires faith, both "that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

After we learn all the marks that we may develop to assure our hearts before God, and after we learn that He has placed salvation within our reach, if we continue to doubt God's salvation, then we must recognize that it is not a failure on God's part. The only failure expressed is ultimately a lack of faith in God and on our part.

Conclusion

At first, one may be surprised, even disturbed that God's evidence for our personal salvation requires effort on our part. However, please consider that God's overall plan for man's salvation requires both faith in God's grace and satisfying conditional works on our part (James 2:14-26). Furthermore, God has provided more than sufficient evidence and assurance to His power to maintain His promise including, but not limited to the sacrifice of Jesus (John 3:16; Romans 8:31-32) and raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31). Therefore, it should not be considered strange that God's offering for our individual salvation is somewhat dependent upon us.

In summary, John's epistle, which was written in part to produce assurance in our personal salvation, offers at least four evidences upon which, we may know that we are saved:

Although these may be obvious marks in the mature Christian, even the young babe in Christ will manifest some capacity in each of these four foundations for assurance. Furthermore, they provide areas for continued development, which will produce increasing confidence as the new Christian grows.

Christians may have weak moments, when they doubt their own personal salvation, even though they may be the most godly of saints. However, that was never God’s intention, because I John was written to give us the “full joy” and “assured hearts” (I John 1:4; 3:19). Having compared our lives to the marks provided by God through John, if we find each of those marks with good conscience, then we need to trust Him, have joy, and have confidence. However, if we find ourselves lacking, then we know what we need to do! How does your life compare with these marks? Do you believe that they will provide confidence? If so, what will you do to ensure that your spiritual life is full of them, so "that you may know that you have eternal life" and so "that your joy may be full"?

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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