How important is it to have a real assurance of salvation? Consider what Jesus said near the end of the Sermon on the Mount:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21–23)
Do you see how scary that passage is? Those people thought they were saved. They said, “Lord, Lord,” which was a Hebrew figure of speech that expresses personal closeness. They prophesied in his name. They cast out demons! They did wonderful works. But to them the Lord said, “I never knew you!”
If that passage doesn’t leave you wondering who can really be saved, then I don’t know what will! How do we know for sure that we won’t be one of these people that the Lord denies knowing? How can we know that our professions of faith are true professions?
Assurance in anything does not come without examination. A pilot examines his plane before takeoff. A surgeon examines a patient and their history before proceeding. Why? So that they can have a measure of assurance.
The Christian’s assurance of salvation also will rise out of an examination of their lives. Paul encouraged Christians to do so when he said, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Throughout the New Testament there are various tests that one can use to examine oneself to check your faith and give yourself assurance that you are really saved. We won’t get to all of them, but hopefully we’ll see the most important ones.
HAVE YOU MADE A PROFESSION OF FAITH?
Listen to two important verses that speak to this issue (the word “confess” means “profess” here, not “I’m sorry”):
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Jesus said: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)
It is important to have a profession of faith for at least two reasons:
1. A Profession Shows Understanding
Christianity is founded on facts, not feelings. The main facts of Christianity are:
1. God made us for himself (Colossians 1:17), therefore he is our Creator and we are answerable to him.
2. We rebelled against God our Creator, this is what sin is (Jeremiah 2:13).
3. The penalty of that sin is death (Romans 6:23).
4. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin (Romans 5:8,9).
5. Jesus was resurrected from the dead to show that God was satisfied with his payment for our sins (Romans 4:25).
People, in order to be saved, need to express an understanding of those basic facts of Christianity. A profession of faith will express an understanding of a person’s need for salvation and also an understanding of God’s provision of salvation in Jesus Christ.
2. A Profession Shows Trust and Allegiance
At a wedding the groom and the bride both say, “I do” when the preacher asks if they will take each other as husband and wife. If during the ceremony one of them refused to say, “I do,” it would cast a shadow of doubt over the marriage.
Sometimes you hear a person refer to their faith as “a private religion” or “a private faith.” The people who say that their faith is private are often hiding something about their faith. When I hear someone refuse to talk about their faith and say it’s a private thing, a shadow of doubt is cast over their faith.
Christianity is a personal relationship, however, just as my relationship with Tami is a personal relationship. But if I was asked if Tami was my wife, I wouldn’t say that that is a “private thing.” If I did, that would dishonor her, and cast doubt in the other person’s mind about whether we’re really married.
Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Many folks call themselves Christians because they know the facts about Jesus, but a person only becomes a Christian by trusting Jesus personally.
Have you told others? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Christianity is a “private” religion. It is a personal relationship with Jesus…have you confessed with your mouth to others that you have that personal relationship?
DO YOU HAVE A PRESENT TENSE FAITH IN CHRIST?
There are many people who profess to be Christians yet have no real faith in Christ. They might point to an event in their past as their assurance of salvation, but their present-day lives show no evidence. Yet the Bible says that a present-tense, or ongoing, faith is necessary:
22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; (Colossians 1:22–23)
This present-tense faith is different from what some aspects of fundamentalistic churches have taught. They place a greater emphasis on what happened in the past—that decision that was made long ago.
Parents seem especially susceptible to the temptation to believe their children are saved because of a certain prayer that they said when they were five, even though at 35, they show no interest in faith at all. Other Christian groups have taught that a person can actually stop believing and still be saved. But everywhere you turn in the Bible, there’s a present-tense faith in believers. Consider two popular verses:
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (John 1:12)
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
The word for “believe” in both these verses is a present-tense participle in the Greek, so it could be translated as “them that keep on believing on his name.” This isn’t a past faith or a future faith—it’s an ongoing, present-tense faith. Faith in Christ that saves is a faith that is trusting Jesus Christ right now.
Often, when Christians give their testimonies, they focus on what happened in the past. When they were five or sixteen or forty, they had this or that experience with Christ. It’s not unimportant, I love to tell the story of what happened to me on July 3, 1990, but it’s not the whole story.
Ask yourself not just, “Did I decide to follow Jesus?” but also, “Am I trusting in Christ? Is he my only hope for eternal life?” A true faith in Christ will persevere and not die out like a seed thrown on rocky or thorn-infested soil.
I fear that many people claiming to be Christians don’t really have a present-tense faith in Christ. Perhaps they were baptized as an infant (or even as an adult), and so they think they are fine. Perhaps they grew up in a Christian family, were always in church, so they can’t imagine that they’re not saved. Maybe they had had an experience at Bible camp or at a revival meeting—they wept, and knelt, and prayed. But their experience did not bring lasting fruit, and, if they still come to church, it’s probably out of a sense of obligation to someone.
Faith in Christ is resting in him for your salvation. You don’t look to other experiences or your good works for salvation—your trust is completely in him, every day for the rest of your eternal life.
Do not assume that you are saved because of your past, even if it includes fifty years of church attendance—your name can be on a church membership role, but be missing from the Lamb’s book of life. Are you trusting in Christ today, right now, at this present-tense moment?
DOES THE HOLY SPIRIT WITNESS TO YOUR SPIRIT?
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:14–16)
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, “that we are the children of God.” What does it mean that the Spirit beareth witness with our spirits? The words, “beareth witness” is from συμμαρτυρέω, which means to “to provide supporting evidence by testifying” (BDAG). Obviously, it’s a courtroom sort of word.
But what does it mean to have the Spirit bear us witness? It is not, by the way, that there is some secret voice that whispers things to you in your head—there’s medicine for stuff like that.
He bears witness with our spirits…
1) By causing us to love the Lord as children and desire to be with him. In verse 15 we see that the Spirit causes us to cry, “Abba, Father.” A believer has a tender heart toward God the Father because of the Spirit’s work. We also see this in 1 Corinthians:
3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. (1 Corinthians 12:3).
One way of looking at this is like…
A twelve year old boy [who] became a Christian during a revival. The next week at school his friends questioned him about the experience. “Did you see a vision?” asked one friend. “Did you hear God speak?” asked another. The youngster answered no to all these questions. “Well, how did you know you were saved?” they asked. The boy searched for an answer and finally he said, “It’s like when you catch a fish, you cant see the fish, or hear the fish; you just feel him tugging on your line. I just felt God tugging on my heart.”
If you have a tender love toward Jesus as your Lord and a tender love of the Father as his child, you have the Spirit bearing you witness.
2) By causing us to love and to understand God’s Word.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14–16)
The Spirit helps us when we read the Bible to love it and understand it as being from God himself. An unbeliever will have none of that—it’s just a dry, dusty, and ancient book to them. There’s much more we could say here, but if you are interested in studying it more, this is called the doctrine of illumination.
Another way that the Holy Spirit bears witness in your spirit is by bearing fruit. We’ll separate this aspect out and give it’s own section:
DOES THE HOLY SPIRIT PRODUCE FRUIT IN YOUR LIFE?
The Bible tells us what kind of fruit ought to be growing in a person’s life if they are really a Christian (and remember, every Christian has the Spirit indwelling them).
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23).
It’s as though a farmer looks at the field of grain that is growing and has the sense that he really is a farmer. The Christian can look at the growing fruit in his or her life and have a sense that they really are a Christian.
The Holy Spirit will bear witness of himself in your life by pointing out the changes that have taken place since you’ve trusted Christ as your Savior. Maybe you find yourself not using dirty language, or that you are more joyful or giving or loving. That is the Spirit bearing witness that you are a child of God.
But does that mean that, if we’re not seeing love, joy, peace, etc. perfectly in our lives that we shouldn’t have assurance? Of course not. Is every field of wheat perfect? No, some is better than others, but it’s obviously a field of wheat.
The question is, “Are these fruit generally present in my life? Are they discernible by those closest to me? Do I sense them in my heart, even though they aren’t perfectly shown in my actions?”
DO YOU SEE INCREASING OBEDIENCE AND DECREASING SIN IN YOUR LIFE?
Consider what John says about being a Christian and the presence of sin in one’s life:
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3–4)
7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:7–9)
There are some pretty black and white passages in the Bible, and this is one of them. At first glance, it seems to say that no one can be a Christian because we all sin. We need to understand the sin here to be habitual patterns of sin, not as perfect obedience and sinlessness. But even then, we may question our salvation because we struggle with a certain habitual sin. But that there is a struggle is a sign in of itself—the Christian cares about obeying the Lord and cares about the sin in his or her life.
Do notice that John contrasts righteousness and sin. As sin decreases, righteousness ought to increase. There are some who focus their assurance on the fact that, “I ain’t never done nothing too bad.” Great, but is there a corresponding increase in righteous behavior?
Like the fruit of the Spirit, there ought to be a pattern of increasing obedience and decreasing sin in a Christian’s life.
DOES YOUR LIFE INFLUENCE OTHERS FOR CHRIST?
I draw this test from what John says about loving one another in his first letter:
9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9–11)
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:7–8)
What does it mean to love one another? Usually, we get fixated on whether or not we like the person or something like that. Love is much more than a feeling, it’s an action. Some Christians will say that they love a certain other believer, but they never talk to them, visit them, or see them beyond Sunday morning. But loving another is showing them kindness and concern for their well-being. Loving a person means influencing them with your words and actions.
Loving one another ought to come naturally to Christians (after all, the Spirit should be growing the fruit of love naturally in Christians). Paul said to the Thessalonians:
9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
Of course, this love is not perfect, and we will fail to love one another as we ought. But, like the other characteristics we’ve mentioned, we should be able to see a general love for others in our lives.
Do you honestly care about others? Or are you cold and indifferent? Do you seek to influence others around you for Christ through your words and actions?
There are other tests of salvation given in scripture, 1 John, for example, is full of them. When it comes to tests, at least two things are true—you can pass or you can fail. What happens if you fail these tests?
1) Seek wise counsel from a Christian who is grounded in the Word and exhibits the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves and it is necessary to get a second opinion. You don’t want counsel from someone who will just rubber-stamp your salvation (“Oh, don’t be silly, of course you are a Christian! I prayed with you that day!”). Find someone who will take your concerns seriously and help you examine your life in a even-keel sort of way.
2) Remember, just as passing one or two of the tests doesn’t mean that you are a true Christian, so also failing one or two of the tests doesn’t mean that you aren’t a Christian. Perhaps it is God’s way of opening your eyes to an area of your life that you need to cooperate with him in reconstructing. Perhaps the friend you’ve chosen as wise counsel can help you identify that area and suggest a strategy for growing in that area. It’s true, that like we can’t make seeds grow, we also cannot make the fruit of the Spirit grow. But just as we can weed and water seeds, so we can be involved in the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
3) You may come to the point where you decide that you weren’t truly saved. That’s okay. Don’t be embarrassed—be repentant. Perhaps you were even baptized. What do you do then? God may prompt you to be rebaptized as a true Christian. Again, don’t be embarrassed, your walking in obedience despite the looks that you may get from others will just be another evidence that you are a true Christian.