Maybe a better question would have been not “how can” we know, but simply “can we know”? Well, there is no doubt this topic is one worth discussing. Some good people, people whose lives are given to serving Christ and others are doubtful and really don’t think you can know if you are safe or not until the final judgement. Others ask themselves and others, have I been good enough?
There are all sorts of subjective conclusions about this subject but the final authority on this question and all questions spiritual must be answered by God’s revelation, the Bible. When we stand on what God has said we stand on solid ground. Now we have another problem! Everyone who has an opinion claims biblical authority for what they believe and or teach. So, knowing full well that I am only one more undeserving, redeemed sinner, I will add my thoughts.
Almost everyone who goes by the name “Christian” agrees on a set of facts. Those are that Jesus was God in flesh, that he was the Christ of God, that he died for our sins, that he rose from the grave three days later, and only though faith in him can we be forgiven of our sins and finally have a home in heaven. For the most part, these things are not the topic of debate. The worrying question is, am I personally saved because of these facts?
To further complicate matters, some people have assurance of their salvation who shouldn’t. There are likely tens of thousands of regular church attenders, givers, teachers, preachers, and people who live what is considered to be a good moral life, who think they are saved but are not. (Matthew 7:21-23) And, there are many, many people who should have assurance but do not. So how do we unravel this puzzle of misconceptions, assumptions, and false assurance, or lack of assurance?
Both Peter and Paul addressed this head on. Peter warned,
“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10,11)
Paul, in 2 Corinthians said the same thing this way,
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Why would the Holy Spirit move these men to write these things if you can’t make your calling and election sure, or if you can’t know if you are in the faith? It is absurd to think such a thing.
I am a better person than most of my neighbors. I am honest, kind to dogs, children, and old people. I attend church faithfully, I was confirmed, I was baptized, I give a tithe, I have had a successful ministry, I made a decision for Christ, I prayed the sinners prayer, etc., etc. The problem with this is the word “I”. In this case the I’s do not win.
Jesus is the only ground and hope of my faith. I am depending only on Him and the promises of the gospel that if I lean on Him and allow his rule in my life I can know I am secure. I understand that I don’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness of sins and that I have no power within myself to change my destiny. For me it is either Jesus or nothing!
What Should We Be Looking For When We “Test Ourselves” and How Do We “Make Our Calling and Election sure”?
Peter said it this way.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” (2 Peter 1:2-9)
Peter says we have all that is necessary to be certain we are in the faith and they all are found in the person of Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we have everything that matters for daily living and godliness, and we have His promises.
First Test, Peter.
Are you and I purposefully working on being who we are in Christ? If not, DANGER ahead! A life that is not showing the qualities Peter lists, in increasing measure is one that is not safe.
Paul answers this way.
“Do what is right…” (2 Corinthians 13:7)
“Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11)
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
What does this look like in a person’s life?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
We must ask ourselves honestly, does this look good on me? Is this what a watching world sees at my work, at a ball park, when I talk to my CPA, and when I have to interact with people at church that I really don’t especially like? There are no coasting Christians.
I’ll end this post with one of the most convincing statements on assurance in the Bible. John wrote these words specifically so you and I may know we are in the faith.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
It would be a cruel thing for God to say this and not let us in on how we can know for sure. He does clearly tell us.
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John:1)
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4,5)
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:20)
A Spiritual Check up!
First, agree with God that eternal life is not what we do but is Christ himself. We must “know Him” and be “in Him” to be save.
Second, read 1 John understanding that it was written for your assurance that you are really a Christian. Don’t make the common mistake of going backwards and thinking that if you mimic what John writes, that will make you a Christian. We are not saved by what we do but by Jesus alone.
1 John is a spiritual check list so you can know you are in the faith, that you are secure in Christ. Honest answers will either prove up the genuineness of your faith, or show you that you are not in the faith and point you to Jesus who is himself eternal life.
There are NO promises of assurance for pretenders, make believers, and the self-righteous. ALL of the promises are for those who are in Christ by faith. Don’t be misled. (Matthew 7:21-23)
In the professing church on earth there are two groups of people. There are first those who have a sincere faith in Jesus and are trusting Him alone for their salvation. Good works are what they are designed for (Ephesians 2:10). God’s law of love is written on their hearts and they want to love him and their fellow-man because they are now partakers of the divine nature.
The second group in our churches are those who are depending on their superior morality, measuring themselves by themselves. They will point out how “faithful” they are, to their baptism or confirmation and other things about them that lead them to believe they are safe. This group includes pew riders and preachers, elders and bishops, priests and all other pretenders who will give as evidence they are saved only what they have done or are doing.
A careful, soul-searching reading of 1 John, will tell you for sure if you are, or are not, really a Christian.