Rev. David Holwick
First Baptist Church
West Lafayette, Ohio
October 27, 1985
The Assurance of Salvation
1 John 5:13, NIV
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life."
If you died tonight, do you know, without a doubt, you would go to heaven?
An interesting question. Answering "Yes" means you are arrogant and self-righteous, doesn't it? The world rejects the idea of assurance. Every other religion stresses uncertainty and the need for continual struggle.
Jehovah's Witnesses make quotas for the number of people they will witness to, so they can enter the Millennium. Catholics can't know till day they die, or maybe they don't know until ten thousand years in purgatory. Hindus must practice good works or they may come back as a frog or worse.
For these groups and others, to say you can know you are saved, right now, is to eliminate the motivation for being religious. They require uncertainty to keep people in line. Nevertheless, mankind has always yearned for certainty. We want to stand on firm ground. Yet many are frustrated in ever finding it. The question is important - is it possible to have certainty in our relationship with God? Can we know that we are saved?
The Bible claims we can. According to 1 John 5:13, the Bible has been given to us so we can know we have eternal life. The Bible can make this claim because it is based on God's character. James 1:17 says -
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
The best of God's promises are given by Jesus Christ. In the gospel of John he lays two foundations for assurance. First, Jesus shows that salvation is a present possession. It is not something you receive on the day you die. Turn to John 5:24 -
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
The second foundation for assurance is found in John 10:27-28:
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."
Assurance in salvation is not so much knowing Christ, as it is being known by him. Notice how he says: I know them, I give them eternal life, and no one else can snatch them out of my hand. Any certainty a Christian has can only be based on what Jesus has done, and what he promises to do. Because Jesus died on the cross, it is possible for a person to know with certainty, right now, that they belong to Christ. And they can know, with certainty that this relationship will never change. I believe this because Jesus says it.
It is one thing to understand certainty and another thing to possess it. All you have to do is become a Christian. This involves more than believing in God or going to church. In John 10, a Christian is one who hears the voice of Jesus and follows him. It's a commitment that lasts a lifetime. We take a new direction in our lives. Instead of following what seems best to us, we listen to the guidelines Jesus gives us in the Bible. When we make this change, we must face up to our sins and confess them to God. When we do this, Jesus makes us clean and sets us on a different path - new life, forgiveness, self-control, the ability to love....
Once a person has repented and accepted Christ as their Savior, they are saved. They may have doubts and feel uncertain but the fact of their salvation remains. It is important to stress that our assurance of salvation is based on God's promises, not on our feelings or emotions.
I have found that assurance is usually not automatic. It takes time to sink in. According to 1 John, there are at least four things that can give us confidence we are saved. (You can think of them as signs of salvation or as avenues to gain assurance.)
The first is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. 1 John 3:24 says (toward the end):
"And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."
The spirit can speak to us in many ways but most Christians experience it as a sense of peace and security.
The second sign of assurance is love. 1 John 3:14 says:
"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers."
A third way to gain assurance is to have a proper understanding of Bible doctrine. 1 John 2:22-23 says:
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist -- he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also."
By being ignorant of the Bible and what it teaches, you are only setting yourself up for pitfalls and disappointments.
The final sign of genuineness is our lifestyle and this is what most people look at. 1 John 2:3-5 says -
"We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him."
Assurance is given by God and based on his promises but it also must be perceived by people. As we learn to listen to the Spirit, love, understand the scriptures and become more consistent in our lifestyles, we can also expect to gain more confidence before God.
These things do not produce assurance; they just help us to grasp it. A beautiful illustration is found in Luke 7:37, where a woman with a bad reputation comes to wash Jesus' feet with her hair. It's somewhat strange to us but she did it as a sign of repentance. The people Jesus was eating with were appalled. In verse 44 Jesus defends her sincerity by pointing to her works. The host, Simon, had not bothered to bathe Jesus feet but this woman did it the humblest way she could. But in verse 50 Jesus attributes her salvation not to her works but to her faith. Our faith in Jesus saves us but our works proves it to everyone else.
The only difficulty with assurance is that too many people claim to have it. I am often asked if it is possible to be deceived. The answer is very simple - Yes. There are multitudes who think they are bound for glory but will end up in hell. The Bible says this is nothing new. Turn to Titus 1:16. Speaking about phony Christians, Paul says:
"They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good."
Satan's greatest deception is to make people think they are safe and secure, when they are anything but. You may think of yourself as a Christian. Are you really? Even a strong person can fool themselves.
Best indication of your spiritual authenticity to others is how you live. Assurance must be checked by moral and spiritual signs. Paul challenges us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 -
"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you -- unless, of course, you fail the test."
The dilemma is that no one measures up completely and sensitive Christians can always find faults in themselves. 1 John 3:19-20 speaks to this: God is our ultimate judge; he is also our ultimate forgiver. The result is spiritual peace and contentment. As the prophet Isaiah (32:17) said centuries ago,
"The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever."
How confident are you of your standing with God?
Typed on March 31, 2005, by Sharon Lesko of Ledgewood Baptist Church, New Jersey
Copyright © 2018 by Rev. David Holwick
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