I’m sure many Christians, and most pastors, have been asked, “How can I know that I’m saved?” Let’s just state up front that this is a monumental question that deserves our utmost attention and care. After all, we’re talking about someone’s everlasting soul here, and there have been volumes written on the subject. What follows is my feeble attempt to answer that question concisely, carefully, and biblically (I care more about the last one than the other two).
Before we go any further I want to answer the precursor question which is also very important, “Can I know that I am saved?” Some would say, no, you cannot know you are saved. Rather, you must simply fling yourself on the mercy and grace of God and hope for the best. I say that is wrong, cruel, a tool of the enemy, and not at all what the Bible teaches. Whenever the Bible speaks about salvation it is always in very concrete, absolute terms. There are no “maybe’s”, or “might’s”, or “perhaps.’” Instead you find the Bible talk about the fact of salvation with mathematical certainty using words like “shall be.”
Now, on to the meat and potatoes. First, I want to outline a couple of things that salvation is notor should not be based on. This is important because I believe we have poisoned the spring of Living Water with some very bad theology over the past century or so.
– Salvation is not about your feelings. This is one of the most dangerous pitfalls in modern, emotion-driven, evangelical Christianity. There is the assumption, or the outright proclamation, that salvation comes with certain feelings. You are supposed to “feel” saved, whatever that means. The inverse is understood as well. If you did not feel something, or feel saved, then you must not be. The truth is God does not need the cooperation of your feelings to save you. Let me state that differently, God’s work + your feelings does not equal salvation. That is simply another form of works righteousness. Feelings come and go, you can experience emotional and spiritual highs. What God has done for you in saving you does not come and go based on your feelings.
– Salvation is not about coming to the altar or talking to the preacher. Since, at least, the time of the Second Great Awakening there has been an enormous focus on coming to the altar or “walking the sawdust trail” in order to be saved. Now, is the altar in important place of prayer, petition, repentance, and victory? Absolutely. However, if you equate your action in coming to the altar with your salvation you are placing your trust in youraction not the finished work of Jesus on the Cross. Furthermore, if you are placing your assurance of salvation in a conversation you had with a man (preacher/pastor/counselor) instead of a conversation with theMan, Jesus Christ, you will most likely question your salvation. Do not misunderstand me, people get saved at altars all the time and God has given the Church pastors and leaders to help guide us in salvation and our walk with Christ. However, the act of coming to the altar or talking to the pastor does not save you. Surrendering to Christ for salvation and repenting of our sins is what gets God’s salvation applied to our lives.
– Baptism. Baptism does not save anyone. Baptism is an act of obedience following salvation.
Enough about what salvation is not, let’s talk about how we can be assured of our salvation. The Gospel of John is a handy place to start. In John 1:12 the Bible says, “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will or the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” Here we notice three things: 1) We must receive Jesus, 2) we must believe in his name, 3) we must be born again.
To receive Jesus is to welcome him into our hearts and lives as Savior and Lord. A great example of this is Zacchaeus. Once Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his home he immediately showed that Jesus was now going to have the role of Lord of his life because he promised to pay back all the money he stole from people, and then some (repentance). Then Jesus makes the awesome statement, “Today salvation has come to this house (Luke 19:5).” Salvation involves reception of Christ, surrender to his will (see also Col. 2:6), and repenting from our sins.
To believe in his name is to agree with who Jesus claims to be. Despite arguments to the contrary the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus is the very Son of God, the second person of the Trinity (John 1:1, 10:30; Luke 9:35; Matthew 3:17, 28:19). Do you agree that Jesus is who he says he is and will accomplish what he says he will accomplish? Do you trust that he has saved you, and that your salvation is not based on anything you’ve done, or felt, but solely on his awesome work.
To be born again is to be transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). Being born again means that we are no longer dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-10). Don’t forget, this is exactly what Jesus says in necessary in John 3.
Paul makes it clear and simple in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” He then writes, “Everyone who believes on him will not be put to shame (Rom. 10:11).” Notice the absolute certainty with which Paul writes. There is no question in his mind about whether or not someone can be saved. If you surrender to his lordship and believe that Jesus is who he says he is, your salvation is not in question.
We also have the testimony of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:16 we are told, “The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children.” If the Holy Spirit testifies that you are one of God’s children, then what other testimony to the contrary could possibly change his mind?
The reality that you may not want to hear is that your salvation is completely between you and God. No other person can tell you whether you are saved or not. This is what the prohibition against judging is directed at, you know “judge not, lest ye be judged.” This is also why it is so important to deal with God on this subject and not put your trust in man.
In the Gospels the notion of “being saved” in the sense that we usually mean it is almost absent, and it is typically in connection with the work of Christ rather than an event in the believer’s life. It is seen throughout the New Testament, but in the Gospels to be a Christian, one of the redeemed, is to follow Christ. If you look at the call of the disciples, it is always a call to “follow me.” Certainly, faith that Jesus is who he claims to be is present, there is also the element of obedience. The question might be better stated, instead of “are you saved?”, as “are you following Christ?”
Having said all of that there are some “marks” of a Christian that the Bible teaches us should be present in an ever-increasing amount as we grow in Christ. We do not do these things in an effort to become redeemed. In fact, we cannot accomplish any of these things without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, which only comes with salvation. Instead, these are traits that come as a result of what Christ has done in our lives. Christians are not perfect people, but our lives should be on a different heading than the rest of the world. Therefore, the presence of these characteristics should serve as indications of a true Christian.
– Love for one another. This is the #1 characteristic of Christians, or at least it should be. Jesus said, “I give you a new command: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Is your life characterized by Christ-like love?
– Obedience. This oft-overlooked characteristic is as important as love. In fact, Jesus connects the two, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word (John 14:23).” Again, “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love (John 15:9).” Through Christ we are free to obey his commands (1 John 1:3-6).
– Bearing much fruit. In one of the most beautiful and profound expressions of discipleship Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit (John 15:5).” We should see an increase in our bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Can others see those characteristics in your life?
– A difference from the world. We often tell people that we are to be “in the world, but not of the world” and have no idea what that means. As Christ-followers we should impact the world for Christ while being distinct from the world. John puts it well in 1 John 2:15-17. God’s people have always been separated from the world.
Let me summarize all of this for you.
1. Can you know that you are saved? Yes
2. How can you know that you are saved? Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. If understood properly, this statement is a perfect summary of how to be assured of your salvation.
3. To be “saved” is better stated as “following Christ” and the life of the Christ-follower should bear certain marks.
I admit that this is a short explanation of a topic that people have wrestled with for centuries. I hope that this has offered you some insight and assurance.