Every person longs for some sense of security but only a few are the happy souls who seem to have found it. The obvious reason for the lack of security is that people seek for it in wrong places. There are those who look for security in financial prosperity, the strength of a nation, the progress of science—but money rusts and decays, friends prove unfaithful, nations go to war, science is always unsure of itself. Real security must come from a source outside of ourselves, and so we turn to the God of heaven.
The Bible teaches that the Christian may know with certainty his standing before God. The Scripture says in 1 John 5:13, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” There are two extreme positions which we must avoid: The first is the teaching which says that assurance is presumption and that we cannot know that we are saved until we have passed the Judgment Day. The second is the system of theology which says that one who is once saved can never be lost. The Bible presents a balanced view of assurance—and we must differentiate between the promise of assurance and the conditions on which the promise rests.
1. The Basis of Assurance
Sin has separated each of us from God. We are all sinners. Our hearts have rebelled against God. Therefore our salvation must be by divine operation and not by our own human attainment. The Bible says in Titus 3:5 that we are not saved by our own works of righteousness. God saves us “according to his mercy.” But if we have not been saved by our own deeds of righteousness, how can we know that we have been saved?
Our assurance of salvation rests on the clear promise of God’s Word. The Bible says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: . . . beloved, now are we the sons of God” (1 John 3:1-2). The Bible says that Christians are saved. The emphasis in salvation is not on the future nor on the past, but on the present. There is in the whole New Testament a tenor of rejoicing in this present experience. We don’t wait until Jesus comes to find out whether or not we are the sons of God, for the Bible says, “now are we the sons of God.”
The Scriptures in a number of places confirm this thought. John 5:24 says, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our assurance rests upon the clear promise of God’s Word. The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it.
Eternal life does not begin when we die. We have it now. We had our first taste when we were born again. Hebrews 6:5 says we tasted of the powers of the world to come. We don’t have to go through a graveyard to begin our enjoyment of salvation. God has not stored everything in the hereafter as though in packages not to be opened until after death! A Christian can know that he is saved because God says so, and God’s saying so makes it so.
Our assurance of salvation rests on the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures say, “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). When a person finds in his life the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc.), he has a token evidence that the Holy Spirit is operating in his heart. The presence of these virtues in your life are in themselves a witness that the Spirit of God is living within. The Bible says further (in Romans 8:16) that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
The Holy Spirit brings to our inner consciousness the vivid assurance that we are saved, and so the Holy Spirit becomes to us a voice of divine assurance. The tender voice of the Spirit whispers to my wavering heart and assures me that the promises of God are true. Assurance is an inward impression on the soul, by which the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God, that Jesus loves me and gave Himself for me, that all my sins are blotted out, and that I (even poor, wretched I) am reconciled with God. I don’t deserve it. I can’t pay for it. But since God says He will forgive my sins, and since the Holy Spirit witnesses with my spirit that I am a child of God—I stand on it. I know that I am saved because of the promise of God’s Word, and because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
2. The Tests of Assurance
We do not say that every person who professes to be a Christian is saved. There are some tests by which one can tell.
(a) The test of obedience. 1 John 2:3 says, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” We can know that we have eternal life because we are keeping His commandments. The Greek word translated “keep” was used to describe the “watch” of a soldier who was keeping guard at his post. Just so one who is saved is to keep his eyes fixed on the commandments of God. It is not natural for man to want to obey God and please Him in all things. God’s commands often run contrary to the things we would naturally like to do if we had our own way. But as Christ takes up residence in our hearts, He gives us new desires to please Him and new power to carry out His commandments to the glory of God. John says then that the very fact that we want to keep God’s commandments is one sure sign that we abide in Him and He abides in us.
(b) The test of loyalty. 1 John 2:15 says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The passions and pursuits of the worldly mind are altogether contrary to the delights and the activities of the spiritual mind. The things which the believer once loved he now hates. The things which he once hated he now loves. One who is born again doesn’t mind going against the world’s ways and notions and customs. He finds no pleasure in the things most people around him like to do. He cannot enjoy their entertainments. Those things weary him. They appear vain and unprofitable. To please the world is out of the question for the Christian. His first aim is to please God.
(c) The test of conduct. 1 John 3:9 says, “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.” The real child of God will do what is right and will keep himself from evil. 1 John 3:9 literally reads, “Whosoever is born of God does not keep on practicing sin, for God’s seed (Christ) keeps on abiding in him, and he cannot keep on practicing sin because he is born of God.” A person who is born again does not commit sin as a habit. The Christian does not keep on sinning. He may fall into sin, but sinning is not his habitual way of life. No one can say he has not sinned. The Scriptures even provide for our restoration in the event we do sin (1 John 2:1). When God saves a person, He does not fix him so that he can’t sin any more, but He fixes him so that he can’t sin and “get a kick out of it.” The child of God hates sin and flees from it and longs to be delivered from its grip altogether. Any deviation from God’s standard of conduct will result in a spiritual pain that makes the genuine Christian uncomfortable.
(d) The test of love. 1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” The Christian loves even the worst of sinners, and often weeps over them. But he has a special love for those who are believers in Christ. This love holds the saints of God in high esteem and delights in kindly relationships with them. Any person who habitually dislikes and misunderstands his fellow Christian is evidently not walking in the light, and cannot have the assurance of salvation. But the Christian who has a genuine love for his brethren has evidence within that he has passed from death unto life. If you are conscious of a strange pull that unites you to others who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, this is a clear indication that you have indeed passed out of death into life.
The tests of obedience and loyalty and conduct and love for the brethren—are guidelines by which we can evaluate our relationship with Christ.
3. The Effects of Assurance
The Bible teaches that the Christian may have the assurance of salvation. But the promise of assurance is conditional. It is possible for the Christian to fall, for the Bible says, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). That is why the Scriptures admonish us to “continue in the faith” (Colossians 1:23), to “abide in Christ” (John 15:6), to “mortify the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13), and to “hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14). These are Christian duties. But in spite of these warnings, we find that God’s people in Bible times did not live in fear of their eternal destiny. They possessed a calm assurance and often gave testimony of their peace and joy. Read 2 Corinthians 5:1 and 2 Timothy 4:6-8 for examples of such quiet assurance.
Years ago, a party of emigrants were trekking the vast prairies that are now the mid-western states of the USA. The prairies were covered with tall dry grass. The party of people had crossed a river the day before and they were going on with their cattle and covered wagons—when suddenly they were horrified to see a thin red line across the western horizon. The cry went out, “The prairie is on fire; what are we going to do?” The dry grass was up to the horses’ heads. The tall grass was burning. The westerly winds were driving the flames toward the wagons. The river was a whole day’s journey behind them. There was nothing in front of them to hold the flames back. One of their number (who was accustomed to pioneer life in the West) told them what to do. He said, “Clear a space and set fire to the grass behind you.” They did as he said, and the wind carried the flames back to the river. “Now,” he said, “bring your wagons and your horses and your belongings, and stand on this burned, charred ground and you’ll be safe.” They could already feel the heat of the oncoming flames on their cheeks, and one frightened person said, “Are you sure we won’t all be burned up?” The old pioneer said, “Those flames can never reach us here because we are standing where the fire has already been.” And just so, friends, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ allowed the fire of sin’s judgment to fall upon Him (by taking upon Himself all our sins). The area around the Cross has become a refuge for all who would escape the judgment of sin.
Jesus says, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). If you do not know Christ, we invite you to accept Him as your Saviour and to rest in the security which God affords those who take up refuge in Him.