You are someone who says, "Jesus is my Lord", "I believe in God", "I love Jesus" or just someone who identifies with Christianity, believing that they will be welcomed into Heaven.
But, how do you know you are saved from your sins?
How can you be sure that you are going to Heaven?
Thankfully God, writing through Apostle John, has written an entire book for this express purpose. 1 John 5:13 states (emphasis mine),
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.
By following through 1 John's tests, you'll be able to fulfil the command to "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves" (2 Cor 13:5).
If you do pass the tests, then you'll be a Christian who is more confident, more bold, and who has more trust in Jesus, because you'll know biblically that you're a Christian. Also, John states another purpose for his writing, which would be fulfilled if his hearers (including you) passed the tests, that "your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4, NKJV). If you don't pass the test, then I earnestly pray that you would "call on the name of the Lord and be saved" (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13) by surrendering to Him, taking up your cross (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23), and allowing God to have his way in your life, whatever he wants to do with it.
There are two schools of thought on this issue. One is, you "believe" in Jesus (John 3:36), and confess with your mouth that He's Lord (Romans 10:9). As soon as you "believe" (pray a sinner's prayer), you are instantly saved by God (John 5:24). The difficulty with this view is that most people go on to continue to live like devils, never changing, never showing a new heart, new desires, new Holy Spirit, and new life.
With no such difference, a number of problems emerge. God promised new believers a new heart (Eze 36:26), and also that he would wash them clean (Eph 5:26), to break the power of sin over their lives (Rom 8:2), and to sanctify them (Heb 13:12) and more. We should see evidence of these things beginning to emerge if indeed what the Bible says about conversion is true. On the contrary, if you cannot see this happening, particularly over a long period of time, we need to courageously insist they have not been indwelt by God, and counsel them to surrender to God.
The difficulty with even a sincere 'sinner's prayer' is that real faith is losing trust and faith in yourself and embracing Jesus wholeheartedly, which necessitates a full denial of self: Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35. That removal of self needs to occur before Jesus will fill a person. That's just the way he operates. (One of the perks of being Lord over all, I guess!)
The second major belief regarding assurance is that while it certainly takes believing in Jesus, belief is not just intellectual (repeat these lines after me), it's of the entire heart (Luke 9:61-62, Luke 18:39, Luke 18:22, Luke 18:28), as just mentioned.
On conversion God promises to do certain things for every believer: give them a new heart, wash them clean, break the power of sin, sanctify them, give them the Spirit and his fruit and gifts, and so on. If you can see these things happening (that only God can do), then you can know that a person's confession of faith is genuine. This matches with Jesus' wisdom to determine a false prophet from a true by looking at their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).
Apostle John spells most of the tests for us "so that you may know that you have eternal life" "that you joy may be complete" in his book 1 John.
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1 John 2:18-19 says,
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."
If you aligned yourself with Jesus, but then fell away for some reason, John states here that you "did not really belong". These people are against Christ still - what John terms "antichrists" (not the AntiChrist, but simply a person against Christ). Christians belong with other Christians, as they are the only ones having been adopted into God's family. Jesus states it this way, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). If you're longing for your old life, you don't belong
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.
And what does it mean to deny that Jesus is the Christ? The Christ is the person whom the Old Testament kept talking about, prophesied to be the Saviour of the world through taking God's wrath and punishment that we deserve on the Cross, such as in Isaiah 53. The Jews, for instance, deny that Jesus was the Christ and are still waiting for the Messiah. They then have no Saviour whatsoever.
The disciples didn't know that Jesus was the Christ, the Saviour (Luke 2:11) and Messiah (John 1:41), until the Spirit revealed it to them (Matthew 16:15-17). Who do you say Jesus is?
These days one can say Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9) without consequence. In Roman days, that was political suicide - literally. You could be killed because you were meant to confess that Caesar was Lord! Have you ever confessed that you are a Christian or that Jesus is your Lord or similar in situations where you believed it would cost you socially? That's powerful assurance. In John's day, those who could not acknowledge Christ for who he was "went out from us" because they valued other things higher than Jesus.
Has your faith changed your friendships and associations? This is not a light thing that just happens--it can be strong evidence that your desires have changed. Perhaps you could no longer laugh with their coarse joking. Perhaps you wanted to learn from the Word instead of the world. These changes are testimony to a deeper belonging.
1 John 2:3-6 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: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
1 John 5:3 says,
This is love for God: to obey his commands.
There is no middle ground, all of those who confess to be Christians and yet do not obey God are liars, "and the truth is not in (them)". The basic commands are to pray (1 Timothy 2:8; 1Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 11:2- "when you pray", not "if"); do what Jesus wants you to do and not what you want to do (Matthew 16:24; Matthew 8:22); praise and worship God (Matthew 22:37; John 4:24); witness/evangelise/tell others about Jesus and their need for Him (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15); and fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25); and as discussed in the first test, the Test of Your Affiliation).
Is this legalistic? Well if it were, then John was a legalist! But the legalist will obey God out of a sense of duty, whereas a true convert will obey God out of love for Him. The legalist will feel that the things he is commanded to do is like work - he has no real desire to do it, but he'll do it because he'll be rewarded with Heaven afterwards. But the true convert will obey because he wants to give God glory, desires to please God, wants to be around God, and wants to be like God.
When you consider major or minor decisions in your life, do you find yourself turning to God in prayer, or reading his Word for guidance? Even asking other Christians reveals a different heart, because now, instead of turning to your own wisdom, or non-Christians, you are desiring to find God's will.
When times are hard, what do you turn to? If it is to prayer or God's Word, that's a sure sign of reliance on God. (If it's to comfort food, alcohol, porn, or other things, this is not necessarily a sign of the absence of God: but note your attitude to them over time.)
Can you go for long periods of time without praying or reading the Word, or do you find that you have an increasing desire to spend time with Him, alone or with others? This also is an indication of inner dependency on God.
It is easy to pray, read the Bible, sing and participate in organised church services. As such, it is not a helpful marker of assurance, given people can do this and be religious like the Pharisees were. Do you do any of these things in your own time, out of your own desire?
Can you see more and more of your life being affected by what God wants you to do (because you ask and obey Him more and more), rather than what you want to do? You'll find the most assurance when you obey God in wanting you to do something that you don't want to do, or that others are pressuring you not to do, or when it otherwise costs you.
Part of obeying God is evangelising (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). In Western postmodern culture, telling others they should change their beliefs is considered rude and aggressive. So obeying this command is costly, and a great assurance. For those too daunted, the first sign is more simple and still assuring: do we have a desire to talk about Jesus?
1 John 3:24 says,
And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 4:13 says,
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
1 John 5:10 says,
Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.
There is this inward spiritual witness which is a confirmation of your conversion. Some people who are particularly sensitive to spiritual matters state this as a feeling, but for those of us who are thinkers, we can see the evidence of the Spirit in more concrete ways.
There are the gifts of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit, which can act as a "testimony" of the Spirit's work in a believer.
Paul lists a few gifts in various places, without being comprehensive: administration, apostolic, discernment, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, healing, helps, hospitality, knowledge, leadership, mercy, prophecy, serving, speaking in tongues, teaching, and wisdom.
Many of these are easy to see in non-Christian's lives too, but, if soon after you became a Christian, or asked for a gift (1 Corinthians 12:31), a gift like this sprung up in you, this is a witness that the Holy Spirit is alive in you.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Have you felt the Spirit of God in you?
Have you seen the fruit of the Spirit arise in you? Many people report experiencing peace when they became a Christian, particularly if they had had a dark or anxiety-filled past. Some may now find they have control over an addiction. Others experience joy for the first time. For others, it's more long-term, and that's okay not to see fruit straight away.
Have you experienced a gift of the Holy Spirit arise in you that wasn't there before you became a Christian, or arose as a result of a request? Some just want to spring into telling others about Christ, receiving an evangelistic gift. Others receive an ability to speak in tongues. Still others start to understand Scripture beyond other people's abilities--an early expression of a teaching gift or prophetic ministry.
1 John 2:15-17 says,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
The 'world' in question is the world system. A sinful man craves worldly things, that is, fame, fortune, "just" this new [insert latest gadget here], holidaying, an easy life, full health, security and the like. Yet a Christian desires God's fame much more than their own (Matthew 4:8-10); they are content with what they have been given (1 Timothy 6:6-8); they are not lazy or irresponsible but rather industrious and diligent (Proverbs 13:4; 21:5; 18:9); and they know that hard times give good character and should not be despised (James 1:2-3).
A worldly person lusts or strongly desires things that he/she does not have, or dressed-down women/men, and is generally not content with life, wanting more. Yet we are commanded to be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8), and even lust in your thoughts is wrong (Matthew 5:27-30).
A worldly person boasts of all that he has achieved, rather than humbling themselves and attributing their gain to Christ.
Tim Keller talks on this beautifully:
Summary transcript (expand/retract)
Think about the things you loved before your salvation: what you watch, what you play, read, eat, do. Have they changed since becoming a Christian?
How about your friends, do you now object to what your worldly friends watch, say or do? Have your friendships changed, not simply because you are going to church, but because you have chosen to spend more time with Christians?
Can you see in your life that you need less - are you finding that you don't need that better job, that bigger house, that better education, that new gadget, a better significant other? This is an indication that you are becoming content and satisfied in God.
Sometimes, people do things differently because of religious reasons. They might think "God will look on me more favourably because of the things I've done." Since this is difficult to perceive for yourself, be bold and ask a trusted Christian whether they religion in you or an authentic love for God and others.
1 John 3:4-10 says,
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
Some people believe that they can be both Christian and also continue to live in unrighteousness. After all, what about the Corinthians - one of them "had his father's wife" (1 Cor 5:1); or Paul's confession that "what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing." (Romans 7:19). But John emphatically declares this interpretation is not possible.
John speaks in present continuous tense such that the sin he's referring to is habitual sin, ongoing sin, continuous, uncontrollable sin. If you're in that kind of sin, you've neither "seen him or known him". He's not talking about sinless perfection. We also know this from an opening passage where he states that true Christians will confess their sins (1 John 1:8).
John declares here that Jesus "appeared so that he might take away our sins", and Paul adds, "how can we who died to sin still live in it" (Romans 6:2). So if sin has mastery over you such that your life is dominated by sinful behaviours, attitudes and choices - if that power of sin has not been broken over your life: "anyone who does not do (on a habitual basis) what is right is not a child of God". Paul states it this way in Romans 8:2: "through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death". If we're free, it no longer has mastery over us. Additionally, God tempers sinful desires in us so that there is always a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Every believer is always free from the law of sin - it does not control them, although they may unwillingly or accidentally fall into it. And if it were accidental, they are disgusted, and pretty quickly get out of it, humbling themselves again before God and pledging for His help to get rid of it. Having said all that, the change is not comprehensive right from the point of salvation. But what you ought to be seeing is more and more sin fall off your life.
Have you seen a change in your attitude to any sin? A distaste or disgust for it?
Have you experienced freedom from at least some sin in your life - are you able to control that which once had control over you? These things are the Spirit active in your life.
1 John 2:9-11 says,
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
1 John 3:14-15 says,
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
1 John 4:20 says,
If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1 John 3:16-20 says,
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
John sees here the Spirit working on a believer's heart to align them to God's family, His people. We ought to love each other because we are of the same family, with the same mind and Spirit. This is different from hating someone's doctrine, like Jesus did the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6). This is a Good Samaritan, loving others is more important than religious duties attitude (Luke 10:25-37).
Up until now we've focussed on markers that identify positive moves of the Spirit. John talks here of something negative: not helping fellow believers. Do you strongly dislike another Christian? That is an indication against the notion that you are saved.
For those Christians who you disagree with, do you do to them as you would have them do to yourself? That is, do you listen to what their saying, seek to understand them, and engage them privately first--if you can't just let it go and work together regardless? Or, do you keep the wound or disagreement in your heart and let it become bitterness or gossip?
Have you acted out the love that you say you have in giving to another's needs, whether food, clothing, shelter or other need?
1 John 1:5-7 says,
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Like 'The Test of Your Righteousness', this test covers your ongoing walk. Yes, a Christian can sin (see Test of Your Confession); a Christian can also fall pretty heavily; but a Christian absolutely cannot walk - which is continual, deliberate action as opposed to an accident - in sin. "If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie".
A person who walks in darkness thinks a swim in sewerage is like a swim in the local, fresh, clean swimming pool. A person who walks in the light might somehow fall into sewerage, but then out of disgust immediately tries to get out, and then cleans himself. The Christian hates sin, just like the rest of the family (such as God) he's been brought into. The person who believes him or herself to be a Christian and yet justifies walking in sin is a "(liar) and (does) not live by the truth".
Have you ever done something wrong and then immediately hated that action and felt the need to confess your sin to Jesus and seek forgiveness? (This is different from an immediate guilt at being caught.) This is the Holy Spirit convicting you.
Have you ever sinned and not resolved it immediately, only to be reminded about it over and over and feeling bad about it until you resolve it? This is another feature of the Holy Spirit's conviction.
Have you ever singled out a sin and sought to remove it, with God's help? Perhaps you've joined an accountability group, or longed to have a Christian friend who can help you live a pure life. This is a sign of the new nature the Spirit has given you.
1 John 1:8-10 says,
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
This is absolute, it's not optional. All Christians acknowledge their sinful ways. Confession is not something we do once, then get converted and never do again. We go on sinning too: John says here both if we claim to have not sinned - in the past - and also if we claim to (now) be without sin - in the present tense.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you would have considered yourself to be a bad person and/or in need of a true and real hope? This is an indication that the Spirit is convicting you of your inadequacies, in preparation to taking you to Christ.
Anytime you're aware of a sin in your life, do you confess it to Jesus (not the priest, because he did not take your punishment and nor was any kind of sacrifice for your sins)?
Do you see your life getting purified from these sins?
1 John 4:15 says,
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
1 John 5:5 says,
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Romans 10:9 says,
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.
A eulogy is a formal expression of praise, particularly for someone who has died recently. Now Jesus did die, but He of course also then rose from the dead.
Some people treat Romans 10:9 as a bare intellectual thing: we simply acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord, and that He died and rose again. A lot of people think that is the one and only test we need to ask people to ascertain whether they are a true Christian (John would be rolling in his grave)!
Imagine Satan's acknowledgements: "Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?" "Yes" (trembling). "Do you believe Jesus died and rose again?" "Yes", Satan would reply again. But the difference is he doesn't want to obey God or bow down to him or give up his life for him!
There is great need to be familiar with the historical context of this confession of Jesus Christ. Muslims today would get it, or Christians in China, but because we are in a free country where you're not killed for your faith, we don't get it.
The Romans were the rulers in this day and age, having conquered most of the known world. Due to many different nations and different religions being under their sway, it was difficult to unify them. In order to overcome this, various Caesars instituted a Caesar-worship. All the people under them would be required to say (confess) that Caesar was Lord, which meant, God of gods, or King of kings. The people after saying this were then free to worship whoever or whatever they worshipped.
Of course for a Christian, to put Caesar above their God was absolutely out of the question. So the True Christian would not confess that Caesar was Lord, but rather that Jesus was Lord. In this case, they would immediately be put to death or put in jail for the Gladiator ring (certain death).
I said that the Muslims would get it - because if they said to their family that they were Christians their very own family would disown them and hunt them down to the death if they did not recant. This fear occurs even in Western countries.
Now read your verse again, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord'". Do you also see how this fits so much better with the other commands that Jesus says to non-believers to, "take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24), deny yourself "daily" (Luke 9:23), "except you repent you will likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-3), rather than some mere confession which would then contradict these commands?
In the 'Test of your Affiliation' we talked about how confessing your beliefs where it costs you socially is a powerful testimony. Even the desire to confess is a sign of a change of heart, though James, Jesus and Paul all encouraged a bold and visible faith (notwithstanding the need to be discrete at times).
If someone were to write your eulogy today, would they be able to talk about a visible faith? Or do you only have your word that you prayed a prayer sometime in the past?
Faith is an ongoing matter. You can take it as the move of the Spirit if you notice you are trusting in your complete, continuous surrender (not a decision) to Him.
You may be thinking that you are not quite sure still - that's okay. If you're going to find assurance based on a few minutes, I'm not sure that's going to be a solid rock for you!
There's plenty of good sermons on this topic, and reading material, to get into this. I've listed a few here for starters. Additionally, if you would like to start an "exploratory Bible workshop" with me, please use the contact form.
There's a lot out there available for free, but typically the best is always in a book (that's my bias anyway!).
Alternatively, seek out a trusted Christian friend to talk about these things with.
Book: Gospel Assurance & Warnings, https://heartcrymissionary.com/books/gospel-assurance-and-warnings-recovering-the-gospel/
Video sermons: Search Paul Washer Assurance, e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUHrSje4FoE
Sermons on assurance on SermonAudio
John Piper & Desiring God
Sermons and articles: https://www.desiringgod.org/topics/assurance-of-salvation