One of the concepts that has plagued me the most in the past year is the idea of salvation. It was never that I was confused as to how someone way saved, Who saves, or who Jesus is, it was more that I was questioning whether or not I myself was saved. This is a hard thing for Christians to wrestle with for a few reasons. First off, pride is an issue here. We don't want to accept the possibility that we've been living a lie and that we may not actually be saved, thus needing to humble ourselves before the Lord. Another reason may be fear. "Well if I don't believe now, and I thought I did, then how can I actually believe?" And finally, you could be struggling with the concept of being saved by faith, by Christ alone, and not your works. There are many reasons people struggle with the concept of assurance, and as one that has struggled with all three of those reasons above, I understand how difficult it can be. In fact, it wasn't until a few weeks ago after meeting with my CrossLife pastor Tanner that I finally came out of this.
Tanner had taken me to 1 John. Now, for those who don't know anything about 1 John (first of all, read it), it was written by the Apostle of the same name (who also wrote the Gospel of John, 2 John, 3 John, and the Book of Revelation) to give Christians a way to "test their faith" to prove to themselves that they are in fact saved & in the faith. As Tanner began to read these verse, and then make me read them outloud myself, it was nothing that I hadn't heard before, read before, or had been told before, but the Spirit was certainly working through Tanner as this time it finally clicked! I was sure of who I was in Christ, not because of anything I did but because of Who I believed in! It was an amazing experience and after spending the next two weeks studying 1 John, I have just grown more assured of my faith.
I want to talk about how one can be assured of their faith in Jesus Christ and their place not only in His Book of Life but also His Kingdom, but before we can go there we must first discuss HOW one is saved in the first place, because some may be confused about this topic...
We were all born with sin. The Sin Nature resides in all of mankind and the Curse has affected every part of our world. That ship has sailed and there's nothing we can do about it (Romans 3:23, Psalm 51:5). As humans, we need to first be able to admit to the fact that we are indeed sinners. Sin is rebellion against God, breaking His holy Law (the 10 Commandments are a basic foundation of the law found in Exodus 20). We may not all have killed, raped, or fornicated, but we've all been prideful, we've all lied, and we've all coveted something (if you haven't then good for you, but according to Scripture you've done SOMETHING in rebellion to God). You see, the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23). This is something that is both physical through our death here on Earth and spiritual through our eternal destiny in Hell (Revelation 20:15), which must occur because God is a HOLY God, meaning "set apart", in this case from anything unclean (sin). The sad thing about this is, other than the whole idea that people DO in face go to Hell, that Hell was not created for humanity, it was something we chose when we rebelled against God at the beginning of time (Genesis 3)!
Admitting that you have a problem is always the first step in an addict's "road to freedom", and like an addict in order for us to be free from sin we need to understand and believe that we do in fact have a sin problem. 1 John 1:10 says that if we say we don't have sin, then we're lying and the Truth is not in us. That Truth is Jesus Christ. Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life". If He is Truth and, as sinners, we have no truth in us, then we are doomed because Jesus is also Life!
However, we know that because God loves us, He doesn't stop there. In fact, He sent His only Son to Earth, born as a man, born into sin, so that He could save us from death. Now, I could write a whole article on why Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient, but the main point is that because He lived a perfect life as a man and never sinned (2 Peter 2:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15), thus a Holy life as God (because Jesus is both fully man and fully God simultaneously), His death was able to cover humanity and be a sufficient atonement for the sins of all. You can't stop there however, because then He rose from the death and conquered death! You see, without the resurrection our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:13-14)!
Now, just because Jesus died for everybody that doesn't mean that we can just say, "Sweet, well I'm covered then, I'm good, I'll just see Him when I die!" No, that's not how it works. Many know the story of Christ, and sadly many more are of the opinion that they're "good people" (no one is good according to Romans 3:10 and Ecclesiastes 7:20) and that when they die, if Jesus is on the other side that He'll let them in. Wrong. There is only one way to be saved, only one salvation, and that is by faith.
Faith is the only cure for sin. It may not cure the symptoms here on Earth, at least not completely, but in God's eyes we are no longer sinners but we are in fact God's righteousness! "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." says Acts 16:31. John 3:16, the Bible's most famous verse, tells us that if you believe in the Son of God you will have eternal life. Romans 10:9-10 tell us that if you "confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart, you will be saved." Acts 2:21 says that "anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved". Mark 16:16 talks about how one must believe to be saved (it also mentions baptism but that is not a requirement for salvation) and whoever doesn't believe will be condemned. Finally, and there are many many more verses on salvation out there, Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, not of works so that no one may boast."
Believe. Faith. Grace.
We are not the one's who save ourselves, it's nothing that we could do, only Christ. We do however choose whether or not we'll let Him, and thus some go to Heaven and others to Hell. It's as simple as that, there is not grey, there is no inbetween, there is no Purgatory. Some would have you believe that you need to be circumcised, some baptized, others say you need to be doing good works, and some others believe that you can't actually know if you're saved or not! But this just isn't true.
The Apostle John tells us that we can know whether or not we are in the faith, whether or not we are saved in his epistle of 1 John. John MacArthur separates 1 John's "assurances of salvation" into four different "tests" in his study Bible. Let's briefly look into what each of them are...
- Jesus' Humanity as well as His Divinity - The first four/five verses in 1 John talk about how Jesus did in fact come in the flesh, that He was actually human. You see, there was gnostic teaching that had infiltrated the church that John was writing to. The gnostics believe that spirit is good and matter is evil and were then teaching that Jesus was just God, He was just spirit. While it's certainly true that Jesus is completely the Son of God, completely divine (although He gave up some of His divine attributes while on Earth), He is also, at least while on Earth, completely human. Acknowledging Jesus' humanity is one test in finding out whether or not you're in the faith, in the fellowship.
- The Reality of Sin - We talked about this one briefly before and it's talked about here in 1 John 1:5-2:2. We know what sin is, rebellion against God, and we know that it ultimately results in DEATH. John tells us here that God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins IF we confess them to Him. He's not talking about confessing every sin you've committed to a pastor or priest, he's talking about confessing sin to God, something we can do through prayer. He also tells us that if we say that we no longer sin, even after being redeemed by Christ, that we are lying and that the Truth, Christ Himself, is not in us. Acknowledging the reality of sin, that we still do sin and must confess our sin to God, is another test to see if we're in the faith.
- Obedience to God - 1 John 2:3-6 is about keeping God's commandments. Yes, this certainly includes the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20, but it's more than that. It's also loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). It is also allowing the Spirit to work in and through you to exhibit the Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit. It's also preaching the Gospel to all nations, taking care of the orphans and widows, and casting out demons. Being obedient to God is doing what He asks of us or tells us to do. Now, we're not going to get it right 100% of the time, but it's the concept that we are trying to be obedient, that we are in general obedient to God. Sure we screw up, I do all the time, but are we fighting the good fight every day (1 Timothy 6:12)?
- Loving the Church/Not the World - John explains in 1 John 2:7-17 that it is vital that we be in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we love the Church. We are told that if we hate our brother that Love is not in us and thus Christ is not in us. We are told not to love the world because nothing of God is in the world and that if we love the world we don't have the Father (verse 15). It's very important that we understand this and apply it to our lives.
These test are only the first two and a half chapters of John's 5 chapter letter, and the rest deals with similar themes. He tells us that whoever denies the Son also denies the Father and that whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (2:23). We know that we must place our confidence in Christ so that when He returns we won't be ashamed (2:28). We know that whoever is born of God is no longer a sinner but instead a child of God made righteous (3:9). And so much more including confidence towards God (3:20-21), testing all spirits (4:1-3), no fear in love (3:18-21), overcoming the world (5:4-6), and keeping from idols (5:21) among much more.
But how do we KNOW that we're saved?
Well, first I would read through 1 John and see how the Lord speaks to your heart, but I wouldn't stop there unless you definitely know. We know that if you're obedient to God, if you confess your sin, if you love the Church and not the world, and if you believe that Jesus was a man as well as God then you're on the right track, but how are we saved in the first place?
For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not of your own doing, it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)Faith, Belief, Grace, God. It's what we talked about earlier when we went over how salvation works. Sure, the tests in 1 John may help a struggling believer, in fact many passages of Scripture do that too, but at the end of the day it's all about just simply believing that Jesus is who He said He is. That Jesus died on the cross, rose again conquering death, and saved the world from sin, that He is the Son of God come in the flesh. That's all you need to do! The Spirit Himself testifies with our own that we are children of God (Romans 8:16) and that no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3)! Sure, "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17, 20), and that is absolutely true, 100%. However, works are not what saves you, works prove your faith, loving the church proves your faith, obedience proves your faith, confessing sin proves your faith, acknowledging Jesus as a man as well as God proves your faith, but faith, believing, is what saves you. That's how you can have full assurance of your faith!
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)I hope that this long-winded article has helped some of you out. I know the assurance of my faith, knowing that my name is in the Book of Life, is something that can be trying at times and hard to grasp, understand, or even believe, but we see here, through Scripture that what you do reflects who you are and that at the end of the day it's Jesus who saves you, we just need to continue to believe that it's by Him that we're saved, not ourselves. Works can't saved us, only Jesus can. The Apostle Paul told Timothy that he had won the race and kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7-8), our faith is ultimately proven true if we don't let go of God, if we continue to fight the good right (1 Timothy 6:12) no matter what. We know that He'll never let us go, but we better not give up ourselves.