Josh from Duluth writes in to ask a very common question that we get almost every day through email: “Pastor John, how do I know if I'm saved?”
Josh, “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).
The whole book of John, according to John 20:31, is written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Say What You See
The unmistakable message all through the New Testament is, we are saved by believing on Jesus. So, rivet your attention on Christ in the gospels: John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in the whole Bible. Rivet your attention on Christ and say what you see: “We confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). And say what you feel about this: “I receive him. I love him. He is my God. He is my Lord. He is my treasure.” Confess that. Let yourself hear yourself saying that. Say that to others. Say it to your wife. Say it to your kids. Say it to your friend. “Jesus is my Lord.”
The Bible says no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that amazing? Nobody can say “Jesus is Lord.” So if you say it and mean it, God is at work in your life. You have the Holy Spirit.
Receiving and Believing
What is faith — this believing? John 1:12 says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So receiving and believing are mutually interpreting. “Receiving” means that when he offers himself to you as a Savior, as a Lord, as a Treasure, as a Counselor, you receive him, you don’t reject him. You receive all that God is for you in Christ. And so receiving is a welcoming and embracing.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). So believing is a coming to him to have your thirst satisfied. Or it is a receiving of the waterfall of grace that pours out of the crevice of the cross and receiving it as the sole hunger satisfier.
“It is not the fruit that justifies you. The tree of faith is the good tree. The fruit is the evidence that the tree is good.”
“The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So, what we see when he opens our eyes is that Christ is glorious. Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Christ is the greatest person that ever was, the greatest Savior, the greatest Lord, the greatest Teacher, the greatest Counselor, the greatest Friend. That is what faith receives from Christ in believing.
Now maybe the person who asked this question was thinking about all the passages that talk about the tests of faith in our lives. And we can talk about that in more detail another time, but I would just say, 1 John is written to give lots of those tests, but they all come down to this: Is your life reflecting the preciousness of Christ that you have received as your Savior? It is not the fruit that justifies you. The tree of faith is the good tree. The fruit is the evidence that the tree is good.
Walk in the Light
When we are talking about good here, we don’t mean perfection. I think a lot of people probably struggle with, “Am I saved?” because they have unrealistic understandings of Christian growth and how sin works. So let me end here by reading 1 John 1:7–9. It goes like this: “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 cleanses us from all sin.” So walking in the light is essential. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, if we walk in the light. Does that mean that walking in the light is perfection? Well, it can’t, because if walking in the light meant perfection, there wouldn’t be any sins to cleanse. So walking in the light must be something else.
So we keep reading: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” In other words, we are not walking in the light. In the light you don’t get deceived. In the light you see. What do you see? You see the sin you just committed. And what do you do with it? Verse 9 continues, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So walking in the light might sound to people like, “Oh, shoot, I can’t walk in the light. I can’t keep from sinning.” No, that is not what walking in the light means. Walking in the light means that the gospel is so plain to you, the holiness of God is so plain to you, the terribleness of sin is so plain to you, that when you stumble into sin your reaction is, “I hate this. I am sorry, Father. Please forgive me.” You confess it. You receive forgiveness and you press on with the Lord whose treasure is bigger because of the grace that he has offered to you.
The Spirit’s Gift of Assurance
I would just say, Josh, in the end, the assurance of salvation is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:15–16 says, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom you cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” “The Spirit himself bears witness” with your spirit that you are a child of God. When you cry out “Abba! Father! Jesus! Lord!” that is the Holy Spirit testifying with your Spirit that you are a child of God. So ask him for that gift. Ask him for the gift of his own personal testimony that you are his.