How often should I question my salvation? That is a question we get often. It’s a big one. And today it comes from a woman who listens to the podcast named Kenzie. “Hello, Pastor John! My question has to do with whether or not we should regularly question our salvation. My husband and I were discussing this the other day, and we fell on opposite sides: one saying it’s good to examine ourselves often in order to determine whether or not we are saved, the other saying it’s more beneficial to regularly evaluate our faithfulness and fruitfulness rather than questioning salvation itself. We studied together 2 Corinthians 13:5: ‘Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.’ But what do you think? Should professing Christians question their own salvation? And how often?”
I want to suggest that we distinguish between testing ourselves to see if we are in the faith, on the one hand, and living so as to confirm that we are in the faith, on the other hand. I think there is a psychological difference and a strategic difference, a strategy difference, between these two. So, let me give two texts, one for each of these strategies, and then draw out some distinctions that might help.
Test and Confirm
Kenzie is asking specifically about 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” That’s what she means by testing your salvation or questioning your salvation. “Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” So, Paul is very hopeful for the Corinthians, but there are some he’s not sure of.
The other text is 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election [or you could say salvation], for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” And I’m suggesting that there’s a difference between the urgency of the self-test in 2 Corinthians 13:5 and the ongoing, ordinary life of confirmation that we really are among the elect, really have been effectually called — that is, really have been brought to saving faith. In a sense, the bottom line in both cases is this: show that you’re a real Christian, born again, justified, on your way to heaven.
But there’s a difference between being told to test yourself to see if you’re saved, and being told to live so as to confirm your election. One of the reasons I think there’s a significant difference here is because, in the context of 2 Corinthians, there is some real conflict between Paul and some people at Corinth who have given significant evidence that they may not be true Christians.
“Live your life in such a way that it ordinarily confirms your calling and your election.”
For example, just a few verses before 2 Corinthians 13:5, in 2 Corinthians 12:21, Paul says, “I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.” In other words, here are people who have not repented of their sins, and so are on the brink of being excommunicated.
And then just a few verses later, in 2 Corinthians 13:3, Paul says, “You seek proof that Christ is speaking in me.” Now, that word proof there is the same word he uses two verses later in 2 Corinthians 13:5, only here he says they’re putting him to the test to prove that he’s real in his speaking. So, when he gets to verse 5, he says, “Actually folks, you should be testing yourselves. You unrepentant folks, you should be testing yourselves to see if you are in the faith.”
So, I’m inclined to think that what brought Paul to say this with as much urgency as he did is that he’s been dealing with an unrepentant crowd who claim to be Christians, but they’re actually totally out of character. They’re living in sin, they’re not repenting, while they’re claiming to be Christians.
I’m inferring from this — and the other ways that Paul deals with Christians — that the command “Test yourself to see if you are in the faith” is not a command that he ordinarily gives as a regular part of a Christian life, or that we should regularly — like part of our morning devotions, say — do it the way he means it there in 2 Corinthians 13:5. This is a command that is especially appropriate when people are living a life that is out of step with their profession of faith and give significant evidence that they may not be a real Christian.
So, the question “How often should we do this?” seems to imply it should be an ordinary — daily or maybe weekly — part of the Christian walk, when in fact, I don’t think that. I think Paul would say this kind of test is something extraordinary, and to be done at critical points in your life when you have drifted away from walking in step with the Spirit, and have been called out, probably by somebody, or maybe by your own conscience: Are you a real Christian?
Happy, Obedient Faith
Now, that brings me to 2 Peter 1:10, which I think does describe the more regular way to think about the relationship between our faith and the evidence of our life that we are truly Christians. Peter says, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm [and that’s just a standard procedure] your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” And by “these qualities” he’s referring back to 2 Peter 1:5–7, where he says, “Supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” In other words, living this way is how you confirm your calling and election.
“Day by day, have the seriousness to pursue a life of holiness that confirms your calling.”
So, I don’t think Peter is saying, “Now, in this critical moment of serious failure [as in 2 Corinthians], seek to confirm your calling and your election.” I don’t think he means that. I think he means, “Live your life in such a way that it ordinarily confirms your calling and your election. Take your daily stand on your justification by faith. Be confident that on the basis of Christ alone God counts you righteous. And then walk in happy, obedient faith, and virtue, and knowledge, and self-control, and godliness, and brotherly affection, and love, for the glory of Christ.”
And if the question arises in your heart, “But might I not deceive myself and think I’m a Christian when I’m not?” here’s what the writer of Hebrews says about that: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” What’s the solution? “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12–13). That’s his answer to the question, “Well, might I be deceived?” No, in fellowship with other people, encouraging us with the promises of God, giving us the warnings of God, and keeping their eyes on our life and faith, that’s the prescribed way by which we avoid being self-deceived.
So, here’s the bottom-line answer: Do the serious, critical test of 2 Corinthians 13:5 when someone warns you that your life no longer appears to be confirming your Christian claim. This should set off alarm bells in you, and you might be in serious trouble. So, do that kind of serious self-analysis, which can be very frightening, very difficult, but very, very important.
But always, day by day, have the seriousness to pursue a life of holiness that confirms your calling and your election, and live in fellowship with those who will encourage you in this day by day.