Here’s a letter we received. “Hello, Pastor John. My name is Mara, and I am only a kid, but I know my faith matters even at my age. I know that I have a relationship with God and that I can talk to him or rely on him, but sometimes it's hard to tell. What I’m really asking is this: is there some way for me to know how good of a relationship I have with God? I haven’t had any really hard times that made me question my faith. I know my time will come when that will happen, but is there a way for me to know if I’m on the right track? Thank you.”
Mara, you have a very, very good question. And it isn’t any different for an adult, by the way. Your question for a child is the same question lots of adults have, including me from time to time. Is there some way for me and you to know how good our relationship with God is?
The reason it is a good question is that the Bible itself asks the question. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5). So, you are absolutely right to raise the question: Are there tests? Is there a way that I can think that would help me know if my relationship with God is a good one? So here are the things that I want to point you to.
1. The Grace of God Saves Us
You are saved, Mara, that is, you are forgiven for all the bad things you have done and will ever do and you are accepted by God as his child, you are given eternal life by faith in Jesus, not by doing good things or being a good girl. That is so crucial. Being good is like fruit on a tree, but the tree is faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “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). It is trusting Jesus and believing in Jesus and receiving and embracing Jesus alone that gets us into a right relationship with God. Or Ephesians 2:8 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
“Jesus died for sinners. God declares the ungodly to be righteous. So, don’t think you can become good first.”
So, Mara, don’t ever start counting your good deeds to see if you have enough of them to make God accept you. That is not the way he accepts you. That is what the devil wants you to do is relate to God like that. Jesus died for sinners. God declares the ungodly to be righteous. So, don’t think you can become good first. No. We are saved from sin through faith, not by being good. Then the Holy Spirit helps us love what is good and hate sin so that we can start to change. That is the first and most important thing I wanted to stay.
2. The Fight Against Our Sin
We still sin after we are saved. Paul said that in Romans 7. Jesus taught us to ask for forgiveness daily (Matthew 6:12). John said we are liars if we say we have no sin (1 John 1:10). So, we are saved and the Holy Spirit is inside of us and he overcomes our old habits gradually to keep us humble. If you were to ask me: Pastor John, why does God take so long to make me good? And I am 68 years old and still asking that question. Why does he take so long to make me good? And my answer is: I think he keeps us humble and he keeps us broken and he keeps us desperate for himself and desperate for grace so that we don’t get our pride up.
In fact, here is something amazing from 1 John 1:6–7. It says, if we say we have no sin we are not walking in the light. But if we are walking in the light, we confess our sins. Now that is amazing, because it says: Therefore, walking in the light — that means having a good relationship with God — includes confessing sin, which can’t mean that walking in the light means sinlessness. It doesn’t. So, one way to know you are in a good relationship with God is not that you don’t ever sin, but that you recognize your sin, because light is shining in your heart and you confess it and you say you are sorry to God for it and you ask Jesus to cover it with his blood. That is the second thing. We Christians must learn to deal with the fact that we continue to sin.
3. The Confidence We Can Have
God wants you to be confident that you belong to him. He doesn’t want you, Mara, to worry about your relationship with him. First John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” He wants you to enjoy confidence, joy, and assurance, he wants you to be sure that you are okay with God so that, when you go to bed at night, you don’t have to be afraid of anything. You can have a real peaceful night of sleep and, even if you die in the middle of the night, you would be okay. You would be safe with Jesus.
4. The Ways We Can Know We’re Saved
This is the big one that you asked about, I think. The Bible does help us test ourselves to see if our relationship is good. And here are just a couple of those tests. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). So, if your heart says, “Jesus, you are my Lord. You are my master. You are my God. I want to know your will,” that is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Here is another one: “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15–16). Which means, when your heart rises up from deep down and says, “God, you are my Father. I am your child. I need a Father. I am a little child, utterly dependent on you,” when your heart is talking like that, that is the witness of the Holy Spirit in you.
Here is another one: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14). One of the effects of being loved by Jesus when he died for us and gave himself for us is that we start loving people like that, especially other Christians. So, if you find yourself loving other Christians, being glad that people are saved, and wanting to know them and be around them, that is a sign that you have been made into the family of God as well.
“One of the effects of being loved by Jesus when he died for us and gave himself for us is that we start loving people.”
Here is another one: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning” (1 John 3:9). Now, we already read in 1 John:10 that you are a liar if you say you have no sin. So, that verse doesn’t mean you never sin. What it means is there is not a pattern of behavior where you say, “I love my sin. I am going to keep my sin. I don’t care what God says. I am going to keep on doing this. It doesn’t matter to me what effect it has.” If you settle in with sin, if you make friends with sin, and if you keep on pursuing sin like that, you won’t ever have a right relationship with God and you might not ever be sure you are saved.
5. The Love of God
And here is a last one, just another test: “Whoever knows God listens to us” (1 John 4:6). “Us” there is the writers of the Bible, the apostles. And Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). So, one of the signs that you have a good relationship with God is that you love your Bible. You love to learn things about God. You love to know more about God.
The Path to Greater Growth
So, those are five tests, Mara, that show how you can be more sure that you have a good relationship with God. But there is one strong piece of advice that I have. Don’t spend most of your time testing yourself. Don’t do that. That will turn out to be a problem, because you know what will happen? You will be thinking way too much about yourself. Instead, just use the tests, every now and then, but spend most of your time thinking about Jesus and thinking about his Word and all that he has done and all his promises. In other words, the best thing to do to have assurance and confidence that your relationship is good is to forget about yourself. That is just wonderful when you can know Jesus so well and spend so much time getting to know him and delight in the things that he shows you about himself from the Bible that you don’t even think about yourself.
“The best thing to do to have assurance and confidence that your relationship is good is to forget about yourself.”
And just a couple of more thoughts. God keeps you from unbelief, Mara. God holds you in his hand. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28). So, be confident. God will keep you. God will make your relationship good.
And the last thing I would say is: Don’t worry today if you will have a good enough relationship tomorrow. Each day has its own tests and each day has its own mercies for those tests. That is what Lamenta-tions 3:22 says: God’s mercies are new every morning and his faithfulness is very great. God will give you all you need tomorrow. So thank you, Mara, for this question. I pray God will make you a strong and fruitful young woman.