“Am I saved? How can I know? Have I truly been born again? Do I have eternal life?”
These are important questions that we need real answers to. Nowadays well-meaning Christians will tell us not to wrestle over these questions. They will warn against being too introspective. They will try to assure us that if we sincerely invited Jesus into our heart that we are most definitely saved and have eternal life. Some will go on to tell us that if we keep having doubts about our salvation we should rebuke the devil since he is the one planting those thoughts in our minds. This is a dangerous practice that has given false assurance to many who were under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Instead of leading these people through the conversion process and onto the biblical assurance of salvation, these teachers have sought to provide a short-cut which I fear has all too often aborted the new birth of these souls.
Those of us that labor for the salvation of souls must understand the way God works in the conversion of a sinner in order to be effective co-laborers with Him. We must remember that He is the leader in this process, not us. And His main priority in dealing with individual souls is not to avoid “negative” feelings at all costs and bring them comfort as soon as possible, but to save them to the uttermost by cutting to the root of inbred sin and firmly establishing them in Jesus Christ. The Bible exhorts, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). We must not be afraid to let people obey God’s word on this matter.
The Bible declares, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.” (Rom. 3:10-11). This describes the condition of every lost soul. They are not only lost, they don’t want to be found. They are in sin and they love sin. But there is hope for them since Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Jesus sends his people to command all men everywhere to repent and place their faith in him. And he goes with them through his Holy Spirit to convince the lost of their sin, of his righteousness and of the certainty of the coming judgment. When the body of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, confronts people with the depth of their sin, and the consequences of that sin, they come under holy conviction. Before God builds them up, He thoroughly tears them down. Before he heals them, He breaks them to pieces. This is his method of destroying the blinding power of sin and the self-righteousness that keeps people from trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
When they are convinced eternal misery will be the result of their sin they become desperate to be rid of it once and for all. And when they see how deep the corruption of their heart really goes they will abandon all hope of saving themselves and be ready to run to the Savior. But until they are ready to forsake their sins and place no hope in their own righteousness, they cannot come to saving faith. As long as they welcome sin, they cannot welcome Christ. And as long as they hope in themselves, they cannot hope in Christ. This is why trying to comfort a soul before God sees fit to comfort him is a soul-damning practice.
On the other hand, the Bible does make it clear that God wants His people to be assured of their right-standing with Him. Without assurance of the accepting love of God, it is impossible for a disciple to move onto maturity in Christ. Without knowing God’s acceptance their primary motive for serving Christ will be fear. Fear is not a bad motivation; after all God motivated Adam and Eve towards obedience by warning them of death. But fear, by itself, can never produce the all-out surrender that the Christian life calls for. Fear can keep us from transgressing God’s commands, but it can’t produce the extravagant display of devotion that fully honors God our Savior. Assurance plays an important role in the sanctification of the believer.
Before we move on and try to give biblical answers to these important questions (i.e. “Am I saved,” etc.), let’s take a look at a biblical example of someone coming to saving faith and the assurance that followed it.
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”
Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss my feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
This is a great example of how we can come to assurance concerning our salvation. What I want us to note is that it is not as simple as just sincerely praying a prayer and then rebuking any condemning thoughts. No, it is more complex and nuanced than that.
The climax of the story, at least from the woman’s perspective, is when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” This is direct divine assurance that her past has been pardoned. But before Jesus tells her this he implies that her love towards him is evidence that she has already been forgiven. She is still grieved and weeping over her sins, and yet, her actions are proof that she has been converted from sin to the Savior. But it is last of all that Jesus tells her the reason she can be at peace; it is due to her faith in his grace. So we see her faith, her actions and the direct communication from the Lord bringing her to a confident assurance of salvation. This is not a simple cut and dried formula, this is a very intimate and individual process of comforting her heart and assuring her of salvation. We must get to know God’s ways in comforting hearts so we can be His hands and feet in this process. God will deal with each soul differently, so we must learn to recognize His methods so we can follow Him through the process.