“Are you saved? Are you sure?”
These questions are sometimes used to scare people into signing up for works-based insurance, which is bad. And they can trigger salvation-anxiety, which is really bad. But the questions themselves are legitimate.
In scripture we are exhorted to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). This does not mean we should search ourselves for sin to see if we are still saved. “For don’t you know that Christ is in you?”
But how do you know that Christ is in you? What is the proof of the pudding? Is it spiritual fruit, moral behavior or what? Is it even possible to know for sure if you are saved?
Many Christians don’t know with 100 percent certainty. If you ask them whether they have an assurance of their salvation they say, “I believe I am saved,” which is wonderful because this is totally a faith thing. But believing is different from knowing. If you don’t know you are saved you may think, “I have to believe and keep on believing,” while privately wondering, What if I stop believing?
Others might say, “I have confessed, therefore I’m saved,” which is also fine because that’s scriptural (Rom 10:9). But deep inside they might wonder, What if I confessed wrong? What if I un-confess?
Please understand that I am not questioning scripture or your faith. I’m asking a simple question: How do you know you are saved?
This is a BIG DEAL because if you don’t know you’ll be susceptible to the lies of religion. “To make your salvation sure you need to turn from sin, confess every last one, keep short accounts, have a daily quiet time, and attend every church meeting.” Believe that and you’ll end up worn out and fallen from grace.
Faith is being certain
When I was a child I didn’t know for sure if I was saved. Sure, I had confessed and believed, but my immature mind was so riddled with doubt that giving my life to Christ was a regular event. With an unholy fear I’d respond to altar calls and say the sinner’s prayer again and again.
I did none of this to get saved but because I wasn’t sure if I was saved. And since faith is being sure (see Heb 11:1), my uncertainty only made me worry more. It’s a vicious cycle that can only be broken by having a confident assurance of your salvation.
Some will say, “I just know” or “I know in my heart what my brain can’t explain,” and I totally relate. But how do you know?
Others will point to supernatural experiences of which I’ve had plenty. Camilla and I would literally be dead but for divine intervention, and I thank God for all the miraculous stories he’s given me. But not everyone has these sorts of stories and those who do may forget them.
An evangelical points to his good confession and a charismatic points to her spiritual experience, but both might ask how do I know that I’m saved?
A crisis of faith
I have had a life-time of walking with the Lord. He has told me things I could not know and turned me from dangers unseen. I routinely see evidence of his hand in my life. (Just yesterday my two-year-old daughter was in a terrible household accident and walked away largely unscathed. I haven’t stopped saying “Thank you, Jesus.”) I have experienced God’s supernatural comfort when I was in the pit of despair. He has resurrected dead dreams and brought me to a land flowing with milk and honey. Because of his grace I am at rest in a restless world. This is normal Christian living for the one who believes that God is good and his face shines upon them.
Yet despite all this, there was a time when I wondered if I hadn’t made the whole thing up.
“What if I imagined it? What if it was nothing more than a ‘spiritual experience’?”
In my case these were absurd questions – I had seen so much. But for a new believer who has seen little of the Lord’s goodness, they are valid questions. You get saved on Sunday but by Wednesday you’re wondering if it was real.
“What has actually changed? How do I know I’m saved? Where’s the proof?”
During my crisis of faith, I was plagued by these questions. I forgot all my stories, I ignored all the evidence, and a lie began to take root in my mind. What if none of this was real? What if I’m not actually saved?
Faith is not blind
In desperation I took my questions to the Lord. Straightaway, he brought the following verse to mind:
Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3)
As I read that scripture I began to converse with myself.
“Can you say ‘Jesus is Lord’?”
“Of course I can, because he is. Jesus is Lord!”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know. I just do.”
“But how could you know that? What does the scripture say?”
“I guess the Holy Spirit showed me.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Because he loves me and lives in me.”
“You must be the temple of the Holy Spirit! You must be saved.”
“That I am. I know it.”
As the truth of God’s Word was revealed to me, the scales of doubt fell from my eyes. I got so excited that I began to shout “Jesus is Lord” again and again. I didn’t do it out of a fearful sense of I’d-better-say-the-magic-words. I did it because the Holy Spirit was using the truth to dislodge a lie. I said it with conviction and the result was peace and joy and a total assurance of my salvation.
Look again at Paul’s words: “Therefore, I want you to know…” There are many scriptures about believing, but this one is about knowing. In the Bible there’s no such thing as blind faith. Biblical faith is believing and knowing:
- Peter said, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69)
- John wrote so that you may “believe in the Son of God and know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13)
- Paul spoke of those “who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:3)
Perhaps you believe you are saved but you don’t know that you are saved. The good news is you can know and the Spirit of wisdom and understanding wants you to know. Ask him to help you know and he will.
I appreciate that in this age of uncertainty, doubt is chic. And I further appreciate the terrible damage inflicted by religious ideologues who are certain of their faith. This is not about that. This is about knowing and trusting Jesus. It’s a cliche, but know Jesus and you’ll know peace, and peace is better than fear and anxiety.
Since that day when the Lord spoke to me I have never wavered, never had a second’s doubt. For a natural worrier, this is not normal! I once was worried, but now I am fully persuaded. I was once anxious, but now I am at peace.
All this is to the glory of our heavenly Father who wants us to know that we are his and that no one can snatch us from his hand.
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