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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Testing Faith

How can I know if I'm saved? I am not going to ask, "How can I know if you are saved?" or "How can you know if I am saved?" I'm just pursuing the question, "Is there any way that I can have some assurance that I am among the elect, that I am a genuine believer, that I am not among the 'many' who will come in front of the Judge believing I actually was saved only to be told, 'I never knew you'?" I don't want any of the people that I love to believe they're saved only to find out they're not, and I certainly don't want to find myself in that boat. So what am I to do?

John wrote his first epistle "that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13) From that I would assume that there is some way to ... you know ... know that you have eternal life. So what is it? Paul said, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves." (2 Cor 13:5) Apparently there is a way. I would argue that it's what the Bible says. Now that's kind of broad, so let's see if I can offer some constructive measures by which any individual can know if he or she is or is not a genuine believer. I will stress that I am not offering any input on figuring out if someone else is. That's not our job. What kind of hints do we find in the pages of Scripture to help us obtain some guidance, some assurance, or some correction?

Well, John's first epistle is full of "test questions". He contrasts "walk in the light" with "walk in darkness" (1 John 1:5-7), confession of sins (1 John 1:8-10), obedience to His commandments (1 John 2:3-6; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 5:2-3), love (1 John 2:7-11; 1 John 3:10-18; 1 John 3:23-24; 1 John 4:19-21), not loving the world (1 John 2:15), remaining in the faith (1 John 2:19), confessing the Son (1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 4:15), adherence to historical doctrines (1 John 2:24-25) (the faith once for all delivered to the saints - Jude 1:3), learning the truth from the Spirit (1 John 2:27) (which, by the way, would entail receiving the same truth as others who are taught by the Spirit, not contradictory truth), inability to practice sin (1 John 3:1-9), assured by our hearts (1 John 3:19-22); believe the Scriptures (1 John 4:5-6), and possessing the Spirit (1 John 4:13) (I told you it was full of test questions.)

As for having the Spirit, Paul offers a helpful "test". "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Gal 5:22-23) Paul contrasts this with "the works of the flesh" (Gal 5:16-17). So there is that to examine.

Peter says to "be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election" (2 Peter 1:10) and gives a list of qualities that should be yours and increasing (2 Peter 1:5-7). The author of Hebrews speaks of the discipline of God. "For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6) (Note that the "chastises" in that verse references "scourges" -- the use of pain -- rather than mere teaching.) Lest you wonder if the reverse is true, he makes it clear. "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Heb 12:8) So if you say, "The Lord never scourges me," you have something more to consider.

We have a sure and certain starting place. When the Philippian jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?", Paul answered, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:30-31) Faith is the starting place, predicated on the grace of God and not works (Eph 2:8-9). Jesus said, "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18) Repent (Acts 2:38) and believe; that's where it starts. So those who have not believed are certainly not saved. But since we know that many will come to Christ in the final judgment mistakenly thinking they were "in" and find out they were not (Matt 7:21-23), it seems like it would be wise for each of us to examine ourselves (you know ... like Paul said) to see if we are in the faith, or if we have been mistaken. It isn't a minor question. And we aren't without resources to answer it. Don't go about examining anyone else, but you should surely make your calling and election sure. Solid assurance is a good thing.


Bob said...

what of the person that is concerned about their salvation and begins to examine themselves?
i would venture to say; if a man is afraid for his condition, that is a healthy starting point. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. what marks the unsaved is their lack of concern towards their spiritual state. if a man/woman is so assured that they no longer consider their spiritual state or standing, they run the risk of self delusion. i would also venture to say that there is a blessed assurance that will never change for the child of God.
but there is also the sense of this assurance that is mutable. the child of God may not always sense the fullest portion of this assurance, because of sin, doubt or discipline. it is when we lose our sense of assurance, we are encouraged to examine ourselves. the cycle never actually ends in this life. assurance, doubt, examination, repentance, assurance...
praise God that though our sense of assurance is ever changing; God's assurance never does.

Stan said...

People that never experience concern about their salvation concern me. It seems to me the closer we get to Christ, the more magnified our sin becomes and the more aware we are and it has to cause a question. I once had someone claiming to be a Christian tell me, "God never disciplines me." No doubt. No concern. And biblically (Heb 12:8) that excludes them from the family of God.

There are times that my sin causes me to ask the question and there are times that I can only say, "By the faith in the grace of God I have to believe that He has saved me." You know ... standing on the promises. For those who are perfectly self-satisfied, I pray a lot.

Anonymous said...

I was listening a few days back to one of those call-in talk shows on theological topics. One caller was calling in to defend the God of the Bible. But at a certain point he dismissed the biblical story of Jesus casting out demons. Oh, Jesus performed a healing miracle, the man assures us. But the writer of that passage misinterpreted what was going on and wrote about the situation as if demons were somehow involved.

Can that man be a heaven-bound Christian when he believes the Bible is so deeply flawed?

Stan said...

If a person's salvation is tied to perfect theology, we're all lost. None of us have it 100% right. I do not believe that a person can continue to hold that kind of view of God's Word and be genuinely saved, but it certainly happens that we all hold deeply flawed views for some time in our Christian lives. (Which is why I urged, "Don't go about examining anyone else, but you should surely make your calling and election sure.")