This past Sunday, I preached from John 10:22-42. In that passage, we saw the promise of preservation that Jesus gives to his sheep. Those who are his are protected by him and they can be assured that he will never let them go. It is one of the wonderful securities of the Christian life: Christ holds us fast.
The reality of the Christian life, however, is that at times people struggle with assurance of salvation. They wonder, “Am I really saved?” If you have ever wondered that, you are not alone. The good news is that the Bible gives us at least three ways to help us to answer this question.
First, there are the promises of God, such as are found in John 10:28: “I give eternal life to them and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This promise is repeated many times over through the Bible as an assurance that those who belong to Christ in salvation will never not belong to him. We are eternally secure in Christ. When the doubts come, remember God made promises and he always keeps his promises. Trust his promises.
Second, there is the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:15-17 puts it this way: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” One of the works of the Spirit who was given to us in salvation is to assure us that belong to God; we are sons of God with all the things that brings along with—sufferings as well as glory. This is a more mystical testimony of a sort. It is one that can be misleading to us at times. Nevertheless, it is one means of assurance that the Father has given to us.
Third, and flowing from the second, is the life that we lead. One of the first assurance verses most of us heard after coming to Christ for salvation is 1 John 5:13, which says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Much emphasis was placed on knowing and rightly so. It is the focus of not only the verse, but of the whole book. Less emphasis was placed on the “things that were written … so that you may know.” The book of 1 John (written by the same guy who wrote the gospel of John and John 10) is written with tests of salvation, which is described as “fellowship with him.” One of the means of assurance is the tests of 1 John: tests of fellowship, of finding forgiveness with God, of walking in light, of obedience, of love, of purity.
Many years ago I was having a serious struggle with assurance of salvation. Nights of worry; repeated prayers in case I had messed up the last one; a few conversations with people; more fear. In the midst of this one wise man reminded me of 1 John 5:13 and told me this: “Larry, go read 1 John and see if that describes you.” So I did.
God used that in my life to bring his promises and the testimony of the Spirit to life in me. I didn’t measure up perfectly to 1 John. In fact, reading it was a reminder of how much I didn’t measure up. But the fact is that it resonated with me. That was the kind of life I wanted to live, the kind of life I was pursuing however imperfectly. It was my pursuit. It gave me assurance. Ironically, it was not assurance based on my own living up to the tests, but assurance based on God’s promises to keep me and change me. That night was the night the gospel began to grow in me like it never had before, and it grows to this day. I am more convinced than ever that if Jesus didn’t do enough to save me, there is no salvation for me. I am more convinced than ever that nothing I do can earn salvation, or help my salvation. And I more desirous than ever to live in obedience and follow after Jesus. That gives me hope.
Remember the sheep hear his voice and follow him. 1 John is about following him because we have heard his voice. The reason I say this flows from Romans 8 and the internal testimony of the Spirit is because in Romans 8 those who “by the Spirit … are putting to death the deeds of the body … will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:13-14). To be led by the Spirit is to obey, and the Spirit uses that to testify that we belong to the Father.
When you are convicted of sin, take great hope because that is one of the signs that you belong to him. When you obey, take great hope not that you are saved by your obedience, but that your obedience is a reminder that you were saved.
Our Savior will hold us fast, and he will change us into his image. Rest in him.