There is inestimable value in possessing salvation (Matthew 13:44) and added value in being confident of that salvation. God desires all of His creation to be saved (2 Peter 3:9) and none of His children to be of a doubtful mind (Luke 12:29; Philippians 4:6; 2 Timothy 1:12).
Jehovah wants us to feel “no condemn-ation” (Romans 8:1) and “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). He invites us to draw near with a true heart in “full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22–23). He wants us to look for and earnestly desire—not dread or be anxious about—going to live with Him (2 Peter 3:12).
First John is a book of assurance. In it, God gives criteria by which we may clearly determine whether we are saved or lost. How can we have confidence?
Assurance comes from what is written—not what is felt.
John wrote, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).
Humans are emotional beings. This is part of being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). Feelings allow us to live on a higher level than both wild beasts that live by instinct and domesticated animals with their limited range of attachments and affections. Our emotions allow us a richer life, but they also open us to the pains of sadness, worry, embarrassment, and doubt.
Feelings cannot be trusted as a basis of assurance. We can never know we are saved—or that we are lost—solely by how we feel.
Feelings are uncertain. Assurance resting on feelings will come and go according to emotions, circumstances, and the chemical balances in our bodies. Assurance resting on the unchanging Word is accurate and steadfast (Psalm 119:89; 1 Peter 1:25).
Feelings can produce false concern. One may feel bad about his condition yet be wrong. Jacob mourned Joseph’s death when his son was alive in Egypt (Genesis 37:34). John wrote, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” (1 John 3:20). Christ-ians can “be of good cheer,” for it shall be even as it was told us (Acts 27:25).
Feelings can produce false confidence. One may feel good about his condition yet be lost. Paul was lost when he felt saved (Acts 23:1); the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable felt good about himself, but was not justified (Luke 18:11). Today one may say, “I know I’m saved because I have a good feeling in my heart,” but the way of man is not “in himself” (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12). God’s word is man’s guide (Psalm 119:105; John 8:32). Speculating is a good way to lose money; it is also a sure way to lose one’s soul.
Confidence depends on the spirit’s testimony (1 John 3:24)—not a Man’s assurances.
Many feel safe simply because someone told them that they were saved. They have never taken time to search the Bible for themselves (Acts 17:11; Philippians 2:12). Yet men can be wrong, even if well-meaning (Matthew 7:21–23). John warned that “many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Assurance should instead be based on the Holy Spirit’s testimony. Paul wrote, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). Does this mean we should listen for a mystical inner voice acknowledging we are saved? No, we must not make the mistake of listening to our own spirit and mistaking it for God’s Holy Spirit.
How does the Spirit bear witness, then? He inspired the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21) and uses those written words as His instrument of conviction, conversion, and assurance (Ephesians 6:17; Acts 20:32). The Spirit testifies through the gospel what a child of God is. Then a man’s spirit testifies to whether or not he is in harmony with it.
What does the Spirit say is required to be a child of God? The Scriptures record how God took care of man’s sin problem at the cross (Romans 5:8–10; 1 John 4:9, 14), and how Jesus now invites all to be free of its shackles (Matthew 11:28–30).
Since salvation is found only in Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), to be saved each must become a Christian. How does one become a Christian? The book of Acts is the New Testament book of conversions. It shows a consistent plan of salvation presented by the preachers the Spirit used to present salvation to sinners.
The Ethiopian treasurer is one example of how to be saved (read Acts 8:30–40). Since God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), what He requires of one, He requires of all. To state it another way, what He gave the treasurer He will give to you upon the same conditions. Each man’s spirit should thus compare the Spirit’s words in this case with his own situation. The treasurer
Learned about Jesus from the Bible (8:35–36). Have I?
Believed in Jesus as God’s Son (8:37). Have I?
Repented of (turned from) sins. Have I? (While this account does not mention penitence, his repentance is implied in his request and is consistent with Peter’s answer to the sinners on Pentecost [Acts 2:38; cf. Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3].)
Confessed Christ’s deity (8:37). Have I?
Was baptized in water (8:38). Have I?
Went on his way rejoicing (8:39), indicating a change had taken place, and a new life had begun. Have I?
The Spirit testifies to our spirit through this account. If one answers “yes” to each question, then he has reason for assurance. If any answers are “no,” then one should not delay to complete his obedience (2 Corinthians 6:2).
It is not more complicated than that. Each person either is or is not God’s child. Since baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27) and washes away sin (Acts 22:16), at immersion we receive salvation both from Him and in Him (1 John 5:11; Ephesians 1:3).
The last picture we have of the treasurer is of a joyful man (Acts 8:39). What made the man in the chariot happy? His spirit was in harmony with the Holy Spirit.
Confidence comes from walking in the light—not from past salvation.
John says Christians must sincerely attempt to walk daily by Scripture (1 John 1:6–10). He then explains more specifically what this means, including such things as keeping His commandments (1 John 2:2–5; cf. 3:22, 24), walking as He walked (2:6), practicing righteousness (2:29), staying pure (3:3–10), loving “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:14–19), and overcoming worldliness (5:2–4).
Note the “if” statements in the “even” verses of 1 John 1:6–10: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. . . . If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
To have fellowship with God (assurance) we must
Avoid walking in darkness (1:6). Some Christians have little confidence in salvation because they deliberately dabble in daily sin (Matthew 6:24; 1 Kings 18:21). Conversely, the happiest people on earth are sincere believers daily walking with their Lord.
Avoid claiming sin does not affect us (1 John 1:8). Everyone struggles with temptation (James 1:13–14).
Avoid not admitting/confessing our sins to God (1 John 1:10).
At the same time, Jesus does not expect His followers to live perfect lives. No Christian has ever been able to live completely without sin (Romans 3:23; Psalm 19:12–14). John, a Spirit-filled apostle, included himself in this statement (“If we say we have not sinned”).
Christians do slip, through weakness, time and again. It is only when we cease to try that we lose assurance of salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10–15; 9:27; 10:12; Galatians 5:4; 1 Timothy 1:19–20; 2 Peter 1:8–11; 2:20–22). When we fall, we need not despair and give up trying. God is anxious to forgive us as we struggle to live for Him.
Note the “odd” verses now: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. . . . If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9).
Jesus will help His followers to do “all things” that He requires (Philippians 4:13). As “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3–4), we are in partnership with the divine Being. He is in this with us (1 Peter 5:10).
God is not out to get us, He is out to help us (Acts 26:22; Hebrews 4:16). He is “for” us (Romans 8:31). He wants us to succeed, not fail … to go on to victory, not defeat … to be saved, not lost.
Still, some faithful Christians cannot shake the feeling that they are lost. Certain personality types (perfectionists, worriers) have difficulty accepting God’s unconditional love. Even though they intellectually know they have done what is required for salvation, and even though they strive to live right, and pray sincerely when they do not, they cannot rid themselves of a “lost” feeling. They fear death. They are not convinced that God really loves them, and that He has forgiven their sins.
Nonetheless, God will base judgment on His record, not on their feelings (1 John 5:20). Sin cannot be looked at logically; it must be looked at theologically. As one said, “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.” Paul, possibly the most dedicated Christian ever, had haunting memories of those he had persecuted and killed (Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:16). Yet, on balance, he was able to live a joyful life (Philippians 4:4), trusting that Christ’s grace was more than sufficient for his history of flaws (Romans 5:20).
Helen Keller remarked, “I do not want the peace which passes understanding, I want the understanding which brings peace.” God wants us to have both (Philippians 4:6). Obedient faith is the root; complete assurance is the flower.