If you listen to enough people I will suggest that you will stumble upon both a human answer to this question as well as one from Scripture. While both appear to offer comfort, one answer is misleading and involves playing word games to cover over its inconsistencies. The other deals with Scripture responsibly. Let’s survey the landscape of this question.
Can a Christian live with the deep and abiding peace of mind which comes from the assurance of knowing he or she is saved? Or are people doomed to a life of uncertainty mingled with worry and fear?
The first half of the biblical answer requires understanding the basis by which God offers salvation to us. We can grasp just how secure our salvation is by asking the question, “is there any doubt that Jesus will be saved?” Of course not! The absolute beauty of what God has done through Jesus is, those who rely upon the death, burial and resurrection of Christ are incorporated into the body of Christ and are saved on the basis of Jesus, not upon who they have been!/1 The gift of grace involves receiving what you do not deserve! Those in Christ can live with the assurance that if Christ has been raised from the dead to be with the Father, then they will also be raised to life with him./2
The second half of the biblical answer regarding the security of salvation a Christian has before God encounters competition from what appears to be a comforting, albeit human doctrine. Some have claimed that once a person is saved it is impossible for that individual to become lost. On the surface, this would seem to offer continued security to the disciple. But does it? Not really.
In my experience in talking with those who hold to this view, in order to reconcile their doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy with the fact that some have quit following Jesus, they typically resort to claiming that those who end up denying Christ were never really saved. What sort of assurance is this? From that perspective, how can a person really know whether his faith is genuine or not, since from a human perspective this will only become known based upon his final state?
The biblical answer provides certainty throughout life. While Scripture reveals it is possible to fall away from grace by failing to endure or by distorting the message,/3 if someone has responded to the gospel and continues to walk in the light, he can know that he is saved because of what Jesus accomplished through his death!/4
Since this has been a quick survey, perhaps some lingering questions remain. Possibly these can be addressed under two questions. First, if it is true that salvation is based upon being in Christ, then does not this eliminate the necessity of obedience? Second, what happens if I may catch myself sinning? Do I waffle between being saved and being lost?
To this last question, there is a difference between those living under the condemnation of sin and who have been enslaved to sin regardless of whatever good they might also do and those, on the other hand, who have been set free from sin and its consequences in order to serve God, but who might still catch themselves in a sin. While Romans 6:11-23 emphasizes the necessity of casting off sin because at conversion our master was changed, 1 John 1:7 and 2:1 underscore the fact that although those who walk in the light should not sin, if they do sin, Jesus’ blood covers it. Salvation and grace are found in Jesus Christ! As Romans 8:1 says, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is equivalent to saying, in Jesus our sins have been forgiven.
To the former question regarding the need for obedience, God has given his people a purpose which ranges from worshiping to doing good./5 Those ungrateful servants who refuse to obediently serve can be cast out./6 Thus, although we can not earn our salvation, it is also true that lazy and worthless servants can be rejected; Christ can cut off those who fail to obey. It would be a grave misunderstanding of grace to think, now that I will receive the salvation I do not deserve, obedience has become irrelevant./7
Can you know if you are saved? Yes! You can live with peaceful assurance if you have obeyed the gospel and have not fallen away from obediently following Christ.
1 Colossians 1:22,23; Ephesians 2:4-9,13; Titus 3:4-7
2 1 Corinthians 15:20-23; 1 Peter 1:3,4
3 1 Timothy 5:15; Galatians 1:6; 5:4; Revelation 2:4,5; 3:1-3,15,16; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:22-29,39; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:2
4 1 Corinthians 15:2; Colossians 1:22,23; 2 Timothy 2:11,12; 1 John 1:7
5 1 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12,13; Titus 2:14
6 Matthew 25:1-46; Revelation 2:4,5; 3:1-3,15,16
7 Titus 2:11-14
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