Assurance is a tricky thing. As creatures that perceive, we heavily rely on perception to be assured that something is true. But salvation is a spiritual event. When Jesus blood cleansed us of all sin, that event could not be observed. You don’t literally see His blood fall over you, nor do you spiritually feel any blood over your soul like the way you feel heartbreak. What you may feel are the effects of Jesus’ blood like when you experience a sudden peace fall over your soul, but you never “feel” the blood of Jesus itself. If your assurance of salvation is based on the presence of that peace, then that assurance is quickly lost when that peace disappears during difficult times. Others rely on their fruit being the basis of their assurance, but once again that is also quickly lost when there are seasons of unfruitfulness.
You can see how fickle our assurance can be if we rely on such things, and this is by no means how the Christian life should operate. The Apostle John thought assurance was so important, that he wrote a whole book on it “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:12-13). Keyword there is know. He didn’t say, “So you can feel… or think… or base it on probability…” Nor did he say it’s a state that we obtain after becoming super Christian or really smart in matters of doctrine. No, he said that this is actual knowledge that we can have here and now. Now it’s important that we are clear that assurance is not itself what saves us, so don’t freak out and start doubting your salvation even more because you don’t have this assurance. Assurance is rather what flows out of the simplicity of faith in the gospel. Without assurance, our walk with God suffers severely but it does not sever us from God. What makes assurance so difficult to accept is that it’s so simple to acquire and yet it’s so hard to believe because it seems too simple. But it really is that simple as we shall see.
I once made a FB post asking Catholics why they are so unsure of their own salvation. Whenever I asked them, “If you were die right here and now, do you know whether you would go to heaven?”, they would usually answer, “Well I hope so.” You hope so?! I thought that was sad. How could we be content only hoping that we go to heaven, but not knowing that we would go? I can hope that I can win the lottery but the chances of that happening are ridiculously infinitesimal. My chances of going to heaven are just as bad, except infinitely worse. Their hope seems so utterly hopeless. To my surprise this isn’t just a Catholic issue because Protestants ended up defending their doubt as well. They both asked me how anyone could be sure of their salvation if they could be self-deceived or could fall away tomorrow. No one knows the hour and circumstances of their death except God. They claimed it is more humble to not be sure of their salvation. As someone who despaired and doubted my salvation for years, I can truly sympathize with their claim. Again, because we operate on perception and our perception is limited by time and can possibly be deceived, it seems natural to conclude that we can never be sure of our salvation.
However, contrary to their claims, the Scripture clearly says that you can “know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). How? Simple. Anyone who believes in Christ has eternal life (John 6:47). You may find this incredibly naive, but just as we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), so too are we assured of our salvation by grace through faith. After all, do you confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? Then you must have the Spirit because “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Col 12:3). This naturally leads to another passage that says ”Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). How could we not be assured of our salvation if the Spirit, who never lies and knows all, testifies within us? You may think that this “witness” is some kind of miraculous experience of a select few. It’s not an experience, but rather it is available to allwho have faith that God’s Word is true. The Bible says that anyone “who believes in the Son of God has this testimony within him” (1 John 5:10). What is that testimony? “[T]his is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (1 John 5:11). The Spirit witnesses to our Spirit that we are God’s children by testifying to us about Jesus Christ (John 15:26). We know that we are saved if we believe God gives us eternal life in His Son, our Lord.
The bottom line here is faith. Do you believe or do not you believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior? Even the smallest faith, the faith of a mustard seed, is sufficient to save you. That faith may seem weak amid the doubt and habitual sin, leading you to cry “I believe, but help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) but remember again, just the tiniest bit of faith can move mountains. Do you take God at His Word, or do you call Him a liar? Anyone who does not believe it is this simple has “made God a liar” (1 John 5:10). Do you believe your feelings, your doubts, or do you believe God? No matter how stupid weak your faith seems to be, you could not have even a single iota of faith if it was not given to you as a gift from God (Eph 2:8). Christians who worry they may be self-deceived in their faith give themselves too much credit. Is the tiniest faith something you can conjure up by your own human power? Is there any man who could “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that Jesus rose again” (Romans 10:9) without God’s Spirit? No man seeks after God, no not one. At best what you can do is believe a false gospel like the pharisees, and then pretend you are saved, but if you know the true gospel and sincerely believe Jesus came to give you(a wretched man)life, then it is impossible for you to be deceived.
Here’s the main problem with people who complain that their wills are weak, their hearts are prone to wander, and their minds are too uncertain to know what lies ahead in the future: they’re absolutely right, but they’re absolutely wrong to think that assurance was ever about them. Notice how over and over again that my sins, my weaknesses, my ignorance, my capacity for self-deception as are given as reasons to doubt one’s salvation. This is a Christian who looks unto himself for assurance. Of course if you look at yourself you will lose all hope of assurance. But if you look unto the author and finisher of your faith, you can’t help but find your assurance. A snarky Christian may respond, “That’s easy believism. There should be fruit in a Christian’s life. Faith without works is dead. Jesus also said that those who endure to the end will be saved. It’s not a simple act of faith and then bam, you’re saved for life.” Well here’s a surprise: not once did I deny those things. Yes, those who endure to the end are saved, but Scripture says that it is God who “will sustain you to the end” (1 Cor 1:8). Do you believe God will do as He promised? Second, of course there should be fruit in someone who professes to believe. But that fruit was not the basis of your salvation, so how can it be the basis of your assurance?
Faith is “the assurance of all things hoped for, the evidence of things we cannot see” (Heb 11:1). People are too busy looking into things that they can see (their works, their fruit, and their own capacity for self-deception) and because they cannot see the blood of Christ or their new birth, this becomes a cause of doubt. But they doubt because they’re not operating from the lens of faith but from the lens of human perception. It’s no wonder they cannot find assurance! We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). This isn’t easy believe-ism where you can get away with living however you like and act as if God does not exist. Faith has fruit, and that fruit can be used to increase our faith, but it should never be the basis of our assurance (aka faith). If you have any desire at all to please God, any remorse at sinning against Him, or any desire for His truth, then that is fruit which you can wield to be assured that your faith is real. But if you are worried about whether your faith is real, that worry itself can only come from a man who has been redeemed by God. Use the fact that you are worried as evidence that God has changed your heart. But again, that’s not the basis of your assurance. As long as you believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and that in Him alone is eternal life, then you are saved. It’s as simple as that.
You ask what you must do to be sure of your salvation? There’s absolutely nothing you can do except believe. Remember this and remember this well. You will never, ever, get assurance from yourself. Look at Christ through the eyes of faith. You can’t see your new birth, but your faith is itself the proof of that new birth. Now all ye of little faith, go and walk in the fulness of the faith that the Lord has given. Pray that He may increase the measure of your faith. That is a prayer that He will surely answer. By walking in the full measure of faith, you will find that your walk with the Lord is made all the more powerful. No sin, no angel or demon, no power of this world, and nothing we ever do (or fail to do) could ever separate us from the love of God. Remember, there is no condemnation for those who believe in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). You are free. You must embrace your new identity. You must bring it unto remembrance day after day. You must “consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ” (Romans 6:11) even after you just fell into a sin you’ve done a thousand times before.
Remember, if you confess your sin before Jesus, He is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). That’s a promise. I know it’s hard… I know how hard it is, I really do. But the truth will set you free. Your victory is your faith (1 John 5:4). If you do not see victory in your life against sin right now, it is because your faith is still weak and hindered by guilt that leads you to doubt God loves you when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Your sin is just not even close to being powerful enough to separating you from the love of God but your belief that it does makes it seem as if that is what is happening. You need to change your mindset by letting faith in God’s Word transform your mind. Though the righteous man may fall seven times, he stands back up (Proverbs 24:16). God put to death the power of sin on the cross. You are no longer a slave to sin but a slave to righteousness. Believe that and you will stand.