By Mike Willis
Every man should have the knowledge of salvation and the blessed assurance that should he die he would go to be at home with God. Yet, how does one know when and if he is saved? This has been a question asked by many through the years. Indeed, this has been a question frequently answered by the preachers. who restored New Testament Christianity in this country. They preached on this subject repeatedly, although they titled their lesson differently. Rather than entitling their lesson “How Can We Know That We Are Saved?” they called their lessons “The Evidence of Pardon.” Yet, they grappled with the idea of how one can know that he is saved.
Feelings Are No Evidence of Salvation
Many people rest their assurance of salvation squarely upon their own personal sensations despite the fact that the Bible repeatedly warns that personal feelings are not absolutely trustworthy. Sometimes people feel a certain way about a matter as a result of testimony that is unreliable. They experience all of the feelings which one would experience if the testimony was reliable. For example, when Absalom plotted the death of Amnon, he invited all of his brothers to a sheepshearing feast in Baal-hazor. While Amnon was there, Absalom’s servants killed him. The word came back to David that Absalom had murdered all of the king’s sons. “Then the king arose, and tore his garments, and lay on the earth” (2 Sam. 13:31). David felt the same way as he would have felt had the testimony which he had heard been true. Judging from his personal feelings, all of his children except Absalom were dead. Yet, his feelings were not based on reliable evidence; they were based on false testimony.
That the same thing might happen with reference to personal salvation is abundantly clear from the case of Saul of Tarsus. Saul had a clear conscience until the time that Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Speaking of the time when he persecuted Christians, Saul said, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). He lived in all good conscience (Acts 23:1) during the time that he was a persecutor, blasphemer, and injurious person (1 Tim. 1:13): Despite the fact that he thought that he was in a saved relationship with God, he was lost and doomed to hell. No man better illustrates the truth of the proverb “there is a way which seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25) than does Saul of Tarsus. His personal feelings produced no salvation.
Feelings are simply a result of testimony; they say nothing about the truthfulness of that testimony. A man may certainly experience all of the emotions which come with salvation without experiencing salvation. Someone may give him the false testimony regarding what he must do to be saved (such as “worship Buddha”) resulting in that man feeling saved (indeed, experiencing all of the emotions which come with true salvation) without him ever being saved. Hence, the fact that one has experienced certain feelings is no guarantee of salvation. Believing that one is saved does not save that person.
Salvation Through God’s Pardon
We must remember that salvation from sins occurs when God forgives us of sins. Forgiveness of sins occurs in the mind of God. God is the one who was sinned against; He is the one who has the right to grant pardon and forgiveness. What goes on in my mind with reference to me feeling forgiven does not say one thing about whether or not I have been forgiven! Let me illustrate this point. Suppose that a man sat on death row in prison for having committed some crime. Pardon could be granted to that man by the governor; the governor has the legislated power to pardon a criminal. However, in order for that man to be pardoned, the governor would have to grant the pardon. After finding out about that pardon, the man would normally rejoice. Later, he would be released. However, let us reverse this situation as is often done in conversion. Let us suppose that this man sitting on death row tried to convince the guards to release him because he felt that he was pardoned, although no communication from the governor to that effect had been issued. Would the guards release him? Absolutely not! The pardon must be granted before the man can be released.
With reference to salvation, God must grant the forgiveness of sins (the pardon) before the feelings which a man has have any meaning at all. Yet, how does one receive the word of pardon from the Lord? Obviously, God does not issue a formal decree sent down from heaven to an individual to let him know that he has been forgiven. Yet, our knowledge of salvation must come through God’s statement of salvation. That is done through the written word of God, the Bible.
In the Bible, God has promised salvation to man conditionally. When man meets those conditions, God has promised to save him. When we learn what those conditions are and meet them, we can know that we are saved because God has promised to save the man who meets them and He cannot lie. Hence, our assurance of salvation rests squarely upon the promises of God.
Divine Conditions For Salvation
In order to be saved, man must have his sins forgiven through the blood of Christ which manifests God’s grace. Obviously, man cannot save himself. Hence, to be saved he must comply with the conditions laid down by God to receive His proffered grace. In order to be saved, man must obey the gospel. It is dangerous for a man not to obey the gospel, Peter wrote, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18). Damnation will be given to those who do not obey the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7). In contrast, our obedience to the truth purifies our soul (1 Pet. 1:22) as we meet the conditions for receiving God’s grace.
Specifically, the conditions for receiving salvation are as follows: (1) Believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:15-16). In order for a man to be saved, he must believe the glorious gospel-the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. (2) Repent of sins. The conditions for salvation include the repentance of sins. Paul told the Athenians, “And the time of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). (3) Confession of faith. In order to be saved, a man must confess his faith in Jesus. Paul wrote, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). (4) Be baptized. As another condition for receiving God’s. grace, Jesus has required that a man be baptized (immersed) in water. In response to the Jews on Pentecost who asked what they had to do to be saved, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
These are the divine conditions for receiving the forgiveness of sins. Through these acts of obedience, elsewhere called “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26), one meets the conditions for receiving forgiveness of sins. Let it be clearly understood that one cannot earn his salvation through these means. Rather, these are simply the conditions for receiving the free gift of God’s grace.
Knowledge of Salvation
I can know that I am saved when I meet these divine conditions for receiving God’s grace. God has promised salvation to those who so respond to His offer of grace. I know that I have the salvation which He has offered when I have responded in this fashion to His grace. My assurance of salvation rests squarely upon the promises of God; His divine veracity is at stake in my salvation.
On the other side, I can have no assurance of salvation so long as there is one part of God’s conditions for receiving His grace with which I have not complied. If I have not repented of my sins, I cannot have an assurance of salvation; if I have not confessed faith in Jesus, I cannot have an assurance of salvation; if I have not been immersed in water, I cannot have an assurance of salvation. The man who promises salvation to a man who has not met the conditions laid down by God for salvation promises more than God has promised. The only assurance which the man who had not met these conditions can have of salvation is only so much as mere man can give. There is no divine assurance of salvation to any one who does not meet the conditions for salvation.
The only genuine assurance of salvation which a man can have is that which comes through God’s holy word. Only when I learn the conditions laid down for salvation as revealed in that word and comply with them can I know that I am saved. There is no assurance of salvation through any other means.
Truth Magazine XXII: 45, pp. 723-725
November 16, 1978