By Kenneth E. Thomas
Lately some have created a false idea in the minds of Christians that suggests that a person cannot know for sure that he is saved until he stands before Christ at the judgment and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21 a). Ask a Christian the question, “Do you, know that you are saved and that, if You died right now, you would go to heaven to be with the Lord?” See for yourself that a number of Christians do not believe that they can know and will not give a definite answer to the above question. I have asked this question and listened to the response a number of times. Usually the answer runs something like this: “Well I don’t know, but I sure hope so. ” Is there a sense of security in such an answer? I am unable to find any joy or assurance in such an answer. Saying “I hope so ” isn’t anything like having hope. Paul says that “we are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24). This means expectation of things to come, not as the person who says, “I hope so!” They are saying I don’t know for sure. That isn’t the kind of hope that causes one to “with patience wait for it” (v. 25).
While the apostle Paul taught against a person being overly confident or boastful about his standing with Christ saying, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12), he nonetheless also taught that one can be aware of his standing with Christ by a self-examination. The passage says, “Examine yourself, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5) To the alien sinner on Pentecost, Peter exhorted, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). To the brethren at Philippi Paul said, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). If one cannot know for sure he is saved, those who obey the gospel don’t know for sure that their sins were forgiven as Jesus promises when he said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). If one cannot know he is saved, self-examination can serve no purpose. James affirms that the person who “looketh into the perfect law of libertyaand continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deeds” (Jas. 1:25; see also 2:14-26, 1:18-24). You can know whether or not you have obeyed the gospel of Christ. You can know whether or not you are “walking in the light as he is in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). Remaining in fellowship hinges on walking in the light; one can know if he is doing the will of the Lord! Paul said, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). He also admonished the young man Timothy to make effort to rightly divide the word of truth so he would not be ashamed before Christ (2 Tim. 2:15). In fact, Paul reminded Timothy “that from child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).
There Is A Crown . . .for Me
This great man who said that he had to keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27), was able to say at the end of his earthly sojourn, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
That You May Know
John said, “And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son has life, and he that has not the Son of God has not life. 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” (1 Jn. 5:11-13). Now that settles the matter once and for all to the believer! The fact that we have “eternal life” and are “in Christ” doesn’t mean that we cannot by our own free will and actions forfeit such. I chose to believe and obey Christ; I can just as surely choose to cease serving him and go back to serving Satan and cease to abide in Christ. I will cease to possess eternal life if I make such a choice. “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (Jn. 15:6). If I abide in Christ and bear fruit, my position becomes more secure as Christ has said, “Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit (Jn. 15:2b).
“Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine”
Christians have been singing this beautiful and reassuring hymn for as long as I can remember, and no doubt before I was born. If one cannot know for sure where he stands with his Lord, what assurance can he have? I suggest there would be none. But as we have seen already, there is much assurance given in the Scriptures. Jesus said to his disciples, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him ” (Jn. 14:23). Compare this with 2 John 9.
The Spirit Bars Witness With Ours
Denominationalists of various stripe and color have so misused the passages we now consider that perhaps some of our brethren fail to appreciate their significance, and the assurance these passages can bring.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
The Holy Spirit who revealed the will of God to chosen men in the first century has preserved his will in the New Testament (1 Cor. 2:7-13; Jn. 12:49; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). One is being led by the Spirit when he is believing and practicing that which the Spirit has revealed in the Scriptures. One who does not abide in the teaching of Christ “hath not God” (2 Jn. 9). Some folks have perverted the meaning of these passages to mean that if I feel good about what I believe, this is the Spirit bearing witness with my spirit that I am a child of God. That is not what the verses say! Such as idea has my sprit really doing all of the witnessing! There must be an agreement between what I believe and practice with what the Holy Spirit has revealed to be God’s will for man. “With” means “together.” Let me take some space to give a clear example of what I am saying:
The Spirit Says I Must Believe
In Hebrews 11:6 we read, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Jesus said to the Jews of his day, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am (the Christ, ket), ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). Now if I believe in the one true God and in his Son Jesus Christ, then my spirit agrees or bears witness with the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit Commands Repentance
If the great love story of the cross of the Son of God has touched my heart and moved me to repent because I have believed that God, in love, did for me what I could not do for myself in providing this great sacrifice for my sins, and that godly sorrow filled my heart causing me to change my mind about my actions and turn to Christ, I have repented. The Holy Spirit’s teachings relative to repentance and my spirit bear witness together that I have complied with his instructions. The Spirit says, “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish ” (Lk. 13:3) and, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
The Spirit Says Confess Christ
Paul says,” With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation ” (Rom. 10:10). In his personal ministry Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). If I have made a confession with my mouth that I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, then I have done what the Spirit says I must, and my spirit bears witness with the Holy Spirit in this matter (see Acts 8:37).
The Spirit Commands Immersion In Water
Not only does the Holy Spirit through his word command baptism or immersion in water after one believes, repents and confesses faith in Christ, he says the design for baptism is the forgiveness of past sins (Acts 2:38); to wash away sins (Acts 22:16); to get into Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27); to be saved (1 Pet. 3:20-21); and into the one body (the church, 1 Cor. 12:13). Now I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt if I have been immersed in water for these Bible reasons. If I have, then the Holy Spirit and my spirit bear witness one with the other that I am a child of God. If one claims this witness who has not so obeyed, then he is simply sadly mistaken in the matter; his own spirit may not accuse him, but since the Holy Spirit’s teachings and that person’s claim disagree, the Spirit does not bear witness that such is a child of God. In fact the Holy Spirit says he is still a child of the devil who has not obeyed the gospel of Christ (2 Thess. 1:6-10).
The Spirit Commands Faithfulness
Many people are just sure that all is well with their souls when, by their lives and by their beliefs and practices, it just isn’t so! There are many who have departed from the faith. Oh sure, they are faithful to attend the services of the local congregation and would not think of not partaking of the memorial supper (communion) every Lord’s day, but they do not study God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15); do not try to convert others to Christ (2 Tim. 2:2; Heb. 5:12-14); show no compassion to those in need (Gal. 6: 10; 1 Jn. 3:17; Matt. 25:31-46); do not pray habitually (1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:14); do not give as liberally as they should (Matt. 6:33; 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8,9).
Some believe themselves to be in God’s favor who advocate support of various human institutions from the church’s treasury. Some have the church engaging in athletics and various social activities as functions of local churches of Christ. They feel good about such, but the Spirit authorizes no such activities. The Spirit isn’t bearing witness to these or any other unlawful activities (Col. 3:17; 2 Jn. 9). Yes, if you’re saved you can know it. You now possess eternal life in promise, prospect, and hope. If you are faithful unto death, heaven will be your home by God’s grace (Mk. 10:30). In any case, it will not be by your perfect performance; if so, the Lord Jesus Christ would not have had to die. We stand through forgiveness through the blood of Christ by gospel obedience.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 6, pp. 176-177, 183
March 16, 1989