Gasp! Pharisee! Legalist!

The primary means by which a Christian comes to know that he is saved, assurance of salvation, is through obedience. In my three years in the pastoral office, this is probably the most common question: How do I know that I am saved?

The usual response that people get from the church is along these lines: pray that God would make salvation more real to your heart. You need to feel that God loves you more deeply. Despite your doubt, know that Jesus saves. Read three chapters a day from the Gospel of John and see me next week. And so on.

These answers are fine, sort of. I like the one about praying, at least the prayer part. But God has made a way for us to know with certainty that we are saved. It is not a notion of ooey-gooey feel goodness, because some days we just don’t feel good. If my assurance of salvation was bound up in how I felt, I would despair nearly every day. Following your heart here would be disastrous as it slides down the slippery slope to hell.

We don’t like to say it, but the Bible does, so here I go. The biblical prescription for the assurance of salvation is obedience. Gasp! Pharisee! Legalist! Burn him!pharisee

Ok, look. John says that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us (1 John 1:9-10). If we sin again, because we will, we can confess again because we have a perfect and righteous Advocate in heaven on our defense (1 John 2:1-2). Then John says over and over again that the one way a Christian knows that he is born of God and not born of the Dragon is through keeping God’s commands (1 John 2:3-6, 29, 3:6-10, 21-24, 4:12, and 5:2-5).

This doesn’t mean, however, that we walk around with a checklist and a clipboard. You are not saved because you never broke the 8th Commandment, you are saved because when you did break the 8th Commandment you confessed the sin in Jesus’s Name, set the record straight, and mortified that desire to do it again. We call this faithfulness. If that sinful desire is not dead or dying, then you need to rethink your assurance.

Follow me here: it is not our faith in Jesus that saves, it is Jesus that saves. We don’t have faith in our faith, that would be nonsensical. In a similar way we do not have assurance because we have marked the boxes of God’s commands, but we know we are saved because our lives are marked by obedience to God’s commands. Obedience points to the certainty of salvation.  

Just to be clear, there is no merit here. This is about covenant loyalty. Obedience to God is faithfulness and faithfulness is the means by which we are saved in Christ (Philippians 2:12-13).

So, how do I know that I am saved?

I never knew what love was until I married my wife.

I never knew what joy was until I had children.

I never knew what beer was until I had oatmeal stout.

I never knew what assurance was until I obeyed.


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