Survey in Basic Christianity
Lesson 12
Assurance of Salvation

O.J. Gibson

Some say, “No one can know for sure that he is going to heaven.” There are two prevailing views among Bible teachers about the topic of the eternal security of believers. Some say, “Once saved, always saved.” Others argue that personal sins may cause us to lose our salvation. God has spoken on this matter, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). God’s testimony is sure. You can know! You have eternal life if you have the Son of God.

Our assurance should be based on what God said, not on the trembling feelings in our hearts and minds. The Lord wants us to enjoy a stable Christian life, sure of our relationship with Him. And for that reason, He offers the assurance of salvation to every believer.

Promise of Assurance

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). You will note that it does not say that you may feel—or hope—or think—or imagine. It says, “you may know that you have eternal life.” Over 30 times in his first epistle, John repeats the word “know” in some form. Consider these phrases: “know that we know Him” (1 John 2:3), “know that we have passed from death to life” (1 John 3:14), “know that we are of the truth” (1 John 3:19), “know that He abides in us” (1 John 3:24), and “know that we abide in Him” (1 John 4:13).

It is certainly true that “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Just as there is counterfeit currency, so there are counterfeit “Christians.” Some who profess to be believers and have associated themselves with Christians will be turned away by the Lord (Luke 13:25-27). Jesus warned of imposters He described as wolves in sheep’s clothing or as rotten fruit trees (Matthew 7:15-19). Jesus said, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20). Yet, if a person has been born again, sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), and shows evidence of a changed life (1 John 2:6), that believer can be confident of eternal life right now (Romans 8:38-39; 2 Timothy 1:12).

Assurance is defined as “confidence” or a “state of certainty.” Assurance of salvation is the confidence or state of certainty a Christian has about his salvation (eternal life). The Scriptures clearly indicate that God wants Christians to know that they are heaven-bound. Assurance of salvation is not merely human optimism or presumption. It is a fact confirmed by God’s testimony that He has given us eternal life.

Three Witnesses for the Believer’s Assurance

God has given the Christian three witnesses that testify to his relationship with God, and on which he should base his assurance:

1. The Word of God
The Bible is our most decisive witness. Just as our salvation is based on belief in God’s word (Genesis 15:6; Romans 10:9-10), so also our assurance must rest on the promises of the Bible. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:16, 36; 5:24). The word of God was “written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Our salvation is based on the fact that we have the Son of God, not that we have a certain feeling (1 John 5:12). Nowhere does the Bible speak of “feeling” saved. If we come to Jesus, we have His word that He will never cast us out (John 6:37).

2. Objective Tests of Reality
Another important witness is the reality of a changed life. The thief on the cross had limited opportunity to stand for Christ, but he publicly confessed his faith and rebuked the other thief (Luke 23:40-43). Although there are believers who live a carnal (fleshly) life (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), of whom Lot is typical (2 Peter 2:7-8), that is not to say their lives show no evidence of spiritual life. Human failure has Scriptural provision (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2), but this is not a license to sin (Romans 6:1-2). As a genuine believer matures, he will demonstrate the following evidence of spiritual life:

3. Inward Witness
A third witness is our own feelings. This witness is the weakest of the three because it is subjective, and a person may deceive himself. Yet, taken with the other two, it is still a significant witness. The following are subjective tests of the reality of divine life:

  • The witness of the Spirit with our spirit (Romans 8:16)
  • No more consciousness of sin as an unpaid debt (Hebrews 10:2)
  • Distress when we sin (Psalm 32:3-5)
  • Our way of life has changed (see previous objective tests); we sense reality in prayer; we are concerned for the lost; we desire to read and follow the Bible, etc.

How To Deal With Doubts

1. Recognize Doubts
Why do some Christians experience doubts?

  • Emotional temperament plays a role. Some people have a sensitive conscience to sin. Others are troubled by a lack of fruit-bearing in their Christian life. Trials in life also disrupt their peace of mind.
  • Satan sows seeds of doubt in the heart that trouble believers. Questions such as, “Did you truly believe the right way?” Or “How can you say you are a Christian yet you still sin?” Or “Maybe you have committed the unpardonable sin!”
  • Inconsistencies or sins in their life often plague believers with doubts.
  • Negligence in prayer, worship, and witnessing may also undermine their assurance.
  • Uncertainty about the timing of one’s salvation often causes a lack of peace and assurance.

If you experience any of these doubts, you will find these questions are answered in Appendix B – God’s Answers to Man’s Questions.

2. Examine Yourself
Some Christians may not remember all the details of when they first believed. Some children trust in the Lord at a very early age. Some adults turn to the Lord out of a life of drugs and alcohol. Some memory lapses may occur. The following questions may help pinpoint a person’s true spiritual state:

  • Do you remember experiencing the conviction of sin that led to your salvation?
  • On what are you currently basing your hopes of heaven?
  • When and under what circumstances did you receive Christ?
  • If you were to die tonight and stand before God and He were to say to you, “Why should I let you into heaven,” what would you say?

A true believer experiences conviction of sin and repentance and rests his hope of salvation solely on Christ and His finished work. Generally, a believer will recall when he made an unconditional commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior. If the exact date is unknown, he will at least remember that he did trust in the Lord. The question is, “Are you trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord right now?” If not, why not trust Him for your salvation today? “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

3. Understand That All Believers Have Eternal Security
Not only does the Lord save us, but He keeps us forever. Jesus said of believers, “I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

The Lord gives eternal life to those who believe in Him and excludes them from eternal judgment (John 5:24). Nothing “shall be able to separate [believers] from the love of God” (Romans 8:39). “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it” (Philippians 1:6). The believer’s eternal security rests in the hands of the One who triumphed over sin, death, and hell, and He “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). The truth of eternal security should bring peace and assurance of salvation. (This topic is more fully developed in Basic Christian Training, Lesson 5).

4. Understand That All Believers Are Perfect “in Christ”
When a person trusts in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, God immediately places him “in Christ.” Being in Christ refers to our position before God. Believers are perfect in His sight, For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Future judgment is averted because “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Christ died for us, and we are saved from the penalty of sin; we are being saved from the power of sin; and we will be saved from the presence of sin (Romans 6:23, 8:2; Hebrews 9:28).

Believers are perfect in their position before God, but they are not yet perfect in practice. The Bible says of our perfect position that believers are holy (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; Hebrews 3:1). But our practice may not always reflect that perfect holiness. Peter writes, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

In heaven, our practice will finally be made perfect, and “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). At that time, we will be morally like the Lord Jesus and be free from all sin and defilement. While we live on earth, we still sin, and this may cause a lack of assurance. The cure for this temporary lack of assurance is to confess and forsake all sin (Proverbs 28:13). God’s perfect standard is “that you may not sin.” His perfect provision is available if we do sin. “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). A believer’s position is secure and brings assurance; a believer’s practice may undermine that assurance. Believers are encouraged “to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1). (This topic is more fully developed in Intermediate Christian Training, Lesson 2).

5. Recognize That All Believers Are In God’s Family
When believers are born again into the family of God, a new relationship begins. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Believers “receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5, 7; Ephesians 1:4-5), and as sons, call Him “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). He says, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:18).

Our relationship can never be severed, but fellowship with our Father can be broken. When a child breaks a family rule, he usually is corrected, not removed from the family. Sin breaks our fellowship with God but not our relationship. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6; cf. 1 John 1:8). The Lord loves us and desires to restore that broken fellowship. His correction is evidence that we are His children. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6). Fellowship can quickly be restored if we confess and forsake our sin (1 John 1:9). The happy fellowship is restored, and assurance returns.

The Value of Self-Evaluation

Jesus warned against self-deception concerning salvation. Many will claim to have known Him and to have done much in service for Him, yet they will be cast out of His presence and into outer darkness because they were not true believers (Matthew 7:21-23; 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Luke 13:23-28). Therefore, if you have doubts, you should examine yourself “as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5) using the objective tests of reality given above. If there is still doubt, then consider a prayer of commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior.

SBC Lesson 12 Study Guide
Assurance of Salvation

The next best thing to knowing God is having the assurance that we are His forever. How can we know for sure that we have eternal life? Carefully consider the following questions.

  1. Which of the following statements best reflects the Biblical concept of assurance of salvation?
    1. I think I have eternal life
    2. I hope I have eternal life
    3. I know I have eternal life
    4. I’ll find out when I die if I have eternal life
  2. Answer by circling True or False
    1. A person cannot know for sure he has eternal life. (True or False)
    2. It is possible to have assurance based on false reasons. (True or False)
    3. Some who say they believe will be lost. (True or False)
    4. Assurance of salvation is merely human optimism and presumption. (True or False)
  3. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) 1 John 5:11-13
  4. What do the following verses indicate about a person’s ability to know he has eternal life?
    1. 1 John 2:3
    2. 1 John 3:14
    3. 1 John 3:16-19
    4. 1 John 3:24
    5. 1 John 4:13
  5. Which of the following are the best witnesses of the reality of our relationship with God? List in order of importance from most reliable to least reliable. Use numbers 1 – 4.
    1. _____ The witness of friends
    2. _____ The word of God
    3. _____ An objective test of reality
    4. _____ An inward witness
  6. From Matthew 7:21-23, why is it essential that our assurance of salvation be based on objective facts?
  7. Which of the objective tests of reality listed in the chapter are true of your life?
  8. How do the following truths bring assurance to believers?
    1. Knowing a believer has eternal security
    2. Knowing the difference between a believer’s position “in Christ” and their practice
    3. Knowing the difference between a believer’s relationship with God and their fellowship with Him
  9. What do you say? What would you say if someone were to ask you, “How do you know for sure you have eternal life?”
  10. We encourage you to memorize God’s word. The suggested memory verse for this lesson is:

John 10:27-28 (NKJV)
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”