Am I Really Saved?
How saving faith has been taught and received in evangelical circles has been following a troubling trend during the past decade. There seems to be something wrong with the modern idea of faith. We are gradually slipping from what the Bible writers meant by saving faith. Modern evangelicals have deemphasized the necessity of spiritual fruit by claiming if one professes to be saved, then they must be saved. Their profession to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior carries with it no power, and no change in their character, conduct, or their world-view. Any real faith in Christ as personal Savior that does not bring the life under submission to Christ as Lord is simply unbiblical. There are questions that must be addressed such as: What effect does Christ’s work on the cross have in one’s life? Does it alter a life of worldly indulgence? Can one be united to Christ and live unchanged as those who reject Christ?
What does the Bible say about saving faith?
It is alarming how the gospel of today differs from the gospel of the Bible. Many expectations of salvation go no further than the initial profession of faith. After this so-called profession, it is automatically assumed that eternal life has taken root, and to question one’s eternal existence is offensive and politically incorrect. However, the gospel of the Bible requires much more than a mere profession. We must be absolute at this point to say that the Bible is clear that salvation is not by works. Works do not save, but salvation does produce faith that works (James 2:17). The Bible teaches that true saving faith includes fruit such as surrender, commitment, and obedience. Jesus clearly taught that saving faith is more than belief in facts, but includes repentance and a willingness to surrender to Christ as Lord (Matthew 19:16-22).
Can we be deceived about our salvation?
The Bible provides us with many warnings about false conversion. Take, for example, Matthew 7:21. Jesus claimed, “not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is alarming because many today claim Jesus to be their Lord, however, they show no evidence of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus continued in the second half of the verse to explain what proves genuine conversion. He said, “but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” His point is clear: it is not what we say, but what we do that proves we have eternal life. Jesus said it similarly in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” As Martin Luther said so well, “Faith is something very powerful, active, restless, effective, which at once renews a person and again regenerates him, and leads him altogether into a manner and character of life, so that it is impossible not to do good without ceasing.”
Many today claim to know God but have never truly entrusted their lives to Him. There are some who even hold high religious positions as teachers and scholars and do not possess a saving faith. Nicodemus was such a man as seen in Jn. 3:1-18. As he approached Jesus, the Lord interrupted him in verse 3 and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This had to be shocking to Nicodemus. After all, he was a highly respected teacher and scholar of Old Testament Law (verses 10-11); but he did not understand the most crucial truth of all, how to be saved (Jn. 3:16-18).
Can we be saved and see no change?
The Bible teaches that we cannot be saved without experiencing change. True transforming faith makes us new creatures according to (2 Cor. 5:17); and according to John 4:14, Jesus promised that we will experience newness when He said, “the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” This metaphor promises that salvation provides cleansing, a new spiritual life, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Is. 1:16-18; 12:3; Ezek. 36:25-27). We come to hate the things we used to love, and love the things we used to hate. This idea is proven in our Lord’s own words in John 3:19-21 where He claimed that coming to the Light is not simply a mere ascent to the truth, rather a deep transformation that moves us from hating the light to loving it. According to 1 John 3:8, salvation destroys Satan’s power in our lives when Jesus said, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” If, therefore, our faith does not deliver victory over sin, it has not delivered us unto salvation.
What about those who say they are saved?
There are a number of people in the Bible who professed to believe in Jesus but did not receive the gift of salvation. For example, in John 2:23-24 when Jesus “was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name … But Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them.” God knows the heart of those who simply make verbal “professions” of belief in Jesus. Superficial faith does not bring eternal life. We find a second example in a man named Simon who was a sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24). In verse 13 “Simon himself believed; and after being baptized he continued on with Philip.” In verse 18 Simon showed his real intentions for believing and being baptized by offering money to receive the Spirit of God. This outraged Peter and he responded to Simon in verses 21 and 22 by telling him, “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God, therefore repent of this wickedness of yours and pray that the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” Simon’s counterfeit faith teaches us that salvation will not be granted if our hearts are not right with God. To believe in Jesus for selfish motives or out of enthusiasm for the spectacular will not bring eternal life.
How do we know if we are saved?
Now that we have seen that not all belief brings salvation and that Scripture warns about counterfeit faith, we must consider what spiritual realities do characterize genuine salvation. Scripture does encourage us to know for sure if we are truly saved (1 Jn. 5:13). Jesus never challenged anyone about the time or circumstances of profession, but He constantly held forth the high standards that eternal life demands and fulfills. Let us examine what those characteristics are.
First, Scripture tells us that we will see change in our lives.
2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Being a new creation describes something that is qualitative and new. It refers to change that begins immediately upon salvation. Upon conversion, our old value systems, priorities, beliefs, and affections gradually begin to change. It is not that all evil is totally gone from the heart, or that we will not have seasons of failure; but it points to the fact that sin no longer has a dominating control and a prevailing desire.
Second, believers will see broken patterns of sinful behavior.
The apostle John told us in 1 John 3:9-10, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” Because true believers are born into God’s family, their new natures exhibit the character of righteousness produced by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24). Salvation involves receiving a new seed, the life of God imparted to believers. These Scriptures do not imply that one never sins. The grammar indicates a habitual way of life, not a perfect life. Verse 10 warns us there are obvious differences between believers and unbelievers. One such difference is a love for other Christians.
Third, true believers love Jesus Christ.
In John 8:42, Jesus said, “if God were your Father, you would love Me.” Jesus explained that the premier characteristic that proves true salvation is a love for Jesus Christ. Those who are saved will love Christ with increasing affections and crave a close relationship with Him.
Fourth, genuine believers understand and believe His Word.
In John 8:43-46 Jesus challenged the salvation of His listeners by asking them, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil.” Those who are not God’s children have a fundamental opposition to the words of Jesus and, therefore, cannot understand Scripture. Verses 45 and 46 make it plain that, “because I speak the truth, you do not believe me. He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” According to 1 Cor. 2:14, “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.”
Fifth, those who truly believe will obey.
It is crystal clear in Scripture that a lack of obedience should cause concern. The apostle John said, “by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3). Obedience to God’s commands demonstrates genuine salvation. Obedience is an objective way of proving that we have received eternal life (James 2:14-26; 2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Sixth, believers will love other Christians.
John told us in 1 Jn. 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” It is common to hear professing Christians say that they do not need to go to Church to worship God. How can they not want to go if they are saved and love the brethren? How can we love and worship God without loving His people?
Seventh, believers will experience victory through faith.
In 1 John 5:4, John identified that whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This faith in Jesus Christ, by which one is saved, constitutes the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Because believers stand securely in the power and victory of Christ, their faith proves victorious over satanic blindness to the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4) and defeats the challenges over every day life. In other words, believers are world-conquerors by means of faith in Jesus Christ.
Eighth, believers will have resistance from others.
John 15:18-19 tells us that friendship with God results in enduring the world’s hatred. On the other hand, being friends with the world is to be God’s enemy (James 4:4). Jesus alerted His disciples to the fact that generally speaking, society, under Satan’s power, will be at odds with God’s children. So genuine believers will have a disposition that will be different from society’s goals and desires.
Ninth, believers will experience a new battle to do right.
According to Galatians 5:16-17 all believers have the sealing presence of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). The Spirit acts as a personal power for living a life that pleases God. The indwelling Spirit also opposes the natural human desire to sin. Because of this opposition, the believer will sense a new struggle to do good. While no believer will ever be entirely free in this life from evil desires that stem from our fallen nature, he will be compelled by God’s spirit toward victory.
The Scriptures are clear that salvation creates within us profound change. Those who have embraced easy-believism may be deceived about their eternal condition. A belief that demands no change is a belief that does not save. When Jesus Christ enters a life, that person will never be the same again. A believer is compelled to a slavery of righteousness, a life that desires to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.