Yesterday at Brook Hills, Pastor John Piper preached a powerful message on Romans 8:12-18 and "How You Can Know You Are A Child of God," and a couple of hours later, I get a text from a college student (who hadn't heard the sermon) asking if God's grace and mercy ever run out. Essentially, she wanted to know if there's ever a point when God gets fed up with us continually sinning and decides to end the relationship.
There are whole books written on this subject, but included below are a few thoughts and resources if this is a topic you're facing or a question you are asking about the state of your own soul.
What is involved in actually becoming a Christ-follower?
According to the New Testament, it's belief and repentance.
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." -John 3:36
"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." -Mark 1:14-15
"because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." -Romans 10:9
Either you believe that Jesus is the risen Son of God, or you don't. Either you have confessed your sin to God and turned from it, or you haven't.
But the demons believe - and shudder - yet they are obviously not Christians (see James 2:19). True. They have a knowledge of God and believe that He exists and is Who He says He is. The difference is that they do not yield to Him and trust Him as their Lord and Savior.
And what if I confess and repent of my sin yet continue to give into it? As long as you are on this earth, you will continue to sin. It's called being human and having a sin nature. Now, eternal security does not give us license to sin. The attitude of "I've got my fire insurance, so I'm going to live how I want" makes a mockery of God's grace. But salvation does not mean that you no longer sin. Paul's struggle with sin in his own life highlights this truth (see Rom. 7:15-20).
Is there secret, unconfessed sin in your life? Are you habitually giving into temptation in a particular area? Do you even feel conviction regarding your sin? Are you taking steps to address sin in your life and to resist temptation?
Repentance flows from our belief in Jesus. We cannot truly believe that He is God's Son and the Resurrected Lord without it affecting how we live. Repentance is more than saying a prayer, doing good deeds, feeling guilty, or even feeling convicted of sin. Instead, repentance involves submitting yourself to Jesus as your Lord and by turning back to Him when you do engage in sin. You will continue to struggle with sin for the rest of your life. But when you sin, do you turn back to Jesus? As J.D. Greear states in Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, "...salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life."
How Can I Know that I am Saved and Have Eternal Life?
If you have trusted in Christ and turned from your sin (belief and repentance), then you are saved. Here's the thing, our salvation is not based on our innocence or guilt, what we have done or are doing. Our salvation is based on Christ's righteousness.
We are unworthy, sinful rebels, but Christ took our sin on Himself and paid the sin debt that we owe (Rom. 6:23; 1 Jn. 2:1-2). So are we worthy of salvation? Not at all! But praise be to God, He has chosen to extend forgiveness to us.
When we believe and repent, God places our sin on Christ, and God credits Christ's righteousness to us. Jesus has paid our sin debt, and for God to be just (see 1 Jn. 1:9) means that He has accepted Jesus' payment in full. It would not be just for God to require you to do more or to add to what Jesus has already paid (just as it would be an injustice if a clothing store made you pay for the same shirt twice). Because God accepts Jesus' death as a payment for our sin, He can accept us into His family.
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly...For as by the one man's [Adam] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's [Jesus] obedience the many will be made righteous." -Romans 5:6, 19
God Wants You to Have Assurance of Your Salvation
God is not some masochist who delights in your turmoil regarding the state of your soul. Neither does He utilize fear to manipulate you or to motivate obedience. Rather, He wants you to operate from the security of His love for you.
We cannot fight sin, face trials, or truly love if we are stunted by fear, for our motivation for doing such things will be wrong. We won't seek God for His own sake if we are constantly trying to earn His approval. If you lack assurance of your salvation, you will question His care of you.
In my phone conversation with the college student last night, I directed her to turn her eyes to Christ. Instead of focusing on her sin and how she doesn't feel saved, I encouraged her to look at the Word and what it says regarding God's character, God's love, and Christ's death. Our feelings can mislead us, and they're not always based on truth.
If you're wrestling with doubt, spend time studying the Bible, praising God, and filling your mind with Scripture, for how can you have hope when you neglect spending time with God and meditating on the truth that He has provided? Does doing this make you saved? No, because these are works (Eph. 2:8-9). But doubt can also creep in because we forget the gospel. We need to be reminded of Who God is and what He has done - and that we are saved by grace and not by works.
And you might not be saved. I don't want to assume you are. So if you have not turned from your sin and trusted in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you can do that right here, right now. But if you have believed in Christ and repented of your sin, then remind yourself of the gospel. Rest in what Jesus has done, not what you have done.
If you would like additional resources on this topic, I recommend the following:
- Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear
- "Assurance of Salvation" document by The Village Church
- "Knowing That We Know" sermon by Ben Stuart, Breakaway Ministries
- "The Gospel: How We Know" sermon by David Platt
- "Dealing With Doubt" sermon by Matt Chandler
- "Helping People Have the Assurance of Salvation" article by John Piper