“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
To be honest, I can think of no more haunting words than these in the entire Bible. Sure, there are many more dramatic and catastrophic scenes throughout the Word of God, but the ramifications of this quiet warning are stunning to consider. The Pagan and the atheist, the apostate and the perfidious know that they stand in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ. But what of these to whom our Lord shall say: “I never knew you: depart from Me?” Their objections make it abundantly clear that they themselves believe that they possess eternal life, yet they do not.
What I would like to talk about today is how a person can know for certain that they do not fall into this group. For there can be no greater deception than self-deception; nor can any higher consequence exist for deceiving one’s self than to suffer an eternity in exile from the presence of God. How unspeakably tragic is the fate of the one who walks this Earth clinging to a security that will never be realized? How horrifying will it be when they discover that what they have trusted in has been in vain; that their faith has been for naught? Fortunately, the Word of God is not silent about the things which can give us certainty that those daunting words from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ shall not be spoken to us. Indeed, there are indications against which we can test to see if we really do possess eternal life, or if we are merely deluding ourselves. How can we know that we are saved? Here are some of the ways:
The Witness Of The Holy Spirit
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” (Romans 8:16 ESV)
The Spirit of God is a Witness in our own hearts that we belong to God. John wrote:
“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself…” (1 John 5:10a)
This is not something born out of our heads, it is an assurance born out of our hearts. Really, it is an assurance that comes not from our own hearts, but from what the Spirit of God is saying to our hearts. Is it possible to delude ourselves into thinking that we have Salvation, that we are truly trusting the Lord Jesus Christ, even though we are not? Of course. But if we are honest with ourselves, we will see a testimony that is solid, true, and unlike anything else. A testimony whose conspicuous absence ought to give us pause and lead us to reconsider whether or not the Spirit of God truly does dwell within us. For if He does not, we do not belong to God (Rom. 8:9).
It is perfectly normal to have doubts from time to time, but there should be a Witness in our hearts that does not simply come from our own self-assurance, a peace that testifies to the reality of the new creation in Christ that we have become since we placed our faith in Christ. If this Witness is absent, it may be time to come to the Lord in prayer and let Him search our hearts. I heard a skeptic ask a Christian lady one time how she knew for a fact that God was real and that she was saved. “I know that I know that I know”, she calmly replied. She had the assurance of the Spirit of God in her own heart.
“Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” (1 John 3:6)
Now, obviously, this is not to say that a Christian will never sin. We know this is not true from experience, plus we know this from what John wrote shortly before this verse:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
Even after we come to faith in Christ and are genuinely saved, we are going to sin. We still have our sin nature. But if we also truly have a new nature, if we are truly “born-again”, then our attitude toward sin will be different. We cannot continue to live in sin if the Spirit of God indwells us. For the unbeliever, sin is his way of life; he practices a lifestyle riddled with sin. The Christian lives a lifestyle that becomes more and more conformed to the holiness of God. He may fall into sin, but he won’t stay there. John writes:
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3)
The hope to which John is referring is not something that we desire to happen, but may or may not. Rather it is a trust that we have in what God has promised. That promise is eternal life — Salvation. If we are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life, then we will seek to be pure as He is pure. The Spirit of God will compel us to live a righteous and holy life and sin will no longer be a pleasure to us, but something which brings an overwhelming conviction of guilt. If we are living a sinful lifestyle without any regard to offending the holiness of God, we must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in earnest. John warns us that the man who habitually practices sin does NOT know God (1 John 3:6).
Love For Others
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15)
One very good indicator that we possess eternal life and are truly saved is our love for others. This is not a “warm fuzzy” feeling of general goodwill toward others of which even those of the world are capable of imitating. This is not some sort of non-specific concern for the welfare of mankind, nor the carrying out of the occasional charitable act or “good deed”. No, this is real love, the kind of love that is exclusive to God and those to whom His Spirit imparts it. This love is sacrificial (1 John 3:16), giving (v. 17), and a love of action, not just verbal (v. 18). The unbeliever might be able to imitate this kind of love for a season born out of his own desires and affections, but in order to abide in this kind of love, one must be born of God. An ongoing feeling of hatred toward others or the lack of any desire to serve others in love, particularly those within the Body of Christ, can be a good indication that something is probably wrong.
Love For God
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:2-3)
One of the biggest ways we demonstrate our love for God is by demonstrating our love for those who belong to Him. Another way is to keep His commandments. This is, therefore, the reason that motivates us to live out the last two paragraphs we talked about: Righteous living, and loving our brethren. We love God because He first loved us and showed us what love truly is (1 John 4:19). Jesus told us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), just as John reiterates here in his first epistle (1 John 5:3).
When we are genuinely born again, there is a change in allegiance. We no longer follow after the things of the world nor do we live for our own pleasures and desires. We live for Him because we love Him. We love him because He loved us and gave Himself for us. John wrote:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)
If our affections are invested firmly in the things of this world which perish and pass away, then it is crucial that we make sure that we are really trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that we are to behave irresponsibly concerning our earthly obligations, but this does mean that we recognize that we are not of this world, even though we live in it. When we are focused on the things of God, we will live for Him and not according to the ways of this world. As the old hymn goes:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.” *(1)
That Ye May Know
“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, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13)
One of the primary purposes for which John penned his first epistle was so that the child of God might know, that is, be certain that they are a true child of God and that they do indeed possess eternal life. Many people maintain that a person cannot truly know if they are saved or not until the Day of Judgment, but the Bible tells us that we can know. Even some sincere Christians live with the uncertainty of where they will spend eternity. God never intended us to walk in doubt. But He also did not intend for us to walk in self-deception, either. So what can we ultimately do to insure that we are not part of that pitiable group to whom the Lord Jesus will say, “I never knew you?”
The answer is, we can do nothing. That is very important. All of these things we have considered are all resultant of Salvation, not predicative of it. These actions do not result in Salvation, but are a result of Salvation. We must not put the proverbial cart before the horse. None of these are actions which will earn Salvation, but they are good indicators that a genuine Salvation exists. I don’t think that John intended these things to be a concise “checklist” to measure the validity of one’s Salvation, and neither do I. But I do think that these were to be considered sober warnings that, if any of these things are conspicuously absent from one’s life, then it behooves them to turn to God in Spirit and in truth that their Salvation might be made sure and their faith be authentic. To slip up and fall into sin, to harbor the occasional angry thought at someone, or to be guilty of greed, covetousness, or being “worldly-minded” does not mean that you were never really saved. But to live a life where these things go on unchecked and undealt with, to walk in a manner where such shortcomings do not even concern the individual belies a much deeper problem than a momentary break in fellowship.
Finally, we notice one characteristic of those sorrowful people who believe that they possess eternal life, yet do not. They say:
“Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?”
They call Him “Lord”, but they have not obeyed Him. They do not appeal to their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, but the “works” they have done in His name. Works will save no one. They have done many gret works in Jesus’ name, the Lord does not dispute this. But He says that only they who have obeyed the will of the Father shall enter the Kingdom of God. And what is the will of the Father?
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
The will of God is that we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ; that we believe on Him. Our trust must be in Him and what He has done for us, not in what we have done for Him.
*(1)Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus
Helen H. Lemmel, 1922
Copyright: Public Domain