This is a common question many Christians have. I think it stems from the reality that we are saved by grace through our faith. In the minds of most people (for many years this described me as well), being “saved by grace through faith” feels like salvation was out of our hands. This means salvation is a gift from God, and we receive this great and wonderful gift through our belief.
The problem with viewing salvation this way is that there is no tangible standard for us to know that we have truly received the gift of salvation. If it was based on what we did, at least we could keep a score card on our behavior so we could know if we were living up to the right standard.
Without a tangible standard, many people rely on a subjective experience to tell them that they are saved. The problem with this is that over time the feeling of the experience fades, and we are left with the same question: Am I saved?
Life is going to take us through a series of ups and downs. In one moment we feel like we are close to God and that our salvation is secure, but the next moment we wonder if God has abandoned us. If we are going to rely on a subjective experience as evidence for our salvation, then we are going to constantly doubt our salvation. What we need is an objective standard to tell us that we are saved, and thus give us confidence of our salvation.
The way I moved away from the constant roller coaster of doubt and certainty of my salvation was to focus on God. Our salvation begins and ends with God and His grace, and therefore I can know I am saved because of God. The apostle Paul wrote, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6; NLT) We can trust God to save us and mold us into the people He wants us to be.
Why can we have this confidence? This confidence comes from the fact God is a Covenant Keeper and we are in a covenant relationship with Him. Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” (NLT)
Being in a covenant relationship with God gives us assurance of our salvation. How do we know if we are in a covenant relationship with God? We enter into a covenant relationship with God through faith and repentance as expressed through baptism (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-8). The New Testament is clear on the importance of baptism, and baptism is always connected to the ideas of faith and repentance. That means without faith and repentance (trusting in God and declaring your loyalty to Him alone) baptism is meaningless. Baptism is the means of entering into a covenant with God when it is accompanied by faith and repentance.
The guarantee God gives us that we are in a covenant relationship with Him is the Holy Spirit. The sign that the Jews were in a covenant relationship with God was circumcision, but through Jesus that has changed. The apostle Paul wrote; “And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.” (Ephesians 1;13; NLT) The Holy Spirit circumcises our hearts and sets us apart as God’s people.
If we break the terms of the covenant, these terms are summarized in the two great commandments of loving God and loving people, God promises to forgives us (1 John 1:9). He also gave us a way to renew our covenant with Him: Communion. We enter into the covenant by being united with Jesus, the covenant sacrifice. In communion we affirm our intention to be part of God’s covenant by consuming the body and blood of the covenant sacrifice (Luke 22:19-20).
The objective standard of being in a covenant relationship with God should give us assurance of the salvation that we have.
Another way we can be certain of our salvation is through life change. We can’t follow Jesus and be guided by the Holy Spirit without our life being changed. As we reflect on our lives we should be able to see that there is a change that has happened.
The book of 1 John was written to help us to be confident about our salvation: “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13; NLT). One of the common themes through the book is the love that we have for each other. For instance 1 John 3:14 says; “If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.” (NLT) If we want to know whether or not we are saved, then the evidence is going to be seen in the love we show to other people.
Can we be confident that we are saved? Yes, we can live with confidence, knowing that God has saved us. This confidence doesn’t come from a subjective experience that may fade over time. Rather, it comes from the objective standard of God’s faithfulness. We can know we are saved because God keeps His covenant. Our hope for the future can be a confident hope because it is founded on the covenant faithfulness of God, and that is the firmest foundation we can have for our faith.