Am I truly saved, or am I deceiving myself and living a façade? That is a question that was recently posed to me.
And how can you truly know?
Or can you? Is it even possible?
Before I go any further, let me define what I am referring to when I use the word “saved”. This word is used with the understanding that man is sinful, having violated God’s law, with the consequence of being eternally separated from God. What this means is that when life on earth comes to an end, mankind is eternally destined to an eternity in hell, and eternal separation from God.
So when I use the word saved, I am talking of being saved from eternal damnation, and rescued to an eternal life free of suffering and pain in the presence of a holy, righteous, good, and loving God. I am not referring to salvation from pain and suffering during our earthly lives, in the same way that Jesus, himself, was not spared the pain, humility, and suffering of life on earth. During his ministry, he shared with his disciples that “…in this world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)” That is not to say that he will not remove some of our suffering from time to time, and he does heal certain individuals as part of his all-encompassing purpose and plan. But in many cases, he uses our suffering and our trials to advance his plans and to test and strengthen our faith.
So is it, then, possible to know with certainty whether or not your salvation is real? This is a difficult question to answer, because the people who are asking are either unsaved, or are young in their faith and experiencing doubt over their eternal security in Christ as a result of recent conversion. They may not have experienced any period of time in which their faith has been tested, tried, and prevailed, and thus have not seen their own faith produce tangible evidence, yet. This is what Jesus talks about in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Mt 13:24-30). Initially, it is impossible to tell the difference between the wheat, representing true followers of Jesus having real, lasting, abiding faith, and the tares, who look like followers of Jesus on the outside, but who’s faith is not real and will not last when the novelty wears off or is choked away by the cares or trials of the world.
Where does real, abiding faith come from? It comes from God, who prepares a person’s heart for reception of the gospel message and plants the seed of faith. Without God’s intervention into a person’s life, each individual will live out his or her life with the objective of maximizing personal gain and selfish ambition, claiming freedom of will and free choice, yet all the while remaining a slave to sin and separated from God. The first evidence of one’s faith is in his or her ability to comprehend the salvation message and accept the truth outlined in God’s word, internalizing the gospel message, and calling out to Jesus as Lord and Savior. It’s not about us and a decision on our part to have faith, and indeed, we cannot make a decision to act on faith unless God has first opened our hearts to the truth, but the signs of true faith, given by God, and beginning with a decision to act on the faith that God gives us, will manifest themselves in our lives over time. Once God, through the spirit, opens a person’s heart to the person of Jesus and begins the faith journey, it is at that point that the necessary decision on the part of the individual to call out to Jesus and claim Him as Lord and Savior becomes possible.
At first, it is impossible to tell if one’s calling out to Jesus is initiated by true, lasting faith, or is merely a human effort at self-preservation in order to avoid the impending discomfort of an eternity in hell. The sincerity of the action will only become apparent over time as God works in the life of the new believer and the results of the conversion become visible to those around. If the action was one of self-preservation only, without the foundation of God-given faith, that person will not stay true to their confession. How long this takes for the visible manifestation of true faith to appear will be different from person-to-person, but no man can stay true to God’s word and remain faithful to God on his own. In the parable of the sower (Mt 13:3-23), Jesus described four different scenarios in which the seed of God’s word was spread. In each of the first three scenarios, the individual receiving the message of salvation did not have a heart that was prepared by God, conditioned to enable faith to grow, and the seed never took root. In only one of the four scenarios did the seed of faith sprout and develop roots that were able to sustain growth in our world’s arid conditions. Even though the seeds of faith, the reality of God, and the message of salvation are liberally scattered all over the world, relatively few have hearts prepared, conditioned, and able to provide the environment necessary for the seed of faith to germinate and grow.
But if a person’s faith is real, roots will be spread that will never die. This is guaranteed because the source of nutrients supporting growth is not in the individual person or in anything of this world, but God alone and not dependent on any situations or circumstances that this world provides. And like Paul, we can be confident that once God has begun a good work in our lives, it will be carried through to completion (Php 1:6). If a person’s faith is real, that person’s life will begin to manifest and show forth what in Scripture is called the “fruit of the spirit”. And in increasing measure, a follower of Jesus will be characterized by a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Such an individual would love God’s word, take pleasure in seeking to obey God’s commandments, and seek out and enjoy the company of fellow believers. Things of this world would naturally take on lesser importance over time than those things that have bearing on eternity.
Each individual is different, however, with some bearing much fruit and others only a little. The rate of change varies from believer to believer, and also throughout the life of an individual believer. We undoubtedly go through periods of time in which we grow at a faster rate than others. There may also be times when a believer is drawn to things of this world, diverting his or her focus from God and his word, and hiding their new character in Christ. But if such an individual’s faith is real, the trend over time will be toward increasing Christ likeness.
God’s word describes what a true follower of Jesus looks like. If an individual spends time in God’s word, that person can increasingly see how their life compares to the portrait that God paints. Over time, as a believer becomes more and more familiar with God’s word and more attuned to the changes that are taking place in his or her life, that individual can validly know whether he or she is truly saved.
1 John 5:9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 ¶ Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
John MacArthur has compiled a list of evidences, taken from scripture, that can be used to identify true faith.
So am I truly saved, or am I living a façade?
From what I have learned from God’s word and the things that I’ve seen in the way He has worked in my life, orchestrating everything and revealing himself to me through his creation, his word, and the circumstances and events of my life, I am confident in the faith that God has given me. I do not boast in and of myself and my accomplishments, but only Christ, who is the source of my salvation, the author of my life, my strength, my all. It is only through Christ that I am who I am and where I am today, and I owe everything to Him. To God alone be praise and glory!