How do I know for certain that I am saved? Or say, a family member or a friend?
No question is more important, but paradoxically, it’s a question some struggle with. Some consider it unanswerable and tolerate a continual, rolling degree of anxiety. Most of the time, this background buzz of anxiety remains buried deep in the subconscious. But sometimes, like a sort of Sasquatch or Loch Ness monster, the angst surfaces. Then, just as fast, it’s gone again, stuffed away in the subconscious, unresolved. An uncomfortable situation at best, this not-knowingness.
Other Christians are certain they are saved. Period. They can cite the day, the hour, the occasion. They maintain a daily relationship with the Lord, they study, they pray, they give, they walk in the Spirit.
Still, there are some passages in the Word that may spur a doubt, or some introspection, even in the most assured. You nodded your head in agreement with a short prayer, or you “gave your heart,” and you got into eternity. Is it really “that easy”?
What motivated me to think and write on this was a poignant 1,300-word email from a long-time friend, excerpted here:
“At seventy-four, I’m beginning to contemplate death with resignation. I know it’s coming. I’m trying to sublimate fear of it into a focus on the moment. Enjoying and exhilarating in what God gives me each day. It’s hard to do. I could do it easily as a child full of wonder and novelty, and it is still easy on the racquetball court or softball diamond. But otherwise, it is a discipline for me, and I struggle in the grips of nostalgia and worry of future obligations, goals, and responsibilities — in addition to fear of the judgment of God. I don’t fear dying nearly so much as how I’m viewed on the ultimate scale of justice.
I have led a reckless life, often selfish, sometimes foolish, even hedonistic, but always conscious of God’s judgment. This has led me to a conflicted existence of guilt and self-examination and recrimination. I’ve traveled the backroads of adventure in 44 countries, and I’ve taken chances and experienced some exotic vignettes in life’s margins. I have seen the elephant, as they used to say.
I treasure moments like floating in a small boat on Lake Victoria and seeing the exact location where the still waters begin to move and, in a short distance, begin to flow into what is the longest river in the world. Less than two hundred years ago, that spot was a mystery and the quest of many adventurers who died in its pursuit. I’ve seen the snows of Kilimanjaro, the walls of Diyarbakir, the slave dungeons in Stonetown, Zanzibar. I’ve stood on Ayers Rock and danced ’til dawn in the wild nightlife of Havana.
My adventures are manifold and often frightening. I watched a bloody lion come chuffing and gasping for air out of the belly of an elephant, where it viciously devoured the guts of the great beast. I have seen stabbing and been stabbed myself and have witnessed multitudinous violence. I’ve seen slave societies, dwelt in primitive hovels, and I have friends from a grand catalogue of race and religion.
I don’t scare easily. I have always felt a sense of providential guidance. It has given me calm, resolve, and courage.
I haven’t even opened the book of my life in this letter to you; I just wrote some of the book cover tease. What exists between the book flaps is what God knows—and I.
Suffice it to say that after traveling the world and never taking a vaccine of any kind, but plunging headlong into the diverse cultures of mankind, wallowing in wonder, and risking my life daily, the vicissitudes of normal life don’t seem as dramatic to me as they do to a housewife in Paducah.
Twice in my adventuring, I’ve been held at gunpoint by soldiers, once in Egypt, once in Mali. Both times I am pleased to say, my mind remained cool and analytical.
There is something to be said about trusting in God, even in the body of a sinner. It is a position of profound intrigue and analysis. Does God team up with those who stray from His instruction? I have believed that God knows that we are too weak to stay on his provided pathways and understands the trial-and-error learning we endure and practice. That He fully intends that we stumble through this short, carnal existence so we can learn to fly.
The challenge I have is to bring my faith in grace to a state on par with my faith in God’s existence. To do so would alleviate much fear toward my judgment day.
I have lived believing that we humans must not exist waiting around each day to see what happens to us: a life of reaction. Much of what happens we can make happen. I say that, all the while being guilty of laziness and procrastination. I’m the rabbit, not the tortoise.
My lament about dying is that I’ve never been so alive and ambitious as I am now. There is so much that I long to accomplish. So many places to see, books to read, things to build, people to meet, creations to imagine. Alas! The sand hurriedly spills into the bottom half of the hourglass. But there awaits a glorious life, someday, somehow, somewhere. And no matter what we do in this magnificent and precisely created human flesh, attaining entrance to that nether world should be our daily purpose and guiding light. My hope and prayer is that God views me faithful in that light.
Sorry for the self-indulgence. But thanks for allowing me.” [end of email letter]
A remarkable document considering my correspondent was once himself a pastor and preacher but left that calling for business, then the music business as a singer, artist, composer, and producer. There is nowhere in his words a personal conviction of himself as a sinner who once accepted forgiveness from the Savior. In fact, there is no mention at all of Jesus Christ, personal sin, repentance, salvation, or kingdom. Instead, “fear” is cited four times (conversely, “fear not” appears in the Bible 71 times; “be not afraid” 26, “confident,” nine). There is a recounting of adventures, a certain pride in it all, yet he says he is “conflicted,” manifests anxieties, and poses questions. Regarding one of his questions, we can say there is no evidence in the Word that God routinely “teams up” with unrepentant sinners.
The tone of his communication makes sense, i.e., the anxiety. Consider the risks of getting the question of salvation wrong: If you did everything in your life wrong and got salvation right, in 100,000 years you’d be more than fine. If, however, you instead turn your back on God and the sacrifice of his Son and get salvation wrong, in 100,000 years, according to scripture, you would be crying out for even a small drink of water in an extremely hot place, and there would be none.
What can one do to avoid this fate? Just pray a prayer, one time?
“Cheap salvation, cheap grace.”
German theologian and minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t think so. He presented the phrase “cheap grace” in his 1937 book The Cost of Discipleship. He described it as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance (def.: turning away from sin), baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” So, no grace at all, we may infer.
In “cheap grace,” you get all the benefits with nearly no effort, none of the conforming to God’s plans to mature and perfect you and make you fit for an eternal kingdom. Bonhoeffer frowned on “cheap grace.” He (and others) would say instead, a consciousness of one’s sin, a disavowal of pride, so to speak, must precede the state of grace. To believe one needs a Savior and accept his forgiveness, one must be convicted in their own heart and mind of personal sin.
E.W. Bullinger, author of the Companion Bible, said in his note on Acts 16, to bid people to believe who are not under deep conviction of sin is vain.
Perhaps those who go their own way hope, at least subconsciously, for something even more extreme than “cheap grace,” something called universal salvation. Here, you don’t even have to pray the sinner’s prayer or bend the knee at all because all the benefits of salvation are coming to you and every other human who ever lived – automatically. This view states that all sinful and alienated human souls will ultimately be reconciled to God because of his divine love and mercy. One exponent of this view is Carlton Pearson. The story of his migration from conventional theology to this outlier approach is featured in the Netflix production Come Sunday.
What drives this view? As someone once put it to me: “God owes me my salvation.” I guess for making him a fallen human was the implication. Hearing that took (and still takes) my breath away. While this is perhaps the conclusion that God came to himself, as he went from being the one who sent the poisonous serpents to becoming himself the serpent on the pole to whom we would look and receive healing (the remarkable John 3 predecessor verses to this everywhere-quoted John 3.16), for a mere mortal to say it out loud shocks. What the Bible says God owes man, what man deserves, can be summed up in a single word: death. The wages of sin: death.
To transcend this fate, to attain grace, God requires genuine faith in and acceptance of the atoning sacrifice of His Son. That is the sole requirement for salvation.
Nevertheless, regarding universal salvation, advocates conscript a number of verses to support their view, e.g., Colossians 1.17: “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” They dismiss all the verses about judgment, punishment, and hell.
So we have on the “left,” so to speak, Free Grace, and on the “far left,” Universal Salvation. On the “right,” what’s called Lordship Salvation, i.e., salvation that requires some sign, some discipline of the beneficiary.
So how to reconcile these views?
Courage and loyalty
Courage and loyalty seem to this writer to be the two highly salient themes in the Bible, especially when applied to the issue of faith. These are matters of the heart.
Loyalty to God seems to be the common trait all the great men and women of God cited in the Bible have in common. Yes, these fallen humans, prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, cowards, and the like were – paradoxically, at the same time — deeply and ultimately loyal to God. He was preeminent to them; there was nothing greater. God saw and knew their hearts (I Sam. 16.7), something we can’t do.
The ones who become disloyal are illustrated by the cases of Saul and Judas. These joined hands with witches (Saul) and Satan himself (Judas) and turned their backs on God. Both killed themselves.
Loyalty is the most important thing, and then all its ramifications. If you are truly loyal first to God, you will do something to show it; you will actually make a genuine effort to follow his commandments (“If you love me, keep my commandments”), and surely you will look forward to his soon arrival.
Not everyone who claims to be a Christian does. I once heard a denominational Christian, active in prison ministry (he took cookies to prisoners but made no mention of Christ), respond to a discussion of Bible prophecy by saying: “Why would anyone want Jesus Christ to be King over all the earth?” Because that is Christ’s rightful destiny, the theme of the Bible from Genesis 3.15 to Revelation 22, and every verse in between. Hearing these most disloyal words levied a shock. It made me think: Is this individual saved? (Lord, didn’t we do great works in your name?) Was he “pushing my buttons,” trying to “get a rise,” “being cute?” Or was he 100% dead sincere?
Only God knows. Only God sees and knows the heart of the individual. That is the point of the parable of the wheat and the tares.
That must be our answer then regarding those around us: Only God knows. Is there loyalty to Christ there? Does He hold first place? Has an individual done something to acknowledge God’s work in their own life? Only God knows in the end. We can’t know, not really know, the salvation status of another. We might think we know to 99% certainty, or 85%, or whatever, but some gap of not-knowingness remains. (In the same manner, too, we thought we “knew” certain evangelists and church leaders in the recent past, ones who surely had great “works,” but it turns out we didn’t really know them at all.) Still, we are admonished to discern, prove all things, and test the spirits, but it is not ours to judge; it is only God’s.
We do know this: God is jealous. When the heart bonds with the dark side, the person is outside the will of God. Extending this to what lies ahead, when a person takes the mark of the beast, he is finished. There is no coming back from that, according to the express words of Revelation. The torment in hell for those who take the mark never ends.
Sinner’s prayer in the Bible?
Jesus actually never advocated or called solely, per se, for the execution of a “sinner’s prayer” for the efficacious entry of a soul into salvation. We can search the Bible for the sinner’s prayer, and we won’t find it – per se. Likewise, “give your heart” doesn’t appear in the King James Bible either. So where do these widely used concepts even come from then?
These may be regarded as modern evangelical shorthand for the initiation of operative faith, which is what God seeks in the individual, faith that actually starts you on the road for the longer process that Jesus Christ supervises and finishes – a process of repentance, conversion, and ultimately salvation. “Be ye therefore perfect (Gr. telios, finished, complete, mature, whole, perfect) then as your Father in heaven is perfect.” A process that doesn’t happen in one day; it’s a process that requires time, a lifetime, and loyalty, and a measure of courage to see the commitment through.
Vis-à-vis “pray this prayer,” or “give your heart, the operative phrases from Jesus Christ himself were: “Repent and be baptized” and “Believe”:
Matthew 3:2 “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 3:8 “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.”
Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 12:41 “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Mark 1:15 “And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”
Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 13:3-4 “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
The teaching was maintained by the apostles:
Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
So there is a turning from sin involved here. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit, and on maturation, one fully realizes sin destroys humans. It is poison, plague, death. The longer you live, the more you know this.
When you come to this understanding and accept God’s atoning sacrifice for sin, you join your very life with God, and you are saved. The believer is further commanded to bear witness to the truth to others.
Everyone who has genuine loyalty, oneness, with the Lord God Almighty by way of faith, repentance, and baptism is, in fact, saved. Even if they backslide. Even if they sin. Grace is that powerful.
Just two milligrams of fentanyl can kill. Just one part per billion of grace can save. He made us, he will bear, good and mighty Father that he is in his essential nature.
Salvation, in the end, is really not about you or me, per se, as narcissists believe. It’s not about “social justice,” or “feminism,” or “prosperity,” or “climate.” Not about trophies, or money, or adventures. The story of salvation is the story of God’s love and faithfulness and his willingness to take fallen humans, one at a time, and redeem them into an eternity with Him.
Accounts do get squared in the end because God is just and holy. God will, in fact, reward his faithful believers according to their deeds. Wood, hay, stubble burn; gold, silver, precious stones make it through the fire. Buy of me gold tried in the fire. Not everyone will be “equal” in the kingdom. You can be saved and earn little or no rewards at the “bema,” or judgment seat of Christ.
This is rarely taught. It is a significant omission.
Love for the brethren
Towards the end of scripture is a verse that can provide peace of mind about the future for those who still waver, and it is a human thing to waver and wobble from time to time when faced with the enormity of death: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14).
If you feel a sense of kindred, fellowship, and fraternity with others who look for the appearing of the King, and you are in Christ, there is no condemnation for you (Rom. 8:1), and you have passed from death to life. And you surely feel this love for the brethren most acutely for the firstborn of the brethren himself, Jesus Christ. When you love someone, you wish to see them; you wish to be with them. A great anticipation for the return of Christ is a sure sign, then, of passing from death to life.
Many do have this excitement, anticipation, and love. But strangely, some do not. They want to live their “best life” right here, right now. These are left stone cold by the prospect of seeing Jesus Christ face-to-face and frankly don’t like the prospect of Jesus Christ as King over all the earth. They look to the world for a sort of salvation. Like Lot’s wife, their eyes and hearts are turned back to the world. It did not turn out well for her and may not for them. A sign of sure salvation is trusting God, looking ahead, looking up, and rejoicing that the King will soon receive the glory and honor so long his due.
Time is short now. Prophecies are unfolding at lightning speed: plagues, wars (nuclear?), digital currencies, Great Reset, world government, and soon antichrist and tribulation.
Saving Christian faith, not the prosperity gospel, or the once-a-week rock and roll seeker show, or denominational ritual, but faith that informs your day and rules your actions, and creates change and growth, the kind that expects and looks forward to the physical return of Jesus Christ to the earth as he promised —- is the faith that confirms oneness with God’s purpose and catalyzes, then confirms salvation.
We can trust Him to save us. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1). “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” (Isa. 46:4).
He will carry each of his saved children all the way home. There is no greater prospect on planet earth.
John Hamilton wrote THE COVID VACCINE: And the silencing of our doctors and scientists, and False Flags, State Secrets, Government Deceptions: A Short History of the Modern Era.