Last week Cheryl & I went to the anniversary celebration at Challenger Aviation, Mike Challenger’s aviation business at Hobby Airport. Mike’s wife Mikelle’s dad is on staff at Sagemont Baptist in Houston, and we really enjoyed visiting with him and Mikelle’s mom while we were there. In the course of the conversation, Mikelle’s mom Lori ktold us how Mikelle had made a profession of faith in Christ and was baptized when she was very young — but a few years later she came to her with questions about whether she had really been saved. Lori wisely told her: “I don’t want you to live your whole life with doubts about your salvation,” and so she helped Mikelle make sure that day that she really was saved. I talked to Mikelle about it later and she said, I am not ashamed of that testimony! In fact, she said, “I’m so glad I ‘nailed it down’ before the pressures of high school and then college in California and then marriage and mothering 2 sons, one of which has special needs. Over the past 30 years I can’t imagine having doubts about my relationship with Jesus especially in the darkest of times.”
I really appreciate Mikelle’s testimony, because her experience is very common. Many, many people in our churches ask, “How can I know for sure if I’m really saved?” That’s NOT a trivial question. There is nothing more important than knowing for sure that you have eternal life in heaven. So how can you know?
Sometimes people say something like, “Well, if you ‘made a decision’ at some point in your life, then you can know that you’re saved. But Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “NOT everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” So you can’t know you’re saved just because you supposedly “made a decision” some time in your past and said that Jesus was your Lord.
So how CAN you know? Thankfully, we don’t have to guess. God’s word gives us the answer. And one of the best places in the Bible where we can test ourselves and get assurance for our salvation is in the Book of I John which we read last week in our Daily Bible Reading. In fact, I John 5:13 gives us the purpose of that book. It says: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” John says the whole purpose of this book is to give Christians the assurance of their salvation. And it does that by giving us a series of tests, which we find throughout this book, about things that will be present in the life of a person who is genuinely saved. So when you read through this book, you will either be COMFORTED, because you see these things are present in your life, or you will be CONVICTED, because you don’t see these things in your life. Are you really saved, or are you not? Let’s look at the tests of the genuine Christian that God gives us here in I John.
I. The Test of Your LIFE (holiness and obedience)
This is one of THE most important tests: your LIFE! And John says this repeatedly throughout this book:
— I John 1:6-7, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
— 2:3 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ but does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
— 3:3 has a similar test: “Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies Himself just as He is pure.”
— 3:7-8 says: “the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil.”
— 5:3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”
All of these verses say virtually the same thing: if you really know Jesus, your life will not be characterized by sin and disobedience. You will live a holy life; and you will keep His commandments.
We really need to “get” what God’s word is saying to us here: There is NO assurance of salvation for the person who just CLAIMS to know Jesus, but who has no marks of holiness in their life, and who is not obeying His word. Jesus changes you for the better, and your life is different.
In David McCullough’s book, The Wright Brothers he includes a testimony that the Brothers’ niece, Ivonette, shared about them. She said that when they were kids, and their toys got broken, “Uncle Orville” and “Uncle Wilbur” would fix them up, and make them better than new — with improvements they made with their ingenuity and mechanical expertise.
When I read that, I thought, “That’s what Jesus does for us!” When He finds us, we are like those toys — “broken” in our sin and disobedience. But Jesus takes us, and He “fixes” us, and He makes us better than we were before. He comes into our lives and He changes us.
Think about people we know who have met Jesus:
— Here’s a woman in John 8 who used to be an adulteress, but now she has “gone and sinned no more.”
— Here’s a Zacchaeus in Luke 19, who used to rip people off on their taxes, but now he’s no longer doing it, and he’s given the money back to the people he stole from.
— Here’s an Apostle Paul, who used to hate and persecute Christians, but now he LOVES them!
— Here’s a John Newton, who used to buy and sell human beings as a slave trader, but then he met Jesus and became a pastor and writer of the song “Amazing Grace” with a counseling ministry through letter writing with people all over England.
— Here’s a Chuck Colson, who lied and stole and did whatever he could to make President Nixon a success, but then he repented and put his faith in Christ and began a prison ministry to people who were in prison like he had been!
We have no doubt that these people really met Jesus. They WERE walking in unrighteousness, now they’re walking in righteousness. They were breaking His commandments, not they’re keeping His commandments. Their lives were changed. They aren’t doing what they did before. They were going one way, and now they’re going a different way. So we know they were really saved.
What about YOU? Is your life characterized by KEEPING His commandments, or breaking His commandments? Are you walking in sin, or are you walking in righteousness? Has your life been changed by Jesus, or has it it not? Your LIFE is the best indicator of whether you are really a Christian or not. Show me one person who says, “I can’t remember the exact date I was saved,” but they are serving Jesus today; and show me another person who says, “Oh yeah I was saved and baptized on July 27, 1968!” but they are living in sin today, and I will have much more confidence that the FIRST person was saved than the second person! The way you are living your life RIGHT NOW is a better indicator of whether you are really a genuine Christian than anything that supposedly happened in your past. What assurance does your obedience to Jesus, and the holiness of your LIFE today give about your salvation?
Now I know many will say, I saved as a child, so I didn’t have that “big change” like some people did. That is legitimate. And thank GOD you didn’t get into a life of sin. But you can still evaluate: is your life different than it WOULD have been if you had not been saved? Is your life different from how other people are living who have not been saved? Or is your life just the same as all the other lost people around you? Is there any difference? If there’s no difference, you do not have Jesus. When people meet Jesus, He “fixes” them; He saves them; He changes them.
Now this doesn’t mean that you are going to be perfect as a Christian. But it means you care enough to be TRYING! Ken Keithley of our Southeastern Seminary wrote: “The genuinely saved person hungers and thirsts for righteousness, even when he is struggling with temptation or even stumbles into sin. In fact, I am not overly concerned with the destiny of those who struggle nearly as much as I am about those who do not care enough to struggle. Indifference is more of a red flag than weakness. The absence of a desire for the things of God clearly indicates a serious spiritual problem, and a continued indifference can possibly mean that a person confessing faith has never been genuinely converted.” (‘A critique of Perseverance of the Saints,’ in “Calvinism, A Biblical and Theological Critique” ed. by Allen and Lemke, p. 209)
Some people may say, “Pastor, you are making me uneasy; you are making me doubt my salvation.” Listen: according to I John, there are a lot of people who quite honestly, SHOULD be worried about their salvation! Sure, they’ve “been to church,” and “made a decision,” or “got baptized,” but they have never stopped sinning, and they are not living anything like the way Jesus commanded His followers to live — and worse, they don’t CARE to! If that’s the way you’re living, then you have every reason to doubt whether you were ever really saved.
But if you can look at your life honestly, and say, “You know, I am not perfect, but with God’s help I am trying not to sin” — then you have every reason to be comforted, and have the assurance of your salvation.
II. The Test of Your LOVE (for the children of God).
Here is another test that is repeated numerous times throughout this book:
— 3:14 “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.”
— 4:7-8 “Beloved, let US love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God IS love.”
So here is another test of genuine salvation: do you LOVE — and especially He says, do you love the people of God? From the very beginning, Jesus said His people would be identified by their LOVE for each other. John 13:35 “By THIS shall all men know that you are My disciples, by your LOVE for one another.”
And that’s is exactly what did happen. About 125 A.D., the Roman emperor Hadrian sent a messenger, Aristides, to spy out these new “Christians” to see if they were a threat to his empire. What were they like? Here’s what Aristides wrote back to him:
— He said, they give to each other when they have needs
— they take care of their widows and orphans
— they even invite slaves to become a part of their group, and when they do, they call them “brothers” without distinction!
— when one of their poor passes away, they take care of his burial for him
— And in summary he said, “THEY LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”
THE identifying mark that Aristides reported to Hadrian was: “They love one another” — exactly what Jesus said would mark His followers!
And here John says the same thing: those who are really “born of God, and know God,” will LOVE — and especially love your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
So if you want to test whether you are really a Christian, ask yourself: do I love the people of God, like I John says? Well, how do you know if you are loving them? John gives us some tests here about what “love” really is.
— :16 “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
— :17 “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
John tells us here that “love” is not just a “good feeling” you have for someone; it means laying down your life for them — and not necessarily “big” sacrificial acts, but also “laying down your life” for them in little, every day acts of service.
When I visit with couples who are getting married, I often talk about Ephesians 5, and how it says that the husband is to love his wife the way that Christ loved the church and laid down His life for it. And I will often say to them something like: now you may never have the chance, as long as you live, to literally “lay down your life” for your wife. Those circumstances just may never arise. But if you live even a DAY with her, you WILL have the opportunity to “lay down your life” in “little, self-sacrificial ways.”
And it’s the same for us in the church, too. Very few of us will have the opportunity to literally lay down our lives for another church member. We just rarely have the opportunity to do that. But if we go to this church even one more week, we WILL have the opportunity to “lay down our life” by making some small sacrifice for other church members:
— Who’s going to be the next in line at the fellowship? “Lay down your life” and let someone else go ahead.
— Who’s going to take that spot in the nursery when someone needs a substitute? “Lay down your life” — and take it!
— Who’s going to get their way in that church decision? Let THEM have it.
Things like this might seem “little,” but it’s those “little” things that mean a lot. Little things that show love. It’s true in a marriage — and it’s true in a church.
One of the best signs that you are genuinely saved is that you love your brothers and sisters in Christ. And loving means sacrificing for them; serving them even in very little things.
But on the other hand, I John says one of the sure-fire signs that you are NOT genuinely saved, is if you HATE a fellow-believer! Chapter 4:20 here says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar” John is very “black & white” in this book. He just “calls it like he sees it.” He says if you call yourself a Christian but hate a fellow believer, you are not a Christian at all!
So John says test yourself in this: do you love other Christians, other church members? That’s a sign you are genuinely saved. But if there are Christians you HATE – it’s a giveaway sign that you are NOT saved. So again, test yourself by this, and see if you are really in the faith.
III. The Test of Your SPIRIT: Do you have the Spirit of God?
— John writes in the second part of I John 3:24, “We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
— And this test is repeated as well: 4:13 “BY THIS WE KNOW that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
“BY THIS WE KNOW”: he’s saying this is how we can have confidence that we really have a relationship with the Lord: if the Holy Spirit is in us.
But how do you know if you have the Spirit of God? Scripture gives us several tests which DO indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit:
— In John 16:8 Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He will convict the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment.” The Holy Spirit, if He is in you, will convict you about your sin. If you are a Christian, you cannot sin and “feel good about it”. In fact, someone said that one of the big differences between a Christian and a non-Christian is not that the Christian NEVER sins; because we all do. Rather the difference is that the Christian person feels HORRIBLE about their sin, while sin doesn’t bother the lost person that much. So what about you? Do you feel badly when you sin? You can’t be happy doing it? You’re just not “at rest” until you confess it to God and stop doing it? If that’s you, then you’re blessed, because that’s one of the surest signs that the Holy Spirit is in you, convicting you, and that you really do belong to God!
— Galatians 5:22-23 says: “The fruit of the Spirit by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” It uses this term “FRUIT” of the Spirit because it means that just like you can tell you are in the presence of an apple tree because it has the fruit of apples, so you can tell the presence of the Spirit of God, by the fruit of the love, joy, peace, patience, and so on that He produces in your life. Do you have that love for God’s people we were just talking about? Do you have a joy in the Lord that is more than just “good circumstances”? Do you have a “peace that passes all understanding”? Are you patient with others? All these are signs that the Holy Spirit is really present in your life.
— Then Romans 8:15-16 says the Holy Spirit gives us “a spirit of adoption by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father,’” and “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. So another Biblical evidence of the Holy Spirit is that He gives us an inner sense of confidence that God is our Father, and that we belong to Him. There is “something” in our hearts that makes us love God, and worship Him, and sing to Him. That “something” is the Holy Spirit, calling out “Abba, Father” to God.
All these things are Biblical signs that the Holy Spirit is present in your life. And if the Holy Spirit is in your life, John says you can be confident that you are really saved. If the Holy Spirit is NOT in your life, then you are NOT saved. Romans 8:9 says “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
Are you convicted of sin? Are you producing “the fruit of the Spirit”? Does “something” inside tell you that you are God’s? If these signs of the Holy Spirit are in your life, then you can be confident that you really do belong to Him.
IV. The Test of Your Doctrine: do you hold to Biblical truth?
In I John 4:6 John writes: ”We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
When he says “US” here, John is referring to himself and the other apostles, who had been taught by Jesus personally, and who had been inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the New Testament. He’s saying: the one who knows God, LISTENS to this teaching which we received from Jesus Himself, and wrote down in the New Testament. Those who do NOT hold to this teaching show that they are not from God. So John indicates here that another test of genuine salvation is whether you hold to the doctrines that Christ’s apostles gave us in the Bible.
And John gives us a couple of examples of some of those doctrines:
— One is in 4:2, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” Some teachers in John’s day were saying that “physical, fleshly” things were “bad”, so Jesus couldn’t possibly have been a “real, flesh and blood” man, because then He would have been tainted with sin. But The New Testament teaches the “Incarnation,” that Jesus Christ DID come “in the flesh.” John 1:14 says “And the Word became FLESH and dwelt among us.” The Bible teaches that Jesus is “fully Man.” He came to earth as as 100% flesh and blood man.
— Another example is found a little later in I John 4:15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” So here John says not only will a genuine believer confess that Jesus came “in the flesh” as a real man, but that He is also “the Son of God.”
This is what we call “orthodox Christian doctrine”: that Jesus is the 2nd Person of the Trinity, God the Son, fully God and fully man. As we saw in our Sunday School in John a couple of weeks ago, virtually every heresy of the past 2000 years has involved a misunderstanding of the Person of Christ, either He was not God, or not Man, or not fully God or fully Man. Every heresy gets this wrong. But God’s people will get it right, and will hold to what the Bible teaches: that Jesus is fully God, and fully Man.
And we can say this about any issue. The mark of the genuine Christian is that he is committed follow what the Bible teaches on every issue, not just what is “popular” to believe. That’s true today too.
In 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court voted in the Oberkfell decision that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. After that decision, an article appeared in which someone said that those who hold to what they called “2000-year-old ancient beliefs” like the Bible teaches on homosexuality, are going to find themselves on an island that is continually growing smaller and smaller. When that article came out in the paper, Rodney Bowman (the former pastor here at First Baptist Church) showed it to Bro. Kyle, and Kyle said, “That’s an island I would be proud to be on.”
That should be our attitude as Christians. It may well be that in the days ahead we will find ourselves on a very “small island” — if that is what you want to call it — of those who believe in the Biblical definition of marriage; of those who believe in traditional sexuality; of those who believe that Jesus is the only way to God; of those who believe that the Bible is indeed the word of God. We may very well indeed find ourselves in the years ahead, on a very small “island” of believers who still hold to those things.
But as John said, “He who knows God, listens to us. He who does not know God, does not listen to us.” If we have to live on a “small island,” then so be it! Let us be found faithful to hold to the truth of God’s word, though all the rest fall away. One of the best tests of genuine salvation, is that you continue to hold to what the Bible teaches, instead of going along popular opinion and peer pressure. If that’s so, then where does that put you? Are you sticking with the Bible? Or giving in to the crowd? What do your beliefs say about whether you really belong to God or not?
So John gives us at least 4 tests of genuine salvation in this book. Those who are really saved:
— Have a LIFE of holiness and obedience
— LOVE other Christians
— Have the SPIRIT of God
— And hold fast to Biblical DOCTRINES
So let me ask you: when you hear these things this morning, does it give you more confidence that you are really saved? Or does it give you a “nagging feeling” you that maybe you aren’t? Do they comfort you; or convict you? What do John’s “tests of salvation” say about YOU?
There is nothing more important than knowing for sure that you are going to heaven. And God says here in this Book of I John that it was written specifically that you might KNOW that you are really saved. What did this word say about YOUR salvation? Are you saved, or are you not?
— Some of you are feeling a whole lot better about your salvation because of what you just heard. These things are true of your life. Let God’s word comfort you and give you assurance.
— And some of you know someone who needs these words! Share them with someone. Forward this message to them; send the text of this message to them. Talk to them about it. Help them to find the assurance they need.
— But some of you would admit: I’ve failed the test this morning. If these things are true (and they are right out of the word of God) then I am not saved; that’s all there is to it! BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO LEAVE IT THAT WAY! You can be saved TODAY! The Bible says: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Ask Him to save you TODAY …
Shawn, thank you for this message! It is the clearest, easiest to understand message I have ever read on the assurance of your salvation. It helped me tremendously! 🙌🏼