People are fond of misrepresenting their opponents. They will quickly and eagerly find opportunities to slander those with whom they disagree, or take their writings out of context to make it seem as though they were saying something that they were not. Many people accuse Martin Luther of denying the inspiration of the book of James. They will also charge he and other reformers with antinomianism. This is a position that suggests that Christians have no moral duties, that they can live however they want, indulging in every manner of sin as a freedom in Christ. The apostle Paul seemed to have been charged with the same thing when he defended his thesis of justification by faith alone. Though, the thinking man can see the intellectual quarry that is raised by Paul’s thesis. On the one hand, he argues that a person is justified the moment they have faith in Jesus (Romans 4:5). On the other, he says that people have to live a certain way to be counted among the brethren (Romans 2:13). In this way, there are people out there who think that they have faith and think that they have been born again, when in fact they have not. So, we may ask, how do I know if I am saved?
The distinction that is being raised is the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church. The visible church are members of the Christian church who have an orthodox confession of faith and attend church regularly. They believe that Jesus is God and that they cannot do anything to merit or sustain their salvation. But among these, there are people who have not really been born again. They have not been made new by the power of God. They are still in the flesh. How do you know if you are one of them? How do I know if I am saved? How do I know if I have been born again?
You hate the sin in your life. For someone to be born again is to be made new by the power of God and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. They are literally new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such a person will be molded into the image of the Son. They will struggle and they will fall. They will still sin (1 John 1:8). But they will have a new relationship with sin such that it appalls them. It is an affront to them and to the glory of the character of God. It is offensive to them and they do everything that they can to flee from it. Foolish preachers will say things like, “Sin is fun.” But sin is not fun. Sin is appalling. How do I know if I am saved? This is the testimony of the person who has been born again. They hate sin.
Now I want to very carefully nuance this discourse. Believers can lock themselves in legalistic cages. They can put up fleshly rules that restrict themselves against sin. But in their hearts, they still want it. They still desire it. They stay up, night after night longing for their love affair with sin. Their relationship with God becomes confining, and seems oppressive to them. They cannot live with the rules that they are imposing upon themselves. When they think about what it would be like to leave their religion, they have a sensation of freedom. What keeps them in their religion is not their love of Christ but their relationships that would be broken or other reasons. But if they have an opportunity to abandon their religion, they seize it and do so with joy. That is why many ex-Christians will say that they were happy that they could leave Christianity.
The person who truly hates their sin will labor against it for their love of Christ and the knowledge that greater joy comes by obedience to his word (Psalm 37:4). The person who is held back from sin by a legalistic cage, is not in Christ. They have a heart of stone.
You love God. Men are naturally opposed to God (Romans 8:7). We are born children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). We are born without faith and without regard for God. We are born radically depraved and God hating (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:10). If anyone in the flesh claims to love God, then what they really love is an idol that they have made for themselves. They have constructed an image of God that is not really God, and substituted it because it is pleasing to them. But for someone to really love God is a supernatural work. Yet love for God is the greatest of all commandments (Matthew 22:38).
The man who loves God will seek him in prayer. As CS Lewis put it, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping.” They deeply desire to commune with their Father. They follow the model of prayer that Christ had, who would slip away, praying all night (Luke 6:12), seeking the Father and desiring to bring glory to his name. The man who loves God will feast on the word of God, having their sustenance in it, bringing to life John 4:34, which says, “my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Further, the man who loves God will desire the Scripture to be a lamp at their feet (Psalm 119:105). They will seek God’s word in every decision, and every day will desire to know what the Bible says. How do I know if I am saved? If I stab you, you would bleed the Bible and praise of God.
However, I caution again that it is possible to manifest these traits in a legalistic manner. A person could force prayer and reading of the Bible upon themselves, and they would not get anything out of it. They might become frustrated that their time is being consumed by these activities. But they are not doing it out of love.
You delight in your salvation and in the gospel. Everybody has low points wherein their hearts are dull. But throughout the general course of your life, you have a thanksgiving to God for everything that he has done for you. You see the amazing grace of the gospel. You see that a holy and righteous God must punish guilty sinners. We condemn judges who let guilty men walk free. We condemn judges who take bribes. They are corrupt and immoral judges. God is not a corrupt or immoral judge. He must punish the guilty. But as you reflect on your sin, you realize that your entire life has been marked by iniquity that you have covered up, fled to, hid in, preserved with all of your might. You see that a just judge must punish you. But instead, he poured out his wrath on his Son. His Son drank the cup of wrath and gave you a cup of mercy. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that all who believe in him shall never perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
I have heard men give this testimony and weep. You see the power of God in your life. You cannot understand how God could save someone as sinful as you, but you know that on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ and him crucified, you have security. You have been adopted into God’s family because if the Son sets you free from your sin, you will be free indeed (John 8:36). This is your heart’s delight. This is everything to you.
Maybe right now you are reading this and you are trying to manufacture emotions so that you can convince yourself that you really do love the gospel. Sometimes people have dull hearts. How can we know the difference? How do I know if I am saved? Answer this question. Do you, through the course of your life, love the gospel? Do you rejoice in it? Is your cup overflowing (Psalm 23:5)? Or does Christ mean nothing to you? Is he merely a propositional truth? Something that you give mental assent to?
Apologists are often concerned with mental assent. I am an apologist. You are reading from a website titled thereforegodexists.com. Apologetics is one of the most important endeavors within evangelism for bringing westerners to Christ in the 21st century. I also acknowledge that many Christian apologists are so concerned with the philosophical strength of the Christian worldview and the truth value therein that they are not concerned with living out their faith. We need to be able to nuance our apologetics and our faith. Our faith is not fulfilled in our apologetics. We cannot spend all of our time reading apologetics and neglecting prayer, and neglecting our reading of the Bible.
I am afraid that many of my friends who are concerned with the academic side of faith and proving that Christianity is reasonable have congregated into a Christianity that is unreasonable. It possesses a Christ that one merely believes in, and acknowledges that he exists. But even the demons know that he exists (James 2:19). We need a Christ who lives. I do not mean one who we can prove that lives. I mean a Christ that we know, and who knows us, and with whom we commune and give everything we have to. The testimony of the apologist should not be, “how do I know if I am saved?” They should be standing firm in the faith, not only ready to give an answer to those that ask, but ready to kneel before Christ and yield their lives to him, saying with Paul, “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).
Which side am I on? I do not know, my friend. I would be inclined to say that if you passed these challenges, then you are saved. If you hate your sin, if you love God, if you delight in the gospel, then you are a child of God. That is true. But, at the same time, you may be reading this article and manufacturing feelings or forcing yourself to pass the challenges even if you failed at every single point. Do not play games with this. This is your life. This is your eternity. This is everything. Hear the voice of God. Seek him in prayer. If you failed at the points of these challenges, then an evaluation of your spiritual life is warranted.
John Piper’s book Desiring God is available as a free PDF (with permission from the publisher). Just hover your cursor over the title of the book in the last sentence, as it is a hyperlink. His insight on the love of God in the Christian life is supreme.
If you would like to get in on the discussion about this, join my Theology Discussion Group!