For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.2 Peter 1:5-11 (NIV)
This passage may seem like a strange one to quote as it relates for assurance of salvation. But Peter wants his readers to ensure that they confirm that they are really the elect of God. This leads us to questions like, “How can I know that I am saved?” “What if I have doubts of my salvation in light of my sin?” These are questions that all Christians have probably struggled with at one point or another and is not an abnormal feeling to have. But the Scriptures give us standards by which to judge our lives against as it relates to what the Christian lifestyle is to resemble. While there are multiple places in the Bible for what a Christian is to look like, no other book exemplifies this more than 1 John.
Background of 1 John
This book was written by the apostle John to combat false teachers in the church at the time. One of the charactaristics of false teachers was the lack of love that they had for the people of God.
A lack of love for fellow believers characterizes false teachers, especially as they react against anyone rejecting their new way of thinking…John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary
John wanted those in the church to be aware of those who did not love God. False teachers would not love God’s people, they would not obey the commandments of God, and they would deny that Jesus is the Christ. These are the primary ways that distinguishes heathens from Christians.
The Importance of Gaining Assurance
Going back to the passage noted at the beginning of the article in 1 Peter, we are called to gain assurance of salvation. This is an imperative and is not optional for the Christian as they move along in their walk. Why would this be an important aspect of our pilgrimage? Peter provides the answer. Right before he commands believers to make their calling and election sure, he gave the imperative that Christians are to make every effort to gain characteristics of Godly behavior. And because of this, they were to make their calling and election sure. Peter then concludes that gaining assurance, along with the other characteristics mentioned, will prevent Christians from stumbling. In other words, a lack of assurance will hinder you from obeying God. If we are constantly struggling with assurance, there will not be growth in our walk with the Lord.
Evidences of Salvation
What are evidences of salvation found in 1 John that would help us to gain the assurance Peter is commanding the church to obtain? We see this in three key areas:
- Habitual obedience to God’s commands
- Love for God’s people
- Faith in Jesus as the Christ
First, John lays out in no uncertain terms what a Christian life is to look like. He begins his argument in 1 John 1:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)
John doesn’t simply go to how we are to live specifically. He begins with who God is and then notes how we should live in light of that. Since God is light we are to walk in the light. The Greek word here for “live” is περιπατῶμεν which means to walk or to tread around. In this context it has to do with how one lives their life. John compares the one who lives their life according to darkness and one according to the light. And since light is what God is, to live according to darkness contradicts what it is to be a Christian. John is laying out the simple yet important truth of the two worlds that the human race is a part of: of the devil or of God’s grace.
John then moves onto the specifics of what it means to be a Christian. In chapter 2 there is explicit teaching on what a Christian does:
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.1 John 2:3-6 (NIV)
This is one of the most simple evidences of what the life of a true Christian looks like. A Christian will obey the Lord. There will be a lifestyle of habitual obedience to the commandments He has laid out in His Word. This does not mean that every commandment is always obeyed, but the lifestyle of obedience will be there. If you claim to know God, but show not life of obedience you have no reason to think you are saved. You, in fact, are a liar. Jesus discussed the principle of obedience as well in John 14:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”John 14:15-21 (NIV)
There is an equivocation between love for Jesus and obedience to His commandments. Love for God is not a feeling or an experience. It is deliberate, continuous obedience to what Scripture commands. The converse is obvious. Lack of obedience to God is to not love Him. That would make you a liar if you claimed to know Him and yet lived a sinful lifestyle.
Second, a true Christian will love God’s people. John makes this very clear:
This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.1 John 3:10 (NIV)
There is a special love that will be exhibited to God’s people (this is noted by Paul in Galatians 6:10). This love, as with the love for God, isn’t an emotional or experiential love but a love shown in action. This means that self-sacrifice is involved. There is concern for your brothers’ and sisters’ welfare which leads to action (this is seen in verses 16-18 of 1 John 3). The primary way that we do this is by ministering to one another in the local church. Joyfully giving the church of our talents and services displays that we love one another as Christ loved us. This love that the people of God have is such an integral part of being a Christian that this is how the world will know that we are true disciples of Jesus (John 13:35).
Finally, a true Christian believes that Jesus is the Christ.
Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.1 John 2:22-23 (NIV)
False teachers (i.e. false converts) will not truly embrace Jesus as the Son of God. If they did, they would exhibit it by their actions. Now this may seem like a strange qualification for a Christian. After all, those who are in modern evangelicalism generally believe in the deity of Christ. However, the doctrine of God is key to understanding the rest of the Faith, since it rests on God Himself. In this case, the Gospel is at stake. The deity of Christ goes to the heart of the Christian message of salvation. It wasn’t simply a man that came and died for our sins, but the God Man that took on the wrath of God. If we deny the deity of Christ, there is no consistent Gospel to give. There is no real atonement for sin, as a mere man cannot bear the eternal wrath of God. To deny the Son is to reject the Father, as Jesus is the Word that reveals who the Father is. You cannot have one without the other. Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?
What About Remaining Sin?
We have established three key evidences of salvation. But how does this relate to remaining sin in the life of the Christian? If a Christian is one that habitually obeys God’s law, what does that mean for the sin I continue to do? We know from 1 John 1:8 that we as Christians still have sin in them and to claim that we do not would be speaking a falsehood. We also know from Romans chapter 7 that the SAVED apostle Paul (how anyone can somehow read the present tense language in this chapter given the context and consistently say it is referring to a “pre-saved” Paul is beyond me) discusses his struggle with sin.
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.Romans 7:14-19 (NIV)
Clearly, we see an on going struggle with sin. Paul doesn’t say that he did sin at one time and stopped, but that it is something that he keeps on doing. How do we hold to what is explicitly taught here with what is explicitly taught in 1 John?
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.1 John 3:4-6 (NIV)
Paul says that he keeps doing the thing that he doesn’t want to do (that is, sin) and yet it says in no uncertain terms in the above passage that the one keeps doing that “thing” is not a Christian. What gives? The issue here is not so much the specific frequency of the sinning as it is the nature of the act itself. Is the sinning a practice? Is it defining who you are? Are you bent toward sin? Is your lifestyle mostly marked by sin? These are ways that we reconcile these two passages. And this is informed by other places in Scripture that describe what the life of a lost person looks like. Take the book of Ephesians for instance in the second chapter:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)
We see here a bent toward that which is evil for those who are unsaved. There is a natural inclination toward sin. It comes easy to the heathen. There is no godly sorrow for sin. There is no repentance or a desire for righteousness. Their desire is to live in gratification of their sinful lusts without a thought given to truly living according to Scripture. This is the difference that we see between the cry of the true believer in Romans 7 where he loves God’s law, sees the sinful condition in his very being, and is repentant of it and the person who swims in his lusts day after day. This is the “practicing” of sin that is being referred to the the apostle John. This does not, however, take away from the seriousness of sin in the Christian’s life. It is incompatible with their new nature in Christ. We must be repenting of sin on a regular basis and putting to death our old man.
Sounds Good, But How Can I Know I’m Saved?
Scripture gives us standards by which to test ourselves to see if we are really believers. As Christians, we must be vigilant to do this and it will not necessarily be easy. But in light of what we have discussed, ask yourself these questions to gain assurance: do you love God’s law and obey it habitually? Do you love God’s people and give yourself for them? Do you believe in the Christ that is revealed in Scripture? If so, then you can be assured that you are the Lord’s. If you do not meet these standards for what a Christian looks like, then you need to repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus and in Him alone for your salvation with no confidence in your own works, but trusting in the work that He did in His perfect obedience to God’s law and His wrath-bearing sacrifice on the cross. Only in Christ can you have true assurance of salvation.