I’ve just recently written an article regarding my reasons for not using the sinner’s prayer in salvation. You can read it here: http://sbcopenforum.com/2012/08/17/5-reasons-i-dont-use-the-sinners-prayer/#comment-82
Since I’ve just critiqued the way many might give people assurance of salvation, I’d like to offer a Scriptural way to offer a person assurance of salvation. I’ve said what I think is wrong. Now, I should tell what you what I think is right.
The phrase “Once Saved, Always Saved” is a phrase that is based on the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, which most Baptists believe, whether they agree with the rest of TULIP or not. However, when coupled with a weaker version of the gospel, the phrase itself has come to mean something that was certainly never intended by perseverance. Instead, it has become a slogan of the easy believism of the last 50 years or so in American evangelicalism. The phrase itself is not anything sinful or wrong. In fact, it is true that a person who has truly been born again and changed by the power of God will never lose their salvation. The problem with OSAS is the way in which it has been employed in a setting where the Gospel is presented. It has often been used in the invitations of evangelists and preachers who want to make “coming to Jesus” as simple and painless as possible. It’s similar to a “money-back guarantee” or a “get rich quick scheme” and strongly appeals to people who have become accustomed to an “instant” society that likes fast food, fast cars, and instant gratification. It has come to mean that if you ever prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart and you meant it, then you’re guaranteed heaven. Therefore, it bases “assurance” on a one-time prayer or one-time event that happened years ago but may not have any effect on your life today.
The problem is that this idea is not found in Scripture. Where does Scripture say assurance of salvation can be found? “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5
Assurance of salvation is not found in examining a past event in your life. Biblical assurance is found by examining your life TODAY. Now, this is not the quick fix that people may want. It may require some long periods of prayer. It may require a searching of the Scriptures. It may require some serious introspection. It’s not as simple as “Did you ever ask Jesus into your heart and did you mean it?” If you’ve ever read the book Grace Abounding, John Bunyan’s autobiography, you’ll read about a man who struggled greatly with his salvation- for years even. I often imagined as I was reading that book if some well-meaning pastor from today could have been transported back to the mid-1600s when he was struggling so and asked him if he ever asked Jesus into his heart, if perhaps that might have put the entire struggle to rest? I think he would have been insulted at the suggestion. This is a difficult struggle at times, but it is a worthy one. An unexamined faith is not a worthy faith at all, in my opinion. In light of this, there are ways to have assurance based on Scripture. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
1. Has there been a genuine change in my life? 1 John 1:7 speaks of “walking in the light” or “walking in the darkness.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a passage which speaks of becoming a new creation and that all things have become new. Is there evidence that this has begun to happen and is an ongoing part of my life? A related question might be, “Is there is a difference between the pattern of my life and those who are living for this world?” We’re not speaking of perfection here. We’re speaking of a change in affections- a change at the center of your being which affect you inwardly and outwardly.
2. What is my relationship with sin? Am I sensitive to sin? Am I ashamed of my sin? Do I deny that I still sin? Do I acknowledge my sin and am I brought to a point of repenting of that sin? I John 1:8-10 tells us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Yet, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Those who do not know God will continually justify themselves and will never admit they’ve sinned unless cornered. They will rename sin. They will hide sin. They will shift blame. They will excuse it in various ways. If a person continues in sin, justifying it and not owning it, they are calling God a liar and the truth is not in them. So, what is my attitude and approach to sin? Repentance is not a one-time event for a follower of Christ. It is ongoing.
3. What is my relationship with other believers? Am I consistently participating in living the life of a believer with other Christians? Am I participating with them in worship? Am I exercising the spiritual gifts given to me to edify the body of Christ? Do I actively love the brethren? Do I prefer to be with believers rather than those who hate my Lord? Do I share a bond of fellowship with believers wrought by the Holy Spirit? John addressed this in 1 John 2:9-11 when he said, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” A love for your Christian brothers is a good sign that God is working in you. A desire to avoid or not actively seek to know brothers in Christ would be evidence of not knowing the Lord. John also addressed this in the same chapter, in verse 19 by saying, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Those who have little or no desire to actively participate in the body of Christ are displaying evidence they don’t know God.
4. What is the overall fruit of my life? Jesus said that you will know they by their fruit in Matthew 7:16. In the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13, all the good soil produced a crop greater than what was sown. What is the evidence in my life that God is at work? The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in your life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are these becoming a greater and greater part of your character with each passing day? There should be an increasing of these characteristics in the life of every believer. Is there a desire to serve the Lord? Is there is a desire to share the Gospel? Is there a desire to see others come to Christ? What kind of fruit has my life produced? Is it the fruit of good soil? And James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17), so do I have works inspired by the Holy Spirit in my life?
5. Do I endure discipline? Hebrews 12 makes it clear that God always disciplines every child who is legitimate. Can I sin without remorse? Can I continue in sin without rebuke? Can I live a life of sin without consequences? OR do I immediately know when I sin because the Spirit makes me aware of it? Do I see God at work in my life, disciplining me for my own good and to conform me into the image of His Son? Is God busy separating me unto Himself?
6. Do I endure pruning? John 15 speaks of this. Even when I am walking in obedience, do I notice that God sends trials and tests my way? Do I see that God is working on certain flaws or failings in my character in various ways to prune me and make me even more fruitful? Do I see God sending trials and tests into my life to produce perseverance in me according to what James says in James 1:2-4? Do I see God at work helping me to mature in faith?
7. Does His Spirit bear witness with my spirit that I am a child of God? (I list this one last because it seems we can make ourselves believe just about anything- the human heart is deceitful, who can know it?) That Romans 8:16 passage and the surrounding context speak about the fact that the Holy Spirit can confirm within us that we are indeed children of God. He relates this to our desire to mortify sin within ourselves and also the spirit of adoption and sonship- the lack of fear in going to God. We are not slaves, but sons. Our fear is respect, reverence, and awe, not a fear of punishment. The Holy Spirit lives within every believer and He can and will confirm that we belong to God. So, does the Holy Spirit confirm my salvation?
This is far from an exhaustive list of ways to have biblical assurance. I would heartily recommend the entire letter of First John to anyone seeking to examine his/her life. I would like to reiterate a couple of thoughts here to make sure I am clear. I am not advocating that ANY sin in a person’s life means they’re not saved. Sin is going to be a part of us in the flesh, even though we learn to hate it more and more as life goes on. Scripture does not speak of perfection (unless it means maturity), but a growing in holiness and a growing desire to please Him day by day. There will certainly be peaks and valleys in our lives, but the overall life pattern is what is in view here. Perhaps you know of other ways to examine ourselves. If so, please share.