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How Do I Know If I Am Really Saved?

This is one of the most common questions a pastor gets asked: How do I know if I am really saved?

Some believe that you just need to say, “I believe!” Others might insist that you hand over a resume of faith plus some good works — including regular church attendance and a giving record to boot.

With the vast majority of opinions being hit or miss, we are compelled to ask, What does the Bible have to say? For those seeking assurance of salvation, that’s all that matters.

Is it a one-time decision or a lifestyle?

The first question needing serious consideration: Is being a true Christian — as in, a “saved individual” — a one-time decision or an ongoing lifestyle? Take, for example, three individuals who make “decisions” to follow Jesus Christ. Now, fast forward ten years and the first of those individuals live in rampant sin but claims, “I am a Christian. I believe. I walked the aisle, prayed the sinner’s prayer, accepted the free gift of grace from God, and punched my ticket to heaven.” Meanwhile, the second individual made a similar decision to follow Jesus, but eventually walked away from their faith and decided not to believe. Finally, the third individual was completely different. Sin was present in their life at times, but not as a rampant lifestyle. They humbly acknowledge shortcomings but could confidently point to the fruit of the Spirit as being present in them (Galatians 5:22-23). Their life is not marked by perfection, but a definite progression in holiness, righteous living, devotion to Jesus, and love for others.

All three made decisions. All three claim to be Christians. Which one is?

Continually believing…

If you take the original meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 literally, you’ll see that the truly saved will be known by continual belief.  Paul explains that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”

“Believes” here is to have faith or to entrust, and comes from the Greek word pistis that means persuasion or conviction. Grammatically, this word is a present active participle meaning, it is an ongoing repetitious action. This passage could be read as saying, “to everyone who is continually believing” or in broader (but still accurate) terms, “to everyone who continues to walk in deeply persuaded convictions that Jesus Christ is Lord!”

The bottom line is that the truly saved will stay saved. “Backsliding” was the term we used growing up for people who “lost their salvation.” But the fact is, based on the Scriptures, they were never genuinely saved. The parable of the Four Soils (Matthew 13:1-23) reminds us that some will look saved, but in the end, they weren’t. 1 John 2:19 is a sobering expression concerning those who “went out from among us because they were never really one of us.”

If you genuinely believe something, you won’t just say you believe it. Your actions will back up your words. The Bible is clear that you are not saved by good works, but you were saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commands” (John 14:15). James tells us that “faith without works is dead” and that even the demons believe! (James 2:17, 19).

How do I know if I have truly believed and am saved?

You confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and trust in Him by faith (Romans 10:9)

Every true believer must come to Christ declaring, “You are God! Your way is better. My way doesn’t work. I need you. I believe in you. I trust in you by faith for my salvation. I will follow you for the rest of my life!” Have you believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord?

You confess sin; no longer indifferent towards it (1 John 1:9)

True believers care about sin, not because they like committing it, but because they want to deal with it. Confession is the mark of genuine faith. Those who are following after Jesus bring their sin and shame to His feet claiming, “I repent! I hate this sin that keeps waging war against my soul. Please forgive me. Help me escape it.”

Habitual patterns of sin are decreasing and fading (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:17)

If you’re a “new creation” you’re not going to look like “old” for long. Genuine faith transforms us! When the Bible lists horrible sins and says things like, “such were some of you,” the genuine believer can joyously say, “Yes, I was!”

You desire to be obedient to Christ (James 1:22)

If you truly desire to follow Jesus and He has won victory in your heart, you’re not just going to want to hear the word of God, you’re going to want to do it!

Your love for others is increasing (1 John 3:14)

Hateful Christian is an oxymoron. Yes, being a follower of Jesus means telling it like it is and speaking truth no matter the cost, but that is always to be done in love (Eph. 4:15). More than that, true believers are marked by a love for others that goes way beyond what they say — it’s about what they do.

You hunger for God’s word (1 Peter 2:2)

A genuine for love for Jesus and a true conversion of your soul is going to result in a passionate hunger to know what He has said and what He has called you to do. True Christians are not indifferent to God’s word.

You are filled with a desire to see others saved (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

People who have been reconciled to God want to see the same happen for others! It’s that simple.

You love to serve the body of Christ with good works (Eph. 2:10; 1 Peter 4:7-11)

There is no such thing as “lone ranger” Christianity or a genuine belief that does not want to genuinely serve! Good works are not required for salvation, they are the result of salvation. Christians are given spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ.

You experience the discipline of God (Hebrews 12:6-8; Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 11:5)

This may seem crazy, but experiencing the discipline of God means that He loves you! Only a cruel parent lets their child run into harm’s way. God’s correction is done with love. Like a gracious Father, He is not content to let His children continue in sin that harms them. He guides the truly saved as a faithful shepherd guides his, even if that means using the “staff” sometimes to correct their crooked path.

You are bearing the fruit of the Spirit; persevering to the end (Luke 6:43; Galatians 5:22)

Bad trees don’t produce good fruit. Good trees don’t produce bad fruit. So it is for people as well. A fake Christian will be known by false fruit or no fruit at all. A genuine believer will look at the list in Galatians 5:22-23 and by God’s grace rejoice saying, “My life looks like that more than it used to!” In the end, they’ll have witnessed God finishing the work He began in them when their earthly life ends and they meet Christ face to face (Philippians 1:16).

It may be hard to face certain realities in your life, but the wise and prudent Christian finds comfort in Paul’s words to Corinthians when he exhorted them, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

 

Can We Learn from Paul’s Conversion Assessment?

The conversion and commissioning of Paul the apostle is one that showcases God’s power to save and provides valuable lessons for new believers and their “next steps.”

As a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, Paul was zealous for his traditions and outpacing all of his contemporaries in knowledge (Gal. 1:14). No one was better suited for a life of Law than “Saul.” Then, God intervened and (literally) knocked him off his high horse. His life was transformed by the power of the gospel! Jesus Christ commissioned him to go from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth. Paul’s journey of conversion is not just a “wow!” moment in which we see the transformative work of the gospel in the life of an apostle, it’s also a helpful model for us today. But how, if we aren’t apostles?

In particular, what happened after his conversion can show us a better way to serve and guide new believers. In days gone by, many simply walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and were sent on their merry way with a ticket to heaven. After a generation of leaning primarily on altar calls to affirm salvation, it’s obvious that we have holes in our evangelical armor. To say that many churches experienced 30 years of biblically illiterate professing evangelicals and numerous false converts would be putting it lightly. If bloated member rolls and empty seats taught us one thing, it’s this: regenerate church membership matters. If regenerate membership matters, then the next steps for the seemingly converted matter. After a profession of faith, the journey is just getting started. It starts with follow up to assess the profession of faith, baptism to testify of faith, and a life marked by transformative faith.

When looking for a better way to serve new believers than failed methods from the past, Paul’s conversion and follow up process are a good place to start.

Sin is Mourned and Christ Becomes Master

The grace of God did not become a license that Paul (Saul) used to sin, it became the mechanism through which he mourned his sin and surrendered to Christ. When Jesus showed up, Paul was brought low. After being blinded he didn’t eat or drink for three days (Acts 9:9). The mighty and zealous crusader against the church had to be helped along to Damascus like an invalid (Acts 9:8). This picture of Paul is exactly what we are when we come face to face with our sin and Christ as Savior and Lord. Our way doesn’t work! His way does! Our sin is death! His commands are life! His love transforms us and suddenly Jesus becomes the Master and we joyfully submit. This is what happened to Paul and still happens to everyone who truly believer today. Understanding that benchmark of conversion is critical for new believers.

Be Baptized and Proclaim Christ

Right after Paul (Saul) comes face to face with the reality of Christ (Acts 9:4-6) and is chosen as an instrument to bear Christ’s name to Gentiles and Jews (9:15), he is baptized (9:18) and immediately began “to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (9:20). People were amazed (9:21) because he went from being a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth! Paul’s conversion models something that new believers should always be encouraged to do: Be baptized in obedience and proclaim what Christ has done and who He is.

Be Open to Conversion Assessment

Conversion “diagnostics” can be helpful for those who profess Christ. Like a doctor identifying evidence to confirm a diagnosis, converts should be able to convey what a difference Christ has made in their way of thinking and living. There’s no need for a mandated theological exam with big words (though that’s not a negative thing), but a change in desires and actions should be evident. This new way of thinking should include a love for Jesus and a hatred for sin. Paul experienced the same thing. He was vetted, confirmed, and tested. People were making sure the guy who was ravaging churches was really saved! It was obvious once they assessed him. After staying with Peter for 15 days he would no doubt have been affirmed as a true convert. Then, he visited the apostles and “submitted to them the gospel” that he was preaching and they added nothing to what he was preaching (Galatians 2:1-2, 6). Diagnosing conversions should be handled with sensitivity and care with the goal being to help ensure a professing believer has a genuine assurance of faith.

Love Accountability

In the church today, you can’t put a price on accountability. For Paul, Barnabas was right by his side to take him to see the apostles when they were too scared to believe that the “persecutor” was now a preacher. Acts 9:26-28 records a scene in which Barnabas knew Paul’s story, came alongside him and brought him personally to the other apostles. Acts 9, Galatians 1, and 2 all paint a picture of Paul’s accountability to others. He didn’t loathe their involvement in his conversion follow up — he understood it. He was meeting disciples in various regions, preaching faithfully, partnering with the apostles, and eventually given the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). Too many Christians make professions of faith only to slip into the back of the crowd and turn into little more than a number because the church challenges them to be accountable. They don’t get connected and nobody gets connected with them. Accountability helps new believers get rooted in faith and community.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot that churches can learn from the conversion and commissioning of Paul. In a day and age where some will complain that due process for new believers is legalistic and cumbersome, we do well to look at how vetted Paul was and how that energized both his ministry and the churches he served. There is something special about trust that is built between believers. Even the man with a personal commission from Jesus and the privilege of writing half the New Testament was proven to be a faithful follower of Christ.