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?
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).