This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, our You Asked For It series continued with the question, “How do I know if I’m saved or not?” The questioner asked if the fact that they were even having those thoughts was a sign that they likely weren’t saved, and if they should “feel different.” I started my answer with the encouragement that the fact that someone asks that question is more likely a positive sign than a negative, because of the fact that they are actually concerned about it. This is a question that almost every Christian will struggle with at some point in their spiritual walk. How do we answer it?
The obvious starting point should be the gospel. I assume that the person who asked the question would mentally agree with the gospel, but that must be our starting point nonetheless. Do we believe in God’s holiness, our sinfulness, Christ’s sinless life and sacrificial death, his victorious resurrection, and the free offer of grace through faith? That is the only way that we find peace with God, so we must start there. However, we can fake beliefs, can’t we? In fact, we are so good at being deceptive that we can even deceive ourselves into thinking that we are Christians when we’re really not. Jesus himself warned against this, saying that on the last day many would speak of what they did for him while hearing the dreaded, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” We certainly don’t want that to be us, so we seek assurance that the faith we profess is real, and not a deception of our sinful heart and mind. How do we do that? In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul encourages us to test ourselves to see if we are really believers. If we are really in the faith, then there should be tangible evidences in our lives that we can look for and evaluate. So, what are they? I believe that the book of 1 John is a great place to start. As John himself says in 5:13, the book was written to us so that we could know that we have eternal life. In very straightforward terms, he gives us a series of things that should be present in our lives if we are truly in Christ. Last night, I used those things to form eight questions that we can ask ourselves in an effort to do exactly the testing that God has commanded. I’ll list them for you here with a reference to where I’m getting them from 1 John and a brief description.
1. Do You Walk In Darkness? (1:5-7, 3:1-10) – Obviously, we’re not perfect, and even as Christians we still sin. However, do you perpetually walk in darkness? Are you still comfortable with your sin? Does it still dominate your life, with no real desire or effort to change? If so, consider Scripture’s warning.
2. Are You a Self-Righteous Person? (1:8-10) – The flip side of the first question. Do you depend on your own goodness for your confidence before God. You may not verbally claim perfection, but does your life communicate that you’re mistake-proof and that you’ve got it all together? A Christian should be humble and reliant upon Christ for forgiveness.
3. Do You Love Learning About God? (4:1-6, 5:6-12) – John’s book isn’t all about actions – he’s concerned with false teachers and stresses the importance of right belief. Does learning about God and his works excite you, or are you bored by the Scripture. Certainly, some parts of Scripture can be tough to work through (Leviticus, anyone?), but do you stay unmoved even by things that you understand? Do you desire to know God more?
4. Do You Follow Jesus’ Commands? (2:1-6) – One of John’s more blunt statements, and important for us to think about. If you say you love Jesus, then do you follow the things he said? Do you avoid the things he calls you to avoid (anger, lust, apathy towards God)? Do you do the things he calls you to do (show mercy, forgiveness, love for God)?
5. Do You Love Like Christ? (2:7-14, 3:11-24, 4:7-21) – The most frequently mentioned theme in 1 John. Do you show the kind of love that Jesus did (selfless, sacrificial, even for enemies), especially to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Or, are you the type of person whose love for others is conditional on what they do for you?
6. Are You In Love With This World? (2:15-17) – We are warned here against being consumed with things that are passing away. Obviously, we are to show love for those in the world, and we don’t want to make the mistake of monasticism that withdraws from any earthly comfort or pleasure, but we need to watch ourselves, especially in our wealthy culture, that we don’t neglect our first love and fall in love with lesser things.
7. Are You Persevering In Faith? (2:18-29) – John here writes about some from among them that fell away from the faith, and he says that indicates that they were never truly Christians to begin with. Perseverance (continuing to the end) is the proof of true faith. Are you pressing on? Are you growing? Or, has your faith grown cold and routine to the point where now its just a show for keeping up appearances?
8. Do You Love God Supremely? (5:1-5) – This is the culmination of the first seven. Do you have a love for God that surpasses all else? Do you see him as supremely valuable, supremely beautiful, supremely satisfying? Is your faith a duty, or a joy? Are his commandments burdensome, or are they life to you?
So, do you pass the test? You won’t be perfect, but do you see these qualities in your life in increasing measure? If so, press on, and persevere in your faith knowing that it is God who is at work preserving you to the end, and he is always faithful and true. If you must honestly say that these things show you to be outside the faith, then my advice to you is simple. Trust Christ! Why not today? Turn from your sin and trust Christ, and you’ll find his power at work in your life to begin to make these things a reality in you.