Sometimes Christians can struggle with assurance of salvation, yet assurance is possible for all believers. Today, Burk Parsons looks to God’s Word to help us think through questions relating to this topic.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining us this week for the Ask Ligonier podcast is Dr. Burk Parsons. He serves as the senior pastor at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. Dr. Parsons, how can a Christian be sure that they’re saved?
DR. BURK PARSONS: The question of assurance is a very serious question, and it is a question that each and every one of us faces in our lives, sometimes when we’re younger in the faith, but even sometimes when we’re older in the faith, sometimes when we’re mature believers. It is a question that I’ve been asked many times as a pastor from both younger Christians and then even sometimes, and I’ll even say surprisingly sometimes, from older saints—because it’s a multifaceted question. Now, how can I be sure I’m saved? How can I know for certain that I’m a Christian? How can I know for sure that I’m going to be with Jesus in heaven when I die?
And the reason it’s such a significant and multifaceted question is because really, in many ways, much of the Bible is written to help us answer that question. So many of the books of Scripture, the Psalms, the book of Job, so much of what we see even in Romans is addressing this very question: In the midst of suffering, in the midst of our own sins, how can we know that we’re actually Christians? Because when we really face the realities of our sinfulness, and our doubts and our despair, and our worries about the future and about our lives, we know ourselves, we know our hearts. We know how sinful we are and how sinful we can be. We wonder: “Am I really a child of God? Am I really born again? Is the Holy Spirit really at work in me?”
And in truth, the answer to this question—“How can I be sure I’m a Christian? How can I know for sure I’m saved?”—is a question that really needs to be answered in a very thorough way that takes a long time. But my hope is today just to answer this question briefly by considering just a few factors that we need to consider when we’re asking that question of ourselves.
The first question is, Do I believe? Do I actually believe? Do I actually trust Jesus Christ? And belief is resting in Christ. It’s not just having a mental ascent or a cognitive awareness that He exists, but trusting Him, putting our lives in Him. Do we trust Him? Do we fully depend upon Him?
Then another question is, Do we live according to that faith? A Christian is someone who trusts Jesus Christ, and Christ alone, by grace alone. We know that. And that Christian will always live a life filled with fruit and works, “which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them,” as Paul says in Ephesians 2:10. We are made to bear fruit, made to do good works. And so, if a Christian is never bearing fruit or doing good works, should he doubt his salvation? Absolutely. Because one of the biggest problems that we face in the world today and in the church is not a lack of assurance, but false assurance—people who think they’re Christians who actually aren’t because their faith is not genuine and they are not demonstrating the reality of their faith by their lives and by their fruit.
And so, we first need to ask, Do we believe? And then we need to ask, Are we bearing fruit and showing forth that faith? This is James’ point in James 2. And again, it’s something that we see throughout Scripture: Are we truly children of God? Are we truly believing Him? And are we demonstrating that faith in our lives?
And one of the ways in which we demonstrate that is not just bearing good fruit, but also, when we sin, we bear the fruit of repentance. And that’s what the Apostle Paul reminds the Romans of in chapter 2 and verse 4 when he says, “Do you not know that the kindness of God is meant to lead you to repentance?” God’s kindness leads us to repentance, and so one of the difficult—and maybe a little strange for people to hear—but one of the ways we know we’re Christians is by our repentance. Because true repentance—that’s not just feeling bad for our sins, but true repentance—we’re actually broken and contrite over our sins, we’re humbled by our sins, and then we confess those sins, and then we also strive to consecrate ourselves to a new way of living or thinking. And so, that’s real repentance, and that’s what God does in His kindness. And so, if we’re truly repenting, we can know that we’re Christians.
You see, repentance and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, sometimes it makes us feel like, “Well, maybe we’re not true Christians because of this great convicting work that the Spirit is doing in my heart.” But that’s one of the signs that we’re actually children of God. That’s one of the signs that the Spirit of God is at work in us by convicting us and bringing us to repentance.
Now, another thing that I think is very important that has given me great encouragement over the years as a pastor in talking with people, and even in my own life, is what the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 12. And I’ll just read verses 5-8:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Now, this is a beautiful passage from Hebrews 12, and one of the key points that we need to focus on for our purposes in this question is, Have we been disciplined by God? Have we come under the loving chastisement of our heavenly Father? If we have, then we can know that we are His because those whom the Lord disciplines, He loves. And if He doesn’t discipline us, it means we’re not really His children. I mean, we as parents, we don’t go out and discipline other children that we don’t know; we discipline our children, just as the Father disciplines us.
And so, we can know for certain that we are Christians if when God disciplines us, He shows us our sin and restores us lovingly, and He welcomes us into His open arms. That is how we know we are His children.
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