As a child growing up in a Christian culture, I would regularly attend church services with my family and relatives. The church we attended was a fundamental, Pentecostal church that was tenacious when it came to the word of God. With their tenacity followed sermons and bible study discussions on attaining salvation. Like in many evangelical churches, the elders taught that a person was saved from damnation after reciting the sinner’s prayer. The most frightening of all of the teachings was that just as salvation was easy to attain, it was also easy to lose. Despite the fact that the church was dedicated to studying the word of God, they believed that the salvation of man rested on events, choices, and works.
My heart aches as many Christians are truly uncertain as to whether they are walking on the path of salvation or not. There is much doubt in the hearts of true followers of Christ. But instead of doubting Christ’s work, they doubt the Holy Spirit’s work in their own life. For many humble Christians, there is little to no assurance that their names are written in the book of life.
For others however, it seems as if overconfidence has plagued their hearts as they continue to call themselves Christian, despite the fact that their fruit does not resemble the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, but rather resembles the very nature of the devil. Sin continues to be a lifestyle choice, and bitterness has overcome them. Nevertheless, if one were to confront the sinners, they would be quick to point out that only God can judge the hearts of man.
Not too long ago I wrote a blog post that made it clear that the Scriptures don’t teach that a believer can lose salvation (click here to read). However, the Bible is very clear that there will be many who will have blind assurance in their faith, not realizing that they were never saved. In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus spoke about the many who would come before Him declaring their faithfulness and works of miracles in His name, but in verse 23 (ESV) it says that Jesus will reply to their deeds in this way: “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Paul warned fellow believers about false apostles who were really messengers of darkness, but dressed in light. Even today, we see many who claim to be Christians and messengers of the gospel, but to the discerning mind it is not true. Obviously it is possible to be misled to believe that salvation is truly in a person’s life, but how do we know when someone is saved?
What is the evidence of salvation, if there is any? Will it be unclear whether one has salvation until the resurrection of the dead? The Bible actually can provide an answer for all of these questions that stir within the heart of the believer, but first of all there are fabricated evidences of being a believer.
False Evidences of Conversion
One of the most horrific things that has happened to evangelicalism is the adoption of the sinner’s prayer technique in which a person, desperate to get missionary points in Heaven, will tell the non-believer that if they ask Jesus to come into their heart than they are saved. This kind of idea undermines how amazing salvation truly is. Before I was a true Christian, I could give someone a date of when I got ‘saved’ because I believed salvation occurred when I recited the sinner’s prayer. If the sinner’s prayer is what gets us into Heaven, then Christ got evangelism all wrong.
In Luke 18, a rich man asked Jesus how to attain salvation. Jesus replied by telling him 1) leave everything, 2) follow Jesus. He didn’t ask the rich man to recite a prayer. For some reason, we think that the method of Billy Graham and Joel Osteen is greater than the method used by Christ. Rather than believing salvation requires diligence, humility, and courage we tend to believe salvation is instantaneous. Christ made it very clear that salvation was not about what you speak, or what event took place in one’s life, but rather it is purely the work of God. Salvation does not happen because of something we do, or even pray. It is something that only the Father can grant, and cause the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts.
Many people have a specific date they look back on and say, “I invited Jesus into my heart that day.” With all due respect, a people who for thousands of years have lived in depravity and enjoyed all kinds of evils imaginable can’t initiate salvation. Can a broken clay that has been restored by a potter say, “I picked up my pieces and made myself whole.” I have yet to see a father wait for the invitation of his child to save the life of that child. Man is not only crippled by evil, it embraces evil as a friend. For God to depend on our command to attain salvation, is as wicked as a police officer unwilling to save a helpless victim.
The sinner’s prayer is not evidence, and neither is ‘inviting Jesus into your heart’. Salvation is a process of sanctification in which we prepare ourselves for glory. Those who live out their Christian life in this way have a great hope when it comes to the evidence of their conversion.
True Evidence of Conversion
Lazarus was one of Jesus’ best friends. Jesus knew his family and visited the region often. One day, Jesus gets word that Lazarus is sick. A few days later, Jesus visits the town only to find that Lazarus had died of the disease that only God could cure, and He could cure it easily. It is at this moment we begin to realize the connection God wanted to make. Man is like Lazarus, for we were dead. We were sick and we were dead in our deeds as we rebelled against the Most High.
Then one of the the most amazing events in all of Scripture takes: Jesus weeps. God saw the world which He created and had pity on it. He is angered, saddened, and grieved over the severity of sin. So, for God’s glory and a greater message, Christ asks to roll away the stone which blocked the tomb, and calls for Lazarus to come alive. At the command of Jesus Christ, and by the authority which the Father gave Him, Lazarus rose from death into a new life. However, here are some key things about Lazarus: 1) Lazarus didn’t receive the new body that Christ received in His resurrection, 2) Lazarus reeked for he was buried for days in a sealed area, 3) Lazarus was malnourished and needed food, and lastly 4) Lazarus rose from the dead at the command of God.
Was Lazarus alive? Yes. Was Lazarus free from the sickness he had in his previous life? Yes. Did Lazarus have joy in His new life? Yes, but…Lazarus smelled. He had the unpleasant aroma of a dead man, but the truth was that He was still alive. All Christians must understand that we should do everything in our power to strive for perfection (stop listening to Christians that say no one is perfect and read 1 John 2). However, if we sin, we are assured that in the same way Lazarus smelled, we smell too.
We have not received the new and perfect body Jesus and the believers who have passed now have, but we are still new creations in Christ. An abundance of knowledge, just like a full stomach after being risen from the dead, should not be expected from Christians. So assurance of salvation stems from how much we desire sanctification. In 1 John 2:3 (ESV) it says, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” When God grants us salvation from sin, we will know for at that moment we have been given a desire to strive for holiness.
J.C. Ryle wrote often that a sign of a true believer was how fervently dedicated one was to eradicating sin from the life of the individual. He brilliantly described the sanctification process in three words: 1) watch, 2) pray, and 3) fight. We watch for Christ to come back, we pray daily for the renewal of the spirit, and we fight sin on an every-minute basis. When a person becomes concerned with God’s glory and living a life that glorifies the One who has granted such a salvation, that is the moment a person can have assurance in salvation.
Those who are in Christ and worry about the assurance of salvation are most likely saved (yes, I am serious; that’s how it usually is). Our goal should be perfection in Christ. When one’s goal is not to please Christ and live for holiness, but rather to please oneself…we can conclude that salvation is not active in the life of that individual. But there will be those who God will save and they will produce fruit. Then this fruit will motivate another to follow Christ, and there will be a desire to persevere in the faith.
Salvation is a beautiful work of God, but it must also be followed by diligence. Sanctification is not a means of salvation, but a sign. God expects much from those whom He has called ‘sons and daughters’ and ‘kings and queens’. May Christ be glorified as people live to the completion of salvation on that final day.
Soli Deo Gloria.