How Can I Be Sure I'm A Christian?
By Brian Anderson

I think you will quickly agree with me that there are few questions that are as vital as this one! Whether or not you are a Christian will determine your eternal destiny. Whether you will spend eternity in the bliss of heavenly happiness or in the torments of the damned in hell will be determined by whether or not you proved to be one of God's own people! With that much at stake, you bet it's important that you're SURE that you are a Christian! I want to be of some help to you in determining a solid, biblical answer to this question.

If I were to ask you to prove that you are married, you could do it in one of three different ways. First of all, you could show me your marriage license. This is an objective statement, signed by witnesses, that you were married to such and such a person on such and such a date. Secondly, you could introduce me to your wife and children. Thirdly, you could just smile and say "I know that I know that I'm married!" Now, if you kept showing me your marriage license, but I never met your wife and kids, I'd start to get a bit suspicious. I might think to myself, "I bet he forged that thing!" Or, if you introduced me to your wife and kids, but I went down to the county courthouse and couldn't find any marriage license on record, I'd probably conclude that you weren't married at all; you were living in sin. Or, if you went around with a big silly grin on your face declaring, "I'm married; I know that I'm married", but nobody could find your marriage license or your wife and kids, they'd probably say, "he's crazy - lock him up!" To be able to prove that you were married, you would need to be able to display all 3 witnesses: your marriage license, your wife and kids, and your inner conviction. In just the same way, the Christian has three witnesses he can appeal to for assurance of salvation. First, he has the witness of the truth of God's Word. That is like the marriage license. It is an objective standard that can be appealed to. Secondly, he has the witness of the signs of eternal life. That is like introducing me to your wife and kids. Your kids are the fruit of your marriage relationship. The signs of eternal life are the fruit of your relationship to Jesus Christ. Thirdly, he has the witness of the Holy Spirit. This is like your inner conviction of knowing that you are married. When the believer has all three of these witnesses at the same time, he has what the Bible describes as full assurance of faith. It is my prayer, that this is what God will give to you as you read this pamphlet!

Let me help you to understand these 3 basic witnesses.

A. The Truth Of God's Word

The believer first comes to possess assurance of salvation from the naked promises of God. He believes such promises as:

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

John 5:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."

Romans 10:9-10 "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

We know that God's Word is true. In Numbers 23:19 we read, "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" God is the author of truth, and is not able to lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, we can trust His promises. If He has said that those who believe in Christ alone for salvation, repenting of their sins, and confessing Him as Lord shall be saved, then we can be sure that they will be! And not only that, but we have God's clear promise that He will keep all those whom He has saved secure in His hands until they get to glory; He will lose none of them! (Jn.6:38-39; 10:27-29; Rom.8:35-39).

God's word declares that "whoever believes has eternal life." The new Christian reasons to himself, "Whoever - that means me! I believe! I confess Christ as Lord!" When a person initially comes to Christ in saving faith, one of these promises is burned into his heart. He takes God on the authority of His word and assures himself that he has been saved from sin and is headed for heaven.

All of this is gloriously true. But if you meet someone who is always quoting John 3:16, and telling you about something that happened to him way back in his life, and yet there is no present reality of Christ, or any fruit of the Holy Spirit, you know that something is dreadfully wrong! You may have met someone who is tragically self- deceived into thinking that they are a Christian and on their way to heaven, when in fact they are lost and on their way to hell! You may have met an individual like this: the person was an alcoholic or involved in sexual immorality on a regular basis. You sought to show them their need of a Savior, and the necessity of their repenting of their sins, but they were absolutely convinced that they were already saved and on their way to heaven! Why? Because somewhere along the way, they learned that "whoever believes has eternal life", and "once saved, always saved." Now, both of these are wonderful truths, but my question for this individual would be, "what makes you think you ever believed?" A true, saving faith in Jesus Christ inevitably results in a changed life (James 2:14-26). That's why a second witness is necessary to give us real assurance of salvation. How can we be sure that our faith is genuine and not that of demons (James 2:19)? How can we know that we have the faith of God's elect (Titus 1:1)? We need to examine the second witness.

B. Signs Of Eternal Life

Imagine with me several paramedics racing up to the scene of an accident. The first thing they do is check the vital signs (pulse, respiration, blood pressure, temperature) of the individual to determine whether the injured person is alive or not. That's exactly what we are seeking to do in examining our salvation. We want to know whether we have life or not. In 1 John 5:13 we read, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life." Notice how John phrases this sentence. He doesn't say, "that you may know that you have eternal salvation." He says we can know that we have eternal LIFE! The vital signs in 1 John that we are going to examine are indicators that a person possesses life! Whenever there is the life of God in the soul of a man, there will be certain vital signs that will accompany that life. In 1 John we have those vital signs stated for us. Notice also that it is possible for one who believes in the name of the Son of God to KNOW that he possesses eternal life. I believe God wants us to have assurance of our salvation. He does not want us to be in the dark over this vital issue. It is His desire that we are certain about our calling and election (2 Peter 1:10).

It's also important for us to bear in mind that the marks that John will give us in his first epistle are not the causes of life. They are the sure and unfailing effects of life! You can put a corpse, stone dead and cold into an oven and heat it up so that it has a temperature. In fact it ends up with a raging fever. But that corpse isn't alive! Even so, it is possible for a lost man to imitate some of the vital signs of believers, but that will never bring that lost man life. God Himself must sovereignly give that lost man life, and then these vital signs will manifest themselves naturally in him.

The first thing we must take notice of in 1 John is that what a man says is not a reliable sign that he possesses eternal life. Notice the following texts:

1 John 1:6 "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth."

1 John 1:8 "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

1 John 1:10 "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."

1 John 2:4 "The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

1 John 2:9 "The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now."

1 John 4:20 "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."

All of these texts inform us that a person can say that he is a believer, and be deceived the entire time. Therefore, don't base your assurance of salvation only on the fact that you have professed faith in Christ. That is no sure and certain proof at all!

Let's go on and examine the vital signs of eternal life found in the book of 1 John. I will point your attention in this pamphlet to 4 of them:

1) Obedience To God. Notice 1 John 2:3-5 "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him', and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him." Notice the emphasis on "knowing" in this passage. In the 1st century there were a group of religious people later known as "Gnostics." They believed that they had special knowledge that enabled them to know God in a much more intimate way than other "ordinary" Christians. They believed they had special inside information on God's attributes and workings. Through this knowledge, they aspired to participate in His godhead. They even felt that this knowledge raised them above the commonplace duty of keeping God's commandments. Their knowledge was too mystical to be tested in this mundane, practical way. They cared about nothing, but this mystical, higher, knowledge of God. But John says that they are liars. In fact, they don't know God at all! John declares very clearly that the one who knows God keeps His commandments.

The person who has come to know God has a heart bent toward godliness. The desire of his heart is to keep God's commandments and please Him. Now, it is true that no one manifests these vital signs in perfection, but they are the direction of a believer's life. Different Christians are at different levels of maturity. Sometimes, a believer doesn't even realize that something he is doing is sin. Our growth in godliness and personal sanctification takes time. Just because you are not as obedient to God as someone else, doesn't necessarily mean that you are not a Christian. Your standard of comparison is not another believer, but yourself before you were converted. But having said all of that, it is still true that these signs will be true to one degree or another in a Christian's life. For the true believer, once he has learned that something is God's will, he is concerned to obey.

What about you? Do you sense that this is true of you? Do you long to please God, in spite of your many failures? Do you seek to keep God's commandments because of your love for Him? If so, be encouraged! That is one of the vital signs that you possess eternal life!

2) Opposition To Sin. Take a good look at 1 John 3:9. "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." We read a verse like this, and think, "This has got to be a misprint! Maybe it was a slip of some scribe's pen somewhere along the line! It can't really mean what it says!" Because this verse is so strong and straightforward, there have been various ways people have sought to interpret it.

Some say that this verse is written to a special group of Christians - the super-spiritual saints. But the problem with this interpretation is that the language is absolute. The text says "No one who is born of God practices sin." John isn't talking about a select group of super-saints, but about all God's saints.

Another view of this passage is that of perfectionism. John Wesley popularized this doctrine. Essentially it states that a believer can reach a level of sinless perfection. But this view would contradict plain passages such as 1:8,10 and 2:1 which teach that a believer does continue to sin. Additionally, verse 9 teaches that all born again Christians cannot go on practicing sin. No where is there a hint that John is speaking of believers who have advanced into a plane of "sinless perfection."

Others believe John is saying that a genuine believer can't commit certain kinds of sin like the one mentioned in 1 John 5:16 which leads to death. But again the language in the text is all-inclusive. "No one who is born of God practices sin." There is nothing even hinted at in the text which would lead us to believe the sin mentioned here is a particular kind of sin. It is sin of any kind.

Again, others have interpreted the passage to be speaking of a believer's new nature. They believe that John is saying that a believer's new nature can't sin. But the difficulty with this interpretation is that the immediate context has to do with the regenerate and the unregenerate, not new and old natures. In verse 10 John says "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious." He doesn't say the new and old natures are obvious. Also, notice the use of personal pronouns. In verse 9 John says "he cannot sin - not it cannot sin."

I believe the best explanation of 1 John 3:9 can be found in the verb tenses. They are in the present tense, which speaks of continuous ongoing activity. The New International Version translates the verse "continues to sin." The New American Standard Bible translates it "practices sin". For the born again Christian, sin is no longer his way of life. It is no longer a deliberate, constant habit. He doesn't defiantly continue in sin. He can no longer maintain the same relationship to sin as he did before his conversion. The general flow of his life is away from sin. If you go river rafting, there is a general direction and flow that you travel along, but at any given moment you may be headed north, south, east, or west, depending on the curves and bends along the way. Even so, there may be times when you fall into sin, but the general flow of your life is away from and opposed to it.

Before we were converted we were slaves to sin. We loved it and lived in it as a way of life. But there has been a great change. What is the reason for this great change? Our text tells us it was because we were "born of God." It tell us "His seed abides in us." These phrases describe that wonderful change that God sovereignly works in His elect, known as regeneration. In this great change God plans a new principle of life in us. It is the same life (seed) that God has in Himself. When my children were born they received some of my genes. That's why they share many of my physical features. There is an obvious family resemblance. In the same way, all who are born of God receive His very own life, and have a spiritual resemblance to Him!

Notice the most amazing thing in the text. Those who are born of God cannot sin. This means that they cannot go on sinning as a habitual lifestyle like they did before conversion. Let me ask you a question - can God sin? Can He break His own commandments? Can His will go against His law? You answer, "Of course not!" Well, why not? The answer is obvious. His law is an expression of His will. God cannot transgress His law, because He cannot go against His own nature. God must cease to be who He is to break His law and sin. Since God cannot deny Himself, He cannot sin. Now, when you and I are in heaven, we will be like that! In this life, we battle with our sinful flesh. That's why we continue to sin. But we also possess God's own nature. Thus, we cannot go on living in sin like we used to, any more than a fish can live on dry land, or a cat can live in a pig sty. We are born of God. We possess His seed, His principle of life!

Now, let me ask you, "Is this true of you?" Is it true that there is something within your very inner nature that is opposed to sin, that resists it and struggles against it? If so, praise God! That is a vital sign that you possess eternal life!

3) Love For The Brethren. 1 John 3:14-15 states, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." 1 John 4:7-8 declares, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love."

Because a Christian bears the image of God, he must love! God is love, and all those who are born of Him love as well. A genuine believer loves other believers. He wants to be with them, know them, serve them, worship with them, and learn from them. There is a bond, a union, a closeness that can't be found anywhere else in the world. It is as natural for believers to come together, fellowship, help, and serve as it is for people in a family to come together. I have seen Christians share genuine love with one another in countless ways such as praying for hours for a baby with meningitis, giving a car to a family without one, and taking in others into their own home when they find someone in the church in a homeless situation.

Now, ask yourself this question: "Is it true that I have a genuine love for other Christians?" Do you want to be with them? Do you want to worship with them? Do you want to be used of God in serving them? If that is true, that is another vital sign that you possess eternal life! Rejoice!

4) Overcoming The World. 1 John 5:3-5 states, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" What is John speaking about when he mentions the "world?" Well, in verse 3 he tells us that God's commandments are not burdensome. Therefore, the "world" mentioned in verse 4 must mean that part of humanity which finds God's commandments a burden. They are in rebellion to God's authority. Rather, they live to please themselves. They possess the age-old spirit of the world which says, "I'm number 1!" That's why the world believes it's all right to get an abortion. Pro-choice in reality means pro-me. The world wants to do what will bring them pleasure and make them happy. Thus divorce is a viable option, if the marriage is not making them happy. But the true believer fights against this worldly philosophy. He is being transformed by the renewing of his mind. It's like two gladiators put into a ring to fight to the death. Only one is going to come out of that struggle alive. In the same way, we are in a fight to the death with sin. Only one of us is going to come out alive. Either you will overcome the world, or it will overcome you! But the truth of 1 John 5:3-5 is that true believers overcome!

What about you? Do you find in yourself an inward opposition to the godless ideology of this world-system? Do you resist it's encroachments upon your life? Do you desire to live for the pleasure of God, rather than your own sinful pleasure? If so, this is another vital sign that you possess eternal life! Be encouraged! With all this talk of vital signs, allow me to give one caution. Too much self-examination can be dangerous. It can lead to excessive doubts and fears. That is why this witness of assurance must be balanced with the other two witnesses. A true believer is painfully aware of his shortcomings. The Christian, of all people, is the most sensitive to his lack of obedience, his lack of opposition to sin, his lack of love for the brethren, and his lack of overcoming the world. His conscience has been sensitized. He's like a man wearing a white robe among men with black robes. He's washed his robe and made it white in the blood of the lamb (Rev.7:14). He's very aware of all of the smudges on his robe, while the others can't see the smudges on their robes at all. He's painfully aware of his imperfections and flaws in his best deeds. Others boast about their fruit, but he sees worm holes all through his. Instead of glorying in his works, he says, "why haven't I produced more?"

This leads us to our final witness.

C. The Witness Of The Holy Spirit

Romans 8:15-16 declares to us, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." Here we are brought face to face with something described as "the witness of the Spirit." This is the one witness of the three that is most difficult to describe. It is the most subjective and mystical of the three. According to our text in Romans 8:15, this witness is a conscious conviction that God is our reconciled and loving Father. No longer do we think of Him as some distant, far off Deity. We now have a living relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. We begin to know Him in an intimate way. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and sheds God's love abroad in our hearts. Instinctively we cry out to Him in prayer, 'Abba, Father!' Just as a toddler instinctively cries out to his father because he knows that he is his protector, provider, and loving caregiver, so does the new-born child of God instinctively cry to God, knowing that He is His loving Father!

The verb, "bears witness", is in the present tense, which means that this is an ongoing activity. I believe the Holy Spirit bears witness that we are God's children throughout our lives in many ways. He does so as we hear that sermon, listen to that song or hymn, participate in that prayer meeting, meditate on that portion of scripture, or fellowship with that believer. In many different ways, He lets you know that He loves you and will take care of you as your Heavenly Father! You know, that you know, that you know, that you are His child!

What about you? Do you have an inner conviction that God is your Father? You know that he's not just somebody else's Father. He's yours! You know that you are not a slave, working to earn salvation. You are now His child, responding to His love! Is that true of you? If so, you possess this third witness of assurance!

We have now taken a look at the Biblical means by which a person can know whether he is a Christian or not. What about you? Are you trusting in His promises, knowing they cannot lie or deceive you? Do you possess the vital signs of eternal life such as obedience to God, opposition to sin, love for the brethren, and overcoming the world? Moreover, do you possess the witness of the Holy Spirit? If you have a measure of assurance, but not full assurance, don't be discouraged! Attaining full assurance of faith often is something that takes time as God works in us. On the other hand, don't be content if you do not have assurance. Seek it from God and His word. "Therefore brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you" (2 Peter 1:10).

Perhaps through reading this pamphlet you have come to realize that you are not a Christian at all. You had always thought that you were a Christian. You attended church and lived a moral life. But God has shown you that your assurance was based on a delusion. You possessed false assurance. You realize that you have never been born again, possessing God's very own life in your soul at all. If that is the case, begin in earnest to repent of your sins, and cry out to God for mercy! Like the penitent tax-collector call out "Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke.18:13). The Prophet Isaiah exhorts you to "seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7). The Scriptures promise that "whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom.10:13) This is an issue you don't want to be wrong about! Continue to seek God until He shows you that you are His child, and He is your reconciled Father.

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