If a person wanted to know whether he had been saved from his sins, there are two different approaches he might take. If he took the subjective approach, he would simply consult his feelings (“Do I have the feeling that I am saved?”). The problem here is that many people have this feeling — sometimes very strongly — when they have not done what the Scriptures teach concerning obedience to the gospel. When it comes to emotions and feelings, there may be no difference between those who are in Christ and those who merely imagine that they are. Indeed, some who are outside of Christ may have stronger feelings of salvation than those who are in Him.
Is there not a more objective way of assessing our salvation? Fortunately there is. We can look into the Scriptures and determine whether we have or have not done what God commanded to be done for those who seek His forgiveness. God’s instructions regarding our salvation are not hard to understand. We can know whether we’ve done what people did in the New Testament to receive the forgiveness of their sins — and having done those things, we must learn to trust in God’s promise to save us. His promise can be counted on.
Of course, we may be so intent on seeing ourselves favorably that we twist the Scriptures to make them fit our situation. That is a temptation that confronts every one of us. But if we accept the Scriptures as our authority, at least we have an objective standard we can go by. Using that standard, we can do what Paul said: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Such an examination requires courage as well as honesty, but if we want to be rightly related to God, those are the character traits we must have. We should be praying that God will help us to have them more each day.
Life is hard, as we all know, and after obeying the gospel of Christ, there are going to be times when we won’t “feel” forgiven. What should we do? We should go back to the Scriptures. It is only in the Scriptures that we will find a dependable, objective assessment of our relationship to the Lord. Our feelings about our salvation are notoriously fickle; sometimes they err on the low side and sometimes on the high. But God’s promise can be counted on — and the only thing we know about God’s promise is what we find in the Scriptures.
Paul spoke of the “hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted
by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:2,3). It must be in this teaching that our confidence is grounded — and we must make whatever mid-course corrections are necessary to stay in line with the teaching.
In the little letter written by Jude, he said his readers were “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 1,2). Ponder with me the three expressions which Jude uses:
Those who are called. Through the gospel, God calls everyone to accept the salvation that He is offering in Jesus Christ. To obey the gospel is, in effect, to answer God’s call, and to live faithfully as a Christian is to be among the called. It was God alone who had the right to decide what the terms of His salvation would be; on our own, we could never have worked our way back to Him. So when we submit to the terms of His forgiveness in the gospel, we can rejoice in the privilege of being among those whom He has called out of the darkness to be His own possession (1 Peter 2:9).
Beloved in God the Father. While God obviously loves every person He has ever created, He has a very specific love for those who have accepted His plan of salvation, i.e., the individuals who have responded to His love with gratitude, obedience, and faithfulness. In the salutation to his letters, Paul often spoke of God’s love for those whom He has saved: “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7).
Kept for Jesus Christ. In a world of obstacles and temptations, we could not survive, even after obeying the gospel, if it weren’t for the help God gives us in Christ. Peter wrote of those “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). And Jude ended his letter with this: “[God] is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). Well might he say, “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” There is simply no higher joy available to us.
So let us be careful and confident — confident in our carefulness, and careful in our confidence. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that either of these doesn’t need to be emphasized. Both are necessary if we are to respond rightly we when read in the Scriptures of the salvation God has provided in Jesus Christ.