The Bible grants full assurance of salvation to all those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 15:11; 16:31; John 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; Ephesians 2:8-10). Forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7) and the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:7) certainly belong to all those who have trusted Jesus wholeheartedly.
But along with the assurance, the Bible also relates a matter of critical concern to everyone who professed faith in Christ. It calls every professing believer to examine himself to make certain that his faith is genuine, lest he may be deceived about the genuineness of his salvation.
Both the Old and New Testament Scriptures call us to examine our spiritual status:
- “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD” (Lamentations 3:40).
- “Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5; cf. v.7).
- “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
- “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (Galatians 6:4).
- For those who are in the church, every occasion of communion at the Lord’s table is to be a time of self-examination – “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
The Bible does not permit anyone to take the matter of salvation light-heartedly. In fact, it warns us that many have been falsely assured of their salvation.
- Jesus warned those who come confessing Him in worship, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21–23).
- Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord declared His displeasure with the worship offered by men of duplicity, “…when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear…” (Isaiah 1:10, 15).
- Proverbs 28:9 forewarns, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.”
- Paul spoke of some who “profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
- The writer of Hebrews had a dire warning to the churchgoers who persistently engage in sin without repentance: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
So, it remains a sombre reality that not all who respond to the Gospel are genuine believers. A mere knowledge about the facts of the Gospel does not guarantee salvation. Worryingly, many in the church may well be told by the Lord that “thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1)!
Concern for the genuineness of salvation must be addressed by everyone in the church. Let everyone remind himself that there is nothing in himself to be very sure of his salvation. A distrust of oneself is not a bad thing, especially when it comes to one’s salvation. Proverbs 28:14 observes, “Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.” Matthew Henry commented:
“Most people think that those are happy who never fear; but there is a fear which is so far from having torment in it that it has in it the greatest satisfaction. Happy is the man who always keeps up in his mind a holy awe and reverence of God, his glory, goodness, and government, who is always afraid of offending God and incurring his displeasure, who keeps conscience tender and has a dread of the appearance of evil, who is always jealous of himself, distrustful of his own sufficiency, and lives in expectation of troubles and changes, so that, whenever they come, they are no surprise to him. He who keeps up such a fear as this will live a life of faith and watchfulness, and therefore happy is he, blessed and holy. The danger of a sinful presumption: he that hardens his heart, that mocks at fear, and sets God and his judgments at defiance, and receives not the impressions of his word or rod, shall fall into mischief; his presumption will be his ruin, and whatever sin (which is the greatest mischief) he falls into it is owing to the hardness of his heart.”
Similarly, the apostle Paul admonished, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). A holy caution, a critical concern about our spiritual wellbeing should always be maintained in ourselves. We must also guard against any kind of confidence that tolerates and entertains unholy living, dullness in learning God’s Word, and increasing materialism and worldliness.
May our hearts tremble at His Word, and be filled with contrition. “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). The “fear” that is mentioned by Peter, stands opposed to careless confidence or false sense of security, which can so easily creep into our hearts. Since there is a real possibility of sins permeating a Christian’s heart, his course of conduct must not be presumptuous or frivolous, but be one of solemn self-searching and humble trust and obedience. A Christian’s pilgrim sojourning is characterised not by self-confidence, but an abiding fear that drives him to humble dependence on the Lord for holy and victorious living.