One of the most sobering questions a Christian can ask is, “How do I know I’m saved?” This is a question that every Christian has had to grapple with at one time or another.
If this is a question you’re struggling with now, you’re not alone. Many Christians are struggling with assurance, even to the point of despair.
Assurance Does Not Lie Within Us
Although the Bible does teach us that the sanctification process begins at conversion, and that every Christian should be becoming more and more like Christ, it doesn’t make sanctification the primary test of one’s salvation. Assurance does not lie within us, but outside of us.
For years I was told, and I taught, that the key to assurance of salvation, i.e. “how do I know I’m saved,” lied in self examination. In other words, I know I’m saved if I’m progressing in my sanctification.
So, I need to look at my works to see whether or not I’m becoming more and more holy. If I’m not, well, it could mean that I’m not a genuine Christian. If I am, then there’s good evidence I’m really saved.
This is what I call “Christless self examination,” a looking away from Christ as my substitute in life and in death, and a constant looking within to see if there is any evidence of conversion.
The Way to Despair
What a horrible way to live the Christian life. Living this way will either lead to despair or even worse, spiritual pride.
Sanctification, the process of becoming holy, can be a tricky thing.
First, not everyone grows at the same rate. Certain sins can take a long time to be rooted out. But even the process of dropping particular sins from one’s life doesn’t mean a person is holy. I know plenty of unsaved moral people.
Second, how do you measure spiritual growth between say, someone who was converted as a child and never had to deal with certain outward immoral behaviors, and someone converted from a long life of immoral behavior?
And third, how do you know whether or not your “holiness” is nothing more than legalism? There’s a big difference between obedience to biblical commands, and obedience to personal standards.
Assurance Lies in Christ’s Work for Us
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive for holiness. The Bible makes it clear that we should:
Hebrews 12:14 (ESV) Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Romans 8:29 (ESV) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
What I am saying is that our assurance lies in Christ’s work for us, not in our works for Him.
Just and Sinner
Every Christian has to deal with the problem of indwelling sin. And because we are at the same time just and sinner, we need to know where to look when we blow it. And we will blow it.
The answer to assurance lies outside of us to something objective, the work of Christ on our behalf.
The work of Christ was twofold, active and passive. Active in that He obeyed the entire Law of God perfectly on our behalf, and passive in that he paid the penalty God required from us for breaking His Law by “bearing our sins in His body on the tree,” 1Pet. 2:24.
The work that Christ did for us is objective. It actually happened. All of our sins were punished at the cross. The judgment of God against our sins has already taken place. Christ was judged on our behalf. No more judgement remains for us.
Looking to the objective work of Christ alone is what gives us great comfort and assurance. Looking to the subjective work of our sanctification can be deceptive.