What would a person do in order to know with absolute certainty that they are going to heaven? What would you do for a family member to help guarantee their entrance into heaven? In the movie Constantine, Keanu Reeves, who played the Constantine, gave up a place in heaven so that a woman in hell could go to heaven instead. Would you go that far if given the opportunity?
Maybe, but what if you could do something less? It was this issue which in part led to the Reformation. The Catholic monk Tetzel was teaching that for a certain price, you could buy a ticket to heaven for one of your loved ones who had already died. What would you pay to make sure a loved one was in heaven? Luther was not at all happy about this, and nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, sparking off the Reformation.
Even in our own day, do you know why Muslim terrorists fly airplanes into buildings, and go into crowded marketplaces to blow themselves up? It is not so much the war. That is part of it. The real reason is the Islamic religion itself. There was an article in the July 4, 2005 issue of TIME magazine in which a terrorist in training was interviewed. He said that he was going to blow himself up, not so much for his country or for the war, but in order that he might “win acceptance into heaven.”
Later, he says this, “I pray no innocent people are killed in my mission. But if some are, I know when they arrive in heaven, Allah will ask them to forgive me. The only person who matters is Allah – and the only question he will ask me is ‘How many infidels did you kill?’”
Why did people pay Tetzel’s fee 500 years ago? For assurance that they, or a loved one, will go to heaven. Why do young Muslim men blow themselves up? For assurance that they will go to heaven.
If people kill themselves and pay fortunes for assurance that they will go to heaven, what would you do for assurance of salvation? How much is it worth to you to know with absolute certainty that when you die, you are going to heaven?
Most people would say, “Anything. Name your price. My right arm. My right arm and my right leg. $10,000, no problem. $100,000? Well, it will take a while, but I can work for it, and never spend a penny.”
Why is this? It is because that as humans, we crave assurance. We need a sense of security. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in psychology, but sometimes they get it right, and studies say that one of the things children need most in order to properly develop mentally and emotionally is a sense of security and the assurance that no matter what, their parents love them. Those children who never know where they stand with their parents, who always get shuffled around, who never know if they are loved or not, it is they who typically have more problems as adults. Their mental and emotional growth is always stunted until they come to a place where they find security.
I am convinced that it is no different with us and our heavenly father. As Christians, as children of God, we need to know that we are safe in his hands, and that no matter what, He loves us. If we constantly live in fear that maybe we are not Christians, or maybe God stopped loving me because I committed that one sin, we will never make any progress in our Christian life. Our growth will always be stunted.
If we are trying to revive our lives and get on track with God, there is nothing better than a sense of God’s unconditional acceptance, infinite love, and undying grace.
And the good news is that gaining assurance doesn’t take money, and doesn’t take blowing yourself up. Let me explain how to know we have eternal life.
It doesn’t take a seminary degree to be sure you have eternal life. In fact, getting a seminary degree has resulted in many losing the sure knowledge that they had eternal life. All you need to be sure you have eternal life is faith in Jesus. Eternal life is given freely to anyone who believes in Jesus for it.
Assurance of salvation is Based on God’s Word (John 5:24; 6:47)
J. Wilbur Chapman tells the following true story of how D.L. Moody used John 5:24 to help him gain assurance of salvation:
I was studying for the ministry, and I heard that D.L. Moody was to preach in Chicago. I went to hear him. Finally I got into his aftermeeting. I shall never forget the thrill that went through me when he came and sat down beside me as an inquirer. He asked me if I was a Christian. I said, “Mr. Moody, I am not sure whether I am a Christian or not.’
He very kindly took his Bible and opened it to the fifth chapter of John, and the twenty-fourth verse, which reads as follows: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and beleiveth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”
Suppose you had read it through for the first time, wouldn’t you think it was wonderful? I read it through, and he said, “Do you believe it?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Do you accept it?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Well, are you a Christian?”
“Mr. Moody, I sometimes think I am, and sometimes I am afraid I am not.”
He very kindly said, “Read it again.”
So I read it again, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and beleiveth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”
Then he said, “Do you believe it?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Do you receive Him?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Well,” he said, “are you a Christian?”
I just started to say over again that sometimes I was afraid I was not, when the only time in all the years I knew him and loved him, he was sharp with me. He turned on me with his eyes flashing and said, “See here, whom are you doubting?”
Then I saw it for the first time, that when I was afraid I was not a Christian I was doubting God’s Word. I read it again with my eyes overflowing with tears.
Since that day I have had many sorrows and many joys, but never have I doubted for a moment that I was a Christian, because God said it.
Assurance of salvation is based on God’s promises in Scripture that those who believe in Jesus will receive eternal life.
Assurance of salvation is not based on our works (Rom 4:4-5; Eph 2:8-9)
If assurance of salvation is based on works, what assurance do we have that we will continue in good works? We may be able to have assurance of salvation now, but we cannot guarantee future assurance because none of us can guarantee that we will not fall away. To claim otherwise is pride. Assurance of salvation is based on the promises of God alone.
Imagine for moment, that you have been witnessing to a woman, and one day, she agrees with what you have been showing her from Scripture and believes in Jesus for eternal life. You rejoice with her for a minute, then she gets into her car, pulls out into traffic, and is slammed by a semi. She is killed instantly.
Did she go to heaven? Of course she did.
But now imagine that she pulls out into traffic and arrives safely home. She attends church faithfully for a few years and gets involved with the choir. But then her husband loses his job, and he goes into a depression and commits suicide. She enters a period of depression herself, and one night goes down the bar and gets drunk. In her depression, she is seduced by a man, and becomes pregnant. Fearful of what people will think, she gets an abortion. But she knows what the Bible says about killing, and so she gets even more depressed. She gets involved with drugs, and one day, while high on drugs, is driving her car. She goes too fast around a corner, loses control, swerves into the oncoming lane, and is run over by a semi. She is killed instantly.
Did she go to heaven?
There are many people who will say that she did not because either she lost her salvation or she proved she was never saved in the first place. But we have already established the fact (according the Word of God) that she was saved in the first place, and if she had died within one minute of believing in Jesus, she would have gone to heaven.
According to Scripture there is but one condition: believe in Christ for eternal life (1 Tim 1:16). No cleaning up of one’s life will do. No good works can help. Only believing in Jesus, the One who did it all for us, results in the reception of the gift of eternal life.
Assurance of salvation is the sure knowledge that I have eternal life because Jesus guarantees it to everyone who simply believes in Him for it. Jesus does not go back on His word because we go back on ours. He keeps his word even when we fail at keeping ours.
This is a powerful truth for serving God effectively. It is very difficult to serve God if we never know where we stand with Him. This is why Satan loves nothing more than to make us doubts God’s eternal love for us. But if we know we have eternal life, and that God loves us and forgives us infinitely, then we are liberated and freed to serve Him with all our energy.
Love and gratitude for eternal life motivates us to obey God (1 John 3:16-18). You can’t be truly grateful for something you aren’t sure you have. Fear of hell causes us to be nervous, insecure, and stressed out. Many people are so bothered by this that they drop out altogether, ceasing to read their Bible, attend church, pray, etc.
Let’s say a believer loses assurance of salvation and remains in that condition over time. What motivates him to do good works? Surely one of the main motivations would be fear of hell, since to lose assurance is to cease to believe Jesus’ promise. Once our motives are so corrupted, even the good works we do lose their ability to please God. I’ve been around a lot of people who believe they can lose their salvation. I’ve also been around a lot of people who think they need to provide proof of their salvation.
Both views sadden me because they totally miss the heart of God. Both miss the heart of God.
If those views are true, then God is not concerned about our feelings. He isn’t concerned about our fearing eternal torment. Indeed, He wants us to fear eternal torment and He uses that fear to keep us in line. While this might make sense to us, it doesn’t fit the Scriptures, either what they say about assurance of salvation, or what they say about God.
Let’s look at some texts which show us the heart of God related to this issue.
1 John 5:9-13. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
God wants believers to remain certain until they die. The basis of certainty? Believing God’s testimony. There is no test by works. We will discuss this Scripture on assurance below.
John 11:25-27. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Note the tenderness of Jesus here. He wants her to be sure that she knows He will resurrect all who simply believe in Him and that those who believe in Him “will never die [spiritually].” That is powerful stuff. Then when she affirms she believes that, He doesn’t rebuke her. God wants us all to take Him at His word!
John 6:35. And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
What a great promise. How could anyone read this and think God wants to keep us in the dark.
John 5:24. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
Note the promise that we shall not come into judgment, or condemnation. That’s beautiful. Note also the the verse includes present, future, and past tenses. God covers all the bases.
Numerous other Scriptures could be listed. The point is two-fold:
- All who believe Jesus’ promise are indeed sure.
- This tells us that God delights in His children knowing they are children, being comforted, not worrying about their eternal destiny, and serving out of love and gratitude and a desire to please Him and gain His approval.
Conclusion: Do You View God As Loving You More Than Anyone on Earth?
Many church people do not think God loves them. Many church people think God is looking for any excuse to send them to hell. It is a sorry view of God that sees Him as wanting us to fear hell till we die. What human parent does that with their kids? Are we better parents than God is? Of course not! Since we are in God’s image, it makes sense that we want our children to be secure in our love just as He wants us to be secure in His. Rejoice in your eternal life and in your good God! Assurance of salvation is meant to encourage, motivate, and brighten us. Tough times call for solid rock certainty.
If you want to gain assurance of salvation, open your Bible to 1 John 5:11-13, and from the text, answer the following questions.
- What has God given us?
- Where is this life?
- Who has eternal life?
- How do they get eternal life?
- Who does not have eternal life?
- Is there any alternative?
- Has this been written so that we may hope we have eternal life?
- Is God making a promise?
- Would God lie to us?
- Have you received the Son?
- Then do you know that you have eternal life?
- On what ground or basis can you know this?
- When can you know this?
According to 1 John 5:11-13, if you have believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life, you have eternal life.
God Himself promises it.