Self-confidence is something that most people struggle with. Few of us like what we see when we look in a mirror. I’m told that even those people we consider to be most beautiful seem to be drawn to their imperfections when they look in the mirror. Many people spend lots of time and money to try to get rid of their physical imperfections only to find their insecurity wash up in some other area of their life.
Most people are plagued with thoughts about whether they are smart enough, talented enough, or attractive enough to be what they or others would like them to be. Many children grow up feeling they can’t do anything to please their parents. We spend a good deal of our lives feeling inadequate, concerned that some day we will be exposed for the frauds we know ourselves to be.
This same kind of insecurity exists in the spiritual lives of many. We wonder if we believe the right things, in the right way, and if we are doing right in response to those beliefs. We would like to be confident of our standing with God, but we aren’t. We talk about being better than average, or having a good feeling about our chances, but we just don’t know. It is increasingly rare for someone to say, “I know I am going to Heaven because I have been born anew in Jesus Christ.” We want to look at this issue this morning. I want to show you that John says we can be sure that we are going to Heaven when we die.
In 1 John 5:13 the apostle John begins to conclude his letter on what it means to be a real deal follower of Christ. As he does, he gives us the overarching purpose he has had in writing the letter,
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
John tells us that he wants us to KNOW that we have eternal life. And it is that knowledge that we focus on today.
ASSURANCE OF HEAVEN
We Can Know Being sure of Heaven is not new. John concluded his gospel,
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
Paul began his letter to the Ephesians
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
At the end of his life, Paul wrote,
Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. [2 Tim 1:12]
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. [2 Tim. 4:7-8]
From his prison cell, Paul wrote,
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
All these verses lead us to believe that we can know that we are headed for Heaven. You may have even met someone who had this quiet confidence. I believe, based on the Word of God, that this confidence is available to anyone.
Second, we SHOULD know. Peter wrote,
“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [2 Peter 1:10,11]
Peter wanted us to know that we have eternal life. John wrote this letter not so we could HOPE that we have eternal life; he wrote not so that we could be PRETTY SURE of eternal life; he wrote to help us KNOW that we have eternal life. He wants us to be sure of Heaven.
In order to gain this assurance we must clearly identify not only what assurance of salvation is, and NOT. Confidence of Heaven is not anchored to
- Our emotions. It’s not about whether we feel saved, or feel “good about our chances” or even having “a sense of peace about things.” Emotions are undependable and are often misguided. A person may feel they are a good singer but they may be wrong. A person may feel they are witty but they may just be annoying. Emotions are inconsistent and unreliable.
- Our experience. Our assurance of salvation is not tied to whether or not we had a certain experience. Some people lack assurance because their experience was different from someone else (they didn’t walk an aisle, they didn’t weep, they didn’t feel different, etc.) People are different and people’s experiences are different. Your experience may not be like the next guys experience. Suppose two men arrive at a destination on different days and they are soaking wet. When asked how they became wet the first man can point to a definite moment. He recounts a cloudburst that drenched him immediately. The other man is equally wet but he cannot pinpoint a specific time when we became soaked because he walked in a light mist for thirty minutes and became soaked almost imperceptivity. Others certainly were equally wet and did not arrive at that destination. The question is not whether or not we have had a particular experience, it is whether or not we are truly trusting Christ.
- Our progress. Our confidence of Heaven is not even based on our progress in holiness. We hesitate to be confident of our standing with God because we see the many inconsistencies of our life. However, at the beginning of this letter John said, “If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1:8). Sinlessness is not a prerequisite to salvation; we need only an awareness of our sin.
Our Assurance of Heaven is not anchored to anything in us. Our confidence of Heaven is found and anchored to God’s Word. When a cannot see clearly. It is easy to get disoriented, lose altitude and even turn upside down without realizing it. A pilot can fly into a cloud and easily drift far off course and into grave danger. The experienced pilot has learned to trust his instruments rather than his senses. In a similar way Assurance comes to our hearts when we learn to trust and rely on what the Word of God tells us . . . in spite of what we see and feel.
We have assurance because we believe HIM. God has promised that “those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.” The Bible doesn’t say we might be saved it says we will be saved. John 3:16 doesn’t say we might have eternal life it says, “whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.” Our Assurance rests on Him . . . not us.
So, the key question is: how do we know if we have truly believed? John has written this entire letter to address this question. He knew that defining true faith was the key to eternal life and deep confidence in the way we live. Throughout the letter John has given us three tests. I repeat them again because they are essential. All three of these things MUST be true for you to be a true believer.
- We must trust the true Jesus (God become man who gave His life as a payment for our sin and who rose again from the dead) and we must receive Jesus as our own Rescuer and Savior as well as the Lord, Master or Kind of our lives. Jesus must be essential to you. He must be your hope, your life, and your direction.
- We must be growing in our Love for God and for those God has made (each other). A true believer lives as a grateful and indebted recipient of an astounding grace. As a soldier is devoted to and loves the comrade who saved his life, so we should love God who saved our lives. As we love the children of our dear friends so should we love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
- We should be making progress in obedience. The true believer is working to conform their lives to the pattern of Christ. We seek to obey not because we are trying to earn what God has given as a gift; we try to obey because we trust the One who gives us the commands. We listen to and try to follow the counsel of an expert in our area of interest because we trust that person’s wisdom and insights. We listen to the Lord because we trust His expertise in the area of life.
There are a number of objections or obstacles to this kind of confidence that we can be sure of our eternal destiny. Each objection actually helps us to clarify what assurance really is.
It is Arrogant and Presumptive to Say We are Going to Heaven, When people hear someone say, “I know I am going to Heaven” they recoil. It sounds like someone who says, “I know I am beautiful” or “I know I am intelligent”. We consider such people to be cocky, proud and very often deluded.
The person who is truly made new in Jesus Christ, however, says, “I know I am going to Heaven” without any arrogance or presumption. They are not saying, “I deserve Heaven!” The true believer knows that they are going to Heaven because of the gracious gift of God through Jesus Christ.
When we tell someone that we know we are going to Heaven we speak like one who has been cured of cancer and given a new chance on life or like one who has narrowly survived a deadly accident. There is no arrogance . . . just gratitude.
People who are confident of Salvation have no incentive to live holy lives. It is the same argument used with the doctrine called eternal security. I believe the Bible teaches that once we are made new in Christ we can never lose our salvation. Some feel that makes us lazy.
There are certainly some people who (I believe they have a false assurance) are sure of Heaven and so they feel they can push the things of God off to the side. However, the true believer, as John describes him, is a person who
- Understands that his salvation is a gift of mercy
- Recognizes the Lordship of Jesus Christ
- Submits to that Lordship
- And spends his life seeking to honor the One who saved Him by His grace
Let’s go back to the person who has survived a near death physical trauma. Perhaps it is heart surgery, cancer, or something along that line. When this person comes out on the other side of the trauma most are changed people. Most don’t say, “Whew! I’m glad that’s over, now I can live recklessly.” (Some do take this attitude, but they are fools). Most will make changes in their lives. They begin to exercise, eat better, give up bad habits and appreciate things they previously took for granted. These are the people who will often cry at tender moments that previously would not have affected them before because now they see life differently and with new appreciation
That’s the way someone with true assurance lives their lives. They are not looking to forget about the spiritual issues of life . . . they are now convinced that their spiritual life is the most important and core part of their lives. Rather than take the things of God for granted, they now pursue them with new diligence.
People Could Be Mistaken People will ask, “Isn’t assurance dangerous? What if a person thinks they are going to Heaven but really do not have a relationship with Christ? That will make it harder for them to be saved.”
There will undoubtedly be people who claim assurance of salvation who are mistaken. Some people base their assurance and their hope of salvation on the wrong things. Every good thing in life carries with it a risk of abuse. The wrong response to this potential for abuse is to not pursue or teach the doctrine of assurance. That would be like saying because some teenagers die in car accidents you will never let your teenager drive a car or ride in a car. It is like saying, “Since some people get divorced, I am never going to get married”. Driving, independence, marriage, these are good things. To give them up because it can be dangerous is foolish. Likewise, it is foolish to be silent about the doctrine of assurance. It is a wonderful doctrine.
A better response to the potential for abuse is to do what the Bible says: “Examine yourself and see if you are in the faith.” (2 Cor. 13:5) The Bible tells us to continually do an inventory of our lives of the evidences of true faith. We must make sure we are not basing our assurance on our experience or desire but truly on the promise of God to those who believe.
There are a number of benefits to knowing that you have eternal life. First, those with assurance live with a new confidence. These people can stop looking over their shoulders out of fear that they are going to lose what God has given. Practically, it means we have a new confidence
- To get back up when we fall (we know that if we confess (admit) our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us). We don’t lose our salvation because we stumble.
- To live boldly for the Lord (we know that our labor is not in vain).
- To face death without fear (O death where is thy sting?)
- To pray (see verses 14-15)
Let me ask you a question. If you KNEW that you would have enough money for your retirement when that time came, would you live differently now? Of course you would! You would have less stress. You would enjoy the journey. You might even be a little less driven in your work.
This is what Assurance of salvation does. It allows us to live life with confidence and joy. If we know that when the earthly tent we live in is destroyed that we have a building from God, an eternal house in Heaven not made by human hands (2 Cor. 5:1) we can live life differently.
Second, Assurance of Salvation brings us peace. In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. [John 14:27]
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. [John 16:33]
We not only have peace with God . . . we have peace IN God. When we know we are right with God we no longer need to fret about the trials of life. These trials may be painful, but we know how the story ends! The person taking chemotherapy would have a much greater sense of peace going through the treatments if they knew for certain that the treatments would cure them of cancer. It is the same thing for the believer. Since we know we are loved by the Lord (who never makes mistakes), and we know that the final destination will be Heaven, no matter what happens on earth, we have much less anxiety about life.
Finally, the person who is sure of Heaven is the person who knows a new joy. We forget that the eternal life that is promised in the gospel is not just a matter of living in Heaven after we die. Eternal life begins now! It changes our perspective on everything. We live with joy because we know we are loved, we know we are forgiven, and because we know that life has meaning.
There are two questions we must ask. The first is this: Do you have the kind of faith that John talks about? Have you become convinced in the depth of your being that Jesus is God? Are you convinced that He died for your sin and rose to make you right with God? Have you committed your life to Him and placed your hope in Him? Are you growing in love and devotion to the Lord and do you have a new heart for the people of the world? If you don’t, then I suggest that you examine your faith. It is likely that your faith is superficial rather than genuine. I encourage you to make the necessary changes. Run to the Savior!
Second, do you have assurance of your salvation? Having confidence that you are going to Heaven is not a condition of salvation. In other words, just because you don’t have this confidence doesn’t mean you are not a true believer. However, I would encourage you to ask yourself a simply question: “Am I willing to Take God at His Word?” He tells us that if we truly believe we HAVE PASSED from death to life. We are ALREADY children of God.
I covet for you this blessed assurance. May God help you to realize with all humility that though you (and I) deserve Hell, we are already citizens of Heaven because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. And may that realization cause you to live with Confidence, with deep-seated peace and enduring gratitude, with a new focus for your living, and a new joy in your heart. For if you come to KNOW that you have eternal life. You will KNOW that you are a child of God . . . no matter what you see when you look in the mirror.