How to Be Sure You’re Saved

Greg Koukl

Are you numbered with the wheat, or are you grouped with the tares? Jesus warned that the church would contain both (Matt. 13:24–30). Which are you?

I face this question frequently from nervous callers to our broadcast asking, “How can I be sure I’m saved?” They read texts warning that our hearts are “deceitful” and “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), and they note Jesus’ condemnation of those who called him “Lord, Lord” whom he rejects, saying, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21–23). Then the caller wonders where he stands with God. It’s sobering.

Fortunately, Scripture gives good reasons for us to be confident, but it also offers warnings.

First, the secure foundation for our confidence in Christ is God’s promise, a surety that’s repeated frequently and unambiguously in Scripture. Indeed, in the most famous passage in the Bible, Jesus promises that whoever believes in him “shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Paul’s response to the Philippian jailer’s query, “What must I do to be saved?” is simply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30–31). John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

Scripture is replete with statements like these. This good news is reliable since the foundation—clear biblical promises—is objective, giving us confidence that our trust in Jesus secures our salvation no matter where our emotions take us in the moment.

There is a second element that also helps bolster our conviction. Paul tells us that “the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” A sweet, internal sense of assurance given by God’s Spirit confirms our “adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15–16).

In times of deepest distress, it’s often this ineffable sense of closeness to the Lord that calms us and sustains us. However, in those same hard times, our sense of God’s presence can fade dramatically. In those moments, God’s objective promises, not the subjective sense of his presence, are our basis for encouragement.

Also, remember that, for Christians, this subjective element is anchored to the objective promises. The two are inseparably linked. Clearly, multitudes feel they are “right with God” when, according to Jesus, they are not. Our subjective confidence in the objective finished work of Christ secures the promise for us.

One further source of confidence is available to us. Our noble conduct, our godly character, and our perseverance in the faith further confirm that we are adopted children of God.

Peter says we should apply diligence in our faith to manifest virtues that are characteristic of a growing Christian—moral excellence, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. He then offers this exhortation: “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:10).

In Peter’s mind, our moral progress is evidence of our regeneration. Don’t miss his choice of words in 2 Peter 1:5, though: “Applying all diligence, in your faith, supply” these virtues. Peter isn’t advancing a works-based salvation. His point, rather, is that genuine faith always manifests genuine evidence of godly behavior that naturally accompanies salvation.

James echoes Peter. “Show me your faith without the works,” he writes, “and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18). Genuine faith is the decisive issue here. Faith alone saves, but works are always evidence of that saving faith.

The writer of Hebrews repeats the same concern: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:11–12). He also says, “We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (Heb. 3:14). All genuine Christians persevere to the end.

Yes, Scripture offers warnings. Our hearts often deceive us. Many who say “Lord, Lord” will still be lost if they do not truly belong to him—a fact revealed by their current behavior. We need to be sober, aware of the dangers so we can diligently guard against them.

That doesn’t mean we can’t be confident we’re safe in Christ, though. First, we can rest in God’s promises based on the objective work of Christ. Second, the Holy Spirit testifies to our hearts that we belong to the Father. Finally, our conduct, character, and perseverance display clear evidence that we belong to Jesus.