How Can I Be Sure I'm A Christian?
By Brian Anderson
I think you will quickly agree with me that there are few questions that are
as vital as this one! Whether or not you
are a Christian will determine your eternal destiny. Whether you will spend
eternity in the bliss of heavenly
happiness or in the torments of the damned in hell will be determined by
whether or not you proved to be one of
God's own people! With that much at stake, you bet it's important that
you're SURE that you are a Christian! I
want to be of some help to you in determining a solid, biblical answer to
If I were to ask you to prove that you are married, you could do it in one
of three different ways. First of all, you
could show me your marriage license. This is an objective statement, signed
by witnesses, that you were married to
such and such a person on such and such a date. Secondly, you could
introduce me to your wife and children.
Thirdly, you could just smile and say "I know that I know that I'm married!"
Now, if you kept showing me your
marriage license, but I never met your wife and kids, I'd start to get a bit
suspicious. I might think to myself, "I bet
he forged that thing!" Or, if you introduced me to your wife and kids, but I
went down to the county courthouse and
couldn't find any marriage license on record, I'd probably conclude that you
weren't married at all; you were living
in sin. Or, if you went around with a big silly grin on your face declaring,
"I'm married; I know that I'm married",
but nobody could find your marriage license or your wife and kids, they'd
probably say, "he's crazy - lock him up!"
To be able to prove that you were married, you would need to be able to
display all 3 witnesses: your marriage
license, your wife and kids, and your inner conviction.
In just the same way, the Christian has three witnesses he can appeal to for
assurance of salvation. First, he has the
witness of the truth of God's Word. That is like the marriage license. It is
an objective standard that can be
appealed to. Secondly, he has the witness of the signs of eternal life. That
is like introducing me to your wife and
kids. Your kids are the fruit of your marriage relationship. The signs of
eternal life are the fruit of your relationship
to Jesus Christ. Thirdly, he has the witness of the Holy Spirit. This is
like your inner conviction of knowing that
you are married. When the believer has all three of these witnesses at the
same time, he has what the Bible
describes as full assurance of faith. It is my prayer, that this is what God
will give to you as you read this pamphlet!
Let me help you to understand these 3 basic witnesses.
A. The Truth Of God's Word
The believer first comes to possess assurance of salvation from the naked
promises of God. He believes such
We know that God's Word is true. In Numbers 23:19 we read, "God is not a
man, that He should lie, nor a son of
man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He
spoken, and will He not make it good?"
God is the author of truth, and is not able to lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore,
we can trust His promises. If He has said
that those who believe in Christ alone for salvation, repenting of their
sins, and confessing Him as Lord shall be
saved, then we can be sure that they will be! And not only that, but we have
God's clear promise that He will keep
all those whom He has saved secure in His hands until they get to glory; He
will lose none of them! (Jn.6:38-39;
God's word declares that "whoever believes has eternal life." The new
Christian reasons to himself, "Whoever -
that means me! I believe! I confess Christ as Lord!" When a person initially
comes to Christ in saving faith, one of
these promises is burned into his heart. He takes God on the authority of
His word and assures himself that he has
been saved from sin and is headed for heaven.
All of this is gloriously true. But if you meet someone who is always
quoting John 3:16, and telling you about
something that happened to him way back in his life, and yet there is no
present reality of Christ, or any fruit of the
Holy Spirit, you know that something is dreadfully wrong! You may have met
someone who is tragically self-
deceived into thinking that they are a Christian and on their way to heaven,
when in fact they are lost and on their
way to hell! You may have met an individual like this: the person was an
alcoholic or involved in sexual
immorality on a regular basis. You sought to show them their need of a
Savior, and the necessity of their repenting
of their sins, but they were absolutely convinced that they were already
saved and on their way to heaven! Why?
Because somewhere along the way, they learned that "whoever believes has
eternal life", and "once saved, always
saved." Now, both of these are wonderful truths, but my question for this
individual would be, "what makes you
think you ever believed?" A true, saving faith in Jesus Christ inevitably
results in a changed life (James 2:14-26).
That's why a second witness is necessary to give us real assurance of
salvation. How can we be sure that our faith is
genuine and not that of demons (James 2:19)? How can we know that we have
the faith of God's elect (Titus 1:1)?
We need to examine the second witness.
B. Signs Of Eternal Life
Imagine with me several paramedics racing up to the scene of an accident.
The first thing they do is check the vital
signs (pulse, respiration, blood pressure, temperature) of the individual to
determine whether the injured person is
alive or not. That's exactly what we are seeking to do in examining our
salvation. We want to know whether we
have life or not. In 1 John 5:13 we read, "These things I have written to
you who believe in the name of the Son of
God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life." Notice how John
phrases this sentence. He doesn't say,
"that you may know that you have eternal salvation." He says we can know
that we have eternal LIFE! The vital
signs in 1 John that we are going to examine are indicators that a person
possesses life! Whenever there is the life
of God in the soul of a man, there will be certain vital signs that will
accompany that life. In 1 John we have those
vital signs stated for us. Notice also that it is possible for one who
believes in the name of the Son of God to
KNOW that he possesses eternal life. I believe God wants us to have
assurance of our salvation. He does not want
us to be in the dark over this vital issue. It is His desire that we are
certain about our calling and election (2 Peter
It's also important for us to bear in mind that the marks that John will
give us in his first epistle are not the causes
of life. They are the sure and unfailing effects of life! You can put a
corpse, stone dead and cold into an oven and
heat it up so that it has a temperature. In fact it ends up with a raging
fever. But that corpse isn't alive! Even so, it
is possible for a lost man to imitate some of the vital signs of believers,
but that will never bring that lost man life.
God Himself must sovereignly give that lost man life, and then these vital
signs will manifest themselves naturally
The first thing we must take notice of in 1 John is that what a man says is
not a reliable sign that he possesses
eternal life. Notice the following texts:
All of these texts inform us that a person can say that he is a believer,
and be deceived the entire time. Therefore,
don't base your assurance of salvation only on the fact that you have
professed faith in Christ. That is no sure and
certain proof at all!
Let's go on and examine the vital signs of eternal life found in the book of
1 John. I will point your attention in this
pamphlet to 4 of them:
1) Obedience To God. Notice 1 John 2:3-5 "And by this we know that we have
come to know Him, if we
keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him', and does
not keep His commandments, is
a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the
love of God has truly been perfected. By
this we know that we are in Him." Notice the emphasis on "knowing" in this
passage. In the 1st century there were
a group of religious people later known as "Gnostics." They believed that
they had special knowledge that enabled
them to know God in a much more intimate way than other "ordinary"
Christians. They believed they had special
inside information on God's attributes and workings. Through this
knowledge, they aspired to participate in His
godhead. They even felt that this knowledge raised them above the
commonplace duty of keeping God's
commandments. Their knowledge was too mystical to be tested in this mundane,
practical way. They cared about
nothing, but this mystical, higher, knowledge of God. But John says that
they are liars. In fact, they don't know
God at all! John declares very clearly that the one who knows God keeps His
The person who has come to know God has a heart bent toward godliness. The
desire of his heart is to keep God's
commandments and please Him. Now, it is true that no one manifests these
vital signs in perfection, but they are
the direction of a believer's life. Different Christians are at different
levels of maturity. Sometimes, a believer
doesn't even realize that something he is doing is sin. Our growth in
godliness and personal sanctification takes
time. Just because you are not as obedient to God as someone else, doesn't
necessarily mean that you are not a
Christian. Your standard of comparison is not another believer, but yourself
before you were converted. But having
said all of that, it is still true that these signs will be true to one
degree or another in a Christian's life. For the true
believer, once he has learned that something is God's will, he is concerned
What about you? Do you sense that this is true of you? Do you long to please
God, in spite of your many failures?
Do you seek to keep God's commandments because of your love for Him? If so,
be encouraged! That is one of the
vital signs that you possess eternal life!
2) Opposition To Sin. Take a good look at 1 John 3:9. "No one who is born of
God practices sin, because His
seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." We read a
verse like this, and think, "This has
got to be a misprint! Maybe it was a slip of some scribe's pen somewhere
along the line! It can't really mean what it
says!" Because this verse is so strong and straightforward, there have been
various ways people have sought to
Some say that this verse is written to a special group of Christians - the
super-spiritual saints. But the problem
with this interpretation is that the language is absolute. The text says "No
one who is born of God practices sin."
John isn't talking about a select group of super-saints, but about all God's
Another view of this passage is that of perfectionism. John Wesley
popularized this doctrine. Essentially it states
that a believer can reach a level of sinless perfection. But this view would
contradict plain passages such as 1:8,10
and 2:1 which teach that a believer does continue to sin. Additionally,
verse 9 teaches that all born again
Christians cannot go on practicing sin. No where is there a hint that John
is speaking of believers who have
advanced into a plane of "sinless perfection."
Others believe John is saying that a genuine believer can't commit certain
kinds of sin like the one mentioned in 1
John 5:16 which leads to death. But again the language in the text is
all-inclusive. "No one who is born of God
practices sin." There is nothing even hinted at in the text which would lead
us to believe the sin mentioned here is
a particular kind of sin. It is sin of any kind.
Again, others have interpreted the passage to be speaking of a believer's
new nature. They believe that John is
saying that a believer's new nature can't sin. But the difficulty with this
interpretation is that the immediate context
has to do with the regenerate and the unregenerate, not new and old natures.
In verse 10 John says "By this the
children of God and the children of the devil are obvious." He doesn't say
the new and old natures are obvious.
Also, notice the use of personal pronouns. In verse 9 John says "he cannot
sin - not it cannot sin."
I believe the best explanation of 1 John 3:9 can be found in the verb
tenses. They are in the present tense, which
speaks of continuous ongoing activity. The New International Version
translates the verse "continues to sin." The
New American Standard Bible translates it "practices sin". For the born
again Christian, sin is no longer his way of
life. It is no longer a deliberate, constant habit. He doesn't defiantly
continue in sin. He can no longer maintain the
same relationship to sin as he did before his conversion. The general flow
of his life is away from sin. If you go
river rafting, there is a general direction and flow that you travel along,
but at any given moment you may be
headed north, south, east, or west, depending on the curves and bends along
the way. Even so, there may be times
when you fall into sin, but the general flow of your life is away from and
opposed to it.
Before we were converted we were slaves to sin. We loved it and lived in it
as a way of life. But there has been a
great change. What is the reason for this great change? Our text tells us it
was because we were "born of God." It
tell us "His seed abides in us." These phrases describe that wonderful
change that God sovereignly works in His
elect, known as regeneration. In this great change God plans a new principle
of life in us. It is the same life (seed)
that God has in Himself. When my children were born they received some of my
genes. That's why they share
many of my physical features. There is an obvious family resemblance. In the
same way, all who are born of God
receive His very own life, and have a spiritual resemblance to Him!
Notice the most amazing thing in the text. Those who are born of God cannot
sin. This means that they cannot go
on sinning as a habitual lifestyle like they did before conversion. Let me
ask you a question - can God sin? Can
He break His own commandments? Can His will go against His law? You answer,
"Of course not!" Well, why not?
The answer is obvious. His law is an expression of His will. God cannot
transgress His law, because He cannot go
against His own nature. God must cease to be who He is to break His law and
sin. Since God cannot deny Himself,
He cannot sin. Now, when you and I are in heaven, we will be like that! In
this life, we battle with our sinful flesh.
That's why we continue to sin. But we also possess God's own nature. Thus,
we cannot go on living in sin like we
used to, any more than a fish can live on dry land, or a cat can live in a
pig sty. We are born of God. We possess
His seed, His principle of life!
Now, let me ask you, "Is this true of you?" Is it true that there is
something within your very inner nature that is
opposed to sin, that resists it and struggles against it? If so, praise God!
That is a vital sign that you possess eternal
3) Love For The Brethren. 1 John 3:14-15 states, "We know that we have
passed out of death into life,
because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone
who hates his brother is a murderer;
and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." 1 John 4:7-8
declares, "Beloved, let us love one
another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and
knows God. The one who does not love
does not know God, for God is love."
Because a Christian bears the image of God, he must love! God is love, and
all those who are born of Him love as
well. A genuine believer loves other believers. He wants to be with them,
know them, serve them, worship with
them, and learn from them. There is a bond, a union, a closeness that can't
be found anywhere else in the world. It
is as natural for believers to come together, fellowship, help, and serve as
it is for people in a family to come
I have seen Christians share genuine love with one another in countless ways
such as praying for hours for a baby
with meningitis, giving a car to a family without one, and taking in others
into their own home when they find
someone in the church in a homeless situation.
Now, ask yourself this question: "Is it true that I have a genuine love for
other Christians?" Do you want to be with
them? Do you want to worship with them? Do you want to be used of God in
serving them? If that is true, that is
another vital sign that you possess eternal life! Rejoice!
4) Overcoming The World. 1 John 5:3-5 states, "For this is the love of God,
that we keep His
commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born
of God overcomes the world;
and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. And who is
the one who overcomes the world, but
he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" What is John speaking about
when he mentions the "world?" Well,
in verse 3 he tells us that God's commandments are not burdensome.
Therefore, the "world" mentioned in verse 4
must mean that part of humanity which finds God's commandments a burden.
They are in rebellion to God's
authority. Rather, they live to please themselves. They possess the age-old
spirit of the world which says, "I'm
number 1!" That's why the world believes it's all right to get an abortion.
Pro-choice in reality means pro-me. The
world wants to do what will bring them pleasure and make them happy. Thus
divorce is a viable option, if the
marriage is not making them happy. But the true believer fights against this
worldly philosophy. He is being
transformed by the renewing of his mind. It's like two gladiators put into a
ring to fight to the death. Only one is
going to come out of that struggle alive. In the same way, we are in a fight
to the death with sin. Only one of us is
going to come out alive. Either you will overcome the world, or it will
overcome you! But the truth of 1 John 5:3-5
is that true believers overcome!
What about you? Do you find in yourself an inward opposition to the godless
ideology of this world-system? Do
you resist it's encroachments upon your life? Do you desire to live for the
pleasure of God, rather than your own
sinful pleasure? If so, this is another vital sign that you possess eternal
life! Be encouraged!
With all this talk of vital signs, allow me to give one caution. Too much
self-examination can be dangerous. It can
lead to excessive doubts and fears. That is why this witness of assurance
must be balanced with the other two
witnesses. A true believer is painfully aware of his shortcomings. The
Christian, of all people, is the most sensitive
to his lack of obedience, his lack of opposition to sin, his lack of love
for the brethren, and his lack of overcoming
the world. His conscience has been sensitized. He's like a man wearing a
white robe among men with black robes.
He's washed his robe and made it white in the blood of the lamb (Rev.7:14).
He's very aware of all of the smudges
on his robe, while the others can't see the smudges on their robes at all.
He's painfully aware of his imperfections
and flaws in his best deeds. Others boast about their fruit, but he sees
worm holes all through his. Instead of
glorying in his works, he says, "why haven't I produced more?"
This leads us to our final witness.
C. The Witness Of The Holy Spirit
Romans 8:15-16 declares to us, "For you have not received a spirit of
slavery leading to fear again, but you have
received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our
spirit that we are children of God." Here we are brought face to face with
something described as "the witness of
the Spirit." This is the one witness of the three that is most difficult to
describe. It is the most subjective and
mystical of the three. According to our text in Romans 8:15, this witness is
a conscious conviction that God is our
reconciled and loving Father. No longer do we think of Him as some distant,
far off Deity. We now have a living
relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. We begin to know Him in an
intimate way. The Holy Spirit comes into
our lives and sheds God's love abroad in our hearts. Instinctively we cry
out to Him in prayer, 'Abba, Father!' Just
as a toddler instinctively cries out to his father because he knows that he
is his protector, provider, and loving
caregiver, so does the new-born child of God instinctively cry to God,
knowing that He is His loving Father!
The verb, "bears witness", is in the present tense, which means that this is
an ongoing activity. I believe the Holy
Spirit bears witness that we are God's children throughout our lives in many
ways. He does so as we hear that
sermon, listen to that song or hymn, participate in that prayer meeting,
meditate on that portion of scripture, or
fellowship with that believer. In many different ways, He lets you know that
He loves you and will take care of you
as your Heavenly Father! You know, that you know, that you know, that you
are His child!
What about you? Do you have an inner conviction that God is your Father? You
know that he's not just somebody
else's Father. He's yours! You know that you are not a slave, working to
earn salvation. You are now His child,
responding to His love! Is that true of you? If so, you possess this third
witness of assurance!
We have now taken a look at the Biblical means by which a person can know
whether he is a Christian or not.
What about you? Are you trusting in His promises, knowing they cannot lie or
deceive you? Do you possess the
vital signs of eternal life such as obedience to God, opposition to sin,
love for the brethren, and overcoming the
world? Moreover, do you possess the witness of the Holy Spirit?
If you have a measure of assurance, but not full assurance, don't be
discouraged! Attaining full assurance of faith
often is something that takes time as God works in us. On the other hand,
don't be content if you do not have
assurance. Seek it from God and His word. "Therefore brethren, be all the
more diligent to make certain about His
calling and choosing you" (2 Peter 1:10).
Perhaps through reading this pamphlet you have come to realize that you are
not a Christian at all. You had always
thought that you were a Christian. You attended church and lived a moral
life. But God has shown you that your
assurance was based on a delusion. You possessed false assurance. You
realize that you have never been born
again, possessing God's very own life in your soul at all. If that is the
case, begin in earnest to repent of your sins,
and cry out to God for mercy! Like the penitent tax-collector call out
"Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
(Luke.18:13). The Prophet Isaiah exhorts you to "seek the Lord while He may
be found; call upon Him while He is
near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
and let him return to the Lord, and He
will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."
(Isaiah 55:6-7). The Scriptures
promise that "whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved."
(Rom.10:13) This is an issue you don't
want to be wrong about! Continue to seek God until He shows you that you are
His child, and He is your reconciled