Assurance: How to tell when someone is saved
Assurance of Faith
Assurance is a word that we do not often come across in everyday life. However, it is an important concept when it comes to understanding our faith (especially our beliefs in life after death). Recently I was challenged to come up with Bible verses that proved someone was a Christian, or that they were saved. I did not realize that what they were actually looking for were verses on assurance (this was explained to me afterward). All I could come up with at the time were dramatic realizations that a person has a life that is impacted by Christ. For example: Saul’s conversion into Paul. That is pretty obvious that he was saved, or chosen by God. I did not feel that this was an adequate answer, and I do not think that my interviewers did either. As such, I think it is appropriate for me to explore this topic a little bit deeper.
Assurance is something that can only really be determined by God Himself.
This was my initial thought when the question was first posed to me. How can we really know with full assurance whether or not another person is truly saved? Is this not a privilege that is held only by God? I tend to think so, at least for the most part. However, I also think that a person personally can have assurance that they are going to heaven. Only they know what is really in their own heart. It is not hard to fake bold Christianity for whatever reason you might want to. Enter a worship service, throw your hands in the air, get on your knees, and for really good effect throw in some tears and you will have most anyone convinced of your spirituality – perhaps even yourself. The problem with this is that we cannot trust a person’s heart based on merit. Jesus says in Matthew 6:5 that “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”
Assurance is shown in our actions.
This statement might sound a bit out of sync with the previous point. We do not want to do our good works in front of people because this is what the hypocrites do. Good thing Jesus clears up this distinction in a parable found in John 15. Basically what Jesus is saying is that anyone who is connected to him (assurance in the Savior) is going to bear good fruit, or is going to practice righteousness and holy living. If we see a person who is a slave to their sin and is making no effort to get closer to Christ, then we can at least know that person needs help in their walk. However, if we see someone who is acting as Jesus would then we can believe that they are connected to Christ and thus can only bear good fruit. The real difference between Jesus and the Pharisees or hypocrites was attitude and spirit. Jesus’ actions were done to glorify God and spread love; the Pharisees were promoting themselves and doing their actions out of pride. John 13:35 focuses more directly on assurance through acts of love – “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Assurance using John 1:12.
Another way that someone can find assurance is through a simple Bible verse “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” This is one of my pastor’s favorite verses, probably because it lends itself to helping people to understand and know that they are children of God. What he does is changes the text to be read personally. Inserting the person’s name where appropriate. If a person can truthfully put their name into the verse, they are a child of God. Again, someone could fake this, but they would know for themselves if they are saved.
When is a person truly “in” the people of God?
This is an entirely different question all together – at least to some extent. During my interview, I totally forgot that this was the exact question that was asked during my first semester in seminary. I had to write a large paper answering this question1If you are interested in reading my paper it can be found here. . Looking at the Bible a person is saved or “in the people of God” in various ways. We have the thief on the cross who basically just looked at Jesus and stood up for him on his death bed. Then we have people who are saved because of their faith, others are said to be saved after baptism. There is no one way in the Bible that a person is saved except through the fact that each person in some way recognized Christ as the way to salvation. This is the essential.
So is there any way for us to actually know if a person recognizes Christ as the only way to salvation? Can we ever have full assurance of someone else’s salvation? I think we can. Although, perhaps the better question to ask is whether or not a luke-warm Christian will make it to heaven or not. Assurance is something that we personally need to ask ourselves. We alone can know if our hearts are set on things above, so that means that perhaps the best and only real way to know is to ask someone. Most Christians should be happy to tell you that their assurance is found in Christ.