Sometime short questions powerfully capture the problem many people face. This question in my email, from someone we will call David, is a perfect example:
Dear Bob: When I was in my teens, I think, or a little younger, I went forward in an invitation. I do not remember quite what happened there. I went home with joy from that time until now. I did not keep on going to church or doing things for the Lord. Am I still saved?
Let us break down what he said.
When I was in my teens, or a little younger. Many people report that they became a Christian as a child or teen. There is no requirement in Scripture that one must be twenty-one before he can be born again. So, his story has a promising start.
I went forward in an invitation. There is no promise of eternal salvation for people who go forward at an evangelistic meeting. The promise is to whoever believes in Christ for everlasting life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 16:31). David’s testimony has taken an unfortunate turn. However, many have come to faith in Christ when they went forward and spoke with a counselor. So we will see what he reports happened up front.
I do not remember what happened there. Herein lies the problem many people face. If they cannot remember what happened at the time when they think they may have been born again, then they cannot find assurance by recalling that prior incident. Assurance is only for those who believe in Christ for everlasting life.
I went home with joy and I still have joy. There is no feeling that proves one is born again. A person can have joy for many reasons. Joy is no proof of the new birth. And a lack is joy is no reason to doubt the new birth. Assurance is grounded in believing in Christ, not our feelings or our works.
But I do not go to church or serve the Lord. Here are a few big red flags. Why is he mentioning his lack of good works? Eternal salvation is not of works (John 4:10; Eph 2:8-9; Rev 22:17). The fact that he has doubts about whether he is born again because of his lack of works shows that he does not believe the promise of everlasting life today. He might have believed the promise in the past and even forgot that he once believed it. But right now, he lacks assurance and has every right to be concerned about his eternal destiny.
Am I still saved? The question is not whether he is “still saved.” The question is whether he is saved. Once a person is saved, he is always saved (John 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26). But to be saved, one must believe in Christ for everlasting life.
Do you see what is missing in David’s testimony? It is missing in many testimonies. When did he believe in Jesus for everlasting life that can never be lost? And, in terms of assurance, does he believe that right now?
Let’s say David could remember that many years ago a counselor told him about the promise of everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus, and he remembers believing in Christ and having joy that he knew where he would spend eternity. That would tell us when he was born again. But that would not tell us if he has assurance right now. To have assurance today, one must believe the promise of life today. While everlasting life cannot be lost, assurance can be lost. So, if David remembers a time when he was certain he had everlasting life by faith in Christ, but today he believes in works salvation, then remembering his experience will not restore his assurance. Unfortunately, David does not seem to remember ever being certain of his eternal salvation.
I have two suggestions for David and for all who wonder if they are saved. First, read the Gospel of John. It is the only book of the Bible written to unbelievers to tell them what they must do to have everlasting life (John 20:31). I suggest you read one chapter per day. And before you read your chapter for the day, ask God to open your eyes to how you can be sure you are saved. After three weeks, you will have read the entire book. If you still lack assurance, start again.
Second, find and attend a solid Bible teaching church. We have a list of such churches on our website. Hearing God’s Word taught will reinforce what you are reading in John’s Gospel. You might want to make an appointment with the pastor to discuss what you have been reading and how you can be sure you have everlasting life.
God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). I am confident David and others who lack assurance will find assurance of everlasting life if they diligently seek for it by prayer, Bible reading, and hearing God’s Word clearly taught.