P.J. asks that very question in a handwritten letter from prison. He says:
I am writing in response to your article, “Works Salvation Does Not Work” in the March-April 2021 issue of Grace in Focus Magazine. I am kind of confused.
How do I know I am saved or not? Maybe I have believed the wrong message.
When you talk about salvation, what do you mean? How do I know if I have it or not? Is it something actual or spiritual?
Please help me understand better. Your article has struck fear in me that I may not have salvation. Will I know if I am born again? Does my life change at all?
I am very confused by the expression works salvation. What is the works-salvation message? And if that turns out to be the message I believed to be saved, do I have salvation? How do I know?
I came out of a works salvation background. I very much identify with the concerns that P.J. has.
First, What is works salvation?
When I use the expression works salvation, I am referring to salvation from eternal condemnation that is obtained and kept by works that we do. Here are some questions. If you answer No to any of these, then you believe in works salvation:
- If twenty years from now you were a drug addict who killed someone during an armed robbery and then you were shot dead by a policeman on the scene before you could repent, would you go to heaven?
- If over the course of your adult life your bad works were found to outweigh your good works, would you go to heaven?
- If you appear at God’s judgment, and He determines that your good works are less than the average person, would you go to heaven?
- If you followed Christ and served Him faithfully for thirty years and then you backslid and died as an unrepentant alcoholic, would you go to heaven?
- If you stopped going to church and over time became an atheist and died at a time when you no longer believed in God, would you go to heaven?
The last question might not be seen as representative of works salvation. But it really is. Because if you have to persevere in church attendance and in faith in order to keep everlasting life, then it was not given to you once and for all simply by faith in Christ.
Second, how does anyone know if he is saved or not?
There is no morality test. No matter how often you attend church, how much money you give, how many people you help, there is no way of being sure of your salvation by looking to your works. That is because our works are imperfect (Rom 3:23). We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God.
There is no feeling test either. Feeling great does not prove you are born again and being depressed does not prove you aren’t. There is no way of being sure you are eternally secure by analyzing your feelings.
There is only one way to know if you are saved. You know you are saved if you know that the Lord Jesus tells the truth and if you know you have done what He said is needed to have everlasting life. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life (John 3:16). If you believe in Jesus for the irrevocable salvation that He promises to all who simply believe in Him, then you know you are eternally secure.
P.J., let’s have an imaginary conversation.
“Jesus said, ‘He who lives and believes in Me shall never die’ (John 11:26). Do you believe in Jesus for your salvation?”
“Yes,” you say, “I believe in Jesus to save me.”
“OK. Then according to what Jesus promised in John 11:26, what is true of you?”
“Well, if it were that simple, I would never die spiritually.”
“What do you mean by ‘if it were that simple’?”
“I mean that it can’t be as simple as just believing in Him because then bad people could go to heaven.”
“Did Jesus say anything about the need to be good in order to have everlasting life?”
“Not in that verse. But I think there are other verses that say you need to live a good life to get into heaven.”
“So, Jesus lied in John 11:26?”
“No. But again, if that were true, our works would have nothing to do with our salvation.”
“What? Could that be right?”
“Of course, it is right. That is the message of John 3:16 and a host of other verses. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but has everlasting life. If you find that hard to believe, then pray about it and read John’s Gospel. The Lord will open your eyes.”
“So, I can be sure if I just believe in Jesus. No works are required.”
“Right. Of course, how we live matters. Only if we live for God will we have abundant lives and will we bless our family and friends around us. If we live to gratify our fleshly desires, then we will reap pain and suffering both for ourselves and those closest to us. But our eternal destiny does not depend at all on how we live. It is just based on believing in Jesus for the life He promises.”
It really is that simple. Take your eyes off of yourself and your works and your feelings. Look solely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise of everlasting life that cannot be lost.
P. J., I hope that helps. I’m praying that you become sure you are saved once and for all.