Christian Birth-Marks

How can I know if I am saved?

Is there some way of knowing whether or not I’m maturing in my faith, growing stronger in my walk with the Lord?

I think these are questions that everyone asks, everyone who is sincere in their faith.  We are assailed by doubts, overcome by anxieties, and can easily be frustrated by the persistency of sin in our lives.  Does this mean we’re really not saved after all?

Last week I mentioned that my class at Bible Camp this year was simply a study through the letter of 1 John, and these are the kinds of questions that John is answering in his letter.   John’s letter begins with the essential: We must have fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the manifest (incarnate) Word of God by 1) believing in Jesus Christ, and 2) confessing of our sins and trusting in the atoning work of Christ on our behalf. This is the entry point, the beginning of new (and eternal) life. So the first evidence we have of our salvation is found in knowing Jesus and trusting in Him (1 John 1:1-2:2).

But John doesn’t leave us there.  As every child resembles his or her birth-parents, and grows in that resemblance every day, so to the adopted children of God, those called and redeemed by His grace in Jesus Christ, also bear resemblances with their heavenly Father.  Through John’s letter, you find that there are 3 essential birth-marks that will be found in every believer: Obedience, Love, and Truth.  These are not things that we must generate within ourselves in order to be saved. Rather, they are marks that will be evident in the lives of all who have been saved.  Like the fruit of the Spirit that Paul writes of in Galatians 5, these marks are the gracious work of God in us, and we can look to them for assurance in times of doubt.

(It is interesting to note: John writes differently than Paul.  Paul is a western writer, who builds a logical argument to its final point, then gives the application of that point – moving from A to B to C and so on.  John is an eastern thinker, and he writes in cyclical patterns, repeating for emphasis, until the point is driven home – A-B-C/A-B-C/A-B-C. Click here for a copy of 1 John outline to see what this looks like).

The first birth-mark that John writes of is the mark of Obedience. You cannot read 1 John without realizing that those who say they follow Christ must actually follow Christ.  After the introduction, John writes “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3) – it doesn’t get any clearer than that.  Here are a few of the verses through the letter that say the same thing:

  • 1 Jn 2:4-6 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
  • 1 Jn 3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
  • 1 Jn 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
  • 1 Jn 3:22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
  • 1 Jn 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
  • 1 Jn 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
  • 1 Jn 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

This is no different than what we read in the gospels.  Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

Let me be quick to point out, John isn’t preaching a salvation by works. Never does John write, “you must do X to be saved.”  No.  Instead, John is showing us that those who believe, those who have been saved, will know they are saved because they long to obey and keep God’s word. Not out of a desire to secure salvation, but out of love for God who securely saves.  This is not salvation by works, but a salvation that works.

Belief in Jesus Christ unto salvation must necessarily lead to a life of obedience to His Word.  Is He Lord? Then we are His people who listen and obey.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship,“Only those who believe obey, and only those who obey believe” (I added a link to the fuller quote).

The danger of looking only to this birth mark is that one can then think that salvation is dependent entirely upon one’s own works, rather than trusting entirely upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ for salvation.  We can be crushed by the tyranny of obedience if we think that it is up to us to perform in order to please God.  Throughout John’s letter, just as we feel like we’re failing at the tests, there are road-stops of refreshment, reminders of God’s grace.

  • 1 John 2:12 “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.”
  • 1 John 3:1 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
  • 1 John 3:19-20 “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

The beauty of the mark of obedience is the reminder that what Christ commands is not burdensome, but a command of love and faith.  In John 5, we read, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:2–5). His commands are not a burden, they are victory, release, peace, in Jesus Christ.

And what is the command we are to obey?  According to John it is simply this: “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23).

Beloved, having put your hope and trust in Jesus Christ, listen to His voice, and obey His gracious call.  This life of discipleship, this life of obedience is a grace of God, a means by which you may grow in your assurance of salvation and stand firm in the day of the Lord.

SDG

Readings from the Pastor’s Desk – Here are just a couple of the things I’ve been reading this week:

Don’t Play with Sin: Here’s a great illustration of what happens when we treat sin loosely and do not work constantly to be killing sin in our own lives.

Sunday Worship Starts Saturday Night: Usually Twitter barely rises above the inane and vitriolic of those who really shouldn’t have any influence in our lives – every now and then you come upon a treasure. Case in point, here’s the treasure I found over the weekend in the Twittersphere.

A Review of General Assembly: Since I could not attend, nor watch, this year’s General Assembly, I’m trying to read as much as I can by way of review of all that took place.  I found this to be a fairly straightforward report on all that took place.

More Recommended Reading

Every now and then I like to share with you the books that I have read.  I do this not to say, “Hey look at how much I read,” but, rather, to encourage you with some of the resources that have been an encouragement to me and to my ministry.  I hope that these resources will be a blessing to your faith.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, by Eric Metaxes.  ”In Hitler’s Germany, a Lutheran pastor chooses resistance and pays with his life… Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer’s story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a ‘humanist’ or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable… Metaxas reminds us that there are forms of religion — respectable, domesticated, timid — that may end up doing the devil’s work for him.” — Wall Street Journal

One of the hardest things for a biography is making the written account of a life seem worthwhile reading, but that is precisely where Metaxes’ book excels.  Giving a comprehensive view of Bonhoeffer’s life, theology, work, and passion, the book makes you feel a part of the story more than a distant observer.  And while you know how the story ends, you find yourself praying for the impossible, for escape, release, for freedom and love to triumph (which, in some ways, truly does).

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, by Tim Keller.  I have really come to enjoy Tim Keller’s writing.  In books like The Prodigal God, and Counterfeit Gods Keller applies great perspective and insight from Scripture to our lives today.  King’s Cross is not different.  Walking through the Gospel of Mark, Keller shows how Christ has come to cut through all the layers we have used to insulate our broken and dying souls, so that he might bring us to new life.  “Keller shows how the story of Jesus is at once cosmic, historical, and personal, calling each of us to look anew at our relationship with God.”

 The Purpose of Man: Designed for Worship, by A.W. Tozer.  We all can recite the first answer of the Westminster Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  But what does it really mean that our purpose in life is to live for God’s glory?  Tozer, a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance from 1919 to 1963, argues that in the Garden, man did not have to ask what it meant to worship God, because he lived with and communed with the very presence of God.  But since the fall, this sweet communion has been lost, and with it, we have also lost our very purpose in life.  Tozer suggests that Christ overcame “death and rose again from the grave… that he might make worshipers out of rebels.”  A powerful yet easy read, I highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in regaining a passion for worshiping God.

 Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who ever Lived, by Rob Bell.  Okay, a disclaimer first.  I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this book.  As a matter of fact, I pretty much disagreed with everything written in it.  I did not appreciate Bell’s use of Scripture (taking things grossly out of context, or basing an entire argument on one verse while ignoring other passages that might contradict his conclusions), neither do I think that his “deconstructionist” (my term, not his) view of the Church, the Faith, or the Bible is at all helpful to the Kingdom of God.  I do not recommend this book to those who are not well versed in Scripture or secure in their reformed faith.

Still, I pass it along to you for this one reason: often times we who think we know what we believe and why need to be challenged out of our complacency (which was one of the reasons I attended Princeton Theological Seminary).  Being confronted by something that goes against everything you believe can sometimes help you come to articulate and reform your faith.  Bell’s book on Hell has done that for me.  There were times I couldn’t stand the book.  I’ve highlighted and written my comments throughout his pages.  But, praise the Lord, Bell caused me to go back to the Bible and reread what I thought it said, discover what it doesn’t say, and reevaluate my beliefs accordingly.  In that regard, I cautiously recommend this book (just don’t let your evangelical friends catch you reading it).

Good Reading!

SDG