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.

Frostbitten Hearts

“And because of lawlessness the love of many will grow cold”
(Matthew 24:12)

Brace yourselves!  The forecast for this coming weekend in the Sioux Falls area is for bitterly cold temperatures, lows around -20, with highs only at 0.  That’s just cold!  Plus, the wind will no doubt be blowing, expected winds of 22mph, so the wind chill will around -50.  At that temp, its not just the nose hairs you have to worry about.  Prolonged exposure to those temperatures can quickly lead to frostbite and breathing the air at 50 below can do serious damage to your lungs.  I don’t know what the word will be on whether or not we’ll have church Sunday morning, but if you don’t have to go out in that cold, don’t.

I read on the mayo clinic that Frostbite can occur rapidly in these conditions.  The risk of frostbite “increases as air temperature falls below 5 F, even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.”  With the expected wind chill around -50, frostbite can develop after only 5 minutes of exposure.

The danger of frostbite is that you first lose the sensation of feeling before the damage is done.  You don’t know you have it until it is too late.  If not addressed, frostbite can lead to deep tissue damage, changes in the cartilage between the joints (frostbite arthritis), infection, gangrene, which is the decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption of blood flow to the affected area.  Frostbite can also lead to hypothermia, where the body’s temperature drops to dangerous levels, cause a malfunction of the heart, nervous system and other organs; eventually leading to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.  So for goodness sake, stay inside and stay warm.

But as you are warming yourselves by the fire, bundled under the blankets, stop to consider the warmness of your heart.  We know the dangers of prolonged exposure to the cold and biting wind, but the hazards of a cold and bitter heart are just as deadly.  A cold heart that does not love has many of the same characteristics as frostbitten skin:

  • It is hardened: A cold heart does not move or feel for the needs of others,
  • It is infectious: A cold and unloving heart spreads easily, tearing others down and encouraging the same attitude in others,
  • It is gangrenous: A cold heart destroys relationships, crushes spirits, blocks any healthy growth,
  • It is deadly: When Christians harbor coldness in their hearts, when Churches are cold and unloving, it leads to a complete failure of all the vital ministries. Cold hearts kill churches.

Jesus talked about this when He warned His disciples of the coming persecution, saying that “many will fall away and betray one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).  In Revelation, this is the charge against the church in Ephesus, “but this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

A church, a Christian, that does not love does not know love, does not know God (1 John 4:8).  A church, a Christian, whose heart has grown cold and unloving harbors a bitterness and unforgiving attitude that will lead to death.

So what can you do to warm the cold, cold heart?

First, keep close to the source of heat.   Stay in the Word of God.  Look there to read of and know of His great love for you in Jesus Christ.  God’s word is the revelation of His love, and by His Holy Spirit His word brings life, and love, to our hearts.

In the story of the Emmaus Road, the two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus, their hearts heavy and broken because of the death of their savior.  Jesus met them on the road, but they did not recognize Him.  As they walked, He taught them from the scriptures all that was said about the Christ.  After they had broken bread together, and the eyes of the disciples were opened and they saw Jesus, they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us… while he opened to us the Scriptures?  If you want your heart to burn for the Lord once again, turn to His word.

Second, walk in the light of Christ’s presence.  Even when it is bitterly cold outside, the warmth of the sun light pouring into your windows is a source of heat and comfort.  John says,  “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  Closeness with Christ comes through resting in His completed work for us, in daily fellowship with Him, and in submission to His word.

Finally, kindle the love in your heart by turning to your brother and sister in loving service.  The best cure for a cold heart is love – actual, tangible, expressions of love.  1 Peter 1:22 says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.”  That word earnestly means “fervently, sincerely, genuinely,” some translations have even said “love each other with a warm heart.”

Expressions of love have a tendency to grow love, to break the cold and unfeeling heart.  What does this look like?  Send someone a card saying that you have been praying for them or thank them for something they’ve done.  If you’re able, shovel someone’s driveway, or take them a batch of warm brownies.  Invite your neighbor into your home for a cup of coffee and catch up on their life.  An expression of love doesn’t have to be a grand costly gift, but it will change your world, and theirs.

Stay warm this week, and warm your hearts with an earnest love for one another.

SDG